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Sunday, 16 January 2011


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Apropos - "There were several pictures printed on transparent substrates with rear lighting, so the light came out of the photo—and they didn't even look tricky"

- that's been the way the photos in the Wildlife Photographer Of The Year exhibition in London have been shown for a couple of years now.

The photos are all so bright.

They remind me of when I would put a slide into a little illuminated slide viewer and peer in. Only these are a couple of feet across.

They also make me think that I am not seeing the print per se, but rather an 'aided' presentation of it.

Nothing wrong with that except it's just not 'the print'.

I find myself thinking along the lines of what happens if the power fails? Or what have I got if I am out in the countryside somewhere far from a power socket and looking at the print?

Or if I just don't want all that backlit illumination - what is left?

One of the shots at the WPY exhibition was of a Peregrine falcon in a tree. The shot is by Doug Brown and It is a magnificent shot - and would probably look wonderful without the back lighting. But I still found myself thinking about the lighting.

Thanks for the posting John. Wish I could wander the gallery with my beard and blend right in. Would love to have seen the images of what other people are showing. I could not afford to buy anything but I would love to window shop.


When I attended Photo LA in 2009, it seems that classic photography dominated the show. Maybe with the purported end of the recession dealers are willing to take risks again.

I'd expect to see the trend of larger print to partially reverse itself fairly soon. When everybody does wall-covering prints the novelty is no longer there. While some pictures really work big, others do not - counting the pores in portraits wears of as a parlour game after a while - and very few of us really have the wall space to display more than one or two really large images.

Huge prints - and huge, backlit prints - won't go away. But I'd not be surprised to see a renaissance for the small, intimate image, that you have to get right up close to see properly.

The big print used to be such a pricey challenge. Not to mention.. big room , big trays, more chemicals, big deck under the enlarger, big drying screens...and you had to make extras cause they were easy to dent. Nowadays, it's pretty damn easy so everyone's doing what everyone wanted to do when the water was flowing in the darkroom..

Note to self: Tell my wife to shave her beard off because Im tired of losing her in the street scenes in my hep little hood.

"Maybe $5,000 is no longer real money."

It sure feels that way.

Last year I discussed with a dealer the purchase of a lovely print from a living photographer we all know. The print was one of his better ones, and was not a limited edition. $7K for smaller than 8X10.

I know there is no making sense of art prices, but come on; for 7 large I expect a lot more love than that. Even at $4K I'd have a hard time justifying it.

There's something to be said for collecting the work of dead people.

I've never gone to Photo LA, but I have been known to use a Rolleiflex elsewhere in Santa Monica. :-)

I made 40 x 60 inch black and white resin prints in my youth, and now I make the same size in color on my Canon inkjet. It seems to be about the same amount of work, but doing completely different tasks. You have to make extra inkjets if any paper dust comes between the nozzles and the paper, but you don't have to breathe the fixing bath.
I completely agree that a chemical color workflow is way harder than the modern electronic one.

I was in Review LA and spent a couple afternoons at PhotoLA. John's comment is spot on.

I spent the last 3 months and a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get good B&W inkjet prints, and the sense I get is that the art of good B&W printing is dead. 20 something don't print, and if they do, they print in color. Compare the B&W inkjet (if any) prints to the classic prints, they are miles apart.

Thus making this perhaps the best time to learn to do it well. You may stand out from the crowd.Then again, you may be left behind as being "unhip" and behind the times.

At least the technology is here, more or less. No less than 3 photographers, all of them accomplished darkroom printers, thought that my prints are darkroom prints.

Not to abuse Mike's blog here (which I link to a few times on my blog), but more on my blog later - give me a few hours to recover from review overload first :-)

Young women with Rolleis? Has the Vivian Maier Effect taken off already?

I suspect most of the current generation would not get the joke if grey t-shirts were available with "I am Zone V" printed on them. RGB 117,117,117, perhaps!

"P-shopped work was everywhere, and you know what? Eh. P-shopped photos, even when done with extreme skill, just didn't look like much."

John, John, John. tell that to Andreas Gursky and I bet on of his assistents will find the time to pommel you up with a Gitzo Head.** I saw a 4 piece documentary on Youtube about the construction of Hamm Berwerg Ost. And indeed he (or better his assistant) is not using P-shop but is using an old Paintbox in order to ad some rows of closing and a few constructions workers who are now suddenly part of the mining industry. I looked at the picture and would love to have bought it (eh, if Andreas could agree to give me a tiny discount) but I realised I should then have to revert to old Amsterdam City Council practice. If a painting does not fit cut it to pieces (Nachtwacht, Rembrandt van Reijn), so I didn't start the negociations. But I would fork over money to own it, which is allways a good measurement for like and wanten. Then this weekend I saw the story of its construction on Youtube (I knew the picture was constucted when I saw it in the show Rheinblicke in Essen earlier this year). So now I also know how it was done. And there I see a matticulous proces of finding the right place, the right light, of making the composition, of pre thinking the editing proces before the shooting, of reshooting a few extra's, of manipulating the light, of the printing in the world famous Grieger lab on an Oce Lightjet 500XL (for a measly 260.000 dollars you own one and hey their made by the homies at Océ, I have worked there by the way). Making a 2,4 by 1,8 (meters not feet) testprint is nice as Ctein probably would agree. So when I see all this work being invested in a single picture, all the attention to detail, all the trials and tribulations, this reminds me of Rebrandt once again. Good old mr. van Reijn wasn't working alone in the time he thought up the Nachtwacht, it was a concocted composition, people needed to pose one by one, backgrounds and lesser figures were probably painted by assistants (Ferdinand Bol, Samuel van Hoogstraten) allthough no records about this were kept, until finally presto mr. Frans Banning Cocq could fork over 1600 florins (they split the cost in 16 lots 100 florins each) and receive the monumental painting. I see the work of Gursky and colleges in this tradition. It took him only a fraction of the time Rembrandt took (3 years 1639-1642), it took Gursky about 6 month from start to completion for an exhibition in Krefeld (which I missed, must not use the F-word, must not use the F-word).

Greetings, Ed Kuipers

**Sick humor allert*

*Added for all yee Yankees***

***Humor allert.

The backlit photos intrigue me. A few years ago, I shot some Velvia 50 on vacation, just for the fun of it. After I got the slides back from the lab, I looked at them through a 'vintage' handheld binocular viewer, lit by a tiny fractional watt tungsten lamp.* The effect was remarkable. Suddenly I was seeing fairly pretty (but artistically unambitious) scenery through a filter that reminded me of every Natural History museum and Aquarium I'd ever been in as a child.

I think it 'worked' because of a combination of generous underexposure and vignetting, (I used an Olympus XA, set for ISO 60) combined with an unevenly lit projection. I'm kind of encouraged that people are experimenting with the essence** of the viewed slide. The real thing, projected or backlit just doesn't have much in the way of a lifespan if you actually enjoy looking at it.


*you can see something like it if you google for binocular bakelite slide viewer,
or here, on that auction site:

**Sorry Mike, I couldn't think of a better synonym. Um, I've got a cold?

I agree - way too many large prints around nowadays. It's become a standard process instead of a conscious choice it seems.

Some photographs need it to achieve their full effect. Some of Boris Becker's work comes to mind here, especially his "constructions", as they rely a lot on details. But some images would work equally well on a smaller scale, and then the choice is probably mostly commercially inspired - big walls = big wallets. And for some it is potentially detrimental - a 3 by 3 meter print may not be the best way of conveying e.g. a feeling of intimacy (unless of course you want to convey INTIMACY!!!).

Ideally print size would be part of the compositional process, a choice in service of what you want to say rather than of how much you hope to be able to charge. But then again, that's easily said since I don't need to sell any photographs to pay the rent. And if it enhances the experience, I certainly have absolutely nothing against a 5 by 5 meter print.

But apparently it does sell better... at last year's end-of-year exhibition of the Antwerp Academy of Fine Arts (here in Belgium), the only ones who sold any work had large prints on display... hmmm, I'm making secret plans already... :-D

Can you comment at all on the most popular paper types being used for the inkjet prints? I've gone full circle from matt photo rag through to the baryta aluminium based glossies and back to the rags again. Seems to me you just can't beat the old matt paper for auratic qualities even when the blacks are a little lacking. Would be interesting to know where the art world finds itself on this one.

I remember a comment from a professor at RIT, "If you cant make a good photograph, make it big. And if its still not good, make it in color."

"Relatively few DSLRs, and those were of the less expensive variety."

You sound a little surprised. Today, even the so-called "entry level" DSLRs have unbelievably full feature sets and image quality potential that is simply amazing. Bang for the buck just keeps getting better every year. And the less expensive models are usually a lot easier on the neck and shoulder to carry around. Even among knowledgeable photographers who could easily afford a pro-grade camera, not everyone needs or wants one.

"Or if I just don't want all that backlit illumination - what is left?"

Or if you have a conventional print, you are out in the woods and you DO want that backlit glow? Where you then? ;-)

That 18% grey shirt sounds like a neat idea and could be a good product for photographers. You could use it for exposure setting, maybe have the back of the shirt set up for white balance calibration. You might have to be careful when laundering them though, you'd hate to wash away the perfect grey and screw up future photos.

Whether intentional or not, you captured so much that I dislike about Los Angeles. Money talks and bullshit walks and all that. Image is everything and all that.

Large format inkjets have certainly made it easier to produce a really big print. But I don't think they've necessarily made it much easier to create a really *excellent* big print. We've all seen large prints that simply didn't have sufficient resolution to support their size. Image & processing shortcomings are magnified and exacerbated in large prints; often the photograph's defects are all you can see when it's been printed too big. Each jump in print size demands a corresponding improvement in care, image resolution, and technique- otherwise you're simply highlighting your mistakes. As one comedian said, it's like dropping an easy fly ball while wearing a paisely glove.

And I wouldn't dismiss the physical difficulties of managing a large inkjet print. A 24 x 72" print is absurdly easy to crease, even on stiff cotton rag paper, and the surface is extremely susceptible to scuffing or burnishing, turning it into another expensive throw-away. Getting such a large print from the inkjet to its final mounted home in pristine condition is a nerve-wracking exercise.

Thanks for the report about "what's going on" in the photographic world. (I'm still stuck in the Weston, Adams, Cartier-Bresson era.)

Thanks for the report. I have to wonder who is buying all these huge prints. Assuming any significant number are selling. Even with the size of today's houses there can't be many walls that big.

On the fashion side, I've got the beard and have been thinking I should buy a black shirt.

Thanks for the review of Photo LA. It was interesting to hear about the trends at a major exhibition without all the critSpeak. I did find it distressing that Photoshopping is so evident. But I suppose it's not always easy to draw that line between Photography and Art-with-Photography-as-the-Medium.

That sounds very similar to Paris Photo 2010 (http://www.parisphoto.fr), which I went to at the Carrousel du Louvre. I too was struck by how many people were printing large colour prints at exhorbitant prices... but at least there was the availability of books at a somewhat more reasonable cost (if you were interested in the artist).


Hmmm; it's certainly not trivial to make a fairly big print, 24x36 say, using digital files, Photoshop, and a suitable inkjet printer.

But it's a LOT easier than in the darkroom.

Also, I find I can make much better prints that size from DSLR files than I could make a level smaller from 35mm film. Absence of grain makes everything better! (And stitching gives you more resolution, if the subject allows it.)

I haven't worked bigger than 24x36, and that was with Ctein, who had some experience handling the large bits of floppy paper. I can only imagine what dealing with a 6 foot print must be like. But at least it's not wet!

(Just finishing making 9 20x30 prints to brighten up the walls where I work; I'm feeling pretty good about the results at the moment.)

I suspect, in fact, that people are making things like 6-foot prints because they've discovered than any yahoo can make a decent-looking 24x36 print. (Yeah, not, actually just anybody; but too many for it to really distinguish the photographer as serious.)

"...and, as we all now know, [giclée is] also French vulgar slang for male ejaculation."

Well, we all didn't know. Not sure how I missed it, but, uh, thanks, John...

Regarding the much-discussed topic of large prints, it is not easy to find brand-name painters (those anointed by the gallery-musem complex) doing small paintings, either. And for many, contemporary art is contemporary art, be it photographic or painted or whatever. At least in southern California, big houses with big walls have been the trend for those with big money, partly explaining the big pictures produced to hang on those walls.

Nice to hear about those red dots on the walls. I stayed home this year, but last year the sales (and subsequently, the number of red dots next to works) seemed anemic. The return of buyers is good news for all concerned.

Nice review, John!

Looks like a fabulous show. My how things have evolved from the Paris Salon of years past!


Re: the Zone V t-shirt idea. We must, of course, be cautious about our choices of material and washing instructions, lest we all begin to meter erroneously after several washes.

"Young women with Rolleis? Has the Vivian Maier Effect taken off already?"

Nope. Actually it's more of a Diane Arbus Effect. It's been stylish (fashionable?) with a certain class of art student women for a few years.

I had a similar experience when I attended the "Art of Photography" show last year in downtown San Diego. Not a single black and white darkroom print. I saw one platinum print but it was a 6x8 or 6x9 medium format neg matted on a 16x20 matt or larger. A majority of the photos big and small are from the Canon or Epson pigment printers. I saw some photos labeled "lightjet" or "c-print". And yes, I saw a few photographs that were photoshopped and turned into watercolor art.

Have you thought about a beard poll Mike?

Thanks John for a very interesting insight to the show. Just a few comments and observations of my own.

I certainly agree with your opinion of Photoshop produced works, as from the perspective of being both a full-time photographic artist and a collector, I can never somehow bring myself to appreciate Photoshop constructed works as true and authentic photographic art. Perhaps I'm just a traditionalist, but I really like the purity of a photographed produced uniquely from a photographic process, even if this does involve the digital darkroom as opposed to the wet darkroom. Taken beyond processing, I feel the image has lost its quality as a photograph (just my opinion).

As regard black and white prints using digital technology, the quality is out there, but it takes some hunting. I have only 3 labs that I use world-wide, so for sure it is a challenge. Large or small works, well I endorse the comment above, I believe the image size should be an extension of the artist's intention and objective. If it needs to be big because that's how the artist intended it to be, so be it. However, if it works best small, keep it small! I agree that size just to make bucks is a very short-term view.

I like some back-lit works, where the rear lighting fits the work. these produced on the likes of transparent opaline look excellent and do have good archival qualities. I think we will see more of these in the future, as not everybody wants to look at them in a field, being quite happy to hang them above a power socket in their main entrance hall or lounge.

Tim commented above on art papers for pigment prints. In my opinion there is no single answer to this, as each work is different and as with size, paper should be matched to the image and to the artist's interpretation of the work. This said, I quite like "Innova FibaPrint" for glossy prints, and would say this is well worth taking a look at if you are not familiar.

As regard the word "giclée", I much prefer the term "pigment print" which effectively is what it is, and probably how you are going to see it described in an auction catalogue. Notwithstanding, I personally still like dye destruction and chromogenic prints, with the former still considered to have the best archival quality of all, even with the ever improvement of Ultrachrome inks. Both of the latter produced from a digital file via a Durst Lambda or Océ look magnificent (providing they are done right of course!).

I still think the best photographic works are "pure" photographic works. It may be digitally produced, but this does not mean it cannot be "pure" using the word in an artistic context. Content and concept are often far more intriguing to me than production technique. I need to see the artist's expression in the work, regardless of how it was made. We all know we can manipulate anything into anything with today's available technology, but this does not necessarily mean we should or we must!

I was a reviewer at Review La and unfortunately was too busy to attend Photo LA this year between the review and organizing an opening the same weekend. All the above comments make me both nostalgic for the smell of all those toxic chemicals I somehow survived in the darkroom and the sheer joy of working with a giant mural enlarger, when printing large was a challenge. That being said, I do appreciate the evolution of the tools of technology. After all, the tools merely manifest the vision, and are not the end all be all.

My little renegade gallery, Clark Oshin Gallery, which I co-direct is housed at The Icon in LA, an extremely high quality pro-lab with both excellent analog and digital printing. Our current exhibition of the well-respected German photographer Olaf Heine's work is comprised of archival pigment prints. While we sometimes show very large prints when it suits the work, we agree that printing large does not make sense in all cases, nor does it make an image stronger than it is small-scale. We printed this show in a variety of sizes from 6"x8" to 18"x18" and priced between $350 unframed to $2550 framed, all in editions of 5. We try our best to keep it real. Mr. Heine's new book (his second) "I love you but I've chosen rock" is also available. Stop by if you can. We're open lab hours -except Sundays. www.clark-oshingallery.com

I thought about backlighting an image about three years ago as an experiment. I bought some framing materials but never went forward with it. If the image is on paper or plastic, the light source and related heat will deteriorate the paper or plastic quickly. Even light dispersal across the image was another consideration. It seemed the best material to print on was glass, and I did not want to deal with it.

I am taking an advanced photoshop class right now. I remarked to the teacher that they should change the name to Artshop. Perhaps Bitmapshop is an alternative. Photos do not have to be the principle source and the amount of alterations that can be done are immense. I find it violates the KIS rule.

As a follow-up to my comment above, those readers who mourn the decline of traditional darkroom printing should be pleased to learn that a surprising number (to me, anyway) of the photographers' portfolios I saw at Review LA consisted of prints made with wet chemicals instead of ink.

In fact, I myself came home with an absolutely gorgeous 15" square print by Rebecca Reeve that was made using traditional darkroom processes on fiber-based paper: http://www.rebeccareeve.com/port3_1.html. I look forward to having it framed and hanging it in my office.

On the subject of large prints and how they are illuminated. I remember way back in the '60s visiting ab exhibition in London (UK)in the strangely titled London Tea Centre of large 60X40in colour prints by the Swiss photographer Adolph Morath. Photographs taken underground in a copper mine using multiple bulb flash! These were illuminated from the FRONT and looked magnificent!

Mathew, I just wanted to mention that personally I always use LED whiteboards to illuminate my backlit transparencies; these produce zero heat and have perfect light dispersal. You can see an example here. You might want to check out this option.

Hi Thomas,

Alas, I do not have a Facebook account so I cannot see the page. Thanks for posting.


Yes, Facebook links are not usually accessible to people who don't have Facebook accounts. I never know whether to go ahead and post them or not....


Kodak discontinued producing black and white silver-gelatin paper over 5 years ago. Yes, there are other photo-chemical papers still available, but what do you expect modern prints to default to? The easiest way to exhibit your work 20 years ago was wet-darkroom prints. The easiest way to do it now is inkjet prints. For many, the subtle differences in print media does not trump the difficulty in producing darkroom prints these days.

Does anyone here remember the huge (I mean huge-25'x15') backlit transparencies Kodak used to display in Grand Central Station in New York City? The lightbox was a permanent fixture for many years, and the picture was changed every few months.

I wonder what kind of chemical processing setup handled those huge transparencies?

A terrific read comme toujours. I can't see attending the LA show giving me half the joy of your article. Good writing (like a good man I guess) is hard to find.

I live in Oz so the LA show is a little too far for this old happy snapper.

Re: Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year and backlit display. I thought the exhibition was generally well done and the presentation quite effective. There were some prints which could have benefited with greater density but most of them looked very good. It made me want to look at getting some of my photos displayed the same way.

Dear Geoff,

Oh man, what you said.

My printing prices for clients go up substantially with the size of the print. It's not because of materials costs (only a few tens of dollars for a print) or the time the printer is tied up (I can print thousands of dollars worth of finished jobs each day). It's the considerable extra time it takes me to prepare a photograph so that will look good when printed larger. Doesn't matter if it starts as a digital photograph or a film scan. There is still a lot more refinement required as the size goes up.

Miniatures hide a multitude of sins [grin].


Dear Thomas,

If by “dye destruction” prints, you mean Ilfochrome/Cibachrome, be advised that their excellent archivility extends only to dark-keeping characteristics. There, along with dye transfer prints, they are unsurpassed. And they have a sufficiently lengthy track record that one feels reasonably confident that the accelerated fade tests extrapolate well to normal conditions.

But when it comes to light-fading, they have only about half the display life of a dye transfer print, which has only about half the display life of the latest chromogenic papers. Which, in turn, probably have significantly less display life than Ultrachrome prints.

This is not to say the display life is bad. And dark keeping characteristics are at least as important as light-fading. In my opinion, more so. It's important, though, to be aware that prints can have extremely different dark-keeping and light-fading ratings.

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

Every time I see the photo at the top of this article I am reminded of Stanley Tucci in The Devil Wears Prada.

"A few galleries still call them "giclée," which is a neologism derived from a French word meaning "nozzle" or "squirt," and, as we all now know, also French vulgar slang for male ejaculation."
I didn't know that at all!. It had me laughing my a** off all night long. I guess everything sounds more classy in French.
Oh well time to go microwave my "Merde Au Vin" frozen entree...

Seems like "making a living" and "making art" continues to be the same dichotomy it always was. I can't blame anyone for making a living and I admire anyone who can pay all the bills as a photographer, especially as a photographic artist.

Unless you are blessed with a post at some famous academy, or are independently wealthy, the primary concern of art (photography) is filling up the large empty spaces (sic) of the rich and famous and major institutions. Plus ça change....the same could apply to the vast majority of paintings in the Tate or the Louvre, though in those days a trend could last somewhat longer than a week.

Personally my artistic tendencies are post-modern. I don't have any objection to photoshopping, photochopping, colour, black and white, large prints, collages or whatever as long as it works. Pidgeon-holing and classification beyond the merely technical are generally unhelpful. Art does not have to be anything whether it's photographic or not, that's the point.

For photography to thrive as an artform it has to explore all of its new technical boundaries and I suspect it will do so regardless. Much as I would love a genuine Arbus on my wall, I would not rate a new photographer who simply paid homage to the past. Using a Rolleiflex in some kind of misplaced solidarity seems particularly pointless.

Current art photographers should be pushing the envelope and creating debate. That the rich and famous can sometimes be persuaded to fund such an enterprise by smooth talking dealers is somewhat laudable. In time, with the benefit of hindsight and perspective, what worked and what didn't will be apparent (and who made a sound investment and who didn't).

@ Mani:

In addition to the transparencies that were shown in Grand Central Station, Kodak also provided smaller transparencies (IIRC, 18"x24"-ish) to dealers to display in a freestanding lightbox display that was made to look like a 35mm slide mount.

I first saw these in the late '70s at the local camera store in West Lafayette, Indiana where I was going to college. After watching a few of them rotate through the display, I asked the store owner how I could acquire one for myself and was ultimately able to do so by trading him a $20 bill for each one after its replacement arrived. (Note: At the time, $20 would buy five LPs, so it was a decent amount of money for a college student. In the end, I think I ended up with only a half-dozen of them, as I sometimes didn't have an extra $20 bill to trade to him and had to pass.)

Alas, I never did get around to building a lightbox in which to display them (which is probably a good thing, as they have remained rolled-up in a dark mailing tube all these years), but now that you have whet my curiosity, I'll have to dig them out of storage and take another look.

I wonder if / how well they have survived and whether they have become collectible yet? Hmm...


lol, I remember the first time I used the term "giclée" in photo class in France...their was a long awkward uncomfortable pause...lol...just another silly North American!
But please tell me, what was the "mot du jour" for inkjet prints?
ps I am one of those young women with rolleiflexes but it has nothing to do with Diane or Vivian and everything to do with Willy Ronis.

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