Monthly Archives: September 2005

Portfolio review

Over the past two weekends I made roughly thirty-five prints (about half color and half B&W). Yesterday afternoon Leslie K. Brown, curator of the Photographic Resource Center at B.U., looked over my portfolio. It was a good experience — rather like I thought it would be.

What did I learn? I have some talent, some interesting ideas, and some distance to go. “Much of your work looks like the sort of thing other beginners chew through. Some of these,” pointing at some B&W trees, “are standards. Nice, but they’ve been done before and don’t say anything new.” Other images — especially from my recent work from California and from the Commonwealth series — she found much more interesting. The “End” sign and field from Dixon, Calif., and the Lake Chargoggagoggmanchaugagoggchaubunagungamaug store showed the most depth, she thought.

It’s a most unusual sensation to have somebody look at my work and dismiss large parts of it. Not that it was bad, just not unique or deep . . . just “pretty.” (For example: exhibit a.) I’m okay with it really. I started to suspect as much a few years ago when I was looking for my own place in the photographic community; and my focus and style have been evolving a lot over the last few years.

Having sold about a dozen images, though, there’s some dissonance. Most folks like pretty better than cerebral. The gallery world doesn’t like pretty.

The gallery and juried exhibit world likes series, cohessive collections of images that develop an idea. That’s the big message I took home from yesterday’s half-hour session. When answering the question “why should this artifact be interesting as an artisitc object?” having a set of supporting works around it certainly helps.

So what’s next? I need to ponder that some more, but I’m encouraged. If I focus on what I like, on what interests me, and if I take some workshops to help me focus my work, I’ll likely be in a very good place. And now that I’ve exposed the soft underbelly of my work, there’s nothing more to lose by going to some more critique sessions. Maybe tomorrow at the PRC again.

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Paper comparison for B&W

The setup:

  • Epson 2200
  • MIS Ultratone (UT7) inkset – including the Eboni matte black ink
  • Adobe Photoshop CS
  • Image working/color space: Adobe RGB (1998)
  • 16-bit RGB mode
  • Paul Roark UT7 for 2200 curves loaded into adjustment layers
  • Photoshop “Print with Preview” settings:
    • Color Management – Yes
    • Source space – Document: Adobe RGB (1998)
    • Print space – Profile: Same as source
  • Epson print driver/RIP:
    • Print size: 6-by-9 inches
    • Paper: (see below)
    • Print Quality: SuperPhoto – 2880 DPI
    • Color Management: ICM
    • ICC Profile: No Color Adjustment

The image:

The histogram spans the printable image, and there are details in the shadows.

Take one: Epson Velvet Fine Art Paper with Epson Enhanced Matte Paper selected in the printer driver, neutral curve

(You might get the idea from reading Paul Roark’s document on using his curves with UT7 on the 2200 that all matte papers should use the EEM curves and paper settings. So that was my first print.)

Take two: Epson Enhanced Matte (EEM) Paper with Epson Enhanced Matte Paper selected in the printer driver, neutral curve

Take three: Velvet paper with Velvet selected in the printer driver, neutral curve

Take four: EEM paper with EEM selected in the driver, “Carbon” curve

The results: All gave acceptable results. The neutral curves are in fact neutral. The carbon curve is acceptably warm without being sepia tone.

The detail on all prints is very, very good — EEM clearly had more detail when I looked at it under my big 4x loupe. You can also see obvious dither patterns under the loupe, but you have to strain to see it without magnification.

Velvet has deeper blacks, and they didn’t seem to close up in the shadows. Even though EEM had better detail under the loupe, Velvet had better appearance of detail when viewed at a normal distance (probably because of the roughness of the paper). Also because of the texture, Velvet looked more “photographic” than EEM when printed with a neutral curve. (That’s a very subjective and personal observation, I know.)

Despite good shadows and highlights, none of the prints had the richness in the midtones of the original image. That was very disappointing and left the image feeling flat and . . . well . . . poorly printed. The Velvet with the neutral curve and Velvet driver setting seemed marginally better than the Velvet with the EEM setting (it was also slightly better in sharpness and density). The EEM prints had weaker midtones, with the “carbon” curve getting the edge.

Given that my portfolio review is a week away, I plan on printing the images (which I want to be neutral) on Velvet Fine Art Paper using the neutral curve and the Velvet paper setting. But I definitely am nowhere near where I want to end up.

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Writing about B&W printing

I’ve said it before: printing black-and-white photographs at home is a dark art. Of course, printing B&W in a traditional “wet” darkroom takes years of learning and mistakes before you can count yourself among the elect.

What’s the best paper and inkset combination to use?

Which printer and color management settings yield the best results?

How do I get decent midtones from the Roark curves?

How permanent are the results?

I’m figuring out the answers . . . but slowly. The Internet is full of information — especially the forums on Photo.Net and the Digital Black and White Yahoo group. It’s unfortunate that an alarming amount of it is either incorrect or bullshit (the kind that comes from not really caring enough to look up the right answer or settling for almost good enough results).

But I’ll use this space as a research blog, which seems like the right way to both preserve the history of what I’m doing (to aid my own memory), invite helpful comments from people who have come down this path before, and hopefully aid others attempting to do the same thing by giving them honest opinions and hard facts. I’m basically opening up my print-making scrapbook, which was extremely helpful when I first wrestled with color management.

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What’s going on?

We finished painting the first floor of our house early last week — Churchill Hotel Ecru walls and Barnwood trim — but there’s just so much going on right now . . .

The Newton Camera Club started the 2005-2006 year last Monday. A lot of people did some pretty interesting things over the summer. Carole Smith Berney got herself a grant to photograph gatherings in Watertown (which is celebrating its 375th birthday). The schedule is still a bit loose now, but it looks like it might feel a little different than last year. Almost everyone is digital now (or partly digital). We need a digital projector.

A week from tomorrow, one of the curators over at the Photographic Resource Center will spend a half-hour reviewing my portfolio with me. Yesterday, with Lisa’s help, I picked a few dozen images that I consider representative of my best work. It’s an incredibly hard thing to do. What I photograph has changed remarkably over the last sixteen years; my style is just starting to become clearer to me as I understand the reasons that I photograph; and some projects don’t lend themselves well to single photos. So I’ve tried to pick “touchstone” images, that look good and that I can use to discuss the rest of my work.

Presently I’m about a third of the way through printing — on Epson Velvet Fine-Art paper; it’s divine. My scanning technique has improved a great deal over the last couple of years, so I’m going back and rescanning a few of the slides and negatives. My Photoshop skills have gotten better, too. For all you digital folks out there, those strengthen the argument in favor of keeping a copy of the RAW image and doing all of your edits on a copy of the original. Sure, it’s twice as much space, but at least you can start over again.

I have briefly stopped working on my other two projects: the Rhode Island drive-by and a presentation for NCC about contemporary avant-garde photography. It’s quite enjoyable going through back issues of periodicals, clippings from the Times, and photography books; then I’m scanning them for the presentation (probably next February). As for organization, I really like the methodology used by Charolette Cotton’s The Photograph as Contemporary Art.

One last thing: Color management. I’m writing an article about it at work. (Steve and Bruce, if you’re reading this, I know I’m a few days behind schedule; you’ll have it soon.) Color is fascinating. Too bad the lighting in my office at home is wimpy tungsten lighting that’s no good for proofing. Maybe I’ll get myself one of those nice SoLux lamps that Marshall gushed about last May. Maybe I should clean the office before getting one.

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Drive-by Photos, Part 1

Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Part One — Northwest

Image: Woonsocket, Rhode Island

Image: North Smithfield, Rhode Island

Image: Burrillville, Rhode Island

Image: Glocester, Rhode Island

Image: Smithfield, Rhode Island

Image: Johnstown, Rhode Island

Image: Cranston, Rhode Island

Image: Cranston, Rhode Island

Image: Warwick, Rhode Island

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Rhode Island Drive-by

“You know, if you had picked a smaller state — like Rhode Island — you could be done with your project.” Lisa and I were talking about my Commonwealth project, which was winding up its second year. “I bet you could do that in a solid week of work.”

A week? How about a day!

On Labor Day, we visited thirty-eight of the thirty-nine cities and towns in the state of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. The 39th, Block Island (New Shoreham) — being an island out in the Atlantic reachable only by boat or plane — didn’t fit into the plans that I drew up the night before, so we conveniently deferred it for another day.

Lisa, who doesn’t really enjoy driving, followed the somewhat circuitous route around the western towns near Connecticut over toward Providence, south to Block Island Sound, over the Newport Bridge to Rhode Island proper, down and up the eastern towns, northand and westward through Bristol County and Providence and the hood, and finally home again after leaving the nation’s smallest state via Woonsocket. I stuck my head out the window, making black-and-white snapshots of anything and everything along the way.

I won’t insult Rhode Island by claiming to know what it’s like. But from the first time that I went to RI, I’ve known that it feels a bit different than its neighbors. Lisa, who works at Brown University in Providence, tells stories about its quirkiness and charm. Rhode Island is a lovely place where residents venerate chickens, put shrines to the Virgin in bathtubs in their front yards, and don’t like to go places on “the big road.”

In the coming days, I’ll post some images of what the state south of our small, glorious, liberal Commonwealth looks like from a moving automobile.

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Developing World v. Third World

The term “third world” puts my teeth on edge. And I’ve heard it in the news a lot recently. Can we stop using it?

I know that it’s a translation from the French, supposedly to designate “one third of the world” — even though it’s really more like two-thirds. Sure, “developing world” has it’s own set of biases (as does “underdeveloped”), but it seems more active, more hopeful. I suspect you have to be very in touch with the history of the French Revolution to see “third world” as aspirational rather than static.

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Appropriation in photography

You still have a few days left to read for free the New York Timesreview of “Acting Out: Invented Melodrama in Contemporary Photography” at SUNY Purchase. (After the 8th, you’ll have to go to your library to read the article for free or pay the Times or stop by my office . . .)

It sounds quite interesting. Roberta Smith writes:

The exhibition “Acting Out: Invented Melodrama in Contemporary Photography,” which opens Sunday at the Neuberger Museum of Art on the campus of the State University of New York here, is a modest but focused effort that brings back old memories and differences. Specifically, it recalls a point in the early 1980′s when Douglas Crimp, a pioneering art critic, lamented in an essay the growing popularity of postmodernism’s cutting-edge strategy, appropriation.

Appropriation had begun only a few years earlier as a radical, primarily photographic practice introduced by artists like Cindy Sherman, Sherrie Levine and Richard Prince. As I remember it, Mr. Crimp’s general complaint was that appropriation was raging out of control. Conceived as a way to “interrogate” the images that inundate and condition us, it had pretty much morphed into an academic, reactionary technique used by artists of all aesthetic stripes, political viewpoints and mediums. . . .

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Lies, Damn Lies, and Photography

A couple of photography exhibits challenge some cherished beliefs about truth. In Australia, one explores photographs as one of the “most problematic forms of visual representation.” Another in the Boston area exposes the limits of digital truth in contemporary photography. And it would be wrong of me not to mention ParkeHarrison, whose work recently has gotten a lot of attention, in part because they do in the darkroom what many people now do in Photoshop.

Truth is a lot more flexible than we want to let on. Our understanding of incidents and even entire systems of belief depend to a certain extent — often a great extent — on cultural upbringing and our own history. This isn’t always a popular belief in the U.S. Several guests on public radio (the happy radio home of America’s intellectuals and self-styled elites) savaged postmodern relativism.

I, for one, know the camera lies when I want it to and suggests subtle untruthes even when I don’t intend it. What falls outside the frame doesn’t exist for most who view a piece of the world through the photograph. “Nature” photographs often suggest a world free of people, despite being composed by someone who had to walk from the car to the trail or boardwalk (and ocassionally wait for other people to get out of the frame). And Brockton might not be as bad as some images suggest . . . or maybe it is.

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Flood readings

Sepoy over at Chapati Mystery gives the subcontinental perspective — and links to many interesting articles — on the floods in New Orleans and Bombay. (Sepoy, a grad student in the U.S., has quite an interesting and readable blog, by the way.)

And I’ll add a link to On Point‘s segment today on Race, Poverty and Katrina and yesterday’s on America’s New Refugees.

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A few weeks ago I almost posted this snippet from the BBC:

“Why does a week of heavy monsoon rain kill more than 400 people, cause damage estimated at nearly $700m, and completely paralyse life in a bustling metropolis?” ask Mumbai residents according to a bleak report by the BBC. Those numbers were early figures; the death toll actually tops 1,500 and the damage over a billion dollars.

After seeing the effects of huricane Katrina on New Orleans, it seems appropriate to challege stereotypes about developing countries.

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