Artists shouldn't compromise...
After seeing 'Landmarks: The Fields of Photography' at Somerset House in London, I came away feeling overwhelmingly indifferent. Firstly, the staff weren't exactly friendly - a great ordeal for them to point me in the right direction in a confusing building with no directions.
I was most eager to see Nadav Kander's prints, but apart from the fact that they were significantly peeling away from the mountboard, they just didn't have any impact on me as 'photographic objects', 'original artworks'. They were C-prints, which I'm sure many on APUG have opinions about, and even the small size prints by others (displayed on the same 'media') had little substance. There were a few optical prints, most notably Thomas Struth's El Capitan - a wall sized chromogenic print, the detail of which held up pretty well from about a foot away. Smaller prints on the other hand by Simon Roberts and Mark Power (whose work I greatly admire) were softer - they were C-prints. It was hugely dispiriting seeing many images I've had strong responses to in reproduction, as large, soft, underwhelming prints on the wall.
The thing that baffles me a little bit, especially in regard to Burtynsky (also on display) and Kander, is that their images are some of the most defining of this period in photography. I just wonder, if in 20 years, looking at their soft C-prints will be like watching a classic film on VHS is now. As artists whose work sells for great sums, I don't see any excuse for them not to make optical prints. I know for a fact Nadav Kander and Mark Power shoot 4x5 colour neg.
I really think this is an issue that needs to be discussed (however controversial), especially in relation to some of the biggest names in art photography. Why are they compromising (technologically) with their prints? How will they hold up to posterity, if in my eyes, they don't today? I should say that I had been unaware of Robert Bourdeau's work until seeing this exhibition, whose toned silver gelatin prints of industrial ugliness were like jewels on the wall - for their great substance, detail and tonality. They were out of place as photographic artworks, in a good way.
I came away from the exhibition more certain that photography's natural and best presentation format today (and legacy as an art form), is in reproduction - books. So why waste time and energy to see the same reproductions in a gallery, just because they are larger and framed?
Disclaimer: I ask this on APUG because it's probably the only place on the web where people are incredibly knowledgeable about both traditional and 'modern' photographic printing, and some even recognise the names mentioned above! So as much as it ultimately appears like 'another one of those threads', this is in relation to photography as art at the highest level.
Last edited by batwister; 04-19-2013 at 06:33 PM. Click to view previous post history.
'Cows are very fond of being photographed, and, unlike architecture, don't move.' - Oscar Wilde
Although not exactly the same thing, I can say I was often disappointed when first seeing original silver gelatin and platinum prints. That includes Adams, Weston and many others. There is something about these duotone/tritone laser-scanned reproductions in fine books that gives the images a "heightened" luminosity, a jewel-like, sharp, silvery quality. It is difficult to explain accurately. When I first started getting really serious about printing I was always frustrated that no matter what I did or which materials I used I could not get my prints to look quite like what I saw in the books. I had not seen very many originals. My father (my first photography teacher) repeatedly told me I'd be disappointed when I finally saw real prints by the big names. He was mostly right. With books as a reference point, I had a distorted idea of what prints looked like.
I realize this has to do with distorted viewer reference points and expectations as opposed to artists compromising quality, so it may not be worth much.
Last edited by Michael R 1974; 04-19-2013 at 06:41 PM. Click to view previous post history.
This was part of my problem I presume, with the images I was most familiar with, but the issue remains with the ones I wasn't.
Originally Posted by Michael R 1974
I saw the Adams exhibition before this one and while the prints didn't quite hit me as I'd imagined, I spent most of my time with my face right up to them, just immersing myself in the detail. I wish I could have done this with Kander's prints, many of which feature people quite prominently, but I certainly couldn't make out the expressions on their faces. Whereas I could see the detail in leaves in the midground of Adams' prints. This seems like a fundamental problem in photographic presentation and communication of the image.
Last edited by batwister; 04-19-2013 at 06:57 PM. Click to view previous post history.
'Cows are very fond of being photographed, and, unlike architecture, don't move.' - Oscar Wilde
As with any 'show' the quality of the pieces that are on display depends on many factors such as finances, availability and logistics. If one is truly a connoisseur of the analog medium it is understood that each print is unique and if one is collecting or 'just looking,' the best prints are not always easy to find. Having mentioned that, I can't offer anything more without actually seeing the show myself.
What the heck is a "C-print?" I've read the term as used for chromogenic color prints - conventional RA4 and, prior to that, EP2 or previous process, as opposed to Ciba/Ilfochrome, dye transfer etc. I can tell you mean something else, but I don't know what.
I saw a small exhibit of Ansel Adams prints once back in the 90s and was blown away. Of course I'd been making my own black and white prints since the late 70s and had seen only a few Adams photos in books and those not large so I both had an idea what a black and white silver print looks like and the possible advantage of never having seen Adams images anywhere near so large. No disappointment there for me. I also saw an exhibit of Ralph Gibson at the High here in Atlanta and, while not "blown away" as with Adams I was struck by the strong graphic quality he managed. I also saw Cartier-Bresson, but of course he didn't make his own prints. The quality of printing over his career varied enormously and his impact is most often in what one might call the "gross image" not the minute detail, subtle shadows, grain or lack of etc.
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FWIW, "C-print" in the past has always referred to a print on colour photographic paper - currently RA4 or the non-Kodak equivalents.
In recent years, this has included both optical prints, and prints exposed using digital laser sources.
“Photography is a complex and fluid medium, and its many factors are not applied in simple sequence. Rather, the process may be likened to the art of the juggler in keeping many balls in the air at one time!”
Ansel Adams, from the introduction to The Negative - The New Ansel Adams Photography Series / Book 2
That's what I thought, but that doesn't seem to be what the OP means. He specifically refers to other prints as "chromogenic" implying that he means something else by "C-print."
EDIT: Computer prints? A new term for ink-jet? Some ink jet prints can look fantastic. I don't enjoy making them so I generally don't, but they aren't categorically abysmal anymore and haven't been for quite a while.
If their prints are less than sharp, this has nothing to do with whether or not they were exposed optically or digitally. Anyone working with laser light or led exposures knows that resolution is not the weak point of this process.
Originally Posted by batwister
Furthermore, if one were to compare a traditional c-print to a digital c-print that was matched by a skilled operator they would have a very difficult time distinguishing one from the other let alone identifying which was the analogue print and which was the digital print.
I believe the letdown you experienced has more to do with the glut of large c-prints and the dumbing down of content - two negative aspects of the current marketplace mentality of contemporary photography.
the problem is there is so much HYPE about everything that when you actually see it in "real life"
it doesn't seem like it should. i remember seeing the mona lisa at the louvre when i was a high school student
and while i didn't mind having to stand back behind the rope &c it just didn't have the presence that it had
later on when i studied renaissance painting and da vinci's work. i think michael r 1974's suggestion is right-on .. sometimes
publications make things look different ...
digital c prints, optical c prints there really is no difference .. it has to do with the person printing them as frotog said ...
just like b/w prints .. a skilled printer can make a print sing and a not so skilled printer ... meh.
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I have a theory. Be careful about how much of other people's work you study. Whether it be in either of the 2 of the 5 senses that "art" can enter your brain. It can be very polluting to your own style. I would think that Mozart had little exposure and contamination in his day. Just make the best print you can. That's all you can do. "Art" is one thing that can become inbred very easily. The best inoculation against copycatitis is staying away from carriers.