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Monday, 03 December 2012


That's good advice for a lot more in life than just printing.

"I was self-employed, meaning my free time was no longer my own." Oh that is so true, I'm the worst boss I've ever had.

To borrow from 'The Swoosh', "Just Do It". Great essay and reminder of the fleet passage of time.


You and I are almost exactly the same age. The sense of time stretching perfectly ahead of you was in most part a happy artifact of being young. I think the happy artifact of growing older is realizing that time goes damned fast and life is too damned short, even if you make it to your mileage estimate. But there's something else.

You know it, and I know it, and all photographers everywhen have known it -- photographic materials have the lifespan of a ladybug. I was coming of age as a photographer just as the great old negative emulsions were disappearing. I adapted. What choice did I have, after all? Twenty years later, the great papers were gone. I adapted. After all, what choice did I have? Or so I had been brainwashed to believe.

The only way a photographer has to create a life's work in the same way a painter or a sculptor can is to be in control of the materials. The fact that we haven't been is the reason photography has always struggled to be considered an art form. The only way around that is straight through. Make you own materials. Go with wet plate collodion and platinum or albumen, or if like me, you are in love with plain, old-fashioned silver gelatin, learn to make your own. The Light Farm is going to start a series of web tutorial workshops in a month. Give them a try. You might rediscover the thrill and joy of Craft that will animate your work going forward. We really are pretty young, you know. At 80, you'll wish you had done this at 55.

Warmest regards,

Oh man, so true.

Talk about ephemera...

Great essay, great reminder of the fleet passage of time. In the words of 'The Swoosh',
"Just Do It".

Would that be a HP B9180? I've wanted one ever since all the excellent reports (incuding TOP) when it was first introduced, and I just bought TWO of them at close-out when RITZ CAMERA went under last month. (Less than the cost of replacement ink sets, but no warranty!)
Have I screwed up, as usual?

I think there is also a corollary, "No matter how good you think you are now, you will get better."
I look at some of the prints I have made over the years and think that I should redo them with all my new found knowledge. Of course I never will...

There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.

My father had that quote framed on our family room wall, and to date it's the only bit of poetry I've ever committed to memory. [g]


For some reason the 'click through' on your "A book of interest today: " doesn't work for me. (using Chrome under Windows)

Read your article with interest and ammusement. Strikes so many bells - totally agree with you! Take the opportunity whislt you can.


Mike change is good some of the time. Ran a B&W lab for 35 years, every few years I would have to test all the "New & Better" papers, developers and toners that now gave you a different tone. I don't ever want to go back to the black room days. I was one of the first photog's pushing paper through an Epson inkjet printer. Things have only gotten way better and I'm so much happier that I no longer have to splash in the dark. Are inkjet prints as good as silver, not quite yet, but close enough & who known what the next 25 years will bring us. Maybe someone will figure out how to squirt silver on to a substrate and it will be better then the old silver paper. I still believe a great image printed or produced with any system will still be a great image.
Keep printing and don't dwell on the what might happen. I think that goes for much of life. A good example is the "Tortoise and the Hare". Keep on trucking and you will arrive at your destination with a box of great prints.
The substrate may change but the images won't.

This is excellent advice. Unfortunately it doesn't apply to my situation, nor, I suspect to that of many others. You see I suffer from the very modern problem of of our technological age where I feel that nothing is ever good enough, because if I just wait a little longer, the next thing will be better.

I resist going through the long and arduous process of learning how to properly print digitally, largely because it just seems so &%*$ complicated, but also because I don't want to invest all that time, money, and mental energy into learning the right settings and calibrations, the best combination of paper and ink, and all the other things that go with it, so that I will then make dozens of prints that I'm perfectly happy with, and then Epson comes out with a new model, or Lightroom 5 comes out with an even better way to eek out that extra bit of detail, or Ctein makes a TOP post that shows I've been doing it wrong all along, and that pile of prints that were perfectly good yesterday now looks like a steaming pile of third-rate, amateur poo.

Back in the analog days it was a bit different. It was as much about physical skill and dexterity as it was about choosing the right chemistry and paper. All those physical-world things like watching out for light leaks and fogging, the mad skillz of dodging and burning, and knowing when the chemistry needed to be refreshed. Those were all skills that one learned and built upon. There was a sense of getting better at it, with every print you made, with no fear of some major disruption just around the corner that would make it necessary to start over.

But now it's all about computers and programming. You have to understand the complicated machinations of sharpening, anti-aliasing, noise reduction, and monitor calibration. But it's not enough to have the "10,000 foot view" understanding of them; you need to know about all the products that do these things, which ones do it better, how to coax the best result, how to anticipate software upgrades and whether or not to do them, and WTF the programmers and UI designers were thinking when they created these programs.

It's all too much for me. And I'm a guy who has worked in the software industry for more than 20 years, most of that time spent writing instructions for how to use software. Maybe that's my problem. Maybe ignorance is bliss. I should probably just step back from my cynicism and plug in a printer, twiddle a few dials, press "Print" and be happy with it.

An artist needs to work with a sense urgency all the, not just when things are going right.


Lets include motivation on the list of the fleeting.

A year or two ago I bought a moderately priced slide scanner. All was good. Excellent results scanning my 20+ years of 35mm slides.

I dismissed all the folks who mentioned how tedious a job such as this is.

You probably know the rest of the story- after a short while I grew tired of the job and decided to put it off for while. Ah, its been a long while...

Strike while the iron is hot!

Thank you. I really needed that kick in the butt.

Forever changes.

Short comment:

Thank you!

Long comment:

I started a new Wordpress website last Thursday. I bought a Photocrati Theme and installed it.

"Up and running, this is easy...how do I put a gallery in?....h'mm...upload an image....all this editing, formatting!....harder than I thought....WTF. I'll work on this tomorrow."

Thank you


Having lived with a sense of urgency my whole life, I do not recommend creating a feeling of urgency in order to get yourself to do things. At great personal cost, and over a very long period of time, I have discovered how very unhappy that approach makes me.

Instead, consider this alternative: when life is calm, orderly, and permits great work, do take it for granted. Arise every morning, and do the work you love (or the work you feel the need to do), and do it every day. Do not worry about tomorrow, whether what you have will be taken away, but do the day's work you can. If something seems tedious, or shallow, or irritating, but doesn't advance your work, then procrastinate that.*

I think I want to say, growing up is learning how to tell if something is important to you. If it is actually important, you will treat it with urgency without needing to feel any anxiety; it will be the thing you do first. Sometimes I found out the hard way that I missed some opportunities because I couldn't tell the difference between something I thought I liked, and something someone else told me was important to worry about.


*I would almost say, make sure to neglect the things that are not your great work. Beware of them - feel anxiety about them, instead. Perhaps this is too strong.

Of course this also suggests that one should stop writing about "IT" and planning "IT" in favor of just DOING "IT".

A tale in a similar vein; I grew up in a very small village in England which, nearly two thousand years ago, was a Roman city - the administrative capital of the new imperial territory, until London was built. That Roman city took over the site of the regional centre of the Ancient Britons, a huge walled area already centuries old by that time.

In the eighteenth century some excavations were made in the fields and a stone column was brought to the local churchyard as a monument. When I was a child it was still there, bearing a bronze sundial. Engraved around the edges was a sort of motto or poem, suitable for a graveyard and thoughts of mortality (and ephemeral art)...

Make haste,
Time flies,
Rome perished,
So wilt thou.

Since then I have been back to the churchyard. The bronze parts have been stolen for scrap metal, but the two thousand year old pillar was still there.

Dear Moosie
Only the path matters.
And of the path, only this step.
Nothing lost,
Nothing found,
Nothing taken,
Nothing gained,
Nothing held,

There is no beginning.
There is no end.
There is only now,
And the story unfolding.
Love the story.
Live the story.

Love what is,
And feel joy.
Love what was,
And feel pain.
Love what is to be.
And feel nothing.

© Moose, 2008

Great post, Mike, and the suggestion applies to everyone, regardless of endeavor. The journey is reality, the destination is illusion.

I was in charge of a fine art printing business for two years. I learned trough tutorials (mostly from The Luminous Landscape) to use decently an Epson 9900, I had access to Moab and Hahnemuhle papers, I improved deeply 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.

Yep, I think Stan is a very happy camper. He was complaining about how many sub-optimal conditions existed leading to the printing, so it sounds like he was that much more blown away when he saw the finished product.

I recently bought the new Greg Brown album, Hymns To What Is Left, and he has more than a few lyrics about getting old and passing time, including this couplet from the song Bones Bones...

Well some days slow, some days fast
I got a tiny little future and a great big past

Of course it sounds better with the music...

Dear Mike,

I wrote a column about this back in '07.


pax / Ctein

So true. You've just convinced me that making a set of portfolio prints should be one of my highest priorities - I'll start tomorrow..

My first time to comment here but I had to try and register so I could say what an insightful piece of writing that was, Mike. I find myself now in just the kind of window you're talking about, now I must carpe the damn diem as someone else said.

I will say I've gone over to the dark side and am now printing with carbon ink on an Epson 1800 with great results. I've submitted samples to http://aardenburg-imaging.com/ and I'm persuaded these carbon ink prints rival or even improve upon the archival qualities of the silver print. Plus, the carbon ink results in a beautifully rich black. I don't intend to start a war here, my first time on, but I do think these carbon inks are worth looking into.

Thanks again, Mike, so true, so true. A friend of mine put me onto your site for which I'm grateful. Greetings to southern Wisconsin, spent a good share of my life in Milwaukee and Madison so I know right where Waukesha is!

And then one day you find, ten years have got behind you Pink Floyd. so true

life is but a fleeting near insignificant flash in the cosmos.

Survived Vietnam, 13 spinal reconstructions, shoulder, knee, cancer from agent orange. Life isn't a joke but so short. Do it while you can there are almost no second chances and this is no dress rehearsal.

peace, b

All is impermanent.

My sweetie is an avid photographer and just recently upgraded her camera to a 5DMkII. Within a month she lost the useable sight in her left eye and unfortunately the odds are against her for keeping the sight in her right eye. We are both near retirement and in pretty good health so had all kinds of plans for travel to very remote areas. We now have to rethink these plans. So as the saying goes, live every day as if it's your last. It could very well be.

That's odd. I was going to put my unnamed printer out at the curb today (assuming that today is the day it will actually get picked up).

Bill Mitchell: it was a great printer, when it worked, but it didn't always work and it had a tendency to guzzle ink.

Mike, excellent essay as usual. A code of life we can all live by. But oh so hard to do. Thanks for your words of wisdom, hope you feel better tomorrow. Eric

After losing my best friend to a heart attack last week I could not agree more. Get it done while you can. Nothing lasts forever.

For the last several years before my retirement from a well known multi-national corporation I had small sign I made -- little more than a note -- tacked on the wall in a corner by my desk where few but myself would see it. It said "How it is today is not how it will always be." It was my own little reminder that no matter how good or how bad the situation seemed, it would change.

There is a tide in the affairs of men..." etc

And how did that turn out for him in the end ?


"And how did that turn out for him in the end ? :)"

Marcus Junius Brutus committed suicide in the Macedonian hills outside of Philippi after the defeat of his legions by Octavian and Marcus Antonius.

Don't know how it ends in Shakespeare, though....


So true. I experience it every time I change cameras or have to re-proof new monitors.

I closed my studio in 1987, went into creative department management, and packed up my entire 4X5 enlargement system, lenses, trays, everything, because I was going to get re-established and start printing my personal work. I sit here in late 2012, and the stuff is still all packed up and sitting in a storage space, and I still want to take it out and print "real" prints, and who knows when that is going to happen?

@Bill Mitchell, you may strike lucky. My used B9180 was economical and almost troublefree and the best printer I'd ever had, far better than the Epson 2200 it replaced.
I sold the hp back onto the Bay to buy an Epson 3880 that came up, one year old but completely unused, soon after Ctein's review (even better). I think I must have a fairy godmother in the printer department. Caveat - I'm an amateur, not an expert, YMMV.

As a photographer of over 40 years, I always believed photography and printing were two separate art forms. I made the switch to digital against everything I believed in, back in 2004. And, now I have returned to film because I like having a negative of my images. I want something tangible. Everything stored in Lightroom 4 today will end up where: The Cloud? Lightroom 160? It's getting a bit out of control.
Thank you for this. Well done.

Ctein -- That wasn't the worst photographic decision you ever made in your life. It was the worst decision period. Camera or no camera, the offer of a lifetime.

If it's any consolation, I'm sure I would have made the same mistake.

Dear Joe,

Oh, if only. I made a worse nonphotographic life decision once (no, don't wanna talk about it).

Still, the circus train one is one for the books.

pax / Ctein

One of these days, I'm going to convert all my LPs to cassette :-D

Hannah, You'll have read Mike's piece a few weeks/months back about the difficulty of preserving hard-copy prints etc. We all have a lot of fun with our pictures even if nobody else does, but in the end we all go into a box unless we are lost at sea or something similar. So too with what we make. One day the Sistine Chapel will be rubble too. We'd all best get used to impermanence. Make one person happy this week with a picture and be damned to immortality.

I've already posted once, but can't resist this gem by Blake:

He who bind himself to a joy
Does the winged life destroy
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity's sunrise.

Hannah Kozak, I feel your pain...if I don't shoot for a commercial client, I always shoot film, even if I scan afterwards. If I do what I call a "legacy project" like jazz musicians, I always shoot film even if i have to pay for it.

Going forward, I just like to shoot and see results, so lately I've been shooting and processing and then just putting it in an envelope for later perusal...gotta just keep shooting....digital doesn't make me feel like I'm doing anything...

Again, here, I find it interesting and a bit sad to see people cling to film as a preservative. It's simply a fantasy for a variety of practical reasons you probably all really know already.

If you feel an urgency to preserve your photos print them. NOW. Don't complain about not knowing how, not having the time, not having the gear. There are many relatively inexpensive ways to get your images printed today that involve none of those objections. Try one.

In 50+ years pigment-on-paper will be the only artifact with assured accessibility and usability. Your film may still be neatly sleeved in binders but who the hell will be able to develop it....or even scan it.... by then?

To bastardize Nike's slogan, Just print it! (I made a small placard of this slogan for my desk.)

We protect and preserve what's really important to us. The rest we ignore.

Ken, I think you're so wrong, at least in my case. I "cling" to film not because it's an erudite media, but because I prefer it to digital in so many ways.

1. It's "finite", i.e., when I shoot color transparency, I get the color transparency I know I will get from vast experience shooting it before. No digital camera is made that can guarentee that at a certain setting, I will get film quality sharpness, contrast, saturation, etc., AS A FINISHED ITEM! Unless you have a high-end Nikon shooting .tiff, and you do a lot of experimentation... I can pick any camera from a Nikon F, to a Linhof 4X5, and if I'm shooting Fuji Provia (not my favorite film BTW, but they killed Astia), I know what I'm getting under the scene It I lit for! Digital looks different on all computers, and shooting RAW and trying to correct it for....what?...is specific only to that computer; or computer/printer closed loop. And God hope you have a high rez screen and up-to-date software. I have an enlarger that I bought 25 years ago, and it still works as well as it always did! I've been through 3 very expensive computer changes in the last 10 years, and cannot afford the next 6 grand it will take to update all systems yet again and get decent prints.

A transparency exists on it's own, and looks the same under any light box with the right tubes in it. Ten people can scan that transparency in, and all you have to say is "match it". Yes it's open to interpretation, but they have a standard, finite item, to shoot for. And, if I shoot RAW, and work on it on MY computer, with MY software, in the hopes of one day printing it when I can get access, it will look and BE different when I take it to someone elses computer or service, who will try to interpret what I've done.

2. I can shoot and forget about it, even black & white neg. I have scads of negatives and transparencies on file since I lost access to expensive digital printing solutions, and darkrooms. BUT, I can keep shooting, and filing. On the other hand, I have had 3 computer crashes in 15 years, and yeah I back up, but still...and my house and file room has NOT BURNED DOWN YET, knock on wood.

I am currently testing a 4/3rd's camera, against my Nikon, to assess it for shooting portraits, as I prefer 1:1, and 4:3 as formats over the 3:2 of 35mm. I'm amazed at the difference in how the chips render a scene, almost like using different films, but I can't own different cameras just to get different results.

Anyway, no offense Ken, but as long as film exists, and someone is still processing the color, I'm still shooting it, even if all I'm doing with it is filing it.

God love Vivian Maier, keep shooting film, and keep storing it, and no matter if you can afford to print it or not, it'll still be around and someone else can decide if you contributed to society! No matter what, there are still tons of "arts" trained people that view real film as a "precious" commodity; do you think anyone is even going to turn your computer on after you die to see what's on there? But if they find a box of negs and contacts, they'll stay out of the dumpster far longer than anyone's aging computer.

Who said "When you hit fifty you start counting"? It's true.

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