• Grant Handgis

Photo Books: Second Editions

Unfortunately, I have no new print images to offer up for the blog at this time, as I have been working on the five-book series on Photographic printmaking: The Alchemist's Guide; series. I completed the fifth book in February, completing the series. Being I have newer and better software to use for this four year project, I began updating the earlier books, changing the primary font for a more professional look, as well as laying out the interior better, brightening the photographic images and in general making the book a much better read.

I can say now that the books in the series are blissfully in final form now. I probably don't need to say this project has taken a great deal of time and energy over the years, although well worth the effort. That time and energy was split between writing and editing the books, and actually making the prints seen in the books. Each book covers one, or two, hand coated processes, with each book showing images from the respective portfolios printed along the way; now numbering ten portfolios.

I continue this blog for the photographers and hand coating printers who have shown interest in these alternative printing methods. Interesting, that adjective. The original printing methods, beginning mid-1850's with the gum bichromate and salted paper print, 1870's Platinum/Palladium and Silver Gelatin, 1890's the Kallitype. Now, they're alternatives; to current technological practices. And that, brings up an interesting thought.

For thirty-five years I have made the argument that technology alone does not impact the relationship between black & white photography and Art. "Make it easy" photography was embraced during the frontier days of the 1880's when Eastman Kodak began selling hand held "automatic" cameras; point, take snaps, send the camera to Kodak and get back prints. Anyone who has heard of the "little gallery 291" knows the fuller story. As a commercial photographer for thirty years I can attest to the phenomena of "easy photography". I was an event photographer for the final ten years, and saw the changeover from film to digital. The first time those little point and shoot film cameras began showing up on guests tables at events, my effectual job was cut in half. When the little digital point and shoot cameras showed up, I didn't have a job anymore.

Technological advances in photography is a fact of social life. What should remain constant with the genre of photography is quality. When it comes to using the word "Art" in front of photographic work, for me, the qualifying metrics be, that the print in question should be 'unique and rare'. A century ago, any photographer would have laughed uproariously at being asked if they were an "artist". They were photographers. What has been altered is the relationship between photographer and viewing public. A century ago there were precious few galleries compared to the ubiquity today, and the general population didn't have the money or time to be buying and collecting photographs to put on their walls.

All that, as an argument for limited edition printing methods. But that, apparently, is just me. And that, mostly, has been my experience(s) with local photographers, having garnered the moniker The Professor, and not in the good sense. That position tends to irritate the hell out of photographers I come across. Thus, I posit that position here, on my blog, where I can say whatever I want. I do walk the walk, however, having ten printed portfolios, containing salt paper, Kallitype, Palladium, Platinum/Palladium, Gum, and Gum over Palladium. The older portfolios are editions of [5], [3], and [2]], respectively, representing approximately half the print count. All gum and gum over palladium prints are unique; no copies, no artist's proof.

I hear the silly argument "that limits your print sales". Really? I would wager the same photographer posing that, would also tell you they have twenty-thousand images stored on a hard disk. Really? You intend on printing twenty-thousand images for sale, multiple copes each, in one lifetime? That, in my thinking, is the position of a photographer, as it has always been. Carry a camera around, capture great shots, make prints and sell them. That's the way it has always been. I did it for thirty years and charged for it. I never considered it "Art". Regardless of the technology utilized to capture the image, then digitally manipulated before printing via inkjet output, for me, it ain't "Art" if it remains in open editions. That, is photography, but that, doesn't tend to be "collectable"; for the simple reason no one is going to hand over hundreds of dollars to own a photograph that may, later, have hundreds or even thousands of copies to come.

What I do see, regularly, are photographers successfully selling their work at street fairs, farmer's markets and art shows. I have photographer friends doing just that and doing alright at it. A matted 5x7 = $15, 8x10 = $25, 11x14 (usually framed) = $50-$75. Considering Edward Weston got $50 for one of his prints in his day, tells you how popular he was even then. That's about $500 today, and said print may or may not have been matted.

The Modus Ponens to all of this simply this; This time, this blog are the culmination of my photographic history and knowledge. I began shooting black & white images in 1961, with a knock off of a Brownie camera. I began developing and learning real black & white photography in 1981. I was forced to turn that into a business form in 1982, beginning thirty years of photography as a profession. I opened what I like to refer to as a Fine Art Gallery, representing thirteen photographers, in 1984, a fire closed that late in 1986. I opened and operated a photography studio, with the help of two other photographers, one who remains a good friend. It was the gallery that shaped my thinking on photography. I am self-taught. My mentor during my learning years was, and still is, Alfred Stieglitz, shaping my gallery accordingly. Limited edition prints was something I was moving to make mandatory. Even Claire Trotter was in with that.

Now that the writing and printing for the photo book series is complete, my attention will once again be focused on printing. Now, there will be one image printed at a time, with that one print being unique. I will be focusing on the gum over palladium printing, as I have come to find that format the most rewarding for me. I will be staying with the 11x14 format as well, as doing so fulfills a dream of such printing, thirty-five years ago, when I began this journey. For those who have taken the time to read my posts, I thank you. Hopefully soon, I will have a new print to post. I continue to adapt the printing technique with the gum layering, spotting, to arrive at a unique printing style, a print that is worth, holds up to artistic scrutiny. That, is the point, the goal line, as there is no end to it, until the final print has been matted.

Where it all began: The Alchemist's Guide; series - Now second edition


g. Michael Handgis Photography


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