In this series on editing I've discussed some past practice, brought us into those weird, wonderful and very confusing times when analog was going digital and given a couple of examples of how people shoot and what that means after the photographing is done. Go here for the first three:
Editing Part 1
Editing Part 2
Editing Part 3
Now, we'll take a look at editing our pictures during printing and after the prints are made. Let's follow along with BJ Johnson as she turns to printing her images made of fields, wild flowers and at a street fair.
As she makes prints, she considers carefully what size they should be, what paper she should use, even if there is a tonality or a color palette she ought to use. She tries making the street fair pictures as conversions into black and white and decides that color is not needed in this work. She determines this by making the same image both in color and black and white. She also decides this work should be printed about 11 x 14 inches, so proceeds, making a print at a time, working to balance contrast and exposure so that one print relates well to the next and so on. At the end of a long session of printing she opens a bottle of wine, puts Keith Jarrett's solo piano piece the "Koln Concerts" on the stereo ( it could have just as easily been some Bach concertos) and sits down with the stack of prints she's just made. She goes through them, looking at each one carefully, studying it, spreading the prints out on a large table so she can see them all at once, marking a few on the back with post-it notes, telling herself to print this one lighter, that one darker, to crop this one here, and so on. She also begins to sequence them. She rips a few up as they just didn't cut it. Finally, she pulls over her laptop and looks up on Google "Street Fairs" in her area and finds a listing of several coming up in the next few weeks. She plans to go as she feels she's got the start of a project going and she wants to continue, explore it and work through what she can do with it.
She decides to back burner the wild flower pictures as there is nothing in the ones that she shot that is special for her. The field pictures she made show promise, however, and within the next few weeks she makes a few 24 x 30 inch prints of them as she believes the scale and impact of the large size is important. But, although they are beautiful they are also flawed as she didn't quite get it right, she learns. She focused too close and relied upon the hyperfocal distance too much for the kinds of apertures she was using. Also, the light was harsh and she envisions them shot with far softer light, maybe late in the day. Plus, some aren't as sharp as they should be due to camera movement and she pledges to really go over her tripod to make sure its strong enough for the task. She commits to replacing it if necessary. She makes a plan to go back to the fields to shoot again soon.
Overall, BJ is pleased with her day's shooting and has learned many lessons. She has also made some new pictures that she is excited about and has future shoots to look forward to.
Finally, as BJ works to add to the Street Fair project over the next few months, she refines her process, and adds many new prints, too many, in fact. She works to edit down the group to a number that is manageable and crucial. And she starts showing the work to anyone that'll look at it. She shows the work to her folks and sister, all of whom love it and have no idea what she's up to. She shows it to a former teacher, who digs into the work and really gives her a solid critique. She feels bruised by this but understands the work much better. She shows it to a local gallery that isn't "into" black and white work. She shows it to another gallery that isn't "booking shows" right now. She shows it to another gallery that loves it and encourages her to bring other work for them to see. And so it goes.
Editing is not over after you've decided what to print, editing is not over after you'd made the prints. Yes, editing is usually over after you've shown the work and have moved on to other projects, but not necessarily. What is crucial at this latter stage of editing your work, however, is to show it, to get people to see it and determine through their eyes, what they are really seeing in your work. Are they seeing what you are seeing? Is there some alignment there? And finally, is it the best you can make it where you are now in your career? If it is, then perhaps you are done editing it and can move on. Making excellent art takes genius, which I know, for one, I have precious little of. But I do have good perceptions and a strong work ethic. Hard work will get you pretty far as it turns out. The genius part? Well, I keep hoping.
I hope this four part treatise on editing has been helpful. There are many many systems for this, as I am sure you know. I've outlined just one, mine. But do the work to develop something perhaps a little systematic and organized for your work. You will be grateful when the Metropolitan Museum calls and says they want 26 of the prints you made in 2006 in the summer of a bunch of street fairs east of the Rocky Mountains in a few small towns and are paying $248,000 for the full set, or about $9500 per print. Make sure you can find them.