This week's column by Ctein
One (of many) things I find interesting about printing is that some photographs demand to be printed a certain way and others seem to accommodate a substantial range of different "looks." I have no doubt that this is a function of my artistic mood as much as the photograph. But, still, there are some photographs that I see the need to print in exactly the same way, day after day, if they're going to look right to me. Others, my opinion changes about.
This used to bother me. Eventually I realized that there is no objective arbiter of rightness; it's whatever I think looks good. If a particular photograph looks best to me printed five different ways on five different days, then probably all of those are right for some legitimate value of "right."
Two of the photographs in my recent dye transfer sale illustrate that phenomenon. The "Roses against Black Stone Wall" photograph only looks right if I print it with precisely the right brightnesses; much lighter or darker than that and it's wrong. (Who judges right and wrong? I do; I'm the artist and I'm the only one with standing.) But the hue of that wall can go all over the place. Some days I like it closer to neutral (figure 1); some days I like it very cold (figure 2).
(Note: the illustrations are just that, illustrations of differences. There's no point in telling me you like figure 1 better than figure 2; you're looking at lousy JPEGs rendered with lousy publishing software. They don't look anything like the prints, and it's the prints I'm talking about. But I gotta give you something to look at, don't I?)
"Niagara Falls" is a different case. I'm pretty particular about the color balance in this one. Oh, a few CC one way or another from the particular blue-cyan I want looks good, but it can't go very far or the clouds end up appearing to be too cyan-green or too pinkish-white. But, brightness? Yeah, it's a high-key photograph, but which particular high-key I think looks best is all over the map. I'd say there's a good half-stop variation in print density in the way I've printed that photograph over time, and there's a pretty significant difference just from day-to-day. Some days I go in to print it and I think it should be really, really light (figure 3). Other days I think it should be distinctly darker (figure 4). And that's under constant bright incandescent lighting; start messing with that and I suppose anything is possible.
I used to try to print exactly the same way every day, matching the previous day's prints. Now I just print it however it looks best to me. Yeah, this is lessening of consistency, but who says I was right the previous day...or even more right than I am today? I can't!
It's just one more reason why fine printing is an art and a craft and not a science.
©2013 by Ctein, all rights reserved
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Featured Comments from:
John Camp: "Years ago, when I first started collecting photography, I decided to buy a print of Ansel Adams' 'Moonrise.' Adams printed several hundred of these, which was good for me, because it kept the prices relatively low for what was already seen as a classic photograph. I then got involved in a protracted discussion with a couple of different gallery people about getting a 'good' version of the print, and wound up buying one that was supplied through the Weston Gallery of Carmel. A 'good' print had to do with the treatment of some very subtle cloud layers against the dark sky, and it seems that even as good a printer as Adams was, some of the cloud results were favored by collectors over others. I've look at a lot of different versions of the images now, besides the one I own, and I can see differences, but they're very, very subtle. Whether he had a particular vision on one day or the next, or if he just had a range of acceptable prints, I don't know...but I do know that some collectors look at these things, and what they think may be different than what Adams thought, and all of that can affect the price of the prints...."
Mike Haspert: "You said,'Yeah, this is lessening of consistency, but who says I was right the previous day...or even more right than I am today? I can't!' Now there's a thought that fills some big shoes. Walt Whitman said, 'Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.' I believe I speak for many when I say. 'Thanks for the free lesson.'"