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Thread: Masters

  1. #11
    Art Vandalay's Avatar
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    "Do those who practice that thought limit themselves to what they know so they are assured a "technically perfect" negative the first time all the time?"

    Not sure if anyone has read the two (or more?) publications by Ralph Gibson highlighting different photographers and their exposure and darkroom methods. I think they might have been called 'Darkroom' (Lustrum Press) and had such luminaries as Eugene Smith, Wynn Bullock and Eikoh Hosoe talking about how they work their negs and prints in the darkroom, and the reasons for their choices. What struck me about the articles were how many (such as Smith) rejected the 'technically perfect negative' notion because it just didn't work for them. At least some of them found that using non-perfect negs and then employing a lot of darkroom magic produced prints with more life to them. At any rate, it's a very good series and I recommend them to anyone, if you can find them that is.

  2. #12

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    I will provide a counterpoint to Mark and say that "one shot, one negative" certainly is something to strive for, not as the end result of personal photography, but as a way to free yourself from the drudgery and technicality of photography as art, this is specially relevant IMO with LF photographers, who seem to fall on an endless loop of testing, looking for the glass with perfect bokeh, the developer which will produce the best hghlights and the deepest shadows with detail, etc. This to me, more often than not denotes a lack of technical mastery that is getting in the way of making photographs.

    People say or tell me "I hate testing", " I am a photographer, not a lab tech"...well yeah, I hate it too, but I do it so I know that when I press that shutter, I got all the information I want in that negative. This does not mean that I will not later on interpret the negative differently, and it has nothing to do with vision, it simply means that I am confident that I will get what I want and I can concentrate on the aesthetic and enjoyable part of photography more.

    I remember before I learned the BTZS, I was adamant it was all too complicated, so I followed saint Ansel's teachings, well, let me tell you, photography for me was very stressful, I would do all those tests, miriads of 4x5 sheets with gray tones, I would go out and do all the spot metering, bellows calculations, filter factors, etc, etc, only to always have a small nagging doubt in my mind "will this negative come out ok?".... Since invariably some of them did not come out ok. Now, with the aid of the BTZS I know the negative will come out ok, I now concentrate on composition, placement and looking for better spots than I ever did with the ZS. Exposure calculation is only a matter of a couple of minutes and at this point I am certain the negative will not be underexposed, overdeveloped, undedeveloped, overexposed or whatever combination of errors that plague us.

    I beleive this is what Francesco means by "one negative, one shot" and I agree with him completly. Lets remember, Weston did not have at his disposal all the new theories and ways to work and standarize exposure. AA was one of the few who had available to him a personal densitometer, now, we have more of these than we can shake a stick at.

    In the end, the proof is in the pudding, and as such, there are times when all I do is measure the DR of my negative, look at my charts for exposure and contrast for that range, dial in the exposure in the plate maker, and it is done.....sometimes I have to make 2 or 3 more exposures to fine tune, but I dont anymore spend 5 or 6 hours fighting with a negative to get a print. Once again, knowing my materials has freed me to realize my vision, I might spend 5 or 6 hours changing what I saw, but I got it all in one shot.

  3. #13

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    Jorge, perhaps reformulating the catch phrase to "one composition, one negative" might be better, but I find it does not have quite the same ring to it. I am certainly one who, like EW and his peppers, exhausts all compositional possibilities of any subject for as we all know light changes, tide changes, seasons change, etc. Even though I may expose 50 sheets on 50 different possibilities of one subject I know that all those 50 will not give me any hassle in the darkroom (I do dislike spending too much time in the dark preferring the outdoors every time). Of course compositionally all 50 could suck but they will be negatives that will print with relative ease. Sometimes though we do not have the luxury of returning to the scene, i.e. we only do get one shot. These situations do not stress me out anymore - I can use that short amount of time to compose and to visualise, exposure and development issues being an afterthought.
    Francesco

  4. #14
    rogueish's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jdef
    The relationship between art and craft is incidental, as evidenced by the existence of each in the absence of the other.
    Here Here! Well spoken!(typed?)

    Some of my negs are about as close to perfect as I've ever come, others are pretty (ok, really) crappy. I'd like to think I've gotten better over time, but I prove myself wrong on occasion. My printing is also improving, but I'm not stirving for "one shot one neg one print". It would be great if I could, think of the money and time saved. But then I think I might get a bit bored and move on to something else with more challenge. I rarely shoot back ups (bracketing? whats that? :o ) Usually I move a bit or reframe if I'm going to shot the same thing again.
    Like Aggie said,"The more you do something the more profecient you become. If the materials do not change, you have no need to adapt. Your preffered comfort zone is not breached. Personally I get bored if it is the same old every single time. Not that i don't become familar with certain products. I just think there is more than just one film or one developer. The mistakes I make are learning opportunities".
    I couldn't agree more.Thanks Aggie! (and you too jdef...)
    Last edited by rogueish; 10-07-2004 at 06:01 AM. Click to view previous post history. Reason: opps I seem to say that alot.

  5. #15
    c6h6o3's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jdef
    The relationship between art and craft is incidental, as evidenced by the existence of each in the absence of the other.
    I think the relationship is central. Art may exist without craft being present, but its quality is certainly compromised when that happens.

    What particular type of craft is employed may be incidental, but I believe that the mastery of that craft is essential in order for art to emerge by practicing it.
    Jim

  6. #16

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    Several years ago I had the privilege of spending an afternoon with Cole Weston at his studio. He was giving a presentation of his work, his fathers work, his then wife Paulette's photographs. The group of photographers were part of a workshop visiting from Germany and they eventually got around to asking questions about Brett Weston's technique. Some one mentioned they read that Brett didn't use a light meter and his negatives were perfect. Cole said something to the effect, well hell after that many years and shooting in the same light and he would bracket the hell out everything, one of them were bound to come out!
    If you ever had a chance to see a Brett Weston print and hold it in your hands to really see it free of bad light and glass in front of it you would be amazed.

  7. #17
    Ed Sukach's Avatar
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    What was the original question ... "Were some of the `Masters' of photography really `boobs' when it came to technical knowledge?"

    I think that would depend on the threshold of "boobery" that you had in mind. Certainly, some were far more familiar with the technical end of things, but --- I don't know ... did Weston know more about the chemical composition of developers than Ansel Adams?
    There is no question in my mind that some of the "significant" photographers were less fussy about their prints than others .. and I would think that most were familiar with f/stops and shutter speeds ... if that would lift them above the level of "complete technical incompetence."

    The concept of "Mastery" is a difficult thing in itself. How does one tell if they have "mastered" either aesthetics or technique/ technical things? There is no supernatural "test-giver" who will appear with a stamp of approval.

    "Moonrise" by Ansel Adams was mentioned here. It is a well-known fact that Ansel manipulated the printing; dodging, burning, jumping up and down ... whatever - "all over the place", according to an associate. He even revisited that negative years later, re-printing ... and returned to it a number of times.

    In the latest issue of "The Smithsonian", there is an article about the restoration of Les Demoisselles d'Avignon, by Picasso. Quoting:

    "Even after working so intimately with Les Demoiselles, the two conservators still seem a bit stumped by the painting. Coddington is especially struck with Picasso's defiantly modern, unpainterly attack - smudges he didn't bother to paint over, brushstrokes he literally x-ed out and left that way...." Again, "Before and after details ... show that the removal of varnish and surface residues brightened colors in the head at the painting's upper right and revealed areas of canvas (itself - raw canvas - ES) that Picasso had left exposed around the hands at the top of the work."

    Aesthetically a brilliant work, universally recognized for its merit. Technically ... well ....

    Technical excellence is a "good thing" ... but in the confines of absolutes - It is not an ABSOLUTE necessary.
    Carpe erratum!!

    Ed Sukach, FFP.

  8. #18
    Eric Rose's Avatar
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    I agree with you all. How's that for a truly Canadian response. I have seen wonderfully expressive prints come from horrible negs and I have seen technically wonderful prints from technically wonderful negs that have no soul whatsoever. I have also seen wonderfully expressive prints from technically wonderful negs.

    If the photographer has nothing to convey, it shows in the finished work. No matter what the raw materials are.

    I think most of my negs are pretty good, but I don't turn myself inside out trying to get them that way. I suppose it comes with experience and way to many hours in the darkroom over the past 30+ years.
    www.ericrose.com
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  9. #19
    c6h6o3's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jdef
    Jim, I respectfully disagree. If the second half of my statement is true, then the first half must be true as well.
    What do you mean, then, by 'incidental'? Does that mean that the relationship is irrelevant (by virtue of its being non-existant) or that it's just a tangential one? I took you to mean the latter.

    If I'm to be bound by your logic then I guess I think you're wrong about the second part. Thinking out loud: if art is, as I believe it to be, expression given form then it must follow that it cannot exist until the craft is well enough developed. The more I mull this over the more I become convinced that Ansel Adams was right: craft can exist without art (the proverbial "sharp picture of a fuzzy concept") but not the other way around.
    Jim

  10. #20
    mikewhi's Avatar
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    Just a few notes:

    1) In my experience the more darkroom 'tricks' one knows implies that the photographer routinely produces negatives of, shall we say, widely varying technical quality. They often expose in a haphazard way and work in the darkroom later to pull a good print from the negative. Others have no idea what they wan t in the final print when they expose, make exposures that will provide some information in the negative and then 'post-visualize' in the darkroom. To pull good images from these negatives can require all sorts of manipulaations (including nose oil). I know very few darkroom tricks and techniques.

    2) In the past, I had done so much Zone System testing and material standardization that all my 4x5's could be printed at a standard printing time of 12 seconds. I'd just plop the negative in, set the standard aperture, standard enlarger head height, give the paper 4 3-second exposures and there would be a very well, if not dead-on print.
    I'm a lot looser today, but I still work at producing the best negative that I can. I look a negative as being like a mold, the fewer imperfections in the mold, the ferwer things I have to repair in the copies that come out of the mold.

    3) I have no problem with making backup negatives. When I go on a trip that costs money and time and I have a good image, you're darn right I'm gonna have at least one backup. It would cost a lot to try to come back and re-do it. And we all know you can't really ever go back, something always changes. The backup is there because stuff happens in handling film, doesn't it? Heck the holder may be bad, I may not have had it seated in the camera correctly, who knows. Making a backup is no reflection on one's craftmanship. However, bracketing the heck out of every scene, is. But bad craftsmen can certainly produce great art, can't they? Eugene Smith made horrible negatives (an old girlfriend was a student of his, this according to her), but he should could print well from them. I was in Yosemite today and the Merced river was at a very low level, exposing rocks that would normally be underwater. I took what I believe will be several good images today. Since I may never see those rocks in that particular way for the rest of my life, you can bet that I have more than one backup of the good ones.

    4) Pepper #30 wasn't called that because EW liked the number 30. It was at least the 30th pepper he had photographed. I haven't even gotten around to Pepper #1 yet.

    4) I have no idea what art is.

    5) I do know what craft is.

    -Mike

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