New negs . . . for the bursary

The characteristics of negatives can be an unknown starting point when one has not worked with a photographer before. There are so many factors that influence the production of this essential raw material. . . Exposure in camera, location and situation photographed, light source, camera format, contrast of lens, film type, lab processing etc etc. . . Pre digital, these variants were tightly tested and controlled by individuals who were able to fine tune one or two chosen aspects to achieve the quality that they were after.
Stating a fact that most film shot these days will go to scan and therefore have a range of tools available in Photoshop to tweak as many contrast and colour curves as you like. Conversely there is a greater need in the analogue world to produce optimum density in a negative to aid the hand printing process. If we are underexposed too far, we have a fight on our hands, whereas some overexposure can be easier to handle and compensate for. Similarly, pro film and professional processing, appropriate to the exposure made, can go a long way to achieving what the photographer is after.
Over the years, working on long term collaborations and getting to know photographers techniques I have come to be able to almost predict the kind of negs I will be working on. With the Redeye Printing Bursary award, there are more unknowns. I am starting a new challenge.

Gillian has been kind enough to share some of her thoughts, following her experience of the bursary printing and she reflects on her own negs here. . .  (She didn’t really have anything to worry about. . . except for the one on the right! )

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” Prior to visiting Rob at his studio I felt a low level of anxiety, mainly about the quality of my negatives. Having only ever scanned colour negatives I wasn’t sure if they would have what was needed, to get some great results through hand printing. I also felt a great deal of excitement, looking forward to working with an experienced printer. I also felt that this was the beginning of another chapter for me and my photography, having just graduated, this opportunity gave me the momentum to look to the future with positivity.

Day 1

When I arrived at the studio Rob very quickly put me at ease, he gave me a tour of the studio explaining the functions of the equipment he uses etc. I recognised the enlargers as we used similar equipment at university for black and white printing. The colour processor was interesting and I took a look at the chemicals and the internal mechanical function, I found that intriguing having spent a lot of time in ships engine rooms in another life. So many cogs and wheels that turn the rollers to move the paper through the print process and this helped my understanding of how hand c-type prints are produced.

Another thing we talked about was the RGB colour system onto negative paper, how by adding more of a colour, for example yellow results in reducing an amount of yellow out of the print.  I think I quickly picked up what Rob was talking about, this I felt was important because working collaboratively meant that I was involved in the decision making process about how much or how little to change during the testing period. This collaboration also included levels of exposure and what and where to burn and dodge. Burning was something I had done printing b & w negatives and also when using Photoshop, but dodging was entirely new to me.

Rob also talked to me about aspects of photography such as bracketing, to make sure I got a negative with a useful level of density, so not only was I learning about printing I was also learning more about photography from Rob’s perspective as a printer.

We decided to concentrate on the negatives of images taken in daylight first so that we didn’t have to keep changing the enlarger colour setting as much. The negatives weren’t as bad as I thought although we started slowly building up my knowledge of what to look for with colour and density, Rob knows intuitively what to look for but for me it was a slower process which developed through the pace of the day. “

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The Redeye Printing Bursary begins

Over the last couple of weeks, I have been printing and finishing the Redeye Printing Bursary award for Gillian Gilbert, this years winner. The final prints have now been hand re-touched and delivered to Gillian in Carlisle.
We spent the best part of 3 very enjoyable days working together at the darkroom here in the midst of the summer heat and have produced a fine set of prints, ready for exhibition. Created in the heady days following Wimbledon, we must have tapped into the same vein of success, as the challenge went smoothly enough, barring some thin negs and a tungsten light. More of that later. . .

In a series of posts to follow, I will try and paint a picture of the process we went through and some of our reflections. Many thanks again to Redeye for their support and provision of accomodation for Gillian’s stay here in the South Lakes. As you can see, it is hard to convince people why they would want to visit this part of the world!

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Crosthwaite House is a fantastic B&B up on the hill in the distance, and is where I often recommend printing visitors to consider staying at. All have thoroughly enjoyed Sam and Tiree’s hospitality. Great people, fine house and food, unbelievable location.

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Put the light on . . .

Well, I thought it was about time to bring some light and colour into the world of my darkroom and share some of the goings on. Shine a light, if you like in a metaphorical kind of way, onto what is so often an unseen practice. It may be interesting to some to share some reflections and observations we shall see.
I shall not attempt to produce a ’how to’ guide or become too technical about colour theory. You could fit most of it on the back of a postcard anyway and it is not that exciting, but it may get a mention when appropriate.

Photographers who I produce work for, often visit the darkroom and have seen me pottering about so much over the years that it maybe becomes normal to them and to myself. In fact, it is the prints that get the attention, rightly, and not the process involved.
Then there are also those photographers who come along to attend workshops, or visit to direct the printing, they build up an understanding of the process as they see it first hand, but I`m assuming that to many in photography these days, colour hand printing might be a bit of a unknown world. Even in the days when all labs offered C-types as a standard service, one was often only able to meet with the front desk folk and not the printer.

I personally have never been that kind of printer, or operated that way. The enjoyment and satisfaction involved in printing has to start from a personal and professional pride in the work that you are able to produce and present to the client, but the inspiration often comes from being an integral part of a photographers work. For me it is personal interaction and involvement. To this day I find it a privileged position.

But embarking on this blog has come about, prompted partly by the opportunity created by this year’s Redeye Printing Bursary Project, that I offer in collaboration with Redeye, The Photography Network.
It seemed appropriate to highlight both the darkroom and the project of printing Gillian Gilbert’s winning submission.
I shall try not to waffle on too much and aim to give it a semblance of structure (but I don`t promise!)

Rob