I’m grateful to have moved through the process of developing my series Dream Away for the show at 111 Minna Gallery. The presentation brought with it challenges that allowed me to look at different ways to view the pieces for the show. I’m quite happy to include along with the prints a collection of silk banners and two films. The combination of these elements makes for a truly immersive experience at the gallery. Getting there of course was a balance of how to play very dominant elements while including traditional presentations.
I’m beginning to explore ideas for my upcoming show at 111 Minna that delve into alternate facets of the project. The light and floaty nature with an almost suspended yet certainly in motion bodies are naturally lending themselves to a exploring their beginnings and ends. But in turn, they also lend themselves to a twists and turns in their character. Read More
The spray varnish I had picked up from a couple of locations. This turned out to be the thing that made the difference in my testing. I was using Moab paper, so it does make sense that their varnish works with their paper. My first few tests I found that it went down very well, and I was a big fan of the drying time before laying down another coat – 15 minutes. As it was a fine mist that dried well and nicely even, I found that I could even push it a bit in the coating process. It was rated for UV and scratch protection as well, so I felt like this was quickly becoming a winner. The finish luster was an almost perfect match, and I found that I had some difficulty in telling if it was on without a close inspection. There was a slight loss in contrast, but very minimal. After letting it cure for an hour (my choice) I decided to go for the water test. I dribbled water directly on the print and let it sit for two minutes — enough time to find it’s way in through the varnish and a simulation of me running to find a cloth to clean it off. I then grabbed a blue shop paper towel and rubbed it clean. It passed with flying colors — no damage from the water, no damage from my rough cleaning job. Perfect! But …
I did a few more tests and came up with a spray pattern that I liked: three passes — vertical, horizontal, vertical with a stroke in each direction and then slightly overlapping as I worked my way across the print. I’d print leaving a larger margin on the paper so I could tape the print to a wall and use the can upright. This gave me a solid coat that I could see and feel on the work. My problems came however when I switched to a new can — suddenly I had sputtering. I had heard about it, but not run into it yet. I had just finished one coat on a piece when my can ran out, so I moved to a new can for the follow up. Mid-spray there was sputter and that meant a ruined print. (sad face)
It took me a little to figure out what was going on. Luckily I had just had some good conversations with some friends who do graffiti and they turned me on to the vast differences in nozzles. My discovery was confirmed later by a rep from Moab, that there was a nozzle they were having trouble with that they pulled from production … I had found one in someone’s existing stock and it was jamming me up. Nozzles are easily replaced, and so I swapped them out and we were back in business. Like my friends, I too now have a little nozzle collection going. Back in business, but I still do a little spray check before committing the varnish to the work. (happy face)
So I had picked the paper, the printer, the process, and the presentation. But we had a gap … you can put up unprotected work and expect it to last. Having a little one run around the house results in little surprises. One time I was passing by a framed James Jean print on our wall and discovered that it had been caught in some sort of splatter attack. Having discovered this some time after the event, it was well dry, but the outlines of drops of mystery liquid were certainly present. So litmus test one: survive a splash attack.
Ink jet paper — by it’s very nature — is porous and loves to suck up liquid. Ink jet ink is soluble and love to moush around in water. We needed a barrier to help fix the work and protect it from the typical damaging effects of the outside world. Living in a house with floor to ceiling glass windows, I know the other main damaging effect is exposure to UV rays. In painting media, an artist will typically varnish their work to help seal it in and protect it in this same manner, so it seemed like a logical step for us as well.
I picked up a couple of varnishes that were designed specifically for (or marketed toward) ink jet paper. This included Moab Desert Varnish Spray, Breathing Color Timeless and a couple other varnishes from wood working etc. As they come in specific finishes, I needed something that would match the luster-quality of the product I already was using.
I was biased against spray varnishes as I had heard horrible results from some folks of sputtering — large drops coming out instead of a fine mist which don’t even out. Liquid varnishes I had already used in a few cabinet making projects I undertook while fixing up our house, and was partial to them. But I liked them best when I could spray them on using a gravity fed sprayer — that means I’d need a spray booth to contain the overspray. Liquid varnish also has a longer drying time than the spray varieties.
In the first few tests using the liquid varnishes, I found the paper was unforgiving in strokes. I couldn’t put it on too thick or the inks would immediately start to pick up. Any mistakes or bubbles and I couldn’t brush them away, and they weren’t settling out. My paper choice was fighting this method and I had a zero success rate. The best result I had was using a high-quality brush to lay down a thin, consistent stroke. But I was still seeing some dust settle in and pinholes in the varnish. It seems that the liquids were much better suited to a canvas style paper. On to spray …
The first step I pursued in printing our work ourselves was to go through a sizable paper test. Thankfully, most of the quality paper manufactures have put out sampler packs for just such occasions. I grabbed papers from Hahnemühle, Moab, and Canson. I had been doing a little printing on a number of Epson papers already so I felt I had an okay grasp of their products. Our work has two main aspects that I wanted to make sure the paper could handle: dark blacks, and fine details especially in the shadows.
I found that any kind of deep gloss, while accentuating the blacks, would interrupt the viewing in a number of situations. This is also one of the reasons I was looking for a solution that didn’t require putting the print behind glass or plexi. I also wanted to have the audience experience similar to viewing a painting — another reason for a rich paper and no glass. I knew that the second part of this equation was that the print/paper would need to take a varnish (varnishing will be covered in a separate write up).
For my sampling, I took a couple of hero areas of our works that I knew would flex the muscles of the paper and prepared a test print, and then I went to town. As a baseline, I used each paper’s profile for my test printer, an Epson Stylus Photo R2880 (the test papers are 8.5″ x 11″), switching between photo and matte blacks as needed. The breadth of papers available was quite enjoyable to see. There were good textures (and some I felt over-pronounced), and a real range of responses to our work.
The first realization was that I could not go with any kind of textured paper. Straight on lighting and viewing were fine, but any kind of off-axis presentation or lighting quickly diminished the work with shadows. The texture didn’t help hold the detail as well as I felt it was competing for the eye’s attention. Also, to hold up to the dark details, there needed to be some kind of sheen to the paper — even the best matte paper while just being able to get dark enough in the blacks couldn’t hold the exposure in the knee — the shadow areas quickly fell off. Some level of printing adjustments helped with the matte papers, but that would translate to a ton of rework and test printing to get it close, but not as good as the original.
One of the earlier papers I had picked up at Flax one day was a pack of Lasal Exhibition Luster 300. I must admit that part of my decision was cost based, as it was half the price of the Epson paper I was using. I liked how it performed, but wanted to be diligent in my search for the best presentation with our debut solo show on the horizon. It was indeed this paper that went the darkest, and held the details with a very low sheen level. And, it was readily available to accommodate last-minute printing requirements so I wouldn’t have to keep too much stock on hand.
Another fun paper that stood out in all this testing was also from Moab — their Slickrock Metallic. The coating has a metallic luster to it that is quite lovely. Stacey called it that this would be the perfect paper for the low-light, strong contrast nude series that I had been shooting. Was she ever right, as the negative spaces of the body’s highlights jump right off the paper and add an unexpected depth and forward dimension to the printed pieces — complimenting the work and letting the live presentation be extra complex. One of these will be hanging at this year’s APA SF Something Personal.
One of my earliest joys in working with photography was developing prints. This dark, secretive process was quite intimate with the work as I attempted to coax the best/most interesting image forward. Our show at Varnish gave me a new chance to once again take control of our printing process and rekindle that flame — hence the big box.
I’ll go over our decision process to show you how we got to where we are today. But this, like all things, is a living process, not one that is a fixed decision. As new technologies come out, and presentations shift, I’m sure we’ll tweak until we get it as best as we can.
The other nice effect of printing is how it informs our production process. To take it through from lighting to printing — figuring out how to find and cultivate the nuance — is enlightening to say the least
What I love about the portrait series we’ve been working on, is digging into the subjects and getting to know them on the inside. Our most recent ‘Alone’ series was recently compared to the work of Gregory Crewdson. I can see the similarities in our heavy cinema influences (dramatic lighting with detailed sets) and the disassociated Americana scene. While this is a huge compliment, one of the key differences for me is my connection with the subject(s) in the photos. While Crewdson prefers little to no interaction with the people in his photographs (which works wonders for him), but with my background in acting and directing means I need to be involved, and help develop that character in the scene.
I draw another similarity to Crewdson: we both had parents who were psychoanalysts. In his scenes I enjoy how he displays the complex bundle of emotions that surround us. For me, this developed into a life-long lesson in observing and listening to people to understand both what they were saying (and not saying) and what is the inner conversation, the motivation behind their actions. I find it is this is where their true personality resides (and comes out in the on-set chit chat), and my better work comes from manifesting these bits of character on their face and body.
I think this interaction is also apparent in our on-going portrait series. At very beginning of our portrait process we research the subject to find out what others know of them. If we’re lucky, they have the time to speak with us personally. This really opens up the person and can reveal a lot of inner truths, which is where the connection begins for me in making a great portrait. There should be a story involved in every picture, and in portraits that story is usually what the subject is made of.
Most recently we’ve been shooting portraits with a lot of fine artists (like illustrator Josh Ellingson, monster creator Alex Pardee, mixed-media artist Scott Wilson). Admittedly, this is a bit easier with artists as they tend to pour themselves into their work and it’s easier to interpret. We also find they are open to creative work and are less reserved about committing to a scene as they understand putting themselves into a project. But this is the fun part in every portrait, discovering that something inside that defines the person and having that come out for the camera.