Topic: Commentary (113 posts) Page 2 of 23

Three Amigos 1

Last month we had our first of 3 Three Amigos parties this winter at my studio in Allston, MA. If you've read this blog for awhile you might remember we are: Fred Sway, John Rizzo and me. We had two Three Amigos exhibitions a few years ago; one in Harvard, MA and another the following year at the New England School of Photography Gallery in Boston. 

Our recent evening was to gather friends and family for a winter supper of chili and cornbread with a glass of wine to look at work we'd hung that displayed each of our photographs and then to highlight the work of one of us. This one featured Fred Sway's work.

These above are recent works  from a show Fred had at the Brookline (MA) Library in the fall of 2016.

After an hour or so of talking and socializing we quieted the group of about 25 and Fred showed some work from another series at the big table in the center of the studio.

Fred is retired now but very active photographically. He comes from a background of doing his gradate work with Aaron Siskind at the Institute of Design in Chicago, was a teacher for many years and was the director at the New England School of Photography in the mid 70's and 80's. From there he was head of Boston University's Photo Services until he retired in 2008.

We had guests from all over. Many were friends or family that weren't in the photo community. Didn't matter. Some of the best questions Fred got were from people who didn't know photography that well. Fred enjoyed himself and the guests did too.

This was a wonderful evening and a great way to share work with people in a personal and informal way. People really enjoyed their time with each other, looking at Fred's pictures, having something good to eat (and drink) and getting a break from the stress of our new president's first weeks in office.

Finally, I think this is a perfect way to look at art. Personal, easy, informal and amongst friends and colleagues. Our Three Amigos party might serve as a model for you in your community. Hope so.

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted February 20, 2017

PRINTING


This one's going out to those of you that print your own photographs. There may be information in here that might help you if you send your files out to be printed by someone else, but principally this post will be for photographers that make their own inkjet prints.

It seems few make their own prints anymore, that printing has been relegated to a non-creative process, to a "technician" to translate the original files into a two dimensional representation on a piece of paper. But if you're an artist doesn't this seem a little bit skewed? It does to me.

As a career teacher I get that people struggle a great deal with making good prints. It can be very challenging. In darkroom days it often took students a whole semester to learn how to make a good print. But it doesn't have to be such agony. Let's start with the tools you are working with.

A reasonably capable computer is good, one that can handle your multiple files and that either has enough internal storage or enough external storage in RAIDS or  hard drives not to get bogged down. I am an advocate of keeping up to date, within reason, on Operating Systems and updated firmware as to fall behind means you might get locked out of some applications. Knowing Photoshop and your file management system, usually Lightroom these days, is also a prerequisite.Take a class if necessary to become skilled in these.

Your choice of printer probably means less than you think. Of course, maximum print size is the primary issue. How big do you need to print? Several of my  friends don't print large, usually.  For that special situation when they need something larger, they go to a lab or a friend who has a big printer. For most that makes sense as big prints are a pain; hard to handle, difficult to look at unless tacked up or framed, expensive and difficult to store. Don't get me started as I make many large prints. On the other hand a 5 or 6 foot print can be simply breathtaking if the quality is high.Whatever printer you are using should not have clogged nozzles, not have a terminal disease, and be clean and not destroying the paper you run through it. It does not have to be the newest one out there as long as it is healthy. Finally, the paper you choose is a topic for a whole workshop, let alone a short blog but suffice it to say that almost any paper is capable of making an excellent print. Also, you do get what you pay for with papers. If demand is high for a breakdown of papers I can go into this in a new post. Let me know.

Your workflow needs to be fluid and known. Work out a logical system for your- self. It is important that you be somewhat systematic. Can you get back to the file at a later time? Is your filing system understandable and organized? I make RTP files that sit in the project's folder. RTP means Ready to Print and this means the files in that folder are color corrected, sized, sharpened, cleaned if necessary and  ready to be sent to the printer.

Monitors and calibration. The quality (and size) of your display is another  important part of the equipment you use to make prints. I used Eizo's for years but have two different ones that I use now. My primary monitor is a Sharp PN-K321 which is 32 inches and very good. When on the road I usually bring a  Apple Thunderbolt large display that I use with a Mac laptop computer. This is a  reasonably good display and a lot cheaper as well. There is a great deal written about calibration and I am a believer, particularly when setting up a new monitor. Flat panel displays drift far less than older monitors but still they do age. 

Also, be aware of the light in the room where you work. It  shouldn't be too light or too dark. Also be careful to provide a viewing light to evaluate your prints. This should be close to daylight, not too warm(yellow) or too cold (blue).

Finally, to one of my main points: Closed Loop System(CLS). What's this?

A CLS of your own is self contained and holds few variables. CLS is your system taken as a whole, familiar and predictable, because you don't impose something new to it, at least not very often. Take your RTP file to someone else to print and you are now in an Open Loop System (OLS), meaning you are interjecting unknowns into your final results. CLS uses components that are yours, that you've debugged, calibrated and worked with over time. This makes problem solving easier and often results in superior prints. However, CLS means you are responsible for it all, including stocking the inks and papers needed. I went into this a little in my blog on Bob Korn Imaging (here). Part of Bob's expertise is his knowing how to get a great print from your file. Send your file off to someplace you don't know and can't speak with and who knows what will happen to your photograph. Clearly I am not a big fan of distant large printing companies with anonymous operators.  Buy local here if you don't make your own. 

ICC (International Color Consortium) profiles. Important? Yes. Don't know what these are? These are used to key your printer to the  kind of paper you are using. This isn't hard. Do the research and use them as they will affect your prints.

What else? Be patient. Great printing takes time to learn. Define your work as if you were a student, learning from your mistakes. You need to teach your eye/brain combination just what a really good print looks like. Look at lots of prints, judge them critically. Common mistakes: weird and overworked files that are oversaturated for impact and over sharpened because people think more is better. Take a class, a weekend workshop or a day long immersion into printing. But make sure the person teaching it knows what they are doing. Don't follow a false prophet. Be prepared to blow some materials in your pursuit for perfection. Do good printers make the best print the first time?  Hardly. For me, I am always trying to do that, for my first print to be magnificent. But it seldom happens. Same was true in the darkroom. No differents now that I make my prints with a computer and an inkjet printer. 

Look, good printing is a skill. It takes real ability to make a good print from such a wide array of hardware and software, a massive amount and yes's or no's or on's or off's in this digital world that it is a wonder we can get the results we do. So, it is a science. But it also is an art, needing great sympathy and empathy for the original intent to come to fruition, a sensitive person that interprets and uses the tools that are available to mold, meld and make a print that is evocative and expressive. Who knows that better than the person clicking the shutter in the first place? Committed to your work? Then show that commitment by getting serious about your prints. Even if you don't make prints yourself, knowing printing informs you as to what is needed from the person you choose to make your prints. 

Making beautiful prints of your imagery? Lost art? Doesn't have to be. 

Topics: Printing theory,Printing,Commentary

Permalink | Posted February 15, 2017

Having Prints Made

Three things:

1) Diving into printing your own digital photographs isn't for the feint of heart.  It is intimidating, alienating, infuriating, expensive and massively time consuming. The learning curve is steep and the road to making beautiful prints is long. I know. I have made my own prints since 1969 until 2003 in the darkroom and using inkjet printers since. I print all my own work.

2) Making really first rate prints that evoke the depth of your photography, the wealth of feeling and the sheer uniqueness of your photographic circumstances takes great skill. Furthermore, if you choose to have someone else take on the task of making your prints, it takes someone who's invested with you in seeking out the depth of your best imagery. 

3) These days many don't know what a truly excellent print is and certainly don't know how to make a one. Often these are skills acquired over many years of work making prints. Good printing is an art and it takes an expert to make a superb print. Marrying art, technique and technology, a good printer also relies on communication skills to work with the photographer to determine what is needed.

Many photographers choose not to undergo the frustrations of making their own prints.  Because they are too busy, prefer to be out shooting, don't want to be sitting in front of a computer editing day after day, handle and order paper and ink, store materials, swap out ink cartridges, head clean, swap out the maintenance tank, check head alignment, or deal with a real uh oh moment: "some nozzles are clogged"on a printer's display. Furthermore, photo inkjet printers are big and heavy machines, often requiring floor space and a stand to hold them, to say nothing of how expensive they are. OMG! What a hassle. You can see where taking your files to someone else to print could be the solution. But where you go has a tremendous effect on the quality of the prints. Addto this that anyone you hire to print your work is involved in an interpretive process. He/she is intuiting what they think you want your prints to look like. What if you don't know? 

One of the solutions may be to work collaboratively with a printer to interpret together how the prints should look.

In my eastern Massachusetts area there are numerous really good labs that print for photographers. But there is one on the Cape in Orleans, Bob Korn Imaging, that is perhaps unique.

This picture of Bob's workspace shows us present day printing requirements, including a calibrated display, a couple of scanners, a 44 inch Epson inkjet printer  and, in homage to earlier days, his 8 x 10 enlarger, no longer used.

Long time color printer Bob Korn becomes your printing teacher, mentor and  collaborator when you ask him to print for you. Your work needs to be printed as technically flawless photographs but you also want your prints to be expressive, reflecting the subtleties and nuance of your intention. Bob knows this. As a master printer he has been printing for people his whole career and has printed for many of the greats over the years. 

Since Bob no longer prints conventionally and his shop is all digital he's reworked his space to be part lab and part gallery. He is now showing some seriously top people with prints he's made. This serves to validate his printing, never a bad thing, but also raises the bar for anyone looking to have first rate prints made by Bob.

There is a long tradition of artists working with and collaborating with skilled craftsmen to realize their art. Photography is no exception. Bob is a warm, bright and extremely knowledgeable man who has dedicated his life to making consummate prints for his clients.  Highly recommended.


Bob@bobkornimaging.com

508-255-5202

Topics: Commentary,Endorsement

Permalink | Posted January 30, 2017

Motel Art

For many years I've been photographing the wall art on display in motels I stay at. I travel quite a bit. These days my trips are often domestic road trips in my own car, or from flights, picking up a rented car, driving from motel to motel, night after night.  If I need a room for a night I'll try to book a day or so in advance through Hotwire or a comparable app. 

I pay attention to what's behind the counter as I check in at a motel. This is often what forms the guest's first impression and would seem important, at least to me. Sometimes a chain will hire a local artist or photographer to provide art for the motel, more usually it's handled by a company that does that on a "more for less" basis, art in quantity, with reproduced prints and framed posters in lower-end places, whereas at higher end hotels the quality is better, often showing original or commissioned art.

Different scenarios are that I am just booking into a motel for a night on a close-to-home two day shoot, or far away and on the road heading towards my destination, or booked in for several days up to a week or more in one place. More recently I am using  Airbnb, etc. more for stays in one place for a long weekend or a week or so. I can't help but notice what is hanging in my room, along the hallways in motels and in public spaces. Usually at the end of the day I am just too beat to pay much attention to what's on the walls but will wake up early, head on down to the breakfast area and find myself checking out what they did art-wise. Sometimes it is just too good, or too bad, to ignore. 

Usually the most gruesome spaces are the long hallways and within that genre the airport hotels are most often the most egregious; inhuman corridors, poorly constructed, worn and stained carpet, leading to mass housing on a grand sale, with no sense of anything soothing or sympathetic to our common human condition.

Motels and subsequently motel art, are, for me, an almost necessary evil. Convenient, plentiful, affordable they provide a place to lay my weary head after a long day of driving, shooting, driving, shooting for hours on end. They also can be simply awful; unsanitary, poorly maintained, devoid of aesthetic and poorly run. I search for affordable three star motels, but have been dealt some really poor hands over the years. This picture below came from a hotel in Virginnia on my way to North Carolina to teach at Penland one spring in my bathroom after I'd taken a shower.

Motel Art: I wonder if you do this too, photograph where you stay on a photo road trip?

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted January 16, 2017

Photographic Fulfillment

In the large movement of the thing we call "photography"where it has become so large as to be pervasive I believe most are looking for photographic fulfillment. Let me qualify: this pertains to those of you that call yourselves photographers.

Sure, perhaps not so much when you're young or just snap shooting but, yes in the world of artistic photo expression, fulfillment. Simple, really. In your list of aspirations, being realistic, are you going to get discovered all of a sudden (whether you're in your fifties or sixties or thirties and forties, doesn't matter) by getting that key slot in the Whitney Biennial this year, the solo show at MOMA, the MacArthur? Probably not. But to derive satisfaction from your work, to be fulfilled by the art you make, well, there's just about nothing better.

So, what is that? This ambition we have? This drive? 

Is it solely because we love what photography can do? I don't think so, although that's in there.

Is it because we have a gift and are sharing it with the world? (Read my post on  Nobody Cares about Your Photography: here.).

Is it because our audience demands it? Again, not so much.

Ah yes, love this one: is it for financial reward? Hah! Very funny.

Is it because we're God's gift? Probably not.

No, I believe it is mostly for fulfillment, or what little spark of completion, resolution, redemption, satisfaction we get when we touch close to this holy grail. Once you've got some years of experience under your belt, once you've lived a while and what serves as wisdom that comes from hindsight is in there, when you're practicing this rather odd thing of going out into the world to make pictures with some tool around your neck, it is fulfillment that sustains.  Complete a new body of work, something that holds to my standards, finish and look back with the realization that I learned something and grew and shared some perceptions that I believe are worthy of your consideration, to add some beauty poetry and music to someone's day, to share in our common human experience. Yes, that's very fulfilling, both to me and to you if the work is good.

But this isn't so easy todo, is it? This work we do, trying to reach something unobtainable or at least extremely illusive, often glimpsed but seldom achieved. That's probably why we keep coming back for more, as abusive as it may seem. For me my specific hot point is something I think of as being "sublime".  There have been many over my career and, I hope, many more. Let me show you a few: 

Nantucket 1981

It is very hard for me to disassociate the single picture from the series it comes from, so I usually don't. However, I certainly can find the one key picture from a series, as in the Nantucket one above, as it launched in essence my whole career.

Hershey, PA 1996

Healsdburg, CA, 1999

There isn't always complete alignment in what I think of as being sublime with viewers of my work. That's okay as each brings their own baggage to looking at work. But perhaps the level is what is most important, that I have raised the bar on a viewer's expectations.

Bermuda, 1980

Professional viewers, curators, collectors, gallerists and critics look at photographs a little differently this way: how the work might fit in the stable of photographers they show, fit into their collection, fit in a historical context, fit in a show they are working on down the line or even if my sex, age or race fit, whether by showing my work or purchasing it will look good in their colleague's eyes, move them up in their own careers, and so on. It is never as simple as great work getting acclaim and being committed to.

 "Mona" from the Monsters series, Fitchburg, MA 2014

Where does this leave us in our pursuit for fulfillment? Well, keep the bar high, of course. Making art is not really about compromising or settling, at least in this context. I also believe we are lifetime students, hungry to learn, progress and move forward. Finally, I don't know that I've ever been completely satisfied by something I've done, content or fulfilled by a a completed series; frequently close, but perfection is illusive after all.

National Museum of Health and Medicine, Bethesda, MD 2014

It's simple really. Keep working. Ever heard of a retired artist? Artists don't usually retire, they just die.

Near Pullman, WA 2013

One thing is for sure, finding photographic fulfillment while sitting around and not photographing is mostly impossible. When have you ever regretted going out to shoot? Me, never. Something usually happens, some idea forms, some way of looking at things differently presents itself, some perspective on my surroundings shifts a little, opening a door to try something, to click the shutter. Actually, that is very fulfilling.

To close, one of my teachers way back in the 70's was Aaron Siskind. What a great guy and photographer. He called the fulfillment I've been writing about here "the juice", as in how something ordinary like an olive tree or a stone wall becomes elevated to a high level through our eyes with a camera. So true, imbuing something mundane with something special so that it transcends its own existence. One of the things we do, yes?

The Palouse from above, Washington 2016

Topics: Commentary,Analog,Digital

Permalink | Posted December 6, 2016