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Fiber Prints Washing

March 3, 2010

This might be better after drinking a bottle of Nyquil.

I have to say. The more of these prints I make, the more I realize just how good they are. I’m not saying I’m a great printer because I’m not. What I’m saying is, comparing these prints to the BEST inkjet prints I can get, I still see a real use for silver.

Can you get great digital prints? Sure. And in some cases they look better than the analog version. I’m not saying, “never print digital.” What I am asking is “Why draw a line in the sand and condemn the analog process?”

I think most of the folks pushing inkjet are doing so because that is their business, and also because it is just far quicker and easier to make digital prints. However, as we all know, quicker and easier does not always lend itself to making something better. Look at initial auto quality. Or how about houses built with hand driven nails as opposed to nail gun. There are many more examples.

I tell ya, when this first print came up in the developer today, even after twenty years, I had a smile a mile wide on my mug. It never gets old.

So I know a lot of you are never going to go in the darkroom. I know a lot of folks have written off the idea of silver. So do this. Take one of your favorite negatives and have someone print it for you. Choose someone who is actually a good printer and have it done. You will be amazed.

And on a business note…. for those of you still doubting me. Over the past several years, when I have shown work to collectors, and I’ve given those collectors a choice as to whether they can have a silver gelatin print or a digital print…every single person has requested silver over inkjet. Every single person. In fact, I’ve never had a collector ask for digital prints. Ever.

If you only print digital, no big deal, people are willing to collect those, but when given a choice….I’ve had nothing but silver. In part, this was what drove me back to the darkroom after a FIFTEEN year break.

I tell ya. I feel, in some ways, like I’ve been missing the point for all these years. I realized for me, quick and easy was destroying my photography. Digital capture made me a sloppy photographer and digital printing made me a sloppy photographer and printer. Now, I’m S-L-o-w-l-y finding myself again. I feel like I’m thinking again, and when I’m in the field and I know I’m going to print in the darkroom, I”m FAR more involved in the photography process than when I’m shooting digital and printing digital, when I can rely on the electronics to save me from myself.

I see a future for me, and that future might not involve me “working as a photographer,” but what it does involve is me slowing down, working solely on my own work, regardless of where it ends up, who sees it, etc, but where I slowly and deliberately make images. In short, a departure from the modern photography world.

The ideal would be to have my own darkroom, which I’m working on, but even making prints in my current system, renting space, is perfectly fine. In some ways it reminds me of the “old days” when photographers would gather in the darkroom, exchange stories, insults, blows, etc. How can that not be good?

My message with this post is simple. Don’t just join the ranks of those saying, “Analog is dead, digital is better,” because MOST of those people have an agenda, and the agenda trumps your creative side. I’ve been to three shows in the past month, and two out of the three were printed analog, and were far superior to the show printed digitally, and it wasn’t just me expressing this view. So before we rush off into the next great thing, leaving behind everything that has gotten us where we are today, let’s take a second and use our heads.

Take a look around, it’s not like the photography business can get much worse.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. Brooksley Williams permalink
    March 3, 2010 7:58 pm

    Ok. The part about not working as a photographer, and only doing your own stuff makes me nervous. REALLY NERVOUS. What am I going to do? I can’t do this stuff myself, and I completely rely on you to capture my family. I may as well dig a hole and crawl in. You’re killing me here. I’m just praying that you were actually overmedicated when you said it… lay off the Nyquil Daniel. Please.

    • March 3, 2010 8:29 pm

      Well, good news and bad news. The “not working as a photographer” might be all too real, but it is a self-imposed exile. But, the good news, I consider your family “my work.” And for me, a career change is nothing new. I’ve done it roughly every five years my entire adult life. I’m just that way. I can’t travel, meet new people, etc, and not realize there is an entire world out there beyond photography, or at least working as a photographer. The business of photography has changed a lot and I dare say it isn’t quite as enjoyable as it used to be, so I feel the urge to test the waters once again. What waters? No idea.

      • Brooksley Williams permalink
        March 3, 2010 8:40 pm

        I’m holding my breath.

      • March 3, 2010 8:42 pm

        I used to do that in class to pass the time. 2.5 mins was my record. I think, I blacked out about that time.

  2. March 3, 2010 8:33 pm

    As you and I have discussed , following a passion, direction… anything that gets the juices going will be the most fulfilling choices you can make. But it’s also the most difficult thing to do. Reading about your choices and how you are finding ways to live it, breathe it and plow through the current trends, make my day. It mostly provides hope that I can do this with my own stuff.

    But as the previous comments notes, please stay away from the Nyquil.

    • March 3, 2010 8:37 pm

      I think that’s it Larry. I think the older I get, the more Nyquil cases I consume, the more I realize just how loud that clock is ticking. There is so much to do and so little time. And, you realize, just what it takes to get a great image and what requirements it takes. Its so rare to find great work these days, including on my own lightbox. I see a HUGE amount of work promoted, sold, social mediaed and held aloft that just isn’t great work, but the surrounding hype wants to make it seem great.

      I think I could edit my life to 20 images. Maybe an image a year.

  3. David Wissinger permalink
    March 3, 2010 9:35 pm

    I’ve been looking for a darkroom to use. I’m beginning to feel like I’m hunting a dinosaur. I’m starting to eye a bathroom in my house for how I’d tape the windows and doors. The pressure of failure has driven me to Nyquil. I can’t recommend it enough, and completely disagree with the readers who have advised you to avoid it. I’m reaching for some now…

  4. eric labastida permalink
    March 3, 2010 10:42 pm

    I had my moment of clairty in the 90’s when I took the time to go see an Avedon show at my local gallery. These were silver fiber prints. They were the most goregous things id ever seen.
    Then I knew that printiing, good printing was vitally important. A good print is the final interpretion of the artists voice.
    Photography should be about making a symphony not a ringtone.

    • March 4, 2010 6:07 pm

      I like that ring tone reference. But, I have to say, the ring tone is the most popular photo these days.

  5. suzannerevy permalink
    March 3, 2010 11:24 pm

    Few things lovelier than a museum quality print in the wash!!

    • March 4, 2010 6:08 pm


      I agree. I wish I was a better printer and had more of those in the wash. I have more of “pretty good” prints in the wash. But, I’m learning.

  6. Leigh permalink
    March 5, 2010 6:10 pm

    I certainly do not underestimate the power of a beautifully had printed silver print, they take my breath away as well. But I must say for me the most important element bar none is how the work compels me to think, see or feel.
    How one arrives at compelling pieces can be different for different artist i.e.. large format, pinhole, panoramic, film, digital, polaroid, silver print, inkjet, book, slideshow larger than life prints, small framed prints, slides etc…
    There is an artist who made photographic prints of airplanes coming and going out of large airplane hangers. His process included the need of exposing his scene for weeks at a time to get the desired effect he wanted. The sheer size of his final prints would never have been possible if he had to hand print them. Is his work any less interesting, significant or worthy?
    I do agree that digital has created the illusion that anyone can pick up a camera, point it at something and viola…a photographer is born. It is not the equipment, it is what is done with the equipment that counts. I have a fine art photographer friend who shoots primarily with a hasselblad and prints everything by hand, but it’s his images he produces with a pinhole quaker oats box that makes most people’s heart skip a beat.
    For me due to cost and other considerations I had to find a way to use the digital equipment in a mindfull way. I sold all my zoom lenses and now work only with a series of fixed lenses. I discipline myself to shoot with only 2 lenses on any one shoot. I look at the first few frames to make sure the setting are set to get the result I’m after [then I don’t look again until I download my cards], and lastly I phyc myself into shooting in 36 frame increments, slowing down my seeing.
    I had to find my own method of working in a meaningful way, so it was more about how I approached my subjects. In the beginnings of photography it was almost soley about the equipment and technology. Once that was established [continuing to evolve of course] it then became about how the photographer saw and how we reacted to that.
    What ever working method and equipment one choses to help them realize their photographic vision is [not quite but…] almost beside the point. But having the discipline and patience and skill to create simple, compelling images that make your audience think, see and feel something that’s what matters most.

    • March 5, 2010 6:32 pm

      Hey Leigh,

      I think your note addresses many different point, some I totally agree with and others I’m not so sure. I agree that whatever style you want is what matters. If that means digital prints, awesome. Silver, great. But, you have to realize as well that this new technology has forever changed the way photography is viewed by not only the masses of people on this planet, but also by the power players within the photography world.
      I don’t think it is an illusion that anyone with a camera can be a photographer. Perhaps that was true years ago, but today I see the “person with camera” getting more work than any professional I know. This is being blamed on the economy, but I don’t see it that way. What I see is a population(including the likes of editors/art directors) bombarded by so many average images, which we were able to do thanks to the new technologies, they no longer really have much interest in the final product. I wish I could say this is a rare thing, but it isn’t. In fact, I see it every single week, not just from my area, but from photographers and clients around the world.
      If you work in the portrait wedding world, there is a less dramatic feel to this, just because those genres have always been considered entry level to the professional world. There is no photo editor or art director to convince, it’s easier to get started, so consequently you have had plenty of “weekend warriors” working in those fields. But editorial, commercial, fashion, advertising, etc, have really been changed by these “person with camera” providing generic, always digital content to a client base that is growing less and less interested in unique content and more and more interested coming in under budget.
      For me, I went digital very early, then slowly realized it was not making me happy. I ignored the darkroom for years because 100% of what I saw and heard from my industry said, “Analog is dead, digital is the future.” I bought it, at least for a few years. Then I realized it wasn’t my future.
      And as for cost, I don’t see digital as any cheaper than film. In fact, when you charge for your time, and lifestyle, it is far more expensive. I know dozens of photographers who spend hours, days, weeks on the computer doing post for clients, for free. I lose commercial bids to these folks all the time because I actually charge for my time.
      I’ll continue to make both digital and silver prints, different things look better printed in certain ways, but for me personally I just don’t have nearly the same relationship with electronic goods as I do with “handmade” goods. This goes for capture and print.
      And finally, print size. Look at where we are today. Two years ago I attended Paris Photo, the largest photo-art show in the world, where I was bombarded by soulless urban landscape after soulless urban landscape, all printed 30 feet wide. Literally. We have the technology, and we will now live in the time when everyone feels, due to print it larger make more money, we will have to endure this idea of printing massive images. It seems that everyone now has “graduated” from the 16×20 as the large edition to the 40×60. Again, the masses chase the market, and when your gallery is telling you to print 40×60, most people will do it to try and sell.
      But what is funny is that vintage outsold contemporary 4-1 that year, or at least that is what the critics said. The largest crowd I saw was around an 8×10 image. The HUGE images actually physically drove the viewers AWAY from the booth holding the image, which kinda defeats the point of putting them up no?
      When I go to Santa Fe, I always go back to see a photographer who is a contact printer, meaning his images are never larger than the negative. They are incredible.

      You’re right about doing whatever it is that floats your boat. That is REALLY the key but you will produce your best work when doing so. It is when we get lost in the ideals and dreams of the fickle that we lose the ability to make image that are a reflection of who we really are.

  7. Leigh permalink
    March 6, 2010 3:36 am

    I too agree with a lot with what you’ve said. With my own digital work, I make my artistic decisions in camera. I do a bit [ a very small bit] of color correction and at times some exposure correction.That’s it.
    I was never ever good at printing even when I shot analog as this is in it of itself a fine art. I felt that was best left to printers who were artists in their own right in printing. Printing to my artistic specifications of course.
    When I shot analog the printers did the color correction and exposure when necessary. I personally spend very little time in front of the computer.
    Although I don’t shoot commercially I have many friends in the industry who do, some who are at the top of the photographic food chain. Some have managed to market themselves as primarily film artists, others offer both as some clients only want digital.
    The industry has done several 360s and your 100% right it ain’t what is used to be. I would never say compromise your artistic expression for the newest or latest thing. Pictures that make any one of us think, see or feel something and make us want to linger longer…that’s what great photography is all about no matter how the photographer made the shot.
    As for your work…I love it the way it is!

    • March 6, 2010 3:46 am


      Thanks for saying that. I think the real key is that photographers typically make their best work when working on their own work, and the key is the make your commercial work your personal work. But, there are very, very few people doing that. Less and less actually. It’s a shame.
      I’m finding photography is losing some of its soul, and I need to find a way to get some of that back in my own work. Not sure how I will do it, but I’ll try.

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