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The Process


Inside the studioI work exclusively in black and white film photography to produce gelatin silver prints. The selection of papers and developing chemicals is quickly evaporating with the explosion of the digital revolution and like so many of its predecessor processes, gelatin prints are now considered an "alternative" process.

Many of my images are digitized for record keeping, publishing and Internet use although digital images are not otherwise available. My images are limited to small editions in three formats: 11 x 14, 16 x 20 and 20 x 24.

Ten years ago the advent of digital photographs as an art form generated discussions, lectures, symposiums and an extensive array of articles debating the merits of digital vs. film photography. The digital format has certainly prevailed in most areas.

I believe that film photography and digital capture in the art world are two entirely different processes. For art purposes it may be helpful for a purchaser/viewer to understand some of the basic differences. A silver gelatin print is hand made. It usually shows some evidence of the human process and most times, in my experience, will not be perfect. The image is the result of three basic steps each of which will effect the final image: the exposure, the film development and the final print development. The proof of the pudding is often revealed in the final steps when it may be obvious that one needs to begin at the begining.film and loop

The digital capture is made and printed by machines. Near perfect images are the result of one's mastery of Photoshop and other software programs. The digital process can use an unlimited selection of beautiful papers which facilitates lovely presentations. However, an unlimited number of reproductions can be made of any image and all will be exactly the same. While a limited edition of gelatin silver prints attempts to create a series of similar prints, a side-by-side comparison will always reveal slight differences. This is true of all original art processes focused on multiple prints such as Intaglio, photogravure, lithography, silkscreen and so on.

Blair with cameraI think it is also important for a viewer to consider what it took to capture an image. In the medium format world, there are 10 to 12 images available on a standard roll of film. There is a limit to the action sequences that can be captured. This is at the heart of Cartier Bresson's focus on the "decisive moment". There is a discipline that must be exercised to closely follow the movement of a potential image and try to anticipate and capture its decisive movement. Oftentimes, the image that you do get is a little too late or a little too early on the shutter. This can't really be judged until you have developed the film and printed the image. At that point the original subject is long gone and far away.

On the other hand the high quality digital cameras that are available in everything from pocket sized point-and-shoots to the most sophisticated are now capable of literally taking movies with thousands of images. The primary challenge is no longer capturing the decisive moment but being able to identify it and select the film frame to be printed.

The rising costs of darkroom supplies and papers and the time involved in the multiple steps tend to make the silver gelatin print more limited in production and more expensive. It is helpful to understand the differences to be able to make your own value judgments about what you are looking at or what you might want to acquire.

© 2015 | Blair Phillips Friederich