Topic: Commentary (111 posts) Page 2 of 23

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.


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


Going shooting. Out photographing. Photo road trip. Meaning the act of photographing, usually outdoors. It's what I do and many of you too. But I wonder how many of the photo trips you make, whether they be day trips or longer ones, are done solo.

I just ended a ten day trip to SE Washington to photograph, incessantly, the fields in the area, and working alone is much on my mind. I have a theory about this, this solo approach: it allows you to get inside the work better. Maybe another way to say that is a solo trip gets you looking at decisions you are making and cutting through noise to allow you to be in synch or in unison with the pictures you are making. On this most recent trip I didn't have a conversation longer than a couple of minutes with anyone since I left home. Long days driving on farmers' dirt roads makes for much thought: about the pictures I have made, am making and will make. Long nights when the light has left the day were spent biding my time sleeping, waiting for dawn, recharging myself and my batteries, downloading files, writing blogs, occasionally going out for a meal or a beer. But my myself, solo. 

 Working solo is immersive, as it should be. 

I learned a long time ago how to make pictures in a group or with a friend. I don't have a problem with that as some do. After all there were countless field trips, hauling students in a van to various places to shoot, on class day but also on weekends. I would photograph on those trips as well.

But the solo photo trip, the road trip where time is spent on the prowl for pictures by yourself, day after day, getting completely into the act of photographing regularly, establishing a routine of shooting, looking, assessing, discriminating, rejecting, accepting, waiting, hurrying up, making decisions, missing opportunities, screwing up, succeeding, being jubilant, being crestfallen, talking to yourself, being bored, needing to take a leak, getting in the car, getting out of the car, setting up, tearing down, taking a break, looking at files, day after day. That's the kind of trip I am talking about. 

To many outsiders this all looks like a vacation. And in some ways, of course, it is. Certainly it's a vacation from sitting in an office doing stuff you don't want to do. But it is work too. I think of it as what I do, my work, what I have done my whole career. It is an essential part of my process, my methodology as a career artist, intrinsic and as intuitive as making my prints in a darkroom for 25 years or working the files and inkjet printing the results. 

It is also something more of my adult students should do, photograph alone. Often there is a non photo partner along. Not so good. Distracting and conflicting, as supportive as they may be. Look, this thing photography is hard, not as easy as going "click" with a camera up to your eye. Photography is amazingly illusive, to do really well. It takes all we've got and then some to make truly significant photographs. Truly great work is almost impossible, a few in a lifetime, I figure. So, work hard and increase your chance for success. Think! Concentrate! Look! Research! Discriminate! 

What does that say to you, to your family and friends if you make a trip just to photograph? It implies a level of commitment and dedication. Ultimately it doesn't matter where, the exotic and gorgeous (which, as you probably know, has its own problems) or the run down and/or ordinary. It's a "frame of mind" thing, isn't it? To flip it a little, think about going to say, Albany, NY to photograph. My choice of cities is arbitrary but for most of us we wouldn't ever have any reason to go to Albany, let alone photograph there. How freeing is that? Pick a place and don't go for touristy things only. Go for pictures. 

And try photographing  solo.


This blog is provided to you as a public service, to increase awareness and understanding of artistic process, visual communication and my creative career. While I shamelessly promote my own work, I frequently look at others' as well and try to write posts that improve our knowledge of this discipline we all love. I accept no advertising and do not endorse for compensation any products used in the making of my work. 

If you read the blog and believe it a worthwhile addition please let me know:

Thank you.

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted November 11, 2016

Robert Frank: Sideways

Drove up to Brunswick, Maine last week with colleague and friend Michael Hintlian to see the Robert Frank show called Sideways. The exhibit was at the Museum of Art at Bowdoin College. I urge you to go. It's up til January 29, 2017.

I would describe this as a modest showing of Frank's works, mostly pictures made before the mid 50's Americans work and some after. On the other hand, can any exhibit of Robert Frank's photographs be called "modest"? What the show does is flush out what Frank was seeing and thinking about before he made the epic "Americans" and also after. Fascinating.

The logistics of the show is that it was pulled together by two Bowdoin professors teaching two classes and the students in those courses. We are in their debt. 

My first impressions in coming into the gallery and scanning the prints is that this is truly old work, seen now in the context of the medium's history: 11 x 14 black and white analog points, 4 -ply over matts, black Nielsen frames and Frank's photographs; often grainy, muddy, shot in extreme light and needing spotting. Signature Robert Frank. Doesn't matter, their weight and power are self evident. Everything you've heard and read about Robert Frank's significance is true. The work in "Sideways" only serves to verify this is one of the powerhouses of a medium that had never seen anything like what he did in the mid fifties. No wonder he couldn't get "The Americans " published in the US and had to go to Europe to get it printed. I've seen the work prints he submitted for publication: grainy, muddy, shot in extreme light and needing spotting. Hell, I've failed students for submitting work as bad as that! Again, doesn't matter.  His work is amazing.

Criticism of the show? Not much. The wall plaques are a little over the top... I chose not to read them, which is typical for me. Remember this is a museum on a college campus. There is an educational role to fulfill here.

The show looks a little "pieced together" to me but doing this was a most monumental effort, I am sure. You try finding works like these, getting them from foundations, private owners and collectors, perhaps on loan from other museums. Not easy work.

Curious about the Pennwick Foundation, where a lot of the prints for the show came from? Me too as I'd never heard of it before.

The Pennwick Foundation is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to broadening public awareness of art. In addition to publishing a variety of books, catalogues, and electronic media on topics including, but not limited to, fine art, photography, and film, the Pennwick foundation seeks to create educational opportunities and increase access to the arts through the development new methodologies of exhibition. 

Worth over four hours of driving up and back from Boston to see the the show? Absolutely.

Highly recommended.

Closes January January 29,  2017.

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted October 4, 2016