Sunday, April 14, 2013


Vine, Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

Strange title but I have come to a bit of a semi-epiphany over the recent past.  I've always known that there were photographers who loved the process of photography.  I think many of us love the environment created in the darkroom and are reluctant to give it up no matter how good the digital tools are today.  I would never tell someone who loves the darkroom and/or film to give it up.  The chemical darkroom and the digital darkroom are different processes, media, and skills.

That said,  most folks who do the darkroom work describe the different look and feel that result from their process as being the reason they choose to go that route.  Film has grain, digital is smoother, etc. (Some use that as an excuse but that's a topic for another blog entry.)

In the recent past I came in contact with a very sophisticated photographer who goes through an extremely difficult, time-consuming, and heavy equipment oriented process to create an image that could be easily taken with modern equipment in a relatively short time by an amateur.  I realized that what he really loved was the process.  The image was really only an excuse to execute/figure out the process and was only marginally the object of the effort.

I wanted to ask what qualities the process brought to the final image to make him go through this extremely difficult process. I didn't get the chance to ask.

This discussion was part of a panel composed of ten photographers.  The other nine of us started the discussion of their images with what they were trying to achieve in the image.  The visual statement drove them to a particular process or equipment.  I'm not saying that this is right or wrong but it gave me something to think about.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Integrity of Craft

I wasn't really sure what to title this rant, but there are things I want to say.

As a photographer I think I have the right to reinterpret my negatives or files.   I have an obligation to the people who may purchase my prints to use the highest quality materials available to me.  When I sign one of my prints my reputation both as a photographer and a craftsman are on the line.  Maybe that's one of the reasons that I print all my own work.

When I make a print I always try to make it the best of which I am capable.  That doesn't change with a reinterpretation of the image.

I always tell people who are considering one of my images that while I can always reprint an image, there is no guarantee it will look identical, even if I use the same file.  Inks change, paper change, printers change over time.  Also, my opinion of what the picture should look like may change.

The above images are good examples of what I am taking about.  In the one on the left the skin is slightly lighter and there is a rock surface on the shoulder.  In the image on the right rock surface slightly darker and the shoulder is bare.  I like both images and I think both are within the bounds of artistic expression.

Over the last several years I've come in contact with incidents which call into question "artistic integrity" as it relates to craft.  In one case a fine art photographer that I know, when informed that his prints were off-color because he had used exhausted bleach and fix during the development of his prints and they would fade, said he couldn't care less.

Several years ago, the American Art Museum had a retrospective of Ansel Adams work.  One of the prints had been mistakenly left in the selenium toner so long that it was eggplant purple.  It should never have left the darkroom.

While visiting in Carmel, Ca., I went into one of the highest of the high-end photography galleries in the country.  There was a magnificent photograph of Ansel's "Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite" on the wall.  After I had made multiple visits over several days to view it, one of the employees asked me if I would like to see "the other" print they had of that image.  She went in the back room and brought out a print that should never have gotten out of Ansel's darkroom.  It was severely overprinted and had blocked shadows and grey highlights.  The print had none of the luminosity that the one hanging on the wall had.  Her comment, "naturally we don't show them together."

More recently, I've seen a print by a very famous 20th century photographer that had been poorly spotted and improperly washed and was showing chemical stains which rendered it worthless as a collectable print.

I also saw a print by this same photographer at the National Gallery of Art in Washington that was printed so dark it should never have been let out of his darkroom.

There are things that I see in my images that I'm pretty sure the public will never notice but I know they are there.  Until they are addressed to my satisfaction they might as well have neon signs pointing them out.  They never disappear; they only get worse.

I guess this is a long way of saying that great art requires great craftsmanship. Without both, neither exists.