I just completed my contribution to the Signature fundraiser for Photoworks. Here is the description of the event:
We are celebrating Photoworks 40th Anniversary by collecting “Signature Prints” from 40 of the best fine art photographers we know. And then we are throwing a party with one hell of a “goody bag” for our guests to take home!
On Saturday, February 21, we will honor the vision that inspired our founders 40 years ago and we’ll celebrate the many individuals who have helped us become a true arts community. And it is only fitting that on the occasion of our 40th anniversary, we will look ahead to ensure that we can continue to inspire and nurture a new generation of emerging artists by teaching, mentoring, and exhibiting their work. Our 40th Anniversary “Signature Auction” will help us raise funds to support programming, outreach, and new investments that will enrich our community in the years to come.
The raffle tickets will be $150 each, which isn’t cheap, but you’ll get the chance to acquire some incredible photos.
My contribution is a 10×10 inch print of a Toronto street scene. It’s titled “Romeo & Juliet”. Look carefully and see if you can tell why:
And now for the geeky bits:
The print is a silver gelatin print from a negative made on Kodak Tri-X, shot with my 1956 Rolleiflex 2.8E. The paper is Ilford Warmtone Multigrade fiber paper, developed in Ansco 130, which is a classic all-purpose developer. I prefer it over other paper developers because it lasts seemingly forever, even in an open tray, and it produces a very nice neutral/cool tone without the greenish sheen in the shadows you can get from Dektol.
I actually do make silver gelatin prints. I’ve been away from the medium for a while, mostly concentrating on alternative processes. I needed a break from alt process work so I cleaned up my workspace, fired up the enlarger, and started printing my Paris images you might remember from earlier blog posts. With my new (to me) Oriental VC-CLS variable contrast cold light head (a lot of jargon for a light source that allows you to adjust the contrast in your print by changing the ratio of blue and green light exposing the paper), I’ve been having a blast cranking out prints, and the Oriental head makes it a lot easier to do split-grade printing.
For those unfamiliar with the idea, instead of making a single exposure at one contrast grade, and then doing a lot of burning and dodging to make up for it, with split-grade, what you do is make two base exposures, one using a very soft contrast (in my case, most likely grade 0) and a second using a very hard contrast (grade 5). What this does is the soft exposure lets you get your highlights with detail, and the hard brings the shadows in to snap. You still need to burn and dodge for specific things, but you can refine the overall look as the image requires, without getting frustrated at why a certain area always comes out too dark or too bright. You can refine this technique to include your burning and dodging cycles, so that you might burn an area in with the grade 0 filter to put detail back in the highlights but not blocking up the shadows, or with the grade 5 filter for putting deep black in a shadow without muddying up the whites in the same area.
I’ll give an anatomy of a split-grade print here so you can better understand what I’m talking about. This is a real challenge to print “straight” – it’s a high contrast scene, with the dog-walker being somewhat backlit, and the upper left corner a lot brighter than the rest of the scene. This is the finished print here:
Here is the scan I made from the negative, which also had a fair bit of manipulation. Less successful, wouldn’t you say? The dog walker is still strongly backlit.
To make this print, I gave it a base exposure of 20 seconds using the grade 0 filter. I dodged the dog walker for 10 of those. Then I burned in the upper left corner for an additional 20 seconds. I gave a final overall exposure of five seconds at grade 5, to put a little snap in the general scene and specifically to firm up the shadows on the dog walker without losing tonal separation for his buttons, the cords of his iPod earbuds, and the hair of the dog. Were I making this print larger, I’d go back in and burn the sidewalk between his legs and the dog back down a bit, but in a 7×7 inch print, accurately wielding a burning card with a hole that small is tough!
This was printed on Ilford Warmtone variable-contrast fiber paper, using Ilford Warmtone developer. I’m not applying any fancy tricks to the developer like playing around with developer dilution or split warmtone/cooltone developers. That’s a trick for another day.
I’m running a quick impromptu by-the-seat-of-the-pants version of my Intro to Platinum/Palladium printing class this weekend. It’s a bit of a hash because we had scheduling conflicts of varying types to deal with, but we did manage to meet today. My normal plan with students is to take them out into Glen Echo park and have them shoot a bunch of negatives with my 5×7, then come back and process them. WELL… today, the daytime high was still below freezing, so we scratched that idea. Instead, we shot some self-portraits indoors using my Hermagis Eidoscope soft-focus portrait lens, a 1000-watt hot light (a VERY welcome hot light given the weather today!) and an improvised guillotine shutter composed of a pair of dark slides, held in a V-formation. The “shutter” starts with the lower dark slide completely covering the lens, and to allow exposure to happen, the pair are swung past the lens so that the gap between them briefly allows light to strike the film. Exposures can be a little variable, but these are forgiving media.
Here is one shot of one of my students:
and here are two of me:
I brought the Hermagis to class to give the students a little something special to play around with, since they both had past experience in working with large format, and I think the soft-focus lens fits very well with the alternative process print look.
Of the two of me, which do you all prefer? I know which one I like better, but I’ll wait to get some feedback before I offer my opinion. All three of these are scans from the negatives, not from prints. We will be meeting again tomorrow to do the actual printing.
Well, ok, I actually shot these on the 30th of December, but they got processed today. This is perhaps the best three-frame panorama I’ve shot with the Rollei panorama adapter so far. It’s ALMOST seamless.
This is the ice rink they set up every winter in the fountain of the National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden. The imposing building in the background is the National Archives.
In my practice of all kinds of photography, problems arise that you don’t always expect. I’m used to humidity issues with antique and historic processes like gum bichromate and platinum. Of course, any light-sensitive material has to be treated with respect or you’ll ruin it. But digital photography was billed as a sort of end-all solution to everything that plagued wet darkroom photography. You just insert the paper in the printer, hit ‘print’ and a couple minutes later, out comes your perfect print, all in room light, no odor, no chemistry, no fuss.
Well… it turns out humidity (something unavoidable in Washington DC for 2/3 of the year) which is a big plus for antique and historic processes and a non-issue for silver-gelatin and RA-4 wet color printing, is a major enemy for inkjet printing. I had a box of Brilliant Museum SilverGloss White paper which I had been using to print my big exhibition prints. It turns out that over time, the paper had swollen from what I can only assume was moisture absorption and would not go through my printer without head strikes and smeared ink in the corners of the prints. I was trying to finish up a print job for a sale I made of four prints, and I ruined the remaining sheets of Brilliant I had. I was in a bad jam because Brilliant was Calumet’s house brand, and Calumet is no longer a serious player in the US (two remaining stores in Chicago, and an absolutely worthless single-page web page saying “call us for what you want!”). Ordering from Calumet UK, who does carry it, is a really bad idea as the shipping cost would probably equal the cost of a box of paper, AND in the UK and the rest of Europe, their paper sizes are all based on the A notation instead of inches.
I loved the paper, but it is effectively no longer available here. So off to B&H Photo I went (virtually) and found the new Harman by Hahnemuhle Gloss Art Fibre paper. It’s virtually identical in weight (a gorgeous 300gsm heavy-weight fiber paper) and paper brightness. Another upside- a 30 sheet box is cheaper than a 25 sheet box of Brilliant! After having made two prints on it this morning, I can rest happy that I can keep printing my existing series of prints with it without any loss of quality. I’m also glad I can support a major player in the analog market (Ilford/Harman) with my digital purchases.