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.