Tuesday, July 06, 2010

A Rose.....by any other Name


Remember last weeks concept was taken over by my trials and tribulations trying to get to Ohio? Here is the blog I had intended for then....


Film vs Digital


This blog is not about a value judgment between these two methods of taking photographs. I am not going to tell whether I think one is better than the other. In truth, although I am a film photographer first and foremost, I think making that kind of judgement between methods of creation is wrong. As artists....we are beholden to our muses and what we use to create out work...is less of consequence then the work we create. Although I do acknowledge that there are artists out there whose work is self-reflective of the process that they use. And that is wonderful too.


What I am interested in discussing it the labels we use to identify work once it is produced. And how confusing this is for the beginning collector of photography. When I began my "career" as a photographer, there was no digital photography. Other than polaroids and the more archaic methods of photography like daguerreotypes, solargrams and tintypes, all "Photographs" began as images on film. Negatives and chromes (like slide film). Again, other than those other print forms, all photographic prints were created in a darkroom. So, when you said that you were a photographer, there was no question about what that meant as far as the process that you did to create your work. Most understand that at some point it was a hands on process. And although able to be printed in multiple copies....some variations due to the process made each print somewhat unique. Again, I want to be clear that this is not a value judgement...it just what we did. And for the most part, what I still do.

Sheer Cliff Face - shot on film, Gelatin Silver Print done in darkroom and scanned to computer



Enter the digital revolution! Today, more often than not, what you see when you see a photograph for sale, is a print that was made from a digital process. There are several ways that this can happen. The first and most prevalent, is that the image was shot with a digital camera, downloaded into a computer and either digitally manipulated with a program like PhotoShop or left virtually unchanged from the original shot. This image is then printed directly from the computer on either an inkjet or laser printer, or even mass printed on poster paper.


shot with digital camera and downloaded into computer ready for printing


Another format that is building in interest are images that have been shot on film and scanned into the computer. These are then altered or not and printed the same as those that originated from a digital camera. One more possibility is to scan the traditionally created darkroom print and then to print digitally from those jpegs.


Monument - jpeg image from scanned negative


So, now I ask you...do these different processes of creating photographic print, need to be identified when the image reaches the marketplace? Do we just call them all photographs and be done with it? Does the collector need to be informed about what they are purchasing? I think they do. Does the buyer of a painting want to know if it is oil, acrylic or watercolor? I think they do. Partially because of the care each medium may require, but mostly in deference to understanding the creation of that work better. And perhaps to understand the artist who created it. BUT....if this is the case....then we need to come up with universally agreed upon terms for these prints. Just calling them all "Photographs" is not enough.

Most darkroom prints are identified by the darkroom process or paper that they are printed on. Silver prints (are the same as gelatin silver prints), platinum, palladium, c-prints, cibachromes etc, all of these are darkroom prints. Unfortunately, digital prints are called by too many different names. Sometimes, I feel it seems almost to confuse the buyer into thinking that the digital print and darkroom print are the same thing. But, mostly I think it is because nobody has come up with suitable terminology. I have seen digitally created images called; photographs, archival photographs, inkjet prints, photographic prints, giclees, prints (didn't these used to be a whole different group of processes?) and many other names.


I call the images that have been printed from scans of my silver prints, digital reproductions. That is what they are. I call the images printed directly from a negative or from a digitally created image, a giclee. Technically, a giclee is an archival image created on an inkjet printer. There are difference qualities of giclees that can be achieved, depending on the printer, ink and paper.


So, when you see a photographic image in a gallery....and the label is confusing. Don't be afraid to ask how that image was created. Sometimes the galleries don't even know and I think they need to be reminded that they should! They ARE all photographs. But how they are achieved is important to know. A rose, is a rose and they all beautiful. But if I am buying that rose, I want to know if it is a climber, tea rose, heirloom/vintage or wild. IT DOES MATTER!


I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject too!


Juliet

9 comments:

Margie said...

Coming from film to digital only in the last 3 years - I agree on needing to explain the difference.
I have found a print house for digital that do not print out final as a laser print but instead chemically produce it via light sensitivity and chemical reaction to the paper like developing called a c-print.
If I were purchasing the prints I would want to know if I was buying a cprint with a longer life or the laser print process - or traditional film to paper chemical print creation process.
It's all about the quality of the final print, the lifespan, and how I would need to know to care for it.
I especially want to know if the image was manipulated in photoshop. Just out of my interest in the art I was buying.

Juliet said...

Margie - Interesting print process you mentioned. All giclees, as far as I know, are inkjet prints. And I am told they are more archival than laser prints. In the old days of film...a c-print was the most frequently found type of color print. A kodak print from film from any lab was a c-print. Not sure how this process you are talking about is done. Do they create an interim negative from the jpeg and then print a c-print from that?

Kimberly Santini said...

wonderful post - as always, you are at the forefront of educating and promoting your artform.

I would never purchase a painting without understanding the process and media first - and it stands to reason the same should go for photography.

Thanks for sharing your knowledge and making me a smarter consumer. One who LOVES your silver gelatin prints, BTW.

Margie said...

Not everyone trusts Wiki definitions but this describes it well. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chromogenic_color_print
"hromogenic color prints are full-color photographic prints made using chromogenic materials and processes. These prints may be produced from an original which is a color negative, slide, or digital image."
"Prints can also be exposed using digital exposure systems such as the Durst Lambda, Océ LightJet and ZBE Chromira, yielding a digital C print (sometimes called a Lambda print or LightJet print). These are exposed using LEDs on light sensitive photographic paper and processed using traditional silver based chemistry".
And truly the most important part is that the artist and the buyer both know what they are getting for the value.
It is great to have these type of discussions - truly on - going learning ! Thank you ~

JoZ-Q said...

Finally! getting around to reading and commenting on this very well written post.
First and foremost, I am an artist. A painter, mostly. My degree is in Illustration, and art is what my husband and I do, for the most part. But for the past 10 years, I have also been a fine art giclee printer. Back in 2001, I was hired by a gallery to convert some of their artist's originals into prints. As time went on, we expanded into printing for other fine artists in the community. What was unique about this gallery's setup was that we could photograph the artwork right in the back room, import it to the computer immediately (Better Light digital scanback system) and sit down with the artist at the computer to color correct and proof the finished print. This is traditionally not the way things are done in a print studio... it was the owner's idea, and it (and he) was brilliant. Since those days I have continued to produce professional giclees for artists, photographers and my own studio. I've also sold art in commercial galleries and am currently spearheading a marketing campaign through a retailer targeted specifically at fine art giclee printers. (In fact, a coworker and I had this exact discussion today!)

A giclee is technically any print produced on a wide format inkjet printer. Usually, the term giclee is also used to denote a higher quality standard than your typical inkjet printer. Most large format printers are pigmented ink, and when used with specially coated and manufactured papers, produce a brilliant and archival print- meaning that the print is not expected to fade for xx years (under optimal lighting conditions) and as certified by the Wilhelm Institute. Epson, for example, uses only super pigmented inks, and has a lightfastness rating of up to 100+ years. The very first "giclee" prints were Iris prints. Unlike today's crop of giclee printers, the inks used on the Iris printers were vegetable dyes. Pro- better color than the pigmented inks. Con- started to fade after as little as 10 years. Iris prints came out in the 1980's and the technology has been steadily improving since.
(i would also add that only giclee prints can usually be done on other media like canvas, baryta papers, etc.)

JoZ-Q said...

(part II)Epson, for example, uses only super pigmented inks, and has a lightfastness rating of up to 100+ years. The very first "giclee" prints were Iris prints. Unlike today's crop of giclee printers, the inks used on the Iris printers were vegetable dyes. Pro- better color than the pigmented inks. Con- started to fade after as little as 10 years. Iris prints came out in the 1980's and the technology has been steadily improving since. 
(i would also add that only giclee prints can usually be done on other media like canvas, baryta papers, etc.)Some degree of Photoshop work is almost invariably needed to produce a good print, even if it is just to compensate for the way the ink soaks into the paper as it is printed. I can virtually guarantee that every fine art giclee out there has been photoshopped- some extensively. (Personally, I have no problem with this. As an artist, your goal is to produce the best possible artwork, and by extension, print. If you need to adjust your contrast or values to make your image pop just that last little bit, I say go for it. But that's my personal opinion.)
The whole idea of limited edition giclees is something that has changed in today's marketplace as well. Since the blurring of etching plate lines is no longer a concern for artists, print # 500 is just as good as #1. The whole limited edition thing is a holdover from the days of true prints, and aside from capping an edition at a specific number, serves no real purpose except maybe to the avid collector.

JoZ-Q said...

Finally! getting around to reading and commenting on this very well written post.
First and foremost, I am an artist. A painter, mostly. My degree is in Illustration, and art is what my husband and I do, for the most part. But for the past 10 years, I have also been a fine art giclee printer. Back in 2001, I was hired by a gallery to convert some of their artist's originals into prints. As time went on, we expanded into printing for other fine artists in the community. What was unique about this gallery's setup was that we could photograph the artwork right in the back room, import it to the computer immediately (Better Light digital scanback system) and sit down with the artist at the computer to color correct and proof the finished print. This is traditionally not the way things are done in a print studio... it was the owner's idea, and it (and he) was brilliant. Since those days I have continued to produce professional giclees for artists, photographers and my own studio. I've also sold art in commercial galleries and am currently spearheading a marketing campaign through a retailer targeted specifically at fine art giclee printers. (In fact, a coworker and I had this exact discussion today!)

A giclee is technically any print produced on a wide format inkjet printer. Usually, the term giclee is also used to denote a higher quality standard than your typical inkjet printer. Most large format printers are pigmented ink, and when used with specially coated and manufactured papers, produce a brilliant and archival print- meaning that the print is not expected to fade for xx years (under optimal lighting conditions) and as certified by the Wilhelm Institute.

JoZ-Q said...

(part III)Personally, I prefer film. Having worked in this industry for almost a decade, I appreciate the skill and talent needed to wrest a beautiful print from a giclee printer- the Photoshop skills, the scanning or photography skills, the understanding of how the computer reads digital color, etc. Those things are great, they truly are, and I'm appreciative of an industry that's been very good to me over the years. But there is old world craftsmanship, as Juliet said, in the darkroom. Every print is different, no matter how hard you may try to control the variables. And in this sterile, digital age, there is still something eminently satisfying about being able to work your alchemy in the darkroom. There's no doubt we have improved the technology of reproducing photographic art. But in the process, I feel that we have inadvertently lost some of its soul.

(Besides, when I photograph, it's always a treat getting the prints back, especially if I am using them as reference photos. There's something marvelous about the tactile sense of flipping through a photo album. Printing it yourself is not the same. :-()

Juliet said...

Joanna,
That is great info you shared. Thank you!!! I love to provoke conversation and information sharing amongst artists and collectors. So many processes that we use are changing so rapidly. It is hard to keep up with understanding the new technology.
Juliet