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! )
” 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.
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. “