My #1 artistic goal for 2009 is to develop my printing knowledge and ability, from a technical standpoint but primarily from an aesthetic perspective. With that in mind, a month or so ago I suggested to Joe Ciarlante , a local commercial photographer, Photoshop Jedi and fine-art printing Master that he should do a fine art printing workshop. He agreed, and said workshop was this past weekend.
I’ve not historically placed a lot of emphasis on printing, and although it’s always been something I’ve wanted to do I’ve seen it as such a huge undertaking that I wanted to save it until I “had time.” I’ve never even been in a darkroom, let alone made a wet print, and until just the last 5 years or so I had never really spent much time looking at or thinking about “good” prints. I’ve had pretty good success coming up with files that look pretty good, and have done most of my printing through an online lab. For special occasions I have gone to Charles Johnson, a local custom printer, and he has done prints for me that are absolutely beautiful, but never really felt like they were “mine.” As I’ve learned more about photography and began to develop my own vision I realized that learning to print, even if I never got as good as Charles or anyone else, was for me the completion of the circle. An electronic file sitting on my hard drive or on a website somewhere is just a sample, but not the real thing. Right or wrong that’s where my vision is taking me and I’m anxious to follow.
I bought a used Epson 1800 about a year ago, and while it’s not a printer usually associated with Serious Printing I have made some prints that are fairly decent. I know that printing is one of those areas where “the more you know the more you realize what you don’t know.” I had made one print about 8 months ago that I thought was pretty nice, struggled to make it look even better then took it to a meeting of a photo group I belong to. The feedback I got, while helpful and constructive, made it clear that I had a lot of work to do.
I had put that particular print aside since then, thinking that “one of these days” I would get back to working on it, and that eventually I would come up with something I could be proud of. I managed to do that this weekend. I came up with a print that I am happy with, and I am looking forward to working on it some more with my own printer, and now have the confidence to move forward with other printing projects to see what I can do and how much more I can learn in the process. But that’s another story for another day and another essay.
In the course of the workshop I was struck by the different approaches of the attendees. My primary goal going into this workshop was to come out with one good print. My expectation for the class was that we would all work at our own computers, make a print, get feedback, make another print, get more feedback, etc. I foolishly took about 20 files, thinking that depending on my inspiration at the time, I would maybe print 3 or 4 of them. As I mentioned above however, I knew that if I spent the entire weekend working on one file but came out with one good print I would consider it a success. I did and I do.
What I found amazing and amusing was the number of people who treated this class as sort of a “Photoshop Speed Dating” experience, like they had never had a chance to make a print before and likely never would again. They printed the same print on different types of paper, and printed as many prints as they could but never really spent any time looking at them or trying to make them better. It got to the point where there were so many people waiting for a printer I almost gave up. There were three workstations set up, but one of them was “only” printing to an Epson R800, and I don’t think anyone ever used it because it would not print larger than 8 ½ x 11. Everyone wanted to use The Big Dog, the Epson 7600, so it was heavily used. A few folks worked with an Epson 4000 but it was having issues and ended up not producing too many good results.
There were a number of nice prints made, but it seemed to me like everyone sort of missed the point. Instead of learning how to look at their work, evaluate their prints based on their intent and vision, using the software to make their prints better and generally mastering the process, they just ended up with nothing more than a bunch of Costco prints on nice paper. And that’s OK if they’re happy. But what a shame.
This photo is my labor of love for the weekend. It was taken in August 2007 at a water garden at Raffaldini Vineyards in Ronda, North Carolina. The image is a bear to print, especially for me, because the water is reflecting the clouds overhead but there are bits of blue sky in the bottom corners that make it look like a botched burn job. And there are places where the stems of the lilies are showing through the water, so getting that detail to show is really tough. I managed to get a pretty decent result and am looking forward to printing it again on my own printer. It looks really nice on paper, and I even have a black & white version that has potential, too. More to come!