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A Kick in the Teeth

February 3, 2009

All readers should have a mid-80’s power ballad on while reading this.

As I have stated in past posts, I’ve recently returned to printing in the darkroom after a fifteen-year break. What drove me to print in this method was many fold. First, I was looking forward to a new challenge. Second, collectors I had spoken with preferred silver prints to inkjet prints. And finally, and most importantly, my realization that I had little attachment to my digital prints.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with these digi prints, and in fact, in some ways, they might be superior to my traditional prints.

However, like I said before, I don’t have an attachment to these digital prints, and in fact have destroyed many of them over the years. You monster, why destroy your prints? I’m glad you asked.

Let’s look back ten years into our glorious past. There I am (Vest, mullet, huge glasses). Shooting, editing, making prints. I do a story, make my edit, get my desktop printer revved up and begin to spit out sheet after sheet of pure genius.

Fast forward two years. In some cases, my sheets of pure genius have become sheets of magenta madness. Or, perhaps the prints were still neutral but my digital darkroom skills had progressed far beyond where they were. Or, perhaps my latest, greatest desktop printer had been replaced with a newer, fancier, smarter model and I realized, “Well, I guess I should reprint these things.”

So, what do you do with the old ones?? Me, I shredded them.

And before you go thinking I’m a kook, alone on an island of temporary, destructive insanity, think again. I’m not the only one.

Who has hung around a tradeshow minutes after the closing bell? Huh? Anyone? When the construction crews come to turn the building into an ice rink or monster truck stomping ground?

Guess what you see in PILES around the floor. Prints, many, many, recently printed “works of art,” tossed aside like that soggy pickle that comes with your BBQ plate. (And yes, I know about shipping costs, but I have NEVER seen this done with analog prints.)

Here is my key point…brace yourself…..

Something happens to us, all of us, when something becomes really, really easy.

It, whatever “it” is, loses something.

We don’t have to fight for it, and consequently, part of the magic, the mojo, the blood, is lost. Well, actually, it isn’t lost because it was never there in the first place.

This also applies to the front of the equation. Making images at high rates, with absolute ease, with less commitment, also dilutes the image gene pool.

Imagery, like our prints, has become disposable.

Again, you can think I’m a kook, and perhaps I am, but think about it. What have we been led to believe? Imaging is now “Fast, cheap, easy and if you don’t like it…..just throw it away.”

I can’t imagine this NOT having an impact on the perception of photography, right down to it’s very core.

I heard one editor recently say that they edit approximately 250,000 images PER WEEK!!! Let me say that again….PER WEEK!

How is that possible? And I’ll bet there is someone out there right now saying, “Oh man, I see a lot more than that.”

And I’ll tell you why I bring this up.

I just had a MAJOR gut check.

The day I finally realized I was headed back in the darkroom I also realized I had to pick something to print.

That’s it. I had to pick something.

What? What do I print?

Before, I printed it all. Bingo, bango, it spit out in minutes and I had myself a humdinger print.

But now…..now…. I have to REALLY THINK about what I’m doing. This new print won’t be spit out. It won’t be fast. I will have to work for it, sweat for it, concentrate, and focus on only the image. I will have to transform it, read it, sense it and make it live.

And you know what? I really didn’t know what to print.

Suddenly, my images were not that good. Print after print, made digitally, and with ease, didn’t make the cut.

My gut check was realizing that over a twenty year “career” I could probably “edit myself down” to twenty images for my entire life.

Ya, how you like them apples? Talk about getting kicked in the teeth. It’s painful, but in some ways it is a really nice pain.

The pioneers of this field, this endeavor of photography, set the quality and commitment bar a long, long time ago, and I have to live by that code, that bar, otherwise, I’m part of the dilution process.

Tomorrow I will return to the darkroom and tonight I will once again have to face…..myself…and the truth, however painful, of who I am visually.

It is now okay to turn off the power ballad.

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