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Tuesday, 08 November 2022


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Might the galleries also be using low light levels to prevent their very expensive artworks (prints) from fading?

You write at some length and quite convincingly about how the viewing light affects the viewer's experience of the print. But then you state that the fine print is the way to "lock down" the right tones. This seems inconsistent. The only way it works is if you also lock down the viewing light.

[Not exactly. It's left up the whoever displays the prints to light it properly, but that's a requirement that can be met. And if it's not by one owner (as is the case with my Kenneth Tanaka at the top of the stairway, which needs strong light, which I haven't been able to give it yet), then it can be by the next. --Mike]

Am I the only one who thinks that the high resolution of these new monitors is a disadvantage? I find it much easier to assess focus with an older low-res monitor (mine is an Eizo).

A few years ago, I excitedly went to a big showing of William Eggleston dye transfer color prints at the L.A. County Museum (LACMA). These medium sized (maybe 16x20) prints were lit with what appeared to be tungsten lamps, dimmed way down so the correlated color temperature appeared to be about 2200K.A dull, dark orange colored light to view COLOR prints! It was a disgrace, and a complete disservice to the artist and the viewing public.

"...WiFi stubbornly refuses to reach it, regardless of various repeaters and extenders placed in various spots..." My similar problem was completely solved with a mesh network made up of 3 mid-priced Netgear Orbi units about 2 years ago. Two of the units cover the main house and the third unit is in the adjacent converted garage. As for monitors, consider the Benq line.

NEC’s apparent departure from wide gamut monitors is a real shame. You’re not just missing them, they’re gone. Some of my insider folk say to “just hold on” (perhaps meaning something new will emerge) but nothing in months and months. I use an NEC PA 302w SVII. It’s still calibrating with a dE less than .5 so I’m hoping it lasts a good while yet. I do color management consulting in my local area for photographers / printers and right now the only “really good” options are BenQ’s Wide Gamut models and the “most excellent” Eizo Coloredge monitors (hang on to your wallet).


If one can make good photographs, why would one buy somebody else’s?

I have never bought another photographer’s images, but I love buying their books, when I can afford them. Unfortunately, there is not a lot of spare space anymore: what was available has been fitted with shelves, and every new purchase means another old favourite has to be relegated to a cupboard. As for the walls, what isn’t hung with family-acquired paintings bears my own few prints.

The real value of photography is in the doing. I find the very same kind of slight insanity with sport. Indeed, in the case of soccer fans, in some places it isn’t even about kicking balls around and into a net hung between a couple of poles, it’s about religion and the singing of insulting songs. God alone knows about so-called American football: it seems, to the outsider, a version of that other strange, slightly perverted thing called rugby, but in armour. Never did fancy hugging other guys so tightly as to drag them down to the ground…

If print sales are dying it’s likely to be because folks no longer buy into the many art myths that have been sold to them since the 50s/60s came around, with the explosion of galleries, egos and easy money for the wheelers and dealers.

Basically, the scales eventually fall from the eyes, and even a single visit to a national museum where the work of real deal painters can be found should be enough to show the undeniable superiority of paint on canvas over, especially, pigment inks on paper. It boils down to comparative skill. Would anyone seriously rate an Adams in the same game as a Turner? Photography, I’m afraid, is full of charlatans. The right place for good photographers is in commerce, though it would appear that even there they are becoming surplus to requirements.

Game over, as is most everything else except politicians.

Further to Jim Meeks' spot-on comments, above, explaining the apparently low light levels you might encounter at some exhibitions...

Conservation of the works is, indeed, at the heart of such measures...not lighting costs.

Additionally consider that a great many works in an exhibition may be on loan from private collectors or other museums. The loan agreements for valuable pieces (even -moderately- valuable pieces) are often extremely detailed, Mike, usually specifying maximum light levels in foot-candles and UV exposure levels over the exhibition.* Insurers will not cover loaned works without such specifications.

And it's true that old photo papers were often, frankly, pretty shitty when it came to archival stability. Photographers were a bohemian crowd, using the cheapest materials, in this regard until some of their works began selling for upwards of six figures. (Yeah, I'm look at you, Paul Strand.)

The good news is that UV protections and monitoring for artworks have become much more effective. Museum lighting is now quite well filtered and of much lower temperature thanks to LEDs. Coated framing glazings have also become standard for high-value pieces.

I don't know when that Paul Strand show was held in Chicago. The last time the Art Institute held a show with many of his works was over 15 years ago...and a lot has changed since then. So I think you'd be able to see his highlights now.

BTW, the institutional reaction to your position, Mike, would be not to lend works at all. That's already a big problem and getting much bigger every year as the expenses of loans is becoming ridiculous, even for photographic works.

* As an example of "detailed" loan agreements, the lenders of a rare and quite valuable vintage print shown at the AIC several years ago mandated, among other conditions, that at no time would at least one guard be further than 15 feet from the piece during exhibition hours. It is also standard practice to audit UV and light levels in an exhibit.

I made an excellent "hood" for my iMac with three pieces of black Foamcore (top and both sides), some hot glue, and velcro to attach it to the sides of the monitor. Every two weeks I calibrate the monitor with datacolor's Spyder X Pro. My iMac resides in a room with three large windows with Venetian blinds angled upward. No other light illuminates the room in the daytime except for two small desk LED lights facing down on the desktop. Once the sun goes down I have a black light shining on the bookcase on the other side of the iMac... I just find it very relaxing. When I was in charge of running a Digital Photo Department for a State Health Center, the overhead fluorescent light fixtures had to be left on during working hours... Safety issues??? Absolutely the worst ambient lighting to have for working with digital imaging.

Mike, slightly off topic but are you going to print images from your new B&W camera ? I think that printing your best images in color or B&W completes the process of photography. FLICKR, Instagram are good to post your images but nothing beats a framed print. I’m also curious if you have a printer or have you given any thought regarding which would do justice to your B&W images? I have had good success with my EPSON 3800 for B&W.

With archival papers and pigment inks, fading due to exposure to light is a thing of the past. However, those same galleries may display paintings, which are a different
matter. With photos exposure to chemicals, in paint and traffic fumes for example, is more of a problem. Over zealous application of archival principles is the cause of those dim lights.

Just a thought. If you only do monochrome, or at least rarely do colour, you don't need a wide gamut monitor. Only if you print colour do you need a monitor that can stretch to
argb. [sRGB? --Ed.] Why NEC anyway? Have a look at Benq. And, as Graham says, you don't need 4k either.

[Well, we do need full gamut in our monitors, because almost nobody buys a monitor just for one thing. If you only have one monitor, it's got to be all-purpose. --Mike]

I'm always surprised when photographers manage to sell even a single print when their audience is other photographers. As Keith Cooper from NorthlightImages noted dryly, photographers are generally not buyers of other photographer's work. Too busy inspecting the prints with a loupe looking for technical flaws.

For myself. I have purchased exactly two photographic prints in my life. One from an art & crafts fair, the other from Finn Hopson's gallery on the seafront at Brighton. I think I paid between £25-£35 for each one (matted). I thought that expensive for just photos and had to think about it a lot!

I'm happier buying pictures that are not straight photos. I have a print hanging in my dining room that is ethnic art from a trip to the US, and some images of Scottish landscapes that are sandwiches of landscape photos with background textures that gives them a painting like abstract appeal. I have only one of my own photos framed and hanging on the wall. I love framed prints, but for some reason, decorating my own home with my own pictures doesn't appeal that much, because they are just photos. I can't think of any family or friends who buy and display "fine art" photos in their homes, either. Most people just buy posters from Ikea. There are a couple of photographers I like enough that I'd quite like one print from each, but I'm not going to pay hundreds of pounds for a photo :-)

I've given away framed prints of my own and provided others as items for charity raffles, but it would never cross my mind to offer any for sale. Who would buy a photo!

It's clear there is a degree of prejudice against photographs as an art form in the UK from "ordinary people" (rather than investors and collectors).

Is this lack of respect and perceived value for photography just a UK thing, do you think, or is it more widespread?

[I think there are at least two good reasons to buy prints by other photographers. One is that you don't make prints that look like theirs, and the other is that you haven't seen what they saw.

I don't know how many prints I've sold with my various programs, first the Collector Print program at Photo Techniques magazine and later through the print offers here on TOP, but it could very easily top 5,000 and I wouldn't be surprised if it's twice that. I'm glad most enthusiasts don't feel the same way you do!

The best reason to buy a photograph you like is because it gives you pleasure to look at it.

Like you I am mystified by dim lighting in exhibitions. The museum people hide behind "works on paper fade".

Is that true of properly made B&W prints? I have certainly alway been led to believe it is not. Don't they consider the display life of a B&W print to be 1,000 years?

So a Paul Strand exhibit in a dim space is just foolish wrong-headedness isn't it?

I was disappointed by the Irving Penn show a few years ago at the Met here in NYC. The lights were absurdly dim for his platinum prints, which should be among the most fade resistant prints available. It seemed like an extreme measure and a loss for those of us wanting to enjoy all the details of these artworks.

One last comment on low light levels, it's not just UV that impacts deterioration, it's also the light level (foot candles or lux units). Scientists have studied this topic and have conducted accelerated aging tests to see what happens when a material is exposed to light. Light, heat, humidity and the materials an item is exposed to (a wood frame for instance) can all take a toll on the life of a print. It's not just the silver or pigments that are effected, but the paper itself. Crappy pigments and crappy paper deteriorate faster. At the art museum where I worked, our rule of thumb for paper was 5 foot candles, 6 days a week at about 9-10 hours per day and then the item would be "rested" or put away in storage for 3 years. Brighter lights dictated a shorter display time or a longer rest period. These recommendations came from paper conservators, people who had studied the science behind the recommendations. Thanks to Ken for pointing out other stipulations that might be impacting your museum viewing.

Addendum: The American Institute for Conservation, a mainstay of the museum conservation world, offers a "wiki" page showing some of the best practice standards and member-formulated guidelines for safe light exposure levels for photographic prints. It's only slightly dated but, as you can see, there really is no firm consensus.

Separately, I did not realize that NEC had dropped their color-accurate displays! Only two years ago while completely renovating / modernizing my image processing facilities I bought the 31" NEC PA311D monitor. I had been so happy with its predecessor for nearly 10 years, and the new display is even more better! But jeez... Looks like my next monitor (if there ever will be another) will be an Eizo, eh?


"...you probably have a color-calibrated monitor, but a lot of people don't."

Grr, thanks a lot. I'd forgotten that my old unit doesn't work anymore. Now I have to go and spend hundreds of dollars.

Maybe next year. I'm still under tight pecuniary control following that Leica purchase...

Peace & all that,
p.s. internet clarification section - I jest, not really angry (but I really do seem to have gone about a year forgetting calibration is a thing...)

They don't work in all cases, but it's worth mentioning that there are network extenders that use home power lines or cable TV wiring that are already in the walls. One may have to use wifi for the last few feet for something like a porch or deck, but it would be starting with a steadier wired signal from close by.

On lighting, if the issue with artwork display is cumulative exposure before the piece needs to "rest", why not limit display time rather than light intensity? Have the dim lighting on all the time, but allow a patron to push a button for a minute of the kind of illumination the artist intended. A timer would keep track and shut off the feature for the day after a specified amount of exposure had been reached.

Small print runs open up interesting possibilities, like being able to offer different sizes, papers, printing methods, printmakers, or even different interpretations of the same image, as well as different price points.

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