Wednesday, March 29, 2006

It's New, but Is It Better?

"We have things to sell," the retail clerk says in demonstration of the sanctity of his store, "They're new. They're ORANGE." This line from the movie Josie and the Pussycats nearly perfectly describes the trend in digital printing right now. Orange is the new pink, after all. And in our case, K3 is the new Ultrachrome.

Now, why would we offer a product that is nothing but a passing fad? Have we resigned to peddling all of the latest digital printing trends and pandering to the love of "the new"? Well, no. There are countless printers, inks and papers out there that we could be offering, but aren't. Not to mention the endless combinations of profiles, rendering intents, media settings, etc. that could easily engulf the rest of our air-breathing days if we allowed them to. And yet, as you see from our ever growing order forms, we do offer quite a few.

So, what separates the fad from the fabulous? Sometimes it's a better black. Sometimes it's cleaner color. We usually buy/acquire the new paper/profile/printer, do 15 test prints or so, then compare it to what we currently offer and see how we respond to it. If it doesn't cut the mustard for whatever reason, we toss it. This is how we discovered the Hahnemühle profile that we now use to make beautiful prints on Photo Rag with the original Ultrachrome inks. It's also how we discovered how to get cleaner color, better blacks, and more brilliant prints than we thought possible on Fuji Crystal Archive papers. One thing we've learned, though, is just because it's new, doesn't mean that it's good.

For example, we recently heard very good things about Pictorico Professional Photo Gallery Hi-Gloss White film. The claim was that this media allowed you to accomplish a super-glossy look from an inkjet printer. Because the gloss look on Epson printers has been thwarted by visually displeasing bronzing we were excited to see what could be accomplished with the Hi-Gloss White film. So, we hunkered down, profiled the paper, and made some test prints. What did we see? Well, the paper rendered the image fine -- no strange color casts or odd densities -- but it wasn't any more glossy than Epson's Premium Glossy Photo Paper. In fact, there was more bronzing on the Hi-Gloss White film! The new K3 inks have definitely helped Premium Glossy overcome some of the problems it had with the original Ultrachrome inks, and as a result it is a better gloss option than the Hi-Gloss White film. So we decided not to offer the Pictorico.

While this procedure is well and good for a studio that is trying to serve its clients, it is much more difficult to enact for an individual artist. The endless options with all of their slight differences and personalities become tiring to look at, not to mention expensive to produce. Once you start chasing a paper, printer or profile, there's really no telling how deep the rabbit hole goes. The size of our staff gives us a greater ability to chase down these options but they are hard won rewards. For the individual photographer this process can easily snowball, usurping the creative energy that is so needed to continue to do what you love to do.

It's very easy to feel like you NEED to try the new thing. Every new paper/printer/profile has a certain amount of hype around it, and not heeding to that hype can make you feel out of touch and irrelevant. It is our goal to keep you well informed thus bolstering your confidence to make whatever creative choices you want to make. By committing ourselves to "taste testing" the papers we offer, we hope to offer you a road map that will help you decide where you want to go.

So here's my advice: if you like your current printing options, stick with them. When new things come out, order a sample. Don't be afraid to try new things, but don't be forced, either. Your artistic integrity has little to do with the paper you choose and much more to do with the visual stories you tell.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

International Silver Conference Wrap-Up

By Terrance L. Reimer

The first ever International Silver Conference was held March 3-5, 2006 at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA.  The conference was an opportunity for traditional monochrome photographers to meet and dialogue with more than 200 other photographers, industry professionals, educators, manufacturers and their representatives and other dedicated enthusiasts from all over the world, to share ideas and offer their personal input for addressing the present and future of traditional black and white photography.

A host of professional photographers shared an amazing wealth of information and inspiration to the Silver conference attendees.  Al Weber, George DeWolfe and Les McLean inspired attendees with lively, compelling presentations Friday evening. 

Saturday's lineup was just as enthusiastic and motivating with a morning presentation on the 'Past and Future of Silver Images' by RIT's director of the Image Permanence Institute, James Reilly.

Other presentations on Saturday included the exquisite nudes from the camera of Mona Kuhn and a look at photojournalist Marissa Roth's extensive documentary assignments including her latest project: "One Person Crying: Women and War" where she spent time with the mothers and families of a Marine Reserve Unit near Columbus, Ohio that experienced an inordinate number of casualties in the Iraq War. Roth might be called a 'hybrid' photographer, shooting both film and digital capture depending on the assignment and deadline. 

A lively panel discussion followed with an open technical forum that included Alan Ross, Michael A. Smith, Paula Chamlee, Ken Rosenthal and several other manufacturing professionals. 

Alan Ross shared his personal experiences while traveling abroad with film being X-rayed numerous times while changing flights.   He shot three identical 4x5 black and white negatives and had one sheet hand checked, one sheet X-rayed several times in his carry-on bags and the final sheet tucked away in his checked luggage.   The piece of film that had a slight fogging was the sheet that was in his checked luggage.  So a wise word to the traveling photographer would be to ask for a hand check, but at all costs avoid placing exposed or unexposed film in your checked luggage. 
Michelle Dunn Marsh, the Director of Aperture West, and photographer Jeff Dunas collaborated not only in their presentation but also in the production of Duna's book "State of the Blues" which started for Dunas 'the day Muddy Waters died.'  Dunas sought to capture stunning portraits of as many living blues music legends that would allow him sometimes less than minutes to take before they went out on stage to perform. It was a wonderful presentation to hear how their collaboration brought the book to life!

If you have never heard living legend John Sexton speak, you owe it to yourself to seek out an opportunity to do so.  He is the real deal!  Honest, intense, humorous, approachable, genuine are a few words that come to mind.  He shared his photographic life with those in attendance.

From the moment he first saw the prints of Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and Wynn Bullock as a young photographer at Cypress College, that experience would shape and inspire the rest of his life. Sexton is revisiting his life's work for his new retrospective monograph "Recollections: Three Decades of Photographs" slated for publication this Fall. 

Sexton showed many of his early 'mistakes' and failures as a photographer, as well as some early successes that inspired him to pursue being an assistant to Ansel Adams.  Sexton shared a wealth of stories about Ansel and his time as an assistant to the 'master,' including Ansel's tongue-in-cheek term for those photographers assimilating to his attire, equipment, and visual appearance as 'The Zonies.' 

"There are no unworthy subjects" Sexton stated. "A good day of photography is never too long" he added, imploring attendees to "make an appointment each day to do your photography."

Sunday's panel discussion on the 'Future of Traditional Technologies/New Products' which included myself, George DeWolfe, Ilford's Steven Brierley and Steve Simmons shared insight and thoughts about the future of silver based materials and emerging technologies. 

Ilford's Steven Brierley spoke about their strong commitment to silver based products including the release of a RC silver based black and white paper that can be used in digital enlargers such as the Durst Lamba and Cymbolic Sciences Lightjet. 

They are presently looking at developing and producing a similar type black and white fiber based paper to use in the digital enlargers.  Ilford has seen a 40% rise in sales in the US with silver based materials and are releasing a selenium toner for silver printing applications in the coming months. 

I shared my experience with printing black and white images in the digital darkroom, showing a wide range of digital printing options with digital enlargers as well as inkjet options with Jon Cone's Piezography system and the new K3 inkset used in the EPSON 9800. 

 I also told attendees to be the stewards and advocates of black and white photography, imploring them to inspire and educate the next generation of young photographers, in order for black and white materials to continue to be produced by manufacturers that need to be profitable to remain in business. 

Film is not dead, not by a long shot, in my opinion.  We now have a wide range of materials and both analog and digital processes to further communicate our unique stories with the world.  It was a sincere pleasure and privilege sharing my experience and knowledge with those in attendance. 

Dennis Keeley, Chair of Photography and Imaging, at the Art Center College of Design, offered these words: "As it seems that we are on the verge of abandoning all of photography's historical bonds, it is more important than ever for photographers to directly connect with their history for that is what introduces and secures the real future."

Self-proclaimed 'hillbilly' photographer Keith Carter stole the show during Sunday's final presentation.  His articulate, often humorous presentation astonished many, including myself.  "It's not what you see... It's the significance of what you see." Carter stated. "What makes a person look at a picture? What makes a person look at a picture twice?" he added.  His Southernly gentleman humble story-telling presentation left the room roaring with applause and a standing ovation.  He offered attendees six thoughts to ponder in their photographic endeavors:

1. Travel when you can.
2. Never underestimate the power ordinary people possess.
3. Perfect accidental moments in your life happen when you least expect them.
4. The full weight and mystery of your art rests on the relationship you have with your subject matter.
5. Make friends with uncertainty.
6. (From the darkroom door of Jerry Uelsmann) Baby, don't forget to play.

While designed to focus on the future of silver based imaging, it really was so much more because of the incredible photographers who participated. It was a tremendous experience being able to see so many masters of the craft show their work, and to hear them talk about what photography means to them. I highly recommend attending next year, even if you don't use silver at all, based on how inspired I feel after attending.

See more pictures and contest winners at