Archive for February, 2015

Looking for Infinite

Saturday, February 28th, 2015

A couple weeks ago I had the task of printing a 16×20 baryta print for a gallery exhibition scheduled shortly.  It’s a nice image, taken with my Leica Monochrom – a camera that renders stunningly good images – and an excellent print, using a split-toned Piezography K7 pigment inkset on very nice archival paper.  As I slid it into its sleeve, preparatory to driving it around to the framing shop, my eyes came to rest upon the very large, dark brown envelope that has stood between my desk and my printer stand for well over a dozen years.  It was and is the only print from another photographer I have ever bought.  But I had never had it framed.  Pulling it out, I carried the envelope out onto the deck and carefully blew away the years of dust. Back inside, I carefully undid the tabs, and then slowly withdrew the print from the envelope.

It took my breath away.

22″ x 26″ matted, with an actual image area 13″ x 17.”  Silver gelatin.  Taken by a photographer named Dave Beckerman in New York City with a large format camera.  On film, of course.

The print just simply glows, with a tonal depth you think you could almost step into.  I was stunned.

I’ve always loved film.  I still carry two boxes of long-expired film – one of Kodachrome 64, one of Delta 3200 – in the console of my pickup truck.  Not because I’ll ever use them.  But because it just makes me feel good when I glance down and see them.  Remembering how it once was.

But loving something and embracing it aren’t always the same.  Like so many others, for many years now I have fallen under the siren song of digital. Its quality is amazing.  And it is just sooo much easier.

It took the infinite grays in that Beckerman print to remind me.  As good as digital is – and I remain one of its staunchest fans – maybe, just maybe, there are some things it doesn’t do quite as well.  Maybe it never will.

And so, in the last couple of weeks, in addition to getting my print and the Beckerman print framed, I ordered fresh Tri-X and Xtol and HC-110 and fixer and hypo clear.  A few days ago I stood in the kitchen and developed the first roll of film in a long time.  I had forgotten what a kick that is.  A little piece of Christmas when you unroll the film from the reel and see those images, made whole of a sudden, glistening in the wetness.

Maybe there really is magic.

To that end, I’ve been in dual mode of late.  Still carrying the Monochrom with me nearly everywhere.  But now also a second camera, my M6, loaded with Tri-X.  Seeing what a companionship of analog and digital might do.

The svelteness of film Leicas is a bit of a revelation after years of digital M’s.  Not to mention that amazing shutter, its snick like a razor, cleanly slicing off an actual, tiny piece of time.  Yes, the M6 is a crazy good camera.  You take it out of the cabinet and put a roll of film in it and take it out to the truck and it feels like meeting up with your childhood best friend.  Off to get into some trouble.

But I already know I need more negative. Infinite is a lot. Large format may, indeed, lie in my future.  I don’t know.  First, I want to see how far medium format can take me.

So there’s the not-very-good short answer to what my plan is. So rough it hardly deserves to be called a plan. Just… looking for infinite.

The Bessa III came out.  Another nice camera.  The one quick lesson it leaves is that that 6×7 negative, hanging from the clip, drying, is a honking nice piece of real estate.

There will be more, soon.  There is a grandeur about medium format.  And something very special about film.

Back to the Beckerman print… I have been true to my New Year’s resolution.  I have been printing a lot.  Nearly every day.  And wondering about the ineffable qualities that define a fine, master print.

And although I’m enjoying my trip down memory lane with film – a road trip I hope extends far into the future – my printing is all digital.  No apologies for that.  Piezography rocks.

With Beckerman’s master print hanging on my wall, a constant reminder of what to strive for, the question still begs… how close can I get?  Do I really need to do the whole Ansel Adams tripod and dark cloth and view camera thing?

Another trip to Beckerman’s site (www.davebeckerman.com), a bookend to that one years and years ago, and I’ve purchased a digital license to the image.   Just so I can play with the high-res file and see how close I can get to what hangs on the wall a few feet away.

A priceless bit of self-education.

And for anyone interested, I believe Beckerman still sells the image.  Poets Walk.  Way too cheap, if you ask me.  It probably ought to go for anywhere from ten to a hundred times what it does.  But that’s Dave’s call.  A discussion for another day.

As usual, a jpeg on the internet doesn’t begin to do it justice.  Especially in the highlights, which are lost on the screen but which are delicate and exquisite on paper.

Get the print.  As big as you can.

Poets Walk Central Park NYC