« Three Days Left! | Main | You Can't Trust Rumors »

Tuesday, 02 February 2010


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

This comment really adds nothing to the discussion, but I really like this post. I don't know why. I'm not a Luddite, I think digital is helping me make the best prints I've ever made. Maybe this is the post that will get me move "make photo book" to the top of my to do list.

Most of my career was spent in the printing and publishing industry and ink on paper is my first love. As for photography, I do not feel I have completed a photograph until I hold a print in my hand.

However, I cannot be as optimistic as Mr Gibson about the future of print. As computers and electronic devices become ever more ubiquitous, fewer people have long term exposure to print. Electronic media are habit forming, and habit always prevails.

"Something about the luminosity of ink on paper that just can't be reproduced by pixels on screen."


I agree with Gibson that the printed forms of photography will endure at the pinnacle of the viewing totem. The more virtual our conveniences become the more valuable real experience becomes. Yes, there are plenty of crappy-looking books. But the print/printed book remains the medium that holds the greatest promise for photographic expression and presentation. That seems such a self-evident truth that it's not worth debating.

The bigger issue is whether or not such publishing will remain as economically viable in the coming years. Not to stray into dark woods, but it's likely that the world, particularly the Western world, has seen it's economic heyday come and go. No forecast for the coming 50+ years suggests optimism for markets such as publishing expensive art books.

I'm sure we'll have people saying "something about the luminosity of a good LED-illuminated LCD screen that blobs of ink on paper just can't match" soon. If the high-end stuff comes down in price, or other technologies match its performance (and at least one of those is very likely just in general), we'll have computer displays that have a wider brightness range and color gamut than any printed material. I think this issue will more likely be fought on resolution.

I think CK Dexter Haven is writing The Philadelphia Story.

Gibson makes an eloquent argument, and his books are truly Beautiful.

- Rob

I like books. I like print. One mistake I made was to resubscribe to "Lens Work" on DVD instead of print. Now I have a stack of unopened DVDs. I preferred the paper magazine. I couldn't wait for each new issue to arrive, and spent the whole evening wallowing in it. I believe it's been dropped now anyway, like my subscription.

But check out today's blog post by Seth Godin: "Who will save us?" (http://3.ly/tLuA) I think it was he who did another, similar, earlier post about print, that it was really about selling paper. Or maybe that was Phillip Greenspun, or both. Anyway, the main idea is that you pay the same per-page fee for print regardless of content quality, an idea that stopped me in my tracks.

Print is different, both better and worse than "e" versions. Print is familiar, it is known, and we all have an attachment to it, and we will see less and less of it. I can't change that either.

What?? My screen is luminous by its very nature, and makes ink on paper look flat and lifeless.

It glows! Rimshot, indeed.

However, seeing subtle tonal gradations and detail on it is a problem.

"...the luminosity of ink on paper that just can't be reproduced by pixels on screen...". They are certainly different, and they each have a place, for me. But Ralph Gibson (whose work I love...I have all of his books) doesn't address digitally created works on paper, except to acknowledge his own use of computers to do layout and the like. As he digitally creates a book, which is really his favorite medium for his work, we wonder how he feels about capturing the image in a digital camera in the first place. You don't have to be a Luddite to acknowledge that images on a display are fundamentally different from those on paper. But does he think they still have to be captured on film?

“I believe that the alchemy of light on film informs a kind of content that is not remotely duplicated by electronic imaging systems. These systems transfer information with great precision but a silver gelatin photograph transcends the subject and leads one into much higher levels of content.”

I agree with the first, not with the second. I have all along thought there are subtle qualities to film, and traditional prints from film, that digital doesn’t have (and maybe never will). However, to imply that what we now consider traditional techniques produces “higher levels of content” than digital is capable of I think is wrong.

New technology always changes the aesthetic, changes what expressions are possible, so something is always lost. But something is usually gained as well. Perhaps tempera painters thought the new oil-based pigments produced paintings of less strength, less visual subtlety. But oil painters went on to produce some decent images. Not tempera, of course, but not bad stuff. It might be valid to say that digital is new enough that we aren’t often producing images imbued with such content… yet (though I think we have some artists producing examples to help show us the way). But to deny that possibility is to privilege an older, more familiar mode—one we can “see” better because we are better trained to see it—over something new. Technology is just a tool, and artists always take what tools are available in a given period to produce art (and if it doesn’t have those “higher levels of content” I’m not sure it is art).

At least, I hope so. I am an old film-based photographer myself (practically crocodilian), and resisted the move to digital for a long time, but finally I succumbed. If the implication I find in Mr. Gibson’s statement above were true, then I’d be in trouble, as I still hope to have a chance at producing art (of course, I may be misreading it, for which, if true, I apologize).

"we wonder how he feels about capturing the image in a digital camera in the first place. You don't have to be a Luddite to acknowledge that images on a display are fundamentally different from those on paper. But does he think they still have to be captured on film?"

Well, tell me, John, if Leica had produced a special limited-edition "John Sarsgard Signature MP" to your personal specifications (down to the choice of strap), with your signature engraved on the top plate, what would you use?



Far be it from me to argue with Ralph Gibson, but I suspect that the social aesthetic matrix in which the traditional photographic print remains firmly positioned is the small (albeit vitally important) ghetto of fine art. The photo book, in contrast, comes considerably closer to rubbing shoulders with popular culture and, in this regard, I fear that Mr. Gibson may underestimate the totalitarian grip that the web and related media have on the psychic cajones of younger (extant and future) generations. Moreover, although the medium may well be suboptimal, I've made the case time and again (including on these virtual pages) that perusing the archive section of the Gibson webpage that Mike mentions is a terrifically rewarding exercise.

For the longest time, I've been playing with Tri-X and Rodinal 1+25 to get the Ralph Gibson "look," but I could never come close enough. Or is it the way he prints? I don't know! My generation is witnessing the immense loss of all so much darkroom wizardry and knowledge as masters retire or move over to Photoshop and Epson, or sadly, pass away. There are no more people to teach us how to soup up Pyro, or proper ways to split filter print, etc. Many question the decade in which I'm living, but there is a certain joy and magic in the wet darkroom that computers will never, ever replace. Also, there is no printer that comes close in quality to a fiber print for me.

Mike, can you do me a huge favor and ask Ralph Gibson for some tips on how he gets that look? Grainy, very high contrast without loss of detail, but ultimately not gimmicky. Just timeless. I've heard he overexposes and overdevelops, but I've never gotten it down nearly as awesome. I love his printing style, as well as Lillian Bassman's.

LensWork is still available in print, I just checked their website.

Also in the Nov-Dec 2007 issue, Brooks Jensen wrote about advances in offset printing which he believes may well redefine the meaning of an original print. He claims that offset printing is capable of producing a result that is superior to a gelatin silver print! or damn near it. Now couple this capability with print on demand and high quality photo books may be more possible now than less.

I'm not commenting on this post but just wanted to let Ralph Gibson know, if he reads this, that he played a major part in inspiring me to become a photographer back in the 70s or early 80s.

I bought a photography book published by Life that had a single image from him from a book called "The Somnambulist". It is a picture of a woman's hand on a door handle. If you've seen the picture you'll know the one I mean. The thing that hooked me was the mystery as to what was happening. Was it an invitation to a bedroom? At the age of about 20 that was where my imagination took me!

Re James Ha's question, Ralph Gibson describes his methods in his Lustrum Press book, Darkroom. This book is available used at a reasonable price (http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=Darkroom+Lustrum+Press). The book contains articles by well-known photographers on their darkroom methods, including the Gibson article. There is another Lustrum Press book, Darkroom 2, but the simple 'Darkroom' is the one with Gibson's article.

Gibson's work changed from his influence after seeing Michael Martone's work which he published in 1974 a book called "Dark Light".

I would wish that people would review
Robert Frank's comments about that post Martone influence Gibson(and Frank) realized. in "Occasional Papers #2 The Pictures are a Necessity" by William Johnson from Eastman House NY.1988
Many Martone images which some said were in
the Gibson style which appear in Dark Light were in fact made by Martone in 1960-1961.
yup! no one knew Gibson then.

Historians do your research.

The comments to this entry are closed.



Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 06/2007