Friday, October 28, 2011

End of Silver Gelatin Prints at the Library of Congress

Start of a glide, Orville and Wilbur Wright, collection of the Library of Congress

My recent article for Washington City Paper is this week's arts feature. You'll need to read it before reading the blog post.

Initially a 2800+ epistle was whittled into a 1500-word essay, and stands as another testament to the relationship between writer and editor. I've been lucky enough to do some freelance writing for CP for the last 16 months, and Jonathan Fischer has been a heckuvan editor (not to take anything away from Erin Engstrom and Ally Schwartz, who have edited most of my smaller ditties for City Lights). I don't know if he has made me a better writer, but he has certainly made my writing look better in print.

Two elements didn't make the print edition.I thought I would share them here.

The first bit was about Jantzen in the 1980s. His first job was working as a preservation technician for the Library of Congress.
The negatives he worked from were not the original negatives. Jantzen knows this first
hand; he used to be employed by the Library in the 1980s as a contracted preservation
technician. One of his responsibilities was quality control on negative duplication. “Part
of my job was to make certain the duplicate matched up with the original. You know. No
big hairs [on the duplicate negative].” Because materials become brittle as they age, the
Library of Congress duplicated the negatives in their collection so they could continue
to provide duplicate prints of work in the collection without damaging the primary
artifact. “When I first heard of it I thought it was bull shit – that you could not have a
duplicate that would behave the same as the original. And, I was stunned [ at the result].”
He wondered what it would be like to print with the duplicate. 20 years later, he became
that guy.

The second bit that was not included was a note on the developing process.

The process of developing a silver gelatin print lacks the immediacy of digital
photography. The film, a negative image, is dusted off and set in the negative carrier,
which is then placed in the enlarger. Light shines through the negative and projects an
image onto an easel below. To figure out the right exposure, a single sheet of silver
gelatin paper is placed on the easel, and strips are exposed to various durations of light.
The paper is developed through successive liquid baths, which reveal the image and
desensitize the strips of silver within the paper to any further exposure to light. The
various strips determine contrast and brightness, and allows Jantzen to make an informed
decision about how long to expose the print. That first print he likens to a rough draft. Usually
those are good enough for a basic print. However, since he does not know what client
requested the image from the Library of Congress, he has to assume the print must be
exhibition quality.

A second print is exposed, and Jantzen goes through steps called dodging and burning.
Dodging is a process of blocking light to allow more detail to appear within darker
sections of the print. Burning is a process of over-exposing very light sections of the
print, again to allow more detail in those areas of the composition. . “If there was a slight
difference between an almost perfect print and a perfect print, I’ll expose more paper.”
Detailed notes are taken throughout the process. In the end, the prints that require it will
receive spotting and etching. Spotting is the process of adding dabs of dye to the print to
obscure dost spots that affixed to the negative when the original negative was initially
processed. Etching is the process of taking a knife to the final print an scraping away bits

of silver gelatin to reveal more details and value within the darkest parts of the print. The
final step involves toning the prints to give them a warmer quality. 

On a final note: One thing I constantly find of interest is how quickly digital has evolved. This might be the reason why I have chosen to write about the issue with the Library of Congress as well as an early critique of the Photo Annual at Artisphere. I bought my first digital camera in 2003. It was a 5 megapixel (mp) point-and-shoot (pas) and it cost $800 refurbished. Today 5 mp is standard on an iPhone and you can buy a 16 mp pas for around $100.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

I Got Vandalized

In April, Christopher Knight via the L.A. Times CultureMonster blog tossed some criticism toward the Washington City Paper (specifically Kriston Capps, Jeffry Cudlin, and I), for an article that made fun of an unsuccessful attack on a Gauguin painting. (Unfortunately we couldn't become web-famous for a day, because he didn't mention us by name... he did call us dumb.) The biggest offense in our blog post was not that we pretended there were other works of art we'd destroy first, but that I claimed to defacing a Sol LeWitt wall drawing weekly. (Which is ludicrous on many levels.) Several other art blogs were upset at us because they expected better. Perhaps they were right. (Though, in our defense, I still maintain that we wrote the piece for the blog of a weekly tabloid four days after April Fool's Day, and that the tabloid gets a large sum of revenue from "adult" shops. The New York Times the Washington City Paper is not.)

Christopher Knight might be tickled pink to learn that Karma has turned its ugly head. Last week,

Friday, a group of MoMA Young Associates came down to see the WPA's Options 2011, amongst a few other stops. They toured the exhibition and listened to some of the artists discuss their works. When it was my turn to speak, I stopped mid-sentence and noticed that someone had amended my installation.

My past couple of blog posts have mentioned this work. It's a series of collaborations with day laborers, whom I hired for 30 minutes to complete an hour of labor, and to discuss their experiences. Most of the laborers are immigrants, and some I learned are illegal. We've discussed labor issues, abusive treatment, sneaking into the country, being unable to sneak out as easily, and personal stories about family, lost love, and politics. I've been fairly fortunate that my work in the exhibition has received some mention in The Washington Post and on Pink Line Project.

The work in the show is an installation of completed projects - documentation, if you will. On the wall behind the saw horses, lumber, fasteners, and tools, are accounts of my conversations with these men. One of the men told me a story about the woman he intended to marry upon his return to Mexico. He hoped to return to Mexico a year after he left. He's been stuck in the States for four years, and she has since married and had a child. He called her Ani, and he wrote her name on a board in nails. As I began to talk about the projects to the MoMA Young Associates I looked down. Some ass hole added a series of nails in the shape of a triangle.

I've worked as a carpenter's assistant. I know it's not uncommon for crews to "correct" the work of a "Mexican" (as some of these men are called by passersby - a lot of them are not from Mexico). This was not work that needed correction. Alas, it is now a part of the piece.

Considering the work is conceptual, and that the story is the more profound piece of art, I don't really think of the work as getting defaced. And, considering the climate of hostility toward illegal immigrants, I think its addition is fitting. I'm still peeved, though.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Here ya go, Google

I was thinking how Google might respond to the passing of Steve Jobs. So far they simply have a link to Apple's home page. I anticipate seeing something like this tomorrow morning, or on the next anniversary of Jobs' birth.