12.26.2017

A Photo From the Distant Past. Copied From a Print.


I've been spending some time lately looking through boxes of prints. I have several thousand black and white, 11x14 inch, double weight fiber photographic prints that I rarely look through because everything became digital. Everything is accessed on the web. The prints seem to me to belong to a different age; a different aesthetic.

There was something about being a photographer in my 30's that felt as though we had all the time in the world as well as the ability to block out all the distractions and just do our work. We weren't frantic to churn it out in order to get it up on the web as soon as possible so we could start garnering "likes" and variously disguised "attaboys." I would shoot for the pleasure of shooting and the equal measures of deriving pleasure talking to the interesting people in front of my camera.

Nothing was ever finished or "showable" until it was printed, toned, washed and dried. Once I made an 11x14 print I could go out into the world and show it. The audience was limited but, for the most part, appreciative.

Opening these boxings and carefully shuffling through the prints is, for me, like looking back in a time travel device that doesn't allow you to go back in time but rather to look back in time. 

All those beautiful people in all those prints are now twenty or more years older. Most of the people I still know and see around town. Most of them have aged very, very well. All are still interesting to me.

The more that life changes the more I struggle to figure out how to translate and integrate what we did for our craft, and in service of our vision, into a modern idiom. To translate from a unique and physical treasure into a fleeting mosaic of tiny squares of light and color on a fixed screen. Mostly immovable and in its own way unshareable.

Sure, you can walk around with your phone and annoy people by showing them tiny and compressed images but I rarely see artists walking down the street dragging a cart with computer and a thirty inch monitor behind them, ready to show off their work on the sidewalks. Ready to put a black hood over the monitor to chase off the reflections and glare so the people who assent to view the work can see it in all of its modern glory.

The image above is of my friend of 30 years, Michelle. She has always been wonderfully beautiful.
I photographed her with a medium format camera and a medium telephoto lens. This image started as a color negative and is progressively being re-seen in more and more monotone variations.

As was my custom then the lighting was done with only two lights. One in a small softbox directed at the background and the second in a huge softbox (4x6 feet) and used over to one side. There was no fill and I'm happy with that.

The opening of the boxes and the re-examination of my own past is proceeding, driven by the loss of both family and friends which seems to be the human lot in life after 50. It's also motivating me to start printing again.

Not because I think anyone will notice or care in any productive way but because it seems so much more "real" to me than stacking up images on a magnetic disk. Locked away as potential, but not actual, pieces of art and craft.

13 comments:

Tom Judd said...

I agree. It's not really a photograph until it's printed on paper.
There's a group of us (serious amateurs to working pros) who still think that our purpose is to create wall art. A few traditional darkroom workers, but mostly digital now. We find exhibit space throughout New Jersey in galleries and other public spaces that welcome changing exhibits. Sometimes one of us actually sells something, but not very often I'm afraid.
The technology to get there changes, but the satisfaction of a fine print does not.
Keep printing Kirk, so that 20 years from now you can have the fun and satisfaction of opening an almost forgotten box of prints and relive great memories.
Happy New Year

Frank Grygier said...

This a beautiful portrait. It is proof to me that large format film has an intangible quality that can't be matched with digital.

Norm Snyder said...

Yes...photograph as object. I, too find myself exploring rarely opened boxes of archival prints. In doing this, I am finding threads to explore...recurring themes, compositional styles, arrangements of objects or people, some of which I'd not realized connected these images captured over what is now a good many years. Beyond simply looking at them, the ability to hold them in my hands allows an experience quite different than viewing them on a screen and I can create a spread of images in a way that my walls [or others'] can't accommodate. I intend to explore these threads [to borrow a term from our era of electronic prose and images] during the year head and see where they may take me.

Edward Richards said...

Will there be a digital version of going through the box of prints that you find when sorting out grandma's estate? I have family photographs going back 100 years or more. Sure, I have digitized everything as backup in case of fire or flood - flood especially in my part of the world. But will my kids and grandkids take the time to preserve my digital archives? (Of course, our valued prints will likely become just more junk at our passing.)

Prints also imply that you will revisit images through time, changing your views of them as your life experience changes. I wonder if anyone is looking back at the digital images?

Norm Snyder said...

Yes...photograph as object. I, too, find myself exploring rarely opened boxes of archival prints. In doing this, I am finding threads to explore...recurring themes, compositional styles, arrangements of objects or people, some of which I'd not realized connected these images captured over what is now a good many years. Beyond simply looking at them, the ability to hold them in my hands allows an experience quite different than viewing them on a screen and I can create a spread of images in a way that my walls [or others'] can't accommodate. I intend to explore these threads [to borrow a term from our era of electronic prose and images] during the year ahead and see where they may take me.

Mike Rosiak said...

What Tom Judd said.

The digital file is today's negative.

Stephen Kennedy said...

This is really nice. Thanks for sharing.

Hugh Alison said...

I compromise less as I age.... I print big (20” x 30” image on 24”x 36” paper) and pin it to the office wall. If I still like it after a few months, I trim it down to A1 and frame it or archive it.

Gato said...

Another very nice and thought provoking piece.

Regarding Edward Richards comment, I have spent the last few days going back through 20 years of digital. I promised myself to update my website -- last major update was 2012 -- and when I began I realized there were roughly 20 years of photos on the web server. I have used the same host since I first went online in the mid 1990s and only deleted a few things. It has been quite a trip.

And I realize at some point I or my heirs will stop paying the $99 a year and all those photos will vanish. Most of them, other than this site, exist only on old hard drives in the back closet, which might or might not be readable -- and which no one is likely to bother with anyhow.

In contrast, I have a suitcase from my grandparents home with family photos going back 100 years or more. But sadly, no one in my family wants to take them -- in part because the history that should go with them has largely been lost.

I remember several times in my childhood when the family would gather at my grandparents and pull out that box of photos to talk about them. Each time someone would say, "We should get a pencil and write the names on these." But no one ever did it. My generation is dying off now, and with us the last faint memories of who and when and where those photos were made. Someday those photos will wind up in an estate sale or even the landfill and all that history will be lost.

David said...

There's nothing like a crisp rectangle of ink on a nice piece of paper. I like mine small, around 5x7 on 8.5x11 paper, so I can hold them in my lap to look at them. When I frame them, I move up to 9x12 or so in a 16x20 frame. That's big enough for me. (And also I can buy pre-cut 16x20 mattes with 11x14 holes from Archival Methods, which makes matting easy.)

Be careful. If you start making big prints, you might have to buy that MF camera you've been avoiding.

Anonymous said...

I agree wholeheartedly.
We've just had a new photography gallery open in Cardiff museum , following David Hurn donating his archives. Over the last decades he has swapped his prints with other photographers and that's formed the basis of an amazing collection that is worth so much culturally. (weegee, mccurry, lange, Cartier-Bresson, and a whole host of up and coming photographers work).

That swaps idea seemed really lovely. Do you do that with any of your buddies kirk? (I recall a blog where you went to a friend's show and bought one of his pieces).

One other request. You say you see a lot of these archival portrait guys around town still. Make sure you keep inviting them in for another session. Hopefully those will be the photos you post in another decade's time.

Happy Christmas and New year
Mark

Anonymous said...

There's just something about prints, isn't there?
We're very lucky in Cardiff at the moment as the museum has just opened up a dedicated photography gallery. The first show (and the inspiration for the gallery) is from David Hurn's collection which he has just donated. Over the past decades he has swapped prints with his hero's, peers and with young up and coming photographers that he welcomed into the magnum stable. There are some remarkable pieces there (weegee, mccurry, lange, Cartier-Bresson...).

Have you ever swapped prints with your photographer buddies kirk? (I remember you saying that you bought a print from a friend at his show in a blog post a while ago).

One last request, when you say you still see these guys around town, make sure you have them come and sit for you regularly in this same way. It'll be lovely to see those shots in the blog in 10 to 20 years time.

Happy Christmas and New year
Mark

Anonymous said...

Here's a link to a wonderful article on the wonder of prints in photography
https://www.magnumphotos.com/arts-culture/art/david-hurn-martin-parr-build-art-collection-swapping-prints/
Mark