Time Machine

How in the hell did I do that? Sometimes when I look back at an older photogram or print that I made I wonder how I got an effect or what kind of process I was using. Fortunately I have my own personal time machine. It works some of the time.

It is pretty simple. It started out as a loose-leaf binder full of handwritten notes. I am not the first photographer to take notes on how a print is made, and my notes aren’t even as detailed as some printers. There is a great blog post on The Literate Lens about how Magnum Photo’s master printer Pablo Inirio keeps track of his exposures:

As Magnum’s printer, Inirio gets to work with some of photography’s most iconic images. In his small darkroom, the prints lying casually around include Dennis Stock’s famous portrait of James Dean in Times Square (below). Intricate squiggles and numbers are scrawled all over the prints, showing Inirio’s complex formulas for printing them. A few seconds of dodging here, some burning-in there. Will six seconds be enough to bring out some definition in the building behind Dean? Perhaps, depending on the temperature of the chemicals. The blog post continues….

And then there was the darkroom wizard Ansel Adams…. his iconic image of Moonrise over Hernandez NM appears straight forward but there was plenty of darkroom magic that went into it. The image actually evolved over time as Adams’ taste changed and he printed it with more and less contrast at different times.

I have logbooks of notes going back to 1980, and here is my oldest page and newest one….

The pages haven’t changed much except that my notes aren’t as detailed and at the bottom is a place to indicate the kind of media I am using, the batch and to log how many sheets of paper I use. Counting the sheets became important when I was doing commercial work and charging clients for materials.

In the early 1980’s I printed a limited edition set of 14″ x 11″ prints of aerial photographs of the Elk Mountain Range surrounding Aspen Colorado to raise money for Mountain Rescue Aspen, and my notes were on index cards. Many years later my Assistant Mike Zawadzki printed a new edition of 20″ x 16″ prints – and his notes were more detailed – and his prints were far better than mine! The print you see below was just a digital reference print.

I am still a believer in keeping records for future reference. I might never look back, but if I do need to look it up I have it. I am an information pack rat, I suppose. So now that my artwork also includes 3D printing sculptures with a Makerbot Replicator 2 I have been keeping track of the prints on a google spreadsheet. I track information like the original .STL file, the printing parameters, which filament I’m using, how long the print took. It helps me track when it is time to lube and clean the printer, too.

All this information is vital if you are making editions. For my 3D printed sculpture editions I don’t print the entire edition at once, the storage of all those pieces would be a major problem, but I can come back later and use the same files and get a very similar output. Some things will vary, the filament might be a different batch, and it is a pretty good bet that someday I’ll be using a different 3D printer! For most of the sculptures there is also quite a bit of hand-work craftsmanship so the individual pieces are never identical anyway. Still it is important to be able to keep them substantially the same.

I have file cabinets full of records so I pity the person who has to clean out my stuff when I die. My wife says she intends to die before me so she doesn’t have to do it.