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Letting the work change us
A glimpse inside the upcoming 2020 Winter Box - A Country Winter
In last week’s hard-won letter I discussed the value of the mental and emotional states we find ourselves in being more important than the products of those states and how certain activities (the work) can bring those states into being inside you.
Over the last week I’ve made some 45 prints as I prepare my Winter 2022 Box and I went from states of complete frustration to deep curiosity to fatigue and ultimately to a sort of elation, but what’s more interesting to me is I feel like a different person than I was when I clicked send last week.
How can this be?
The week started off horribly with a very hard to diagnose printer issue causing blurry prints.
It took several days and dozens of test prints to narrow it down to a clogged matte black print nozzle and and several times I wondered seriously if self printing is worth the effort. People, probably rightly, have no idea the level of work that goes into making a good print. It’s expensive, time consuming and really an art form in itself that comes with at least as many expensive failures as successes.
To save paper I switched to printing tests on old failed prints and watching the blurred, etching like print out where I cancelled it half way was my first inspiration in months. One I only partially used for this set, but the idea shown below is going to churn in my head for a while.
What I did use was the interesting way the highlights printed. After fixing the printer issues I set to work crafting an edit inspired by those highlights which lead me to a completely new edit that really makes the hoarfrost in these winter shots soar in a way I hadn’t managed before.
I gathered about 60 candidate shots and whenever I wasn’t working on the job that keeps me in medium format cameras I was editing and test printing trying to narrow it down to 10 prints. The original idea was 10 5x7 prints in a nice box and has landed in the end as 5 8x10.
So many test prints.
Though I’ve printed several hundred works by now this series tested muscles that don’t get tested often enough, and caused a very subtle but meaningful focus shift and searching for a sequence of images that each on their own is interesting but together create some feeling of a country winter was demanding in ways making single prints simply isn’t.
It demanded tolerating the wasted paper and super expensive inks. Tolerating print after print that needed correction. letting go of photos that look amazing on screen, but are flat or without depth on paper.
Falling in love with a matte paper—which is as shocking a love affair possible.
It shifts the focus from a single edit to a small range of edits and colors that compliment one another, scenes that compliment one another and work together to create a sense of something. That sounds sort of trivial but it was seismic in how I think about what I’m doing.
I just kept working without thinking about the costs, if anyone might buy them or the time investment because I was working out of curiosity again. What can I learn? What is possible?
So many days of just sitting with a small group of images, all being printed on the same paper, over and over, tightening the edit with each cycle, was… eye opening for me. finally for first time in a long time I was able to see the beauty again.
But what is more complicated to explain is where the beauty is. So much printing in such a small period got me looking at photos I had ruled out, passively, because they don’t wow on small screens.
Shots that made sense while shooting them, then didn’t when trying to share them online, then made sense again when seeing them printed on fine papers made something click for me.
When you’re in the field shooting your shot selection is intuitive and based on years of making pictures, combined with the lighting and what’s available but somewhere over time that becomes polluted (in this case) by the end form of your work. If you know you’re shooting for a 5” phone screen your subject matter it’s very different than an 4 foot print. I cannot stress enough how insidious this small unconscious self limitation is nor the implications if you never break yourself of it and have to start fresh 20 years in.
it was a big week, folks.
I’ve often heard photographers talking about working in projects (which loosely I’ve done) and talking about the value of printing your work (which I’ve done a lot of) and I’ve even heard that knowing what the end form of your work will be informs how you shoot it, how you light it, etc. But hearing these things and staring at them in the form of a small body of work where most were shot with instagram or some other online media in mind brought it home and all of this changed me.
I was organically changed by the work. Changed because I actually set to work and tried to make something. Because I stayed at the work despite the frustrations and sense my printer had it out for me. And because, as I said last week, the life has to flow through you (in the form of action) and when it does, it changes you.
I’m now rushing in my off time to get this this winter box together and available for sale but after that I have a lot to think about, and have real questions about what beauty might be lurking in my 250,000 photo archive that was disqualified because it didn’t come together on a screen.
More than that though, right now I feel energized and excited to make new work with the final prints in mind. Ignoring entirely the digital versions value. So much experimenting to do. So much curiosity to sate and so much excitement to get to it.
It’s been a wild few weeks of being entirely and deeply stuck to feeling brand new and ready to make new work, thanks for coming along.
You good subscribers will get first crack at the winter box, by an email so keep an eye out for that.