Photographic printing is a matter of craft and sensibility, deep intuition of colour and contrast, and infinite patience. Danny Pope was for me the best colour printer in the world. Moreover, he is one of the few who has been able to translate the skills of traditional wet printing to the digital domain. This has not been achieved without considerable pain for a man being able to produce an immaculate Cibachrome or C-Type in a matter of minutes simply by using a magicians hand movements between the enlarger and paper. The clumsiness and inelegance of computers is difficult to come to terms with for one used to stroking density and shade out of thin air, it seems like trying to dance in a suit of armour, or perform surgery with a scalpel tied to the end of a broom handle. Sensuality is replaced by mathematics. Left and right brain have to swap places.
I must bear some of the blame for this suffering, having spent years insisting that digital is just another medium, one impossible to ignore. Eventually, with extreme reluctance, he began to experiment, and for the next five years pronounced all things digital worthless. After a great of swearing, cursing, condemnation and berating finally a print was produced that he pronounced himself satisfied with. The quality of large format prints he is now making speak for themselves. Clearly, they take digital printing to a new level, The application of a master photographic printer's eye to producing a digital print. Digital alchemy. Most give up, but Danny pushed through the pain barrier.
The results are not achieved by software, tricks or profiles, but through care, patience, attention to detail, application to craft and a profound understanding of colour and content an quality. Anyone who thinks they can plug in an Epson and produce great prints with the right profile is fooling themselves. Great printing takes years of dedication and painstaking refinement of a way of seeing.
Danny Pope loves photography. He is a good photographer himself, but has no pretensions as an artist. He sees his work as strictly artisan, but I disagree with this. I see him as more akin to a musician who can take the work of a composer and transform it either into something dull or lifeless, or into a vibrant and inspiring interpretation that adds dimension and feeling to the work. A bad print destroys a great photograph - whilst a good print is like a great performance that lifts it to a new level.
There is no way to define the difference between a great performance and a mediocre one. The instruments, the room, even the performer can be the same, and yet one performance can be transcending and another tedious. The brain has more than five times as much space dedicated to vision as it does to sound. The complexity of visual perception and interpretation is incalculable. What makes a great print has far greater subtlety and indefinable magic than great music. It requires a deep feeling, experience, and endless patience. It is neither logical nor calculated, and it can never be pre-programmed.
Printing is a quiet art-one that is not filled with congratulation and applause. But when one talks of great music, both the performer and the composer are described as artists. In photography, the printer must share this mantle, since he can ruin or reveal the picture. Hew must work with impeccable skill and a sure confidence; sensitivity to the to the character and vision of the photographer whose work he brings to life.
John Ruskin wrote
" The greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something and tell what he saw in a plain way. Hundreds of people can talk for one who can think, but thousands can think for one who can see. To see clearly is poetry, prophecy, and religion all as one"
The photographer and the printer collaborate to fulfill this principle in the purest way imaginable.
Andrew Catlin 2005
Cameras. Photographs. Wine. Food. Music.
Posture and gesture.
Snow and ice.
The movement of objects in the wind.
The effects of heat and cold.
Pain that is overcome.
Moments of extreme focus.
Points where focus is soft, and different types of focus.
The shape of dancing.
Moments of extreme preoccupation.
Moments of recognition.
Those who have experienced much.
Grain and tone.
Strength and weakness.
Ways of learning.
Telling things in a plain way.
Seeing something as it is.
The light shortly before sunrise or after sunset.
My Father's Leica
My father had a Leica his brother had bought from a German POW at the end of the war. He used it for 25 years, shooting roll after roll of patient black and white, before he sold it and used the money to buy an old SLR for himself, and my first camera for me.
He never told me how to make a picture, never criticised my work, and never told me to look at anyone else's. Just encouraged me to see things my own way and then died when I was 17.
When I decided to start shooting professionally, for the first two years I forbade myself to look at any pictures except for the ones coming up in the trays in my darkroom at night.
It was years before I realised where that idea had germinated. I hadn't wanted to be influenced, but that in itself had come from him.
Once I started to look at other work, it was Lee Miller who stood out. Her acute eye, her intimacy, her versatility and her madness. I bought four of her prints which hang on my wall to remind me to always look at things in many different ways. Later I traded a portrait for her 1938 picture of the Great Pyramid, which doesn't show the pyramid, but trumps all other photos of it; and still makes me smile every day. The year after she shot the picture, the second world war began and when it ended my father got his Leica.
"Being a great photojournalist is a matter of getting out on a damn limb and sawing it off behind you."
"I didn’t waste a minute all my life’ – but I know, now, that if I had it over again I’d be even more free with my ideas, with my body, and my affection.”
"I like the dark room, the radio, the yellow light glowing. I rip the printing paper into quarters. One square is swimming in the Dektol. Through the clear, brown liquid I see my work emerging – my picture. Then I take it, the little piece, and give it to the person pictured in it, a return for what they have given me. Thirty years pass. People die. Children grow old. They keep the little piece, stuck up on a wall with thumbtacks, creased and stained: themselves, young and alive, forever. That is photography."
"I’m a visionary. I don’t have any sense of time. Pictures have no mortality to them. The moment they’re made, they go into the future. I deal with that and I love it."
Jorge Luis Borges
A man sets himself the task of sketching the world. Throughout the years, he fills a space with images of provinces, kingdoms, mountains, bays, ships, islands, fishes, dwellings, instruments, stars, horses and people. Shortly before dying, he discovers that this patient labyrinth of strokes outlines the image of his own face.
"...because we don't know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible wealth, yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number really.
"The greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something and tell what he saw in a plain way. Hundreds of people can talk for one who can think, but thousands can think for one who can see. To see clearly is poetry, prophecy, and religion, all in one."
"The contemplation of things as they are is in itself a nobler thing than a whole harvest of invention."
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Photography is a way to see, understand and describe the world.