A reader/friend-I've-never-met just wrote to me this morning. He's over the moon about a fabulous print he just had made from a scan by a particular service bureau. It had him talking like he's solved the problem of getting prints made from his archive of 35mm negatives.
Maybe. My advice, from experience: If you get to a point where you're happy with what you're getting, act like there's no tomorrow. Get as much accomplished as quickly as you can. Because it's not going to last.
We get into these sweet spots. And we think they're all "from now on," that they're going to last forever, stretching into a rosy sunset. It's hard to keep in mind that happily ever after only happens in fairy tales.
In 1994, I bought a loft condo just west of Chicago and converted the powder room to a tiny darkroom. I hadn't had a real darkroom in years and I was all happy about finally getting some prints made. Before long, I was doing really the best printing of my life—I had all the equipment on song and was using two papers and two developers for just the right degree of control. I was working a day job and had a small child who couldn't be left alone at night after he went to sleep. Hours after dark with nothing to do but print. I had a large backlog of unprinted negatives. I was making a good salary and had money for supplies. My skills were at their peak. I made the best prints from my own work I'd ever made. I was cranking 'em out, cruising along.
And at some point I got the notion that I should do a portfolio, a sort of master set of all my favorite pictures. I settled on the idea of printing 100 pictures that represented the best of my shooting up till then. I started making the selections, happily poring over old contact sheets. (Made some real discoveries, too, things I'd overlooked when I shot them, including that "floating canoe" I showed you a while back and now can't find.) I got started.
And that's all.
I had no sense of urgency. There was no hurry. What could happen? Nothing was going to change.
But things change. Within ten years, my kid was a teenager, the companies that made my two standard papers were both out of business, I didn't have a darkroom in my home any more, and I was self-employed, meaning my free time was no longer my own.
I sure wish now that I'd been a little more disciplined and actually made that "master set" when I had the chance. That window is mostly closed now.
Same thing happened again c. 2007. I'd bought my first DSLR, I'd gone through all the calibration rigamarole with a certain inkjet-printer-which-must-not-be-named*, I'd done all the experimenting I needed to do with papers, and I was making nice prints that I was happy with. I was set from then on, right? What could go wrong? Surely the camera wouldn't break, the company that made it wouldn't go out of business, and the printer wouldn't develop so many problems that I had to disconnect it and put it in the corner of the living room for the sake of my blood pressure. Except all those things happened. Once again, I should have made more prints while I had everything on song and humming along. (Annoyingly, I even made dozens and dozens of prints of one picture for a print sale, and didn't even keep one for myself. I could always print another one if I ever needed it, right? Except now I can't.)
The specifics don't matter. The moral of the story does matter: thing are going to change. I don't know how, I don't know when, but they will. If you've got everything down pat right now and you've found your perfect service bureau, or you've got plenty of time to do x, or Filbert is making all your prints for you and man oh man is he ever a great printer, or you've found some way of working that's allowing you to work the way you want to...assume a sense of urgency, is my advice. Work hard while you can. Get things done. Because someday someone is going to say to you, "You want us to match an inkjet print? Wow, I haven't even heard that word in five years," or, "Sir, no one works with files from the old Bayer array cameras any more." Or you'll get transferred to Bongo Bongo in the South Pacific and the company has a no cameras rule because the native women don't wear tops. Or Filbert the master printer will win Lotto and enthusiastically devote his life to cocaine. I don't know. I don't know what it will be—all I know is that whatever is, isn't forever. The windows that open, close. When things are on song, sing. Please take my advice.
Mike*If you say its name you invoke its shrieking curse which will cloud the sky and blot out all sunlight.
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A book of interest today:
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
John Robison: "'I returned to see under the sun that the swift do not have the race, nor the mighty ones the battle, nor do the wise also have the food, nor the understanding ones also have the riches, nor do even those having knowledge have the favor; because time and unforeseen occurrence befall them all.' Eccl. 9:11."
Will: "In other words: Carpe the dang Diem."
Francisco Cubas: "I was in charge of a fine art printing business for two years. I learned through tutorials (mostly from The Luminous Landscape) to decently use an Epson 9900; I had access to Moab and Hahnemuhle papers; I deeply improved my editing skills using DxO, Lightroom and PS. Three months ago I quit and realized I had just two portfolio prints of my own. Great advice Mike, you never know what's going to happen."
Joe: "'Some day,' I said to myself. 'Some day soon I'm going to sit down and spend the time to transfer those irreplaceable reel-to-reel recordings of my old bands onto cassette tapes.' And then a few years later: 'Some day I'm going to sit down and spend the time to transfer those irreplaceable reel-to-reels to my computer.' The reel-to-reel machine is dead. I can't find a way to record onto cassettes, anyway. And how did I used to digitize audio? I forget. I think all that stuff is in a box in the basement. Right next to the moldy reel-to-reel tapes."
Mike replies: I fear you've just told the eventual tale of 99.99% of the world's digital photographs.