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  1. #1
    Sjixxxy's Avatar
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    Darkroom cooldown exercise.

    I like doing fine art prints, but I'm sure we all know that sometimes they can get a bit hair pulling when our anal retentiveness takes over and we can't get it just right. So last night after not being able to quite get a print, I decided to try something I've been meaning to do for a while, and boy did it ease me up.

    A few years ago I had this little epiphany that changed how I feel about photography. While looking at some old photos, and spending probably 20 minutes combing over one very nice large format made 5x7 image from 1946 with a loupe to examine all the details and read the little signs on the wall, I realized that the subject, no matter how boring or commonplace at the time of making the image, can become really interesting given half a century or so to age. From this I developed a philosophy of "What if I shoot & print with the intended audience being whoever finds this picture in a box 50 years from now?" And by playing the role of that audience and digging through our own boxes of prints, I realized two more things.

    A) The more recent prints made from low end 35 mm P&S, cheap digitals and the APS atrocity are just plain ugly next to the older stuff from large & medium format film, and that future generations are going to sadly not have as many lush, high detailed images from the period to comb over.

    B) Most of the older photos aren't exactly Ansel Adam's prints. Yet they still captive greatly due to the subject matter.

    So, onto the cool down exercise. For most of this year I've been shooting my snapshots, and local happenings with a Speed Graphic, with the intention of fulfilling part A of the above philosophy, but every time I'd get around to printing, the "I want to make fine art that people will admire now!" mind set would take over, and I'd never touch them. So last night after getting a little fed up with one print, I recalled point B. I replaced the negative with one of my random 4x5 snapshots, sized down the easel to 5x7, ran one quick test strip, and a quick print after that. Perfect! Well. Maybe not perfect in the sense of "Every tone most be exact and sharpness must be absolute or my critiquers will rip it apart until I cry little a newborn kitten" perfect. But perfect for the 95 year old man who requested I made him a photo of his niece to hang on the wall. And perfect for whoever finds it in his stuff many years after he dies. Perfect for the audience that doesn't care if the greatest dmax was reached, and doesn't care that there is a speck of dust on the image, as long as it isn't over someone's face.

    The actual act of finally making prints to fit this philosophy was a great relaxer and. The little time spent at the end of the session did a lot make it feel more productive. So now I think I figured out where these prints come into play. A cool down exercise for when my "fine art" printing has me wanting scream. Lot of fun to throw away the microscopic attention to detail, and still feel very productive.
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  2. #2
    John Bartley's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sjixxxy
    [SIZE=1]I like doing fine art prints, but......snipped.......A few years ago I had this little epiphany that changed how I feel about photography......snipped...... From this I developed a philosophy of "What if I shoot & print with the intended audience being whoever finds this picture in a box 50 years from now?" And by playing the role of that audience and digging through our own boxes of prints, I realized......snipped......Most of the older photos aren't exactly Ansel Adam's prints. Yet they still captive greatly due to the subject matter.......snipped......So last night after getting a little fed up with one print, I replaced the negative with one of my random 4x5 snapshots, sized down the easel to 5x7, ran one quick test strip, and a quick print after that. Perfect! Well. Maybe not perfect in the sense of "Every tone most be exact and sharpness must be absolute or my critiquers will rip it apart until I cry little a newborn kitten" perfect. But perfect for the 95 year old man who requested I made him a photo of his niece to hang on the wall. And perfect for whoever finds it in his stuff many years after he dies[/SIZE].
    This is a philosophy with which I totally agree. Work to satisfy yourself, but also bear in mind that "most" of the people who follow you on this world will want to see anything at all that tells them something about you, and how you lived and how you felt about the way you lived. They won't likely care too much about how technically perfect your work was.

  3. #3

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    I agree

    I use a great deal of care to see that my prints and negatives have been processed and stored so that they last a long time. I have not got around to printing in carbon pigment or Carbro but I am thinking about it.

    Just imagine the current value of a photograph, strickly a record shot, done in a mediocre manner showing Charlemagne issuing the Magna Carta. Or a an ordinary scene of the Roman Colliseum being constructed. Or of Ruth Bernard glowing face after her wonderful session with Edward Weston.

    So fix, wash and store those photos properly boy and girls.

  4. #4

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    Quote Originally Posted by Sjixxxy
    I replaced the negative with one of my random 4x5 snapshots, sized down the easel to 5x7, ran one quick test strip, and a quick print after that. Perfect! Well. Maybe not perfect in the sense of "Every tone most be exact and sharpness must be absolute or my critiquers will rip it apart until I cry little a newborn kitten" perfect. But perfect for the 95 year old man who requested I made him a photo of his niece to hang on the wall. And perfect for whoever finds it in his stuff many years after he dies. Perfect for the audience that doesn't care if the greatest dmax was reached, and doesn't care that there is a speck of dust on the image, as long as it isn't over someone's face.
    .
    This is what 95% of my job was as the darkroom tech for an Archive. Get the info and move on.

    One day I was printing a Schloopot full of stuff from around 1920ish when an old lady asked to see the darkroom with my boss. She wanted to see how the stuff was done. She had a horrible negative-as most at that time were-from the pile of negs and pictures she was donating. She had never seen the print from the negative so i went to work and in no time at all the exposure was mode and had her put on the gloves so she could soup it her self. She was crying by the time the print finished with the developer. RC paper in Sprint takes no time to develope. It was a picture of her little brother who died during the depression. This was the only known photgraph of that person and I made it. Talk about making feel 200 feet tall for the rest of the day. We made an 11x14 for her while she worked on getting the paper work done. I really miss that job.

    You are right that those old photographs of simple common things are really the priceless ones.

    We see the old photos and never really think about where they come from or the person who took them. I was lucky to meet several of the family members of donators, so I got to hear stories when they went through the prints as I got them done. I was always facinated by the negatives that I printed, especially the really old ones, those folks did not have a clue about "proper" exposure and yet the prints I could make were tack sharp and so full of the smallest details.

    Sorry for the long reply, this post brought back some really good memories.
    Technological society has succeeded in multiplying the opportunities for pleasure, but it has great difficulty in generating joy. Pope Paul VI

    So, I think the "greats" were true to their visions, once their visions no longer sucked. Ralph Barker 12/2004

  5. #5

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    Sorry boys and girls but this is the best thread for quite a long time and it is so true. We seem to spend endless hours trying to make our pictures conform to the rules of other photographers and if we are in search of technical excellence that's fine. But many of us are producing pictures for ourselves, for people who are not photographers and for those where it is the picture that matters not the depth of shadow detail or the any of the other technical aspects that are only noticed by other photographers.

    I'm going to put my foot in it even more because although for me film is the only road, I truly hope that the digital side gets itself sorted out and that their pixels and prints will be archival.

    In 50 or 100 years or more from now I too would like to think that there will be a record of life as it is now. Photography is not just for photographers but for the people!!

  6. #6
    DKT
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    I work in the photo dept of a history museum. I learned a long time ago, that you could make a zillion versions of an old negative, trying to nail that "pefect" print and in the end, 99% of the viewers wouldn't see these minor variations. You could see them, and point them out to others, but in the end, they were just variations on a theme.

    Also--I'd say probably 50% of the historical negatives I have to print are fairly lousy for whatever reason, whether they've deteriorated or were just technically bad to begin with. With these negatives--often times just getting a so-so print is a major achievement. With this kind of stuff, you have to limit yourself to getting the best range of tones you can, and then move on. You'll drive yourself insane trying to "fix" them, and then you just waste time and materials.

    I just got done working on an exhibit that opens this weekend. I made about 150 prints for this, and we had about 40 maybe that were done by outside labs (murals and color work). For the stuff I had to do, I had just bare minimum amounts of paper to work with, since the designers changed sizes after the paper was ordered and we wound up with really like 2 sheets maybe per negative. Towards the end, I had about 5 20x24s to make and less than ten sheets of paper. I've made at least (not done yet) 300 prints for this exhibit so far though, as 8x10 work prints. For this stuff, I make them straight. No dodge, burn etc. Just straight for the most part.

    Whenever I'm working on one of these exhibits, I always have a day or two where some negative I have to print sucks, and I always think I'll never see a negative that bad. Then, the next exhibit, sure enough, there's another incredibly lousy negative--that makes you just wish it had been thrown away....but, sometimes even this is better than nothing....I once had to print a solarized 4x5 negative that hadn't been properly washed as well, so not only did it have reversed tones, but it was stained as well. Then--this masterpiece was shot on 8x10 nitrate film and the original was duped down to 4x5. So--they saved the original, then duplicated it, and then continue to save the dupe. This isn't an art shot either...it's an example of something that will be archived forever more or less, but if it were you or I who had shot it, we would have tossed it after we ran the film. Once a collection is legally accessioned though? It's almost impossible to get rid of it. I doubt the archivists had much choice actually, but to save the whole collection--even the duds.

    It's the ones that have been lost that are the worst to think about though. I work with a collection of glass plates from the 1880s--1920s, that are really neat. But about 50 yrs ago, the folks who inherited these from the family whose studio this was, decided to give them to a library. Beforehand, someone decided that only the portraits would be of interest to anyone, so they destroyed all the commercial shots and all the architectural images. So all that--gone...just like that. There are about 1200 plates left, and there were almost 5 times that before. There're only maybe 100 that aren't portraits. These run the gammut from old coca cola bottling plants, to an original bridge over part of the outer banks that is long gone now. There are pictures of baseball teams from the turn of the century, old motorcars, even a shot of a relay race. It's a real shame--the collection though is still pretty neat and the portraits themselves are interesting. It's just the thought of what that other stuff could have been....

    otoh--don't kind yourselves that just because something is old, that it will be intrinsically of value to a museum or an archive. We took in an entire studio and got about 19,000 negatives or something like that, and both our museum--state history museum--and the state archive turned the negatives down. they wound up in a public library geneology collection. I think the content of the negatives probably didn't meet the collecting policies in the end, and alot of them would have been a real problem as far as storage went( given the age of the film bases). Fact is that space is at a premium always and it costs alot of money to store artifacts properly. Right now actually, the place I work for is trying to deaccession items...there just isn't enough space or money really to save everything.

    The digital stuff? You can forget it. The past 2 exhibits I've worked on have had some images coming in from outside sources as digital originals and unless the file size in natively large enough to begin with, you can't get the same type of information out of them that you would off a print or piece of film. This last exhibit, I worked with alot of negatives from a collection in the archives that are from a newspaper. The older ones were all 4x5, and as you got into the 70s and 80s they were all 35mm. We took some of those original 4x5s and made some fairly large prints off them, and had at least two 12 foot murals off 4x5s as well. The more recent news archive stuff is digital, and you can't do much with them. They serve the purpose and look good enough in the newspaper, but even trying to get an 8x10 dye sub out of some of them is tough. Compared to a 4x5 neg shot by the same paper 70 yrs ago, there's a pretty stark difference in the same type of shot....

    I had to go to a meeting today with my boss, and we had to give advice about image acquisition for an upcoming exhibit. We wanted 4x5 film, or 8x10 prints optimally....my gut feeling is that we'll be forced to use alot of digital images though. Fingers crossed we get to work with film though.

    sorry for the rambling post...

    my opinions only of course, not my employers if anyone has a problem with anything written above.

  7. #7

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    I've been thinking about this thread and have decided that from now on all prints I make will be purely for my own liking and not with a view to achieving the best technical print I can produce. If others don't like the results ... tough! Also I will no longer comment on pictures in the gallery about how I feel their technical merits can be improved.

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    I think it is something we have all thought about, but vanity gets in the way. It is human nature to enjoy critical praise......so we end up pandering to it a little. If things dont work out for me as a pro (odds are they won't) then I'll embrace the same philosophy. Its all for ME and if others happen to like it............

    Tom

  9. #9

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    Tony
    I think it is important to think about the technical details, just not obsess. People put items in the critique gallery to be critiqued. I assume they want to grow as photographers, and the technical details are important. I like the idea od shooting and printing for yourself just don't lower your standards. I don't know about you, but for me I have much higher standards for any of my prints than anyoneelse could possibly have.
    Technological society has succeeded in multiplying the opportunities for pleasure, but it has great difficulty in generating joy. Pope Paul VI

    So, I think the "greats" were true to their visions, once their visions no longer sucked. Ralph Barker 12/2004

  10. #10
    David Brown's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TPPhotog
    ...
    But many of us are producing pictures for ourselves, for people who are not photographers and for those where it is the picture that matters not the depth of shadow detail or the any of the other technical aspects that are only noticed by other photographers.

    ... Photography is not just for photographers but for the people!!
    Yes, yes, yes.

    When I started doing this, in the 60's, it was just plain magic when the image came up in the developer. I always wanted a good print, but it is obvious that my standards were lower then.

    Still, many of those prints are hanging on various walls where no recent images are. All I have of recent work is "work prints", because my standards are "higher" and I know I can get better results. I need to relax and make some pictures. :rolleyes:

    Cheers

    David

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