Discussion in 'Talk About Anything Photography Related' started by Ian-Barber, Jan 22, 2018.
Andrew: I print all of my own stuff and would never let a lab print for me. The print is the most important part of the process. This is also why I am never satisfied with just scanning my negs, - I have to have a print that I can hold in my hand.
I'd agree with that.
Interesting read. But he does himself no favours by taking cheap shots at digital photographers....in my opinion.
Buying film in boxes appeals to photographers who are too lazy to polish a silver plate and die early from mercury poisoning.
I do wish people would refrain from this sort of comment. It's careless thinking and disrespectful to fellow practitioners.
Having got that off my chest, I would like to have read more about Andrew's practice and seen more of his excellent pictures.
"The print is the most important part of the process". I'm not sure that a physical artefact can be part of a process; the end result perhaps. But accepting that the print is the most important thing, surely it must follow that the only reason for using one medium or film size over another is because it directly impacts the final print? If digital can give a better print than film - which I'm sure it can in certain circumstances - then it's hard to see why it should be avoided.
I did smile at the juxtaposition of these statements:
"If I knock my neg file off the table it doesn’t wipe everything I’ve done. ... I can print a glass negative from 1915 exactly the same way that I would print a neg I shot yesterday. "
I was under the impression that knocking a glass plate off a table would probably be more likely create problems than dropping some digital storage devices.
This seems to be a debate peculiar to photography. Do we hear painters, after 1841, denigrating paint in tubes and extolling the moral virtues of the pestle and mortar? Or the manifestly superior archival qualities of cave walls over this new-fangled canvas?
There's no reason to point fingers at any method of production. To be sure, early digital prints lacked permanence, but so did early wet prints. The Fox Talbot Museum has some splendid annotated blank sheet of paper. I could go on listing differences and so could all of us.
It's common for evangelical wet printers to claim that digital printers "...just press a button..." Clearly, they've never seen a keyboard, but the most curious thing is that on all the enlargers I've ever seen, you just press a button, too. What kind of kit are they using?
And we can scan a glass plate as easily as today's negative or a flower that we've just picked. We can scan a Babylonian cuneiform tablet too, but I can't see the relevance.
To my eye, the principal difference is that wet prints have curly edges and so far, digital technology can't manage that. Daguerrotype makers may scoff now. Their prints really do look different.
Andrew Sanderson does seem to believe that the more difficult and involved the process, then the better the finished work will be. Is this really the case? David mentions painters. And if we look at the work of Rembrandt, for example, I think it does prove that more effort equals better work. When Rembrandt was getting plenty of commissions his work was only amazingly good. This was because he could afford to pay someone to grind his oil paints for him. He could afford to buy his canvasses ready prepared- finest Belgian linen sealed with rabbit-skin glue - and primed with lead white. He was therefore able to shortcut the process; just press a few buttons as it were. But after Rembrandt became bankrupt his work changed. It became amazingly amazing. Think of those wonderful late self-portraits. These weren't brilliant because Rembrandt was able to distill a lifetime of visual experience and depth of humanity into his work. No. It was because he now had no money and therefore had to make a much bigger effort to do the work. He now had to weave his own canvas, mine his own lead to make the primer. And shoot his own rabbits to make rabbit-skin glue. (The best rabbit-skin glue comes from rabbits shot by a silver- tipped arrow shot from a longbow on the night after a full moon, apparently...)
So there you have it. Anyone can paint like Rembrandt, if they are prepared to make the effort - and learn to shoot a longbow....
Painting is only one kind of production, but photographers always seem to latch on to it in discussion. I wonder if poetry might be a closer parallel, but that's something for another post.
I think we should distinguish between physical effort, physical skills and mental skills. We might perhaps dismiss physical effort in this context, although we do admire pictures made under difficult conditions. I don't think anybody claims that LF photography is superior because the kit is heavier. (...although the only thing that Berenice Abbott discovered about Atget's process was that his kit weighed sixty pounds.)
I've taken the precaution of re-visiting Andrew's website and my respect for his work remains undiminished; he is a very talented photographer.
What I think is legitimate is to express a personal preference. Many makers enjoy the actual process for its own sake. Bakers enjoy the feel of the living dough under their hands. Tailors enjoy fine fabrics. Landscape photographers speak of the joy of being alone in hostile and uncomfortable terrain, even when they make no images. Some photographers get satisfaction from owning certain brands of equipment.
Many photographer speak of the enchanted moment when an image first grew from nowhere in the developing tray: I am one of them. The darkroom is a friendly refuge and the details of the process are absorbing. For those who value physical contact with their materials, this is a satisfying practice. Certainly, working in a darkroom is less tedious than watching the scanner's progress bar.
For others, the detailed technology of photography is fascinating and they croon over their densitometers and plotting software. (A sudden random thought – should they not be using real graph paper and a pencil to be true to the spirit of the darkroom?)
We could easily go on.
I should mention that the physical skills needed in the darkroom are fairly trivial. Anyone can press the on/off button; anyone can hold their hand over the bright bits, anyone can slosh sheets of paper through a tray. It's judging the result and knowing what to do next that matters. A chef or a blacksmith need much more physical skill.
I conclude that photography is a very broad church and every photographer benefits from the experience and output of every other, whatever their personal methodology may be. We should be embracing what others do, even selfies and kittens. Who doesn't like kittens?
David, I agree that we should distinguish between physical effort, physical skills and mental skills. There are also other skills involved, though it's difficult to say exactly what they are.
There is also perhaps another way of looking at all this. When I first took up photography forty years ago and was, like any other beginner, confronted with a host of technical problems like measuring the light, manipulating chemicals to develop film and make prints, etc. It seemed like a daunting task, and I thought that the biggest problem in photography was how to gain control of all these technical issues. Physical effort, physical skill and mental skill all came into play in dealing with this.
A few years later, when I had acquired a certain amount of control over these technicalities I found that I could make a technically reasonable print but my prints lacked a certain visual "something". At that point I began to think that the hard bit wasn't controlling the light and the chemicals; the hard bit was working out what you actually wanted to photograph, and how you wanted it to look in the print. And the reason I thought this second problem was the more difficult one is is that the first problem is governed by rules - the laws of physics and chemistry. And there are definite and clear-cut answers. But the second problem has do do with aesthetic judgement, and creative ideas. And in this area there are no rules to help you. In a sense you are on your own, though of course help is available by studying the work of other image makers.
Then at some point I realised that I must have moved on beyond all this. I found I had stopped thinking of technical issues and aesthetics as two distinctly different problems. They were both part of the same thing. Each had its effect on the other. I found that I knew enough to get something in my prints that I was fairly comfortable with, so now I photograph the world like you drive a car - without a lot of conscious thought. I just let the unconscious do the work for me. My photographs have changed. But I no longer get frustrated with things, and now find the whole thing very satisfying.
There is still a fair amount of physical effort. But it mainly involves carrying heavy cameras up steep hills...
I think you have expressed those ideas remarkably well.
Yes, when we begin, photography looks like a series of technical hurdles. I came to photography through a camera club, as many do, and in those days, almost half of a judge's time was taken up by passing on technical hints and tips on how to improve an image – simple things like using a filter for the skies, burning in the edges or not snatching prints from the developer.
I'm sure many on this forum will remember similar evenings. Along with the technical hints, there would be the (ahem) aesthetic judgement and finally the awarding of marks. I've done a (very) little of this and awarding marks is both difficult and a truly inadequate way to asses work.
If you are at all thoughtful, this information and misinformation is feeding your critical mind and eventually, some people find that they need to break free. There are other groups, like this one, that welcome them.
Others on this forum may have arrived as refugees from professional photography. Perhaps they have a different tale to tell.
Camera clubs are different now. As we'd expect. So is professional photography.
I followed the link to Andrew's Facebook page and found this reply by him :
I started out with film (at my age, what else was there ) and moved to digital when the Nikon D100 came out. The problem was, with 35mm film, and with a 6 Megapixel sensor, I could never really achieve the print sizes I envied.
Soon after upgrading the Nikon D100 to a Nikon D200, I saw an LF workshop being advertised by a certain Paul Owen and, since it was free and I would be allowed to "borrow" a camera, I felt it was an opportunity not to be missed. Wow! What a mistake to make A dozen or so years later and thousands of pounds poorer, I still adore the equipment and the results it produces.
Now I not only own an LF camera but, also two Mamiya MFs: an RZ67 and a 7II.
I process all my own film, both B&W and E6 but really can't accommodate the idea of having to dedicate a room with running water and smelly chemicals. So, I taught myself how to scan and process my film in Photoshop.
I seriously resent those wet printers who say that there is a lack of skill in this hybrid process. First there is the fact that, in order to produce a good print from a sheet of film, it is essential that you produce the very best sheet of film. Then comes the business of scanning the film and preparing the resulting file for printing. I can spend many hours, sometimes over several days, working with Photoshop to achieve a file that will print perfectly.
For B&W I work with multiple curve layers, masking them in much the same way that I would dodge and burn with an enlarger. Not to forget the hours spent despotting.
The resulting files are then either printed on an A3+ printer or sent to Ilford for their laser analogue printing service for the larger sizes. I defy anyone to be able to distinguish such a print from Ilford from one produced from an enlarger.
Recently, I succumbed to upgrading my Nikon D200 to a D810. With 36 Megapixels and a tonal range of 14 stops, I find myself seriously wondering whether I really need to hold on to the Mamiyas. The quality and detail it produces are approximately the same as a 6x7 neg scanned at 2400ppi.
Would I ever get rid of my film cameras? Hmmm, there's a conundrum. I adore the look and feel of them and still get a thrill out of opening the developing tank to find the film is everything I hoped it would be. Peering at an image on a small screen on the back of any digital camera, deleting it and trying again is nowhere near as challenging as having to ensure you got it right first time.
If someone produced a digital 5x4 camera, would I be tempted? In a heartbeat! But it would have to have a full 5x4 screen on the back, bellows focusing and a darkcloth
That's an interesting reply from Andrew Sanderson you quoted Joanna. "I was taking a pot shot at the digital upstarts who think they have invented photography and consider themselves geniuses." I think is also the attitude of many of the photography magazines, particularly who basically don't even acknowledge film still exists.y the newer ones.
I keep out of the Digital/Analogue argument, I've always seen digital as just another alternative, we've always had choices of how we shoot, B&W, Colour negative, Colour transparencies, Polaroid, then Digital, of course there's alternatives like Wet plate etc.
It's unhealthy to sit taking one side without respecting the other. I found I had no choice and had to use digital for work, but I was already using digital for snapshots, despite preferring a 100% analogue route for serious images. There's also realities, I was working with a record company and the specialist high speed push process E6 films were the first to disappear, a DSLR came to my rescue when I began working for them full time (I'd worked with the same key person since the mid to late 1970's).
These days I rarely shoot 35mm, my old 6mp Canon could out-perform them and I was getting superb A1 poster prints, although quality is more dependent on the printer or RIP software than the file size, some interpolate better than others - not something I worry about. I love printing 35mm small
When I began shooting my serious personal work maybe 1984 it was with a Mamiya 645, the quality was all I wanted but I soon ad issues running out of focus, I needed movements I'd used them for work but needed them for all my future work.
I think there's something about using LF that's hard to explain to non users, it's such a contemplative pleasurable way of working. I know I often work faster than some 35mm and 120 or even Digital users as I've been out with them but taht's more about confidence in using the camera (& ffilm) than anything else.
In terms of output while all my exhibition work is darkroom silver prints, I've explored and made Hybrid (digital inter-negative) Platinum prints and excellent Inkjet prints on the old Harman Digital Warmtone and other papers. Yes they are as good as wet darkroom prints but boring to produce
It's about making images, Andrew Sanderson is important as a flag carrier for non digital routes, nothing wrong with that.
A print is made under the enlarger or a light source, a Digital print is made essentially on the computer before sending to the printer, not borning, both are different, equally enjoyable.
I not sure what you means by that Martin, surely you can print a scanned file to produce a print you can hold in your hands.
That was my point. I know a traditional master printer who would make anything around 27 exposures, making amazing prints with everything clear and well balanced.
So far I've not had to use 27 layers but I have used around a dozen in Photoshop. It's sometimes tedious but far from boring. The great benefit is, on a well profiled monitor, I can fairly well guarantee that the image I create will print out on an equally well profiled printer exactly as I envisioned it when I took it.
With an enlarger, I need to burn paper and chemistry, creating test strips and, possibly, failed prints that weren't quite how I wanted them; it can be the same with Photoshop - no matter what you do in preparing the image, the print just doesn't quite "feel" right.
The work involved in either process is technical, demanding and, in the end, immensely rewarding but never boring
It's a different aesthetic, as a darkroom worker that's just my personal my opinion and I can and have made the same prints digitally as well as in my darkroom. Neither is difficult if you know how to process & print but it's far easier to change reality with digital imaging.
Oh, and another thought, or maybe a question: If I make an analogue negative with an LF film camera, and the final print is made on analogue silver paper, does it really disqualify the image from being "better" simply because I used a digital process instead of an enlarger? Is my skill with Photoshop really "inferior" to that of an "optical" printer? After all, if all the gallery visitor gets to see is the finished silver print, do you really think it makes any difference how it was produced? When I send a file to Ilford to print, they have no input on the creative process, they take the file that I created with much love and hard work and simply put it on paper.
Damien Hirst may design his works of art but he employs rafts of people to actually create them. Guess who gets the glory and the lion's share of the sale price; it's certainly not the skilled technicians and engineers who fabricated his design. And nobody questions whether it was really Damien Hirst's "work"
But I, for one, am not talking about changing reality. What I do digitally is exactly the same as a "wet" printer. If you want "reality" then you need to leave every dust spot and imperfection in the negative and not make any corrections using multigrade paper and filters. Not forgetting that a B&W print never reflects reality; after all, the world is really in colour
Well yes there's a step (or more than one) using Digital that can make huge changes to the final output. It's not you that might be cheating, but there's plenty who would and do try.
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