• Grant Handgis

Grandpa's Cabin ~ The printer's Hand

Up until now, I have been printing in multiple mediums, at the times respectively, the printing was related to the corresponding book I was writing about the medium being used. That series now complete, the constant production of fresh prints has pretty much ended. When I began printing again four years ago, I was involved with a photographer's group using the group's organizer's large darkroom, made available as a public darkroom for members. The organizer hadn't been yet subjected to hand coating processes, and wanted to learn, upon hearing me wax heavy of the shear awesomeness of it, to begin with.

That was then, and a year later, with a nudge from my wife, said custom darkroom took shape, from what was once a shop, of some sort. Ripped everything out including the walls and rebuilt. That, changed everything. For those photographers who are black & white film users, and hand coating enthusiasts, who have had their own cherished darkroom; you know. Making the first salt paper print, in another photographer's darkroom, was nothing short of magical for me. Having my own darkroom, with all the chemicals I need to mix anything I want, is beyond my ability to expressive it in words. I take my work quite seriously.

And that ramble leads up to the point. How one addresses their work, sees their work, through their prints. A legacy of the printer. There is, in my mind, two sides of photography, as it is today. I speak here of the personal approach, and intent of the photographer's process. The concept of good or bad, right or wrong does not apply here. The intent part being how the photographer sees themselves. Having spent thirty years as a commercial photographer, the ultimate point of things is 'pleasing the client'. Your income depended on it. With artistic pursuits, only one thing matters; putting one's artistic vision on the paper in a way that connects with the viewer, 'seeing' what the printer saw, connecting emotionally with the image same as the printer.

A photographer usually always has a camera in their hands, taking prolific amounts of shots, stored as thousands of negatives, or tens of thousands of digital images on a hard drive. That's what photographers do, and if someone likes one of the images, the photographer makes a print and sells it. That's been going on for over a century. What is somewhat new, more recently, relatively speaking, are photographers who count themselves as 'artists'. Again, this has nothing to do with 'artists take better photos' or any other such metric. It has to do with what the photographer wants out of their work.

Those seeing themselves as 'artists', will likely have lots of images behind them as well, but what they focus on is their work, making prints, whether anyone buys a single one, or ever. Making those prints, to build a body of work, is a record of the printer. Otherwise what one has a personal theory. A digital image on a hard drive is not 'one's art'. It is a digital image, representing what could be one's work. Yeah, I know, sounds a bit nit picky but there it is.

I tend not to gather a lot of friends with the above sentiments. I know I've garnered a moniker within one group of photographers for my persnickety thoughts on photography. I love photography. I began taking black & white images from a Brownie knock-off in 1961 when I was thirteen. I've been doing it ever since; professionally since 1982. A thing remains a thing no matter the name put to it. Simply put, an artist has at least a portfolio of their work. Eventually, it would be expected to have several portfolios, making a body of work. When I owned a gallery, in Eugene, Oregon, in 1984, having such a body of work was mandatory to get into the gallery. I represented thirteen photographers, and all had about ten years of experience, with a body of work to show for it. Each had their own style.

The current print I am working on is getting more thought from me than most other prints I've even done, with the exception to "The Flute Player". That was twenty one print layers, using thirty six colors. I did a lot of thinking on that one. The considerations I'm making on this current print has more to do with interpreting the scene itself, than on the variant ways of doing it. They question was simply, how do I want this image of an old cabin, with odd things in the setting, with window to the outside. A standing at the at the counter, with window. There is ample shadow in the setting, some quite deep, much in zone 2 territory.

The question I had was, how much of the image should be swallowed by shadow? How much textural detail should be seen outside the window, in full sunlight, against dark shadow? 'The strongest way of seeing'. Then begin to add the gum. Where to hold the light, how much? Each gum layer darkening the wood, most in shadow. Lots of interesting interpretation, before the planned printing, to hold each tonal range where it belongs in the planned finished image. That's the task. Seeing what you want to print. In the end, the print will be my vision, regardless of outside considerations. That, for an artist, is all that matters.


g. Michael Handgis Photography


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