A while ago a groups of photographers met and at one stage we began talking about printing. Some of us have been exploring different print mediums over the past few years, e.g. salt printing, albumen printing, ziatype, platinum and palladium, photogravure, even mezzotint. As well as silver gelatin of course, which happens to be the medium I use (so far anyway). Each of these mediums brings a different sense to a photograph.
At one point they spoke about my photographs and asked how I approach the technique of printing. So how do I approach it?
As photographers we have a print medium to consider and within that we also have a print technique. By this I mean, how does one approach making a fine art print? Do you look for optimal blacks and whites? Do you look for realism? Do you look for surrealism? Or something else… There are so many choices open to us, so many ways our photographs can be presented.
I realise that my intent in a photograph is to bring out the emotional tone I want in a photograph. Specifically, it guides me throughout the hours I spend with a negative in the darkroom. I was fortunate to learn quality techniques in print making from Gordon Undy, who himself learnt directly from master photographers such as George Tice and Paul Caponigro. This training was invaluable in giving me the pure skills I needed to make a high quality print. Sometime later, photographer Bob Kerseygave me some advice that resonated strongly with me and has really guided me since that time.
As I was developing my Oasis series for exhibition in 2008, Bob spent a day or 2 with me in my darkroom and as I was printing the portrait of Ella, he articulated something that has been at the forefront of my mind when I print ever since. He said “Kate, what are you actually trying to ‘say’ in this photograph… what is the most important thing you trying to express?” And it hit me, then and there, that it’s not only about beautiful tonalities for me, I want to be clear in how this photograph communicates at an emotion level! For instance, this particular photograph shows a young woman who has come through some significant life difficulties, now re-emerging into the world with new choices, shown in a portrait with her skateboard. I realised that to really convey ‘Ella’, this photograph needed to be all about the skateboard and her identification with it. It wasn’t about printing Ella’s face to perfection (in fact I ended up subduing her face a little)… instead it was all about the skateboard and Ella’s relationship with that. So I started focusing on the skateboard and working on from there. Of course I could have made a good print of this photograph without this focus and perhaps the difference is too subtle for many to see, but I believe that sometimes that 2% variable can communicate at a more subconscious level, and this can perhaps help open a door to a more emotional level of engagement with a photograph.
My thought process as I consider what is important in a photograph has been different since that day and that realisation continues to guide me. It has opened up options and led me to be more courageous in my choices. For instance, I wanted a fairly timeless, ethereal, universal sense to my La Poesia della Danza series… and in the paper and developer choices I made along with those infinitesimally small decisions we make in the darkroom have yielded a result has resulted in many comments that suggest I may be on the right track, at least for me!