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Monthly Archives: June 2010

When I was growing up on the farm, a long time ago, my father would give me chores to do—feed and water the cattle, weed the garden, pick tomatoes—and even though the work was necessary for keeping the entire enterprise going, I resented doing those chores—it took time and effort, and kept me from doing the things I wanted to do—playing ball with my friends, shooting my BB-gun, or reading a book…   I left the farm, in large part to escape the endless, thankless chores, but, as every functioning adult soon realizes, chores are not limited to farm life…

Working with the 8×10 involves many chores—loading film holders, lugging heavy equipment around, developing film—all chores that cannot be avoided if one is to continue working.  But printing—now that’s a chore that can be avoided for a long time, with few immediate consequences.  Once the negatives are safely dried and stored, they can sit years…

8-5169 Moving Ice, Yukon River, May 9, 2009

When Gary Winogrand died, he left a freezer containing 2500 rolls of exposed but undeveloped film behind plus an additional 9,500 rolls of film developed but not edited—an unprocessed archive more than a third of a million  images—to be developed and printed by others.  John Szarkowski writes of the frustration of the editor attempting to stagger through this mass of images, how many of the images were of subjects far from the camera, many were not sharp because Winogrand failed to hold the camera steady at the moment of exposure, as if even he lost interest in the image before the shutter was released, already moving onto the next image.  Szarkowski then notes that a photographer needs to bring his work to completion, to make prints, to see when he is failing to successfully make the images he wants.

8-5236 Taylor Highway, July 3, 2009

When working with a large format camera, the investment in each exposure is significant—for the 8×10, Tri-x is now $5 per sheet, and the time associated with the chores in the darkroom and the time of travel to the place where the image is made often averages well over an hour of effort.  I have a commitment to make at least a proof print of every large format negative I shoot.  In the days of the darkroom, this was a contact print, based on a guess at the exposure, done quickly, usually in lots of 32 images in a single 3-4 hour session in the darkroom, a number picked based on the number of prints that would fit in my print washer.  Now that I’ve moved to digital printing, scanning doesn’t require a fixed block of time, but the amount of time is actually greater—the flatbed scanner I use takes several minutes to complete a scan of these large negatives.  But the “exposure” is easier to adjust, and the resulting proof is very satisfactory for evaluating the success of the image.

I often fall behind in my proof printing, usually during the summer, when travel into the landscape is easier, and other plans and chores take precedence over time in front of the computer.  When I take a trip, I usually process the film shortly after arriving home, store and label the negatives, and scan and print a handful of what seem to be the best images, mostly because I want to see the pictures, but also to reassure myself that there are enough successes to justify continuing working.  But last winter, I never got around to the proof prints of the new negatives from the summer, and a few weeks ago, I realized that I had a stack of about 600 negatives to be proofed, too far behind.  I had just told a young friend about the importance of looking at every image—so I took my own advice and started scanning.

I’m about half way through the chore, I can do about six scans an hour—but I’m finding some wonderful images in the stack–

8-5095 Betly Mall, January 2009