Take a look at the photograph below. It's one I'm really proud of, and I love it. Do you love it, too? Great!
Not so much? Well then you aren't my friend anymore, he said petulantly.
Just kidding. Still, the next couple of paragraphs are specifically targeted at you less-admiring folks.
Making that photograph was a significant challenge. Frankly, I couldn't have done it without medium format color negative film. Back in 1975, there was no other way to record that kind of detail and most especially that kind of subject luminance range. From density readings off the negatives, I estimate there is way over 10 stops, probably 12 stops of range from the white rocket to the most tenuous wisps of the floodlight beams at the corners of the photograph. I wanted to get it all. Well, I nailed it, just barely squeezing that range of tone and detail into what the film would accept.
Only problem was I had no idea how I was going to print it. I knew that when I made the photograph. I just figured that at least if I had it on film there was some chance that I might figure out how to print it. Keep in mind that this was before I had started making dye transfer prints; I was strictly a chromogenic printer. I hadn't even yet mastered contrast control masking, although I'd heard of it; all I really knew from was dodging and burning-in.
It took me three years and innumerable tests to figure out how to print that photograph. Eventually I learned how to make an exotic contrast control mask that pulled in the highlight and shadow range without destroying the contrast and tonal separation there, so that it would print decently. Learning dye transfer was a big help; it could portray and render a much longer tonal range than a conventional print.
So, this was a photograph I made on faith with all my technical skill with the camera, assuming I would learn enough later to be able to print it. And after dozens of months of study and work, I was there. For decades, this stood as the most difficult photograph I ever printed.
Now, here's my question for those of you who didn't like the photograph all that much: Do you like it better now? I mean as a photograph, as art, not as a lesson in technique?
Yup, that's what I thought.
When I showed this photograph to Bob Nadler, of Camera 35 fame, the better part of 30 years ago, I started telling him everything I gone through to make that wonderful print. He cut me short, saying "Nobody cares how hard you worked."
I've never forgotten that. It's a really, really important lesson that all photographers should take to heart. If someone already likes your photograph, how hard you worked doesn't matter. If they don't, telling them how hard you worked is not going to change their mind.
Follow-up: The free PDF of my book Post Exposure that I put up at my website a few weeks back (vis "Something Old and Something New") had some font garbage in it on the copyright page that caused a few readers grief. I've now put up a repaired version (fingers firmly crossed). Enjoy!
Ctein's weekly column appears every Wednesday on TOP.
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Original contents copyright 2011 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.