Why I Print

I love print.

I even love print on print action, and sometimes even print on print on print action. Printing forces you to apply critical thought and focus toward your work, and THAT my friends, family and foes, always makes for a better photographer. As many of you know, the “Print is Dead” war mongers have been running the halls of injustice, for YEARS, trying to quell the paper insurrection, which I have to admit is really damn funny. These toads are the same toads who ran the halls in 1997, 2001, 2003, 2006, 2009, 2011 and even today claiming “Film is dead!” while developing more actions and filters to mimic….ah, film. And yes, I just saw ANOTHER print ad with a photographer claiming they finally found a digital paper that looks and feels like….well…..analog paper. For the LOVE OF GOD people can we put this dead horse to bed?? Proof that if you pay photographers or give them something for free they will say just about ANY damn thing. All that matters is that you actually print.

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I’m not really sure why anything has to be dead. I look back on the Toyota’s of the early 1980’s and frankly I wish we had those back. They were insanely good. Just because a new cloth interior was introduced didn’t mean I ran around the Road and Track test facility yelling “Kill it, kill that Corolla!” Luckily, print isn’t dead and why this is so great is that printing is so great. Printing is fun. Printing can be insanely challenging (the darkroom) or effortless (FTP to local lab) and like I said before, it makes you a better photographer. We clearly don’t want to pay for things we don’t need or want, so when you approach your work with print in mind it forces you to make choices. Which of my images is good? Which ones are REALLY good, and then finally, which ones are good enough to print?
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You see where I’m going here. EDITING.

Good grief has our collective editing ability been blown to bits. It has. There is no denying this. Sure, some of you out there, like me, relish the edit and understand that editing AND sequencing is an art form(one where my ability fluctuates). But the editing elite is a tiny minority in a world of bulging “select” folders.

It’s not uncommon for someone to come to me looking for photo advice. It’s not uncommon for people to come with tens of thousands of images. Now, I’ve never had anyone attempt to show me quite this many, but I have had more than a few come attempt to show me far too many images. Now, if someone is starting out, rabid and so excited because they think that everything they shot is incredible, I’m okay with this to some degree because enthusiasm can translate to POTENTIAL. If you are going to be a great photographer you need to want it more than anything you have ever wanted.
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What I’ve noticed is there is no perceived penalty in the digital space. So leave it in, no big deal. Maybe I’ll show the reviewer all four or five of these and get their opinion. This really doesn’t happen with print. Print forces you to study your similars and understand which is the best and ONLY that image survives to print. Reviewers have great appreciation for this.

I’ve noticed I have a very different feelings when someone approaches me with an iPad and someone else approaches with a box of prints. Now, there are exceptions to this rule. I’ve had people open their box of prints and haul out a STACK of a hundred plus images, and I’ve had someone turn on their iPad and show me ten images. However, MOST of the time, the reverse happens. iPad or laptop portfolios contain FAR too many images and print portfolios tend to have less fat and are more thought out.
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Recently I met with someone who asked me to look at their work, which is what prompted this post. This person was starting out and was very enthusiastic, so consequently they get a total pass. But I told them, “Print the best twenty images.” And just so you know, their project contained tens of thousands of images. No exaggeration. Editing from 20,000 to 20 is no easy task, but the sooner you realize this is what it takes to really be a photographer the better off you will be. Remember, it’s supposed to be fun. You are focusing your work, making it tighter and thus more impactful. Fun people, fun.

And I want to emphasize again this process is extremely entertaining. Those boxes you see in the top image were made as I went along, during those time frames and projects, and those images were printed really just for me. I can’t remember the last time anyone opened those boxes, but the projects feel complete because I went through the process, made my tight edit and made the prints, one agonizing image at a time.
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Also, the PRINT is HUGELY important in the history of photography. The print is the final chance you have at putting your fingerprints on an image because prints range in color, density, tone, texture, etc and should reflect YOUR work. If your prints look like everyone else’s then you might want to work on that. And technically perfect does NOT make a great print. Great prints have feel and mood. A few years ago I was at a festival and a very good photographer was having prints made at one of the vendors who sold printers. They accidentally printed his images with the wrong profile, which gave all the images a gold fringe in the shadows. The technicians apologized and said “Sorry man, we’ll reprint them.” The photographer said “No, that is exactly what I want.” The technicians said “Ya but that isn’t right and those aren’t technically correct.” Photographer said “Who cares, look at the print, it’s beautiful and what I am looking for.”

The images I have on the wall at home are all prints made by photographers who not only make distinctive images they make distinctive PRINTS. I’ve got tintypes, Cibachromes and even silver prints where the photographer is a master of printing in only the bottom half of the grayscale. I would venture to say that fifty percent of what makes these photographers so special is their printing ability.

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It is not uncommon these days for me to run into a “photographer” who has never printed a single image. No, I’m not making this up, and I don’t mean in a darkroom. I mean they have never printed an image, period, with any method. I always feel bad because I feel they are missing out on half the fun. My advice, just play. Try a half dozen different methods or flavors and see what sticks. Each technique you employ will typically have a method of print that best suits your needs. TRI-X prints really well and easy in the darkroom, but TMAX 3200 is a nightmare for me. However, TMAX printed digitally looks insanely good. This took me a lot of hours and a lot of frustration to figure out. See, I just saved you a few weeks of you life. Book, print, color copy, wet plate, I don’t care. Any of them. All of them.

Go forth. Print.

Art Brewer SVA Show

Photographer/Artist Art Brewer is someone I’ve written about before, and someone I will surely write about again. I’m a big fan of cool people. I’m a big fan of good photography, and I’m a big fan of photographers who have poured their lives into creating an archive on one particular topic or subject. Art is all the above. Recently, I was able to stop by Art’s studio to check out a few of the images he is printing for a MASSIVE show at the School of Visual Arts in New York. This show will highlight over 150 individual pieces from Art’s collection on the history of modern surfing.


At 43 I finally feel like I found a subject I can work on the rest of my life. Starting now I’m way behind the game. Art has been covering modern surfing for over thirty-years and his archive is one of the greatest ever compiled. Years ago, when I worked for Kodak in Southern California, I realized there was an opportunity for me, and for the company, in working with the global collection of surfing photographers. Problem was I didn’t know a single surfing photographer. So, being a good corporate detective, I called around. “Talk to Art Brewer,” was the response I heard over and over again. Not only was Art open and receptive to learning what Kodak had to offer he also became my link to the entire surfing photography world.

What I love about Art’s archive is the range of work. Browsing the work you see every format imaginable from 35mm to 6×6, 6×7, 6×9, 4×5, point and shoot as well as an odd assortment of other formats and techniques. When you walk into Art’s studio you find yourself frozen and wanting to simply stand and look. Big prints and artwork adorn the walls, an incredible range of oil, ink and emulsion. And every time I go there is something new to feast my eyes upon.



And as you can see by the above images, Art is also a bookmaker. And like all things Brewer, Art publishes a range of books. From his Masters of Surf Photography monograph to his two-volume Blurb masterpiece on Bunker Spreckels you never know what he is going to come up with next. And if that’s not enough…he teaches as well, which you can see in the film below. I was going to write that Art is a great person for young photographers to study, but I’m going to amend that. Art is a good person for any photographer to study. There are certain people who are creatively restless. They are creative searchers, people who run the river of life and can’t wait to see what lives beyond the next bend. Art is one of those people.

Peru in Print Form

Practicing what I preach….the first Peru prints are beginning to surface. I LOVE talking print, especially with “modern” photographers. You see, many people choose not to print, or they never have. We look to the future and see glowing screens and suddenly we want to write off the entire history of our medium. We look at things like an iPad and say, “Well, clearly that is the future, print is dead people.” Me, I no like so much. I simply don’t believe this. Yes, the screen is a great thing, but it ain’t the only thing. See, I like it all, appreciate it all and don’t feel the need to draw that imaginary line in the sand. Why? What is the point? (I’m sitting in my office with one tower, two laptops, an iPad and an iPhone)
I’ll tell you why I make these small prints. They make me think. They make me consider. They force me to edit, to think critically and to sequence. They allow me to dream. Like a puzzle with multiple ways of assembling. No right, no wrong, just endless choices.

I’ve never had anyone enter my house and say, “Hey, can I look at your work on the iPad.” What I HAVE had happen is people come over and ask “Hey, you have any prints from Peru?” Again, nothing wrong with perusing this stuff via iPad, iPhone, iMac, iWhatever, prints are just another flavor of candy.

The cool thing is to put these small prints on the floor and consider them at a distance. You can almost blur your vision and see them as an amalgam of one, continuous flow of color. Your eyes will play tricks on you but your eyes will also lead you to the promised land. What goes where? React and you will see. Forget what you know and just feel. Seems a little guru-ish but don’t take me that seriously. Just try it.

Gigante

If your gonna be bear, be a grizzly. Remember that expression?

So I’m about 6’0 ish. So you can do the math.

This print is a 40×40 before the matte, before the frame. And there are three more of equal size.

This has been a good print time for me. First, if you remember from a few weeks ago, the wall of prints in the house here in Newport. And now, these giant prints. I have to say, I’m really happy when someone does something like this, someone being the person who is in charge of the people in the photos. Mom, dad, etc. When they decide to do something different it really pays off in the feeling you get when you see a print this size. I also think a print this size is a very lasting beast. Sure, the cost involved is part of that, but it is also about taking a stand and saying, “You know, I like these images and I want to look at them for a long time.”
We live in an age of Facebook, of a life pursuant to the delete button, and as a photographer I don’t want to follow that path. I want to follow the path of the permanent, the long lasting, the slow if you will.

The only thing I wish I could have done was print them myself, in the darkroom, but I wouldn’t even know how to handle a print that size. Maybe next time.

PS: First person to tell me what that is around my neck…..I’ll buy you a beer when we see each other next. Promise.

If You’re Gonna Be a Bear, Be a Grizzly

I don’t remember where I first heard this expression but I’ve known it for years and think it can be a good philosophy.

As you know, I’ve been shooting portraits for several years now. When people ask how long I’ve been shooting kids I always reply, “Hmm, two or three years.”

But I realize now that isn’t accurate. I’ve been shooting kids for five or six years, almost double what it feels like in my mind. I’m not sure what happened, where the time went, but it surely went and I can’t get it back not even with Richard Branson’s money.

When I make portraits I’m not thinking about electronics. I don’t think about blogs, sites, web galleries, iPad, laptops or slideshows. Nope, not at all. When I make portraits I think of two things, books and prints. And I’ll go one step further. When I think about prints, I don’t think about wallet size. I think about large prints for the wall.

That is my goal, to get something good enough to not only make the wall, but LAST over a period of time, preferable years. After all, I’m there, not only as a photographer, but really as an on loan anthropologist/historian. We live in the age of parents documenting with the cell phone, and if you know anything about history, archiving, databases, etc, you know that next to NOTHING of this documentation will exist in the future. This is where Uncle Dan comes in.

So what you are looking at is my goal played out on the walls of a California home. There it is, as wide as a 35mm lens at about 15 feet away. An entire wall of the family history played out in large prints. THIS is what I’m talking about. THIS is what my dream is, my goal, my idea of how people should use me. And yes, I said “use.” That is the idea.

And to continue the “use” theme, I thought I’d use myself for some scale. I’m about six feet tall, so this wall is..well, larger than me.

The images are from the first shoot we ever did, all the way through our most recent shoot. Editing was tricky but fun, and could have gone in a variety of directions. I ultimately went with a combo of color, black and white, timelines, numbers of each person, etc. My first two prints were 11×14 and 17×22, but we realized quickly the wall was too big.

So, I went back to the Milnor Pictures Underground Command Center Complex, in the Mojave near Barstow, and churned out a new set of images, this time in the 24×36 to 22×22 range. Then, the small prints became the 17×22 size, which I initially thought would be the big prints. Are you with me on this? Okay good, let’s proceed.

So suddenly the wall began to take shape. A trim here, a reprint there. Oh, and before all this began, let’s give credit where credit is due…the wall. The idea of doing the wall. The preparation of the wall, etc. Mom gets the credit. Mom prepped the wall. Mom came up with the idea. The wall of prints was probably the both of us, but it takes two to tango. So, it was the perfect match. And you will notice there are no frames. Yes, we noticed that too. Planned it that way actually. Lo-fi. It’s the new cool. You should get on this bandwagon. Oh..wait…it passed….it isn’t cool anymore. Sorry. Wait, it’s coming back…okay, it’s cool again. Go, go, go, go!

I wish more people would do this. And just so you know, independent verification of the brilliance of this wall was provided by the pizza delivery guy. Based on the story I was told, let’s just say he liked it.

I really mean it. This is my goal with all of my portrait shoots. Over a five year period we’re looking at about fifteen prints. At some point before I die, IF and that is a big IF I stay in California I’ll build a new office. The entire damn space will be covered with prints, and ALL MINE. Forget everyone else, I’m building a shrine to me and only me. Large prints, really large prints and obscenely large obnoxious prints. And maybe I’ll charge admission to get in, or make you sign a nondisclosure statement.

Over the past few weeks I’ve realized I need to change some things if I’m going to continue to work with kids. I feel I’ve been pulled in a direction I’m no longer happy with. So, I’ve begun to make a plan, and this plan involves prints like these, and really nothing else. It’s all or nothing, or in other words, choosing to be a grizzly. The other bears are cool, and my five-year-old nephew is running around my office at this very moment with is new black bear stuffed animal which he oddly named “Brian,” and sure, it’s a cool stuffed animal. BUT IT AIN’T A GRIZZLY.

I’m hoping to utilize this wall, these photos, to show the rest of my families the power of the print.