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Tuesday, January 18, 2005

When I tell someone that I've switched from darkroom to digital printing, they usually say: It's a lot easier, isn't it?

And I usually say: Yeah, it's a lot easier.

Somebody, please define "easy."

To make what Ansel might call an 'expressive' print, with the inkjet requires more, not less knowledge, than the darkroom print. I'm not kidding. It may be many years from now, but at some point, masters of the digital print will be just as revered as old masters in any other craft. Maybe they are already and I just don't know them.

I was able to make fairly good prints in the darkroom when I was about 15 years old, and some of them are still around on people's walls and in their scrapbooks to this day.

At some point, I began to study the Zone System, and experimenting with various film / developer combinations, and settled on my paper and Dektol dilution and the type of enlarger light that I wanted, and from there on it was laborious, but not complex. Every once in a while there would be a hiccup for a few months while I experimented with another film. But there was nothing complex about it. Mostly trial and error.

There are more variables involved in fine art digital printing than darkroom printing. In that sense, it is harder, not easier than printing in the darkroom. I think I could take someone - and when I taught photography I did - into a darkroom and teach them how to develop a roll of Tri-x in D-76 and make a pretty good print on fiber paper in say - two days. If they're a real slow learner, maybe a week. How long to make a fine print was usually related to having a good negative to work from.

Do you want me to make a list of the variables, and pieces of knowledge, involved in a digital workflow? I've been meaning to do this, but every time I'm ready ( and this is after many years) I pick up some new technique that seems critical. Today, for example, I finally got a very good sense of what unsharpening was all about. Yes, I have been applying an unsharp filter after all my adjustments were made and the print was ready, and the prints looked good. But did I really know what the Threshold slider was for? Did I know how to determine what percentage of unsharpening to use, other than going by eye? Did what I was seeing on the screen indicate how the unsharp would look on paper? (Answer to the last is "no.")

And this is one of the most basic techniques to understand in the digital workflow. I suppose I could list about ten other pieces of knowledge that you need, but once I list them, there will be the eleventh, so for now, I just mean to give you an idea of the difference between the darkroom and the digital world.

Another small example: you want to shoot film? Fine, you may even have someone develop it for you, and they give you your negatives back in envelopes, and you stick those envelopes somewhere, and there is your backup.

You want to shoot digital? You want to shoot it for a living? You had better understand something about how to make backups and backups of backups.  And yet, don't get me wrong - in some ways digital is easier; just not in the way that most people think...

6:18:29 PM    

Red Door

Most of these types of images, seem to come to me as I'm falling asleep. The trick is to try and remember what you were thinking about just before you went to the land of Nod. Last night, I was thinking about what I had so far in this picture and I was thinking that a window or a door was needed...

The couple were photographed on 2nd Avenue, yesterday, waiting to cross the street. The tiles are from the west side, near Grant's Tomb. And the red door, is on 80th street, and I have photographed it many times on my way to the park.

"It's such a sad old feeling
the fields are soft and green
it's memories that I'm stealing
but you're innocent when you dream
when you dream
you're innocent when you dream." - Tom Waits

9:19:46 AM