Wednesday, March 07, 2007

PAST VS. PRESENT

Lost Mine Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas 1980

Yesterday, for the first time in a long time, I worked in the darkroom. I was reminded Monday evening that I have to have six 16x20 prints ready for hanging at Emmanuel College in Boston by April first. I don’t know the title of the show, yet, mainly because I don’t think they have thought of one. I do, however, know why they picked me and my work. The theme (?) of the show has to do with an artist connection to a specific place. And how the work deals with the artist sense of that place. For those who know me, the Big Bend area of West Texas is such a place for me, and I will have six older signature images from my book: ROCK, RIVER & THORN: The Big Bend of the Rio Grande. The hoar-frosted tree is probably my most signature image from all the 30+ years I’ve photographed in that region. Since my show four years ago in Austin, I haven’t touched any of these negatives. It is always interesting to revisit older work and make new prints. I keep my #1 print from each image, and records indicated that I’ve printed this image for either exhibition or sale 15 times since I made the image in November of 1980. WOW! That’s 27-years-ago.

I guess my point is that in 27 years of printing that image, every few printings have been totally different. While I have used the same lens, but on different enlargers all those years, a number of great papers have come and gone. Probably (I didn’t keep a record) the first prints were made on Ilford Galerie because that was a favorite paper of mine back then. Then I switched to Oriental Seagull for all of my work, except for a show I did in New Jersey where I finagle a deal with Kodak to supply their then new Elite Fine Art paper for that show. Probably I stayed with Seagull the longest, and only quit using it because it was discontinued. My next paper of choice of Kodak Polymax Fine Art Fb, but it took some real work, trials and tribulations working out problems with the first runs on new coating machines in Rochester. (Interesting side note: first experiences with Polymax Fine Art Fb were in 1995 and a short 10 years later Kodak got out the paper business altogether.) For the past few years, I have been printing on Ilford Multi-Grade IV. I guess my point is that through 15 printings of the hoar frost tree image, I have gone through five (maybe six -- Multigrade III may have been in the mix) different printing papers, and switching has never been my choice. It was always a problem with the paper, or it was discontinued. Without doubt, the best prints I ever made of this image were on Oriental Seagull. The worst of the lot was the Kodak Elite. Not that the MG-IV is all that bad a paper, in fact, I would rate it #2. But the paper is not as malleable in development as was the Seagull. I use to print using a variable contrast print developer – a Dr. Pratt’s fomula that I mixed from scratch. That developer does not work well with the MG-IV. With test I ran a few years ago, I found that the modern papers respond better to the more modern liquid developers like Ilford’s Multigrade Paper Developer. Good ol’ Metol and Hydroquinone just doesn’t get it done on the new papers.

Back to my point: the prints I made yesterday don’t look like the prints I made 20+ years ago – more different than worse or better. But making a new superb print today fights in my memory with the older prints. And usually it’s fighting with that first interpretation of that image’s negative. I guess it’s because that first print is the one that stuck in the mind’s view, and since I don’t have the same materials I used back then, I feel I can’t repeat that image the way I would like. You have to factor in that I’ve got 20+ years more experience in the darkroom since them, and I’m not printing with the same enlarger/color head I used in those days (I’m on my fourth system because all the others died....sigh.) It is probably because I see these changes over the years that I somewhat welcome digital into the process of printing the older images. I can’t make the print I made 20 years ago because I don’t have the same materials and equipment to work with. As the silver photographic era winds down, and we all move into the digital era (it’s not an "if" proposition, but a "when"!!) I won’t be able to make those same prints. Guess what? That’s been happening all along. I’m not advocating for digital, just merely stating a fact.

2 comments:

Billie said...

And guess what else. Some will be better printed digitally and others won't. Just the same as each new paper opened some door and closed another.

pitchertaker said...

Sorta' my point. Different can on be different, not the same. Just so as the image can still transmit it meaningfulness to the viewer.

Pitchertaker

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