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Sunday, 27 January 2013


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Just an FYI - I ordered a framed print and the shipping still showed up as $35. Will there be an additional $10? That would be fine, but if so, it really should say somewhere through the ordering process.

(And thanks for the terrific offer!!)

Any chance we can see larger versions? I feel like Michael's Tucson, AZ print especially does not come across in a tiny jpg. Thanks!

Sigh. Those are such marvelous images. Perhaps someday.

Meanwhile, I'll go sit in the corner and brood over, especially, Paula's images and think what around here I can try to do the same with.

There is that derelict trestle for starters...

Memo for a post in, oh, about 6 months - a collection of photos of what TOP readers and their families and friends have done with those nice sheets of plywood. I'll bet on a wide range of interesting stuff.

Mike, your comment:

"I didn't think much of "Tucson Mountains" until I saw the real print."

reaffirmed what I was thinking when I saw the small reproductions. In fact I thought that the most interesting (to me) of the four prints was that one.

It also it made me think whether either a bigger online image or at least a scan that shows some of the detail would better reflect the print. In this case I imagine that it does not matter so much what section you choose since it is so uniform. Also the print "Jökulsárlón, Iceland" may not be well represented in the web. I can only imagine the subtle details of the contact print on the dark areas...

But I suppose that is why you sell prints and not jpegs that you can see online. A small description may help too (Phillip Glass's music is a great analogy).

Thanks again for a great opportunity to get good art at a reasonable price.

Well, it will be tough deciding. As you mention above, the 800pixel width makes getting an idea of what the print will look like very difficult indeed. From the screen, I can't even tell what "Jökulsárlón" is of. Lichen? Ice crystals? "Crawford Notch" looks like (re: subject) a Clyde Butcher. Hey print offer suggestion: Clyde Butcher!


Dear Folks,

I think this is kinda important--

You can see a MUCH BETTER screen image of each photograph if you click the "order" link above to go to Paula and Michael's website.

The blogging software's handling of JPEGs (this is not under Mike's control) does serious violence to these particular photographs.

Anyway, click through to their site, click on the particular photo you're interested in and it'll take you to a page devoted to that photo. Click the photo again for the "larger image". It's a whole different experience.

pax / Ctein

Mike, may I suggest to have a large (at least 1500 pixel across) web versions available? I think the prints need to be large to be appreciated.

[We'll do that soon. Stay tuned. --Mike]

Mike, any chance you could provide a link to larger versions of the images? 800px jpegs don't seem an adequate way to judge the images.

How does he make a 20" long contact print?


I agree with you regarding the desert scene.

I have had the privilege and pleasure of being able to see many of Michael and Paula's prints "in person". Consequently, let me agree once again that the images as seen on the computer monitor are absolutely nothing like the images experienced "live"-not even remotely close.

Is there a way to provide better computer images of the prints that are being offered? I understand that the depiction of such images is difficult and as is the case with all photographs, likely to be much less inspiring than the "real thing".

Nevertheless, hoping....


Can't wait to order, but is there any description of what the framing will be like?

Hugh, in Winnipeg

Suggestion for everyone: Click on the order link as there are larger, higher quality versions of the images on Michael and Paula's site, that don't look quite so much like small grey bars ;)

I know that it would still not do the photos justice but is there any chance of a higher resolution jpeg? (and thanks for your print model - it has allowed me to own original prints that I never would have thought to purchase (or afford) previously). Thanks.


If there is such a large gap in appearance between the small images and the actual prints, then I suppose maybe the Duchess of Cambridge's portrait does not look like the images I've seen. I guess we are at times too quick to judge based on what we see online, thinking it is an accurate representation.

Michael's 20 inch contact prints are from his 8x20 inch view camera. A nice format if you see the world in that form. Not necessarily panoramic, just an artistic slice of life in beautifully done contact prints.

Yes, there must be something in the Iceland photo but at this definition I can't see it.
So another one for n improved image please.

Sorry to rain on your parade, but I see no clothes here. I understand that the thrill of these images is in their exceptional technical quality, but to me that is not enough in this day and age.Strip them of their technical supremacy and what remains? Or in other words, imagine this were inkjet prints of a DSLR, would they still be desirable? That is the reason for the widespread outcry for higher resolution samples I assume. A photograph for me has to work even as a small jpeg. I guess that's why people went to the Leica format, it's hard enough to produce anything remarkable with a relatively handholdable camera, and seemingly impossible with those great boxes. I maybe an ignorant and insensitive Rookie but I had to be honest to what I see and feel.

[So then, you've decided that since you don't happen to like these particular pictures, that means they're bad pictures, and no one else will like them either? And you read this site? 'Cuz you're making me feel like a failure....

I guess I should say this...photographs are a matter of taste, and not everyone likes or dislikes the same things in perfect lockstep. If you don't like something, all it means is that you don't like it. Your personal reaction is perfectly valid, but at the same time it's not automatically generalizable to the whole rest of the world. --Mike]

They look like very nice photographs Mike, but it seems that the selling point is that they're contact prints. I mean if they were 35mm or medium format enlargements would the images stand up on their own as desirable to purchase? It's almost as if you're buying technique instead buying pictures. JMHO. FWIW.

I really want to buy a print but the only one that intrigues me is Tucson Mountains, and even then I'm not blown away especially viewing the jpeg. I admit, due to the very reasonable price being offered, that I feel as if I would be purchasing a print as an investment, not a photo that I 'need' in my collection. This truly is an example of how difficult it is to buy a print when it's only viewed on a screen.

I did see Michael's work in person at a photo print fair in Chicago way back in 1993. I recall a 'wow' factor when viewing them and I had a nice chat with Michael. Perhaps I should go with that recollection.

Please larger previews soon, I cannot decide on these jpegs...

After much pondering on whether I can actually afford this or not, is it a photo I love (can't tell with the jpeg) or is it just an investment, Tucson Mountains it is.

What a wonderful opportunity to be able to purchase an artist of renown in the craft of the fine art photo print. I am ever so slowly building a photography collection, this is very inspiring! I so look forward to receiving this.

Thank you to both Michaels!

Not to drerail, but is actually true that contact prints are the sharpest possible thing? I love contact prints and make them myself by preference, for the record. But!

I seem to recall reading someplace that there was.. some effect or another.. that caused the contact print to be slightly degraded over an enlargement (possibly the comparison was with 1:1 "enlargements" but anyways the point was that a lens based optical path had certain advantages)

Was this just always wrong? Is there New Science?

Not in the same league with their best work, IMO.

To those who are wondering about the attraction to these particular photographs let me ask you this: What kind of photography are you a fan of and why? What is it about a photograph that makes you feel? Now, would you expect everyone to respond in the same way? Though I'm not particularly awestruck by these photos, I could see looking at a 10 foot wide print and getting sucked into all those details. I look at Michael's book occasionally and it is fantastic what he can achieve with his 8x20. A striking jpeg or small print is fine for some, but others like subtle details. And this, the fine detail and subtlety, is why people still work with large format and it is very good at this, if you have mastered the technicalities the format. Michael A. Smith has built a career envied by many on this premise, and his work is fairly collectable because of it. These may not be his most striking best sellers, but then why would he sell his best work at a 90% discount?

There are other things to be said about the role of technique in art, especially (for me) in music, but that's a whole another argument.

I wish I could currently afford luxuries like collectable photography, but alas I must pass on this one.

Have to say that I am in agreement with Bill Mitchell...

I was ready to order a couple until I saw the choices...not reflective of their historic work.

I am sure that this will be a success.

Wie Schade.

Bob Moore

Dear Andrew,

Optical theory aside, in reality it is extremely difficult to set up an enlarger to produce a print as sharp as a contact print. It's not a theoretical issue, it's the practical concerns of alignment, film flatness, flatness of the focal "plane" of the lens, focus accuracy, and so on.

I won't say it can't be done, but I've never seen it done.

In addition, there's something different about the way tones get rendered in a contact print vs a projected print (can't really call them "enlargements" when it's 1:1, I suppose).

This has been widely observed, but I've not seen a good description of the difference in the look, and I have no idea what the physics is that's behind that difference.

Whatever, they just look "different."

pax / Ctein

I simply must see "Jökulsárlón", with my own eyes.

I've bought images from TOP before (The Paris pictures by Pete Turnley) so I'm not averse to opening up the wallet for art. I have to say with all due respect to Mike and the artists, I'm not impressed this time. Maybe it's just a matter of personal taste, but these are just not for me. well , perhaps next time, keep'em coming Mike.

I too am not impressed at these small sizes. But I can see the potential in them. Some images just do not look good at small sizes. Unfortunately I think these are that type. So I'm going to get two of them. A bit of a gamble, but I have seen Micheal and Paula's work before and I have been impressed.

Just because they're from a big camera with some Zone System mumble jumble sprinkled on top... I don't get it. Paul Strand and others did this all so much better generations ago. Sorry I don't care how hard they worked. I know you'll make some money, I agree they're a bargain given the reputation.

[Wait, aren't you a large format film photographer yourself?!? --Mike]

Paula and I are not too web savvy, but we think that if you click on the photographs in our shopping cart, they will enlarge to a decent size.

The frames are Nielsen metal section frames--Profile 11 (the standard metal section frame)in the color contrast gray. These are the same frames we use for our own museum exhibitions. Each photograph will have plexiglass and an archival foam board backing--again, the same way we do everything for exhibition.

Not all photographs will appeal to all people. If ours appealed to everyone, both Paula and I would think there was something seriously wrong with them. Much of our work takes a long time to "get." Think of the first time you heard music like Volumnia or Atmospheres by Gyorgy Ligeti, or Neroli by Brian Eno--music as different from Bach, Mozart, or Beethoven, as could be, and yet, on repeated listenings you got to enjoy it. Think, of the cactus photograph,in particular, as being like that.

Michael A. Smith

Despite the baffling mini picture I have ordered the Jökulsarlon based on two Icelanders I know and a respect for Mike's judgement.

You can find Michael and Paula participating in a discussion about their photography and aspects of photography in general here:


[Wait, aren't you a large format film photographer yourself?!? --Mike]

The choice of my camera matters to me, I like using a big boy... but why should it matter to anyone else? Marketing matters aside ;-p

I'm sure they are lovely prints seen first hand.

The jpegs here look perfectly neutral...

Besides the beautiful tonality and sharpness of Michael's Azo contact prints is the somewhat uncommon greenish tone. I personnally like that tone, but are the scans shown here color accurate?

Much as I was looking forward to this sale, I'm not going to be participating. I've spent the last few weeks preparing myself mentally for a large expenditure, trying to figure out where to hang a large print or two...but no.

The prints tick all the right boxes--large format, panoramic (any my favorite aspect ratio to boot!), contact printed--but the pictures themselves just don't excite me. I've been living with the largish jpegs for a couple days, trying to talk myself into buying one, and I can't do it.

Paula's picture of the ice on the volcanic sand is nice, and I'd be happy to hang it on my wall, but there's a vast gulf between "happy to hang it on my wall" and "happy to pay $400 to hang it on my wall".

Maybe next print sale...

Howsabout Clyde Butcher?

The actual prints are not the same tone as seen on computer screens unless the screens are calibrated daily and unless all of the prints we make are printed exactly the same--and that is never the case. The prints are close to each other--so close that almost no one could tell the difference between one and the other, but Paula and I do not "bulk print." Every single piece of paper that gets exposed gets developed and checked and approved before the next sheet of paper is exposed. And this is true even if it is a straight print. And we make very slight adjustments on almost every sheet of paper that gets exposed. In that sense, every print is truly a unique interpretation of the negative. When someone buys one they are truly getting something original. This is totally unlike inkjet prints, which can usually are exactly identical if printed at the same time.

Michael A. Smith

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