|2001 22nd year ||Al Weber Newsletter |
Gossip, Books & Workshops
|Gossip: Act I||Well, its here. The War has begun. Digital versus traditionally made photographs. Two camps have formed. Pro and Con, plus a third group who is waiting to see; you know those who let others do all the fighting. Remember when photography was questioned as art? Remember when only black and white was considered fine art? Some of you are young enough to look forward to the next debate. Be assured, there will be one. Ive bought a new computer. Ive bought a photo quality printer. Ive bought a digital camera. BUT I am not closing down my darkroom. Traditional photographic techniques have been a part of my daily routine for many years and I am not about to alter that. If you have never worked for extended times in a darkroom, no one can explain it to you. That would be like trying to explain orgasm. A darkroom is a distinctly personal place. Everyone who has one, continuously modifies it until it fits, just them. Some are like a clinic. Most are like a slightly upscale cave. Fastidious people who have immaculate homes, will willingly hire a wood butcher to form a darkroom for them. Carpentry and plumbing found in lots of darkrooms are incredibly crude. Why buy a nice stainless sink when you can hire one made from plywood with ill fitting corners and sloppily applied epoxy for the same price. Yours is custom, and when working with it, it is very user friendly. You will never pry this element from their darkrooms. Never, Never, Never. |
I work with the computer as a word processor or to fuss with digitizing photographs. The monitor sits in front of a window with a view towards the Pacific Ocean. Adjacent shelves hold reference books, prints and the small trinkets all of us crowd around our desks; snap shots from friends and relatives, the eternal coffee cup, AND THE TELEPHONE. Sitting on my ergonomically correct chair, I believe this is what Stieglitz might term an equivalent. It too is a place where I can generate prints, be they not of silver of course, or azo dyes, but INKS.
In my last exhibit of 58 prints, only some were conventional. They were all framed with glass, and there were no descriptive labels as to process. During the opening, no one asked how the prints were made. I find I am getting more resentful about all this mechanical talk, which printer or scanner or paper. I once met a sculptor who I was told was the best in Finland. We talked about good coffee, we talked about attractive women; we didnt talk about his chisels or my cameras.
I rarely look at magazines, except Fine Woodworking, but once in a while one comes through the door, and I take a quick peek. Lenswork has thrown some fat in the fire with their program of archival silver gelatin prints from exceptional photographers at cheap prices. You can buy fine prints for $50 to $100. How can a great Wynn Bullock print be had for pennies on the dollar? Im not going into detail, and even if I tried I probably would goof it, but a quick explanation is that the photographer generates one good print, with all the controls available in the darkroom. This print is then scanned and a full-sized quality negative is produced, from which contact prints, back on standard black and white papers, are made. The result is remarkably handsome. It is not an original print. It still is a copy print, but a very good copy print. It is not unlike the method used by W. Eugene Smith, in which he made a best possible print, copied it and then printed from the copy negative. When looking at a Smith photograph it is obvious that his print making was laborious and time consuming. There was extensive bleaching, for instance. To make duplicate prints would have been tedious. For some time I have been watching Huntington Witherill perfect this methodology. To my knowledge and in my opinion, what Lenswork is doing springs from Witherills work. And no one can fault either the photography or the craft of Hunter. (see book section) The question of value comes to the surface. Is this new printing approach valid? Let me pass along a short story. In the early 1980s an Ansel Adams Moonrise sold for $60,000 and it was in all the papers. (Incidentally it sold to a young man who was a bouncer in a bar in Boulder, Colorado who turned the print immediately for a profit.) At the same time, Todd Walker, one of the great photographers of our time, had a show in Tucson. Todd converted silk screen to litho on his press in the carport. As you entered the gallery, there was a small table with a stack of Todd Walker lithographs, all hand made by Todd. On the wall was a tear sheet describing the Ansel Adams transaction. Another sign on the wall, directly above the Walker lithos said, Free, take one. Does one buy the art, or the craft?
To those opposed to this digitizing process, let me remind you that besides Smith, copying and reprinting has been going on for a long time, usually undetected and usually not mentioned. The 1944 photograph of Woman behind Screen Door, Independence, California, Plate 8, Portfolio V, by Ansel Adams is made from an 8x10 copy negative made by George Waters from a heavily retouched print, including air brush work. Morley Baer obviously had copy negatives made. I saw a print at Photography West Gallery in Carmel that had a distinct dot pattern. I saw the same print, offered as an original, in a print auction.
So this business of duping, digitizing, scanning and copying should come as no surprise. In some form or other, it has been going on for a long time. If you owned a print by W. Eugene Smith from the Minamata series, and found it was printed from a copy negative, would you discard the print? Not me, baby. I have worked most of my life in commercial photography. I am familiar with copying black and white photographs, using Kodak 4125 copy film. Rarely is a copy inferior to the original. Usually, it is better. Some day when I get old, I may make some special edition prints by copying. Doug Busch thought of this several years ago, and at that time I was opposed to it. Ive changed my mind. By using copy film, one wouldnt need an expensive scanner or a computer at all. The whole process would be totally photographic and manageable in any darkroom. Gee.
|The Dwindling Market of Photographic Materials|| |
Complaints about the quality and availability of black and white enlarging papers are topical. There are references to Varigam, Varilour, Medalist, Kodabromide, Ansco Jet, Defender, Velour Black, Opal, Indiatone and Azo. The only one left from that list is Azo, and Im told by those who contact print that it isnt what it used to be. It seems that current papers dont have the character of earlier papers. They are without personality. Then we had Agfa Brovira, Portriga Rapid, Ilfobrome, Oriental Seagull, Pal (there was a nice paper, especially the chloro-bromide) Poly-Contrast followed by a couple other variable contrast papers, Brilliant, Elite and Gallerie. Ive stayed with Gallerie. It gives consistent results although the base isnt as white as Id like. In the fifty years Ive been printing, papers have changed. Im not sure the change is all bad, it seems more of a change to align with contemporary taste. Cars have changed, clothes have changed, houses have changed and quite obviously, cameras have really changed.
This unsettling among black and white print makers, due partially to all the changes, may be responsible for a resurgence in alternate processes. Of these, Platinum/Paladium has certainly been the most popular. Now, with digital imagery motoring up to speed, we see the old black and white slipping further and further behind. One might say this is simply the way the pendulum swings. We probably will see manufacturers lose interest in B/W, as that market dwindles. It no longer is the main stream item it once was. Well, what are you going to do about it? I dont have the wonderful (in my mind only) old papers, but somehow the newer papers work alright. Good things come from problems it seems, and for me, this change has forced me to look at unprinted negatives. Now, instead of going to Point Lobos for the day, I slip into the darkroom and see what might be in the 1967 file that I overlooked when I was 37 years old. Being older and less mobile has changed my outlook for many things. Some long days in the dark room are interesting, and there is an occasional find, one that was overlooked, that can now be brought to life and slipped into the portfolio. With all the hype about vintage prints, its hard not to cheat a little and date the new prints back to when the film was shot. When I was young, I really thought I was a great printer. Now that Im older, I realize I wasnt so hot. If I were to buy an Al Weber print today I sure as hell wouldnt want an early print. I notice some photographers have memory lapses; they just cant recall when a print was made. Shades of Ronald Reagan. David Vestal sent me a print (a very nice print at that) and I was interested in his numbering system, which he explained to me in a half page of single spaced type. Intriguing to be sure, but beyond me and my work.
|Books: Act II|| |
It seems books I like sometimes are not available at the bookstore down the street. The local booksellers are complaining about the chain outlets; all the while not carrying books I want. The chains are wonderful if you like TV dinner-type publications, but forget it if you want to see a small press. For several years Ive told you about books from Ten Speed Press and Nazraeli Press, two of my favorite small publishers. New Leaf Press in Los Angeles does neat stuff; none of which can be found at Barnes and Noble or Borders. Noel Young at Capra Press, one of the West Coasts premier publishers has fallen to ill health; Peregrine Smith, now known as Gibbs Smith, has become what I term, contemporary yuppie. Aperture is a joke. What has happened to those real books of yesteryear? Well designed, with real content, nicely printed by intelligent people. Why cant publishers like Aperture and Smith do what they used to do? Have we reached a stage where this is no longer a possibility? Im told that to get a good book into print, in a quality format, it might cost $75,000. I remember when publishers paid authors an advance against future sales. Talk about vanity press in action. Im listing a few books and will make some of them available. Some, like Gordon Hutchings Book of Pyro, are not available on the Monterey Peninsula. For me, this is a must book for any serious black and white photographer. Tell me why, in the Mecca supposedly of black and white photography, not one camera store, not one book store carries it. You can buy the TV dinner-type schlock at the local storesits like Christmas advertising before Thanksgiving; tasteless, but what the marketing people direct. God bless Stanford. God bless Yuppies. God bless dot.com-itus. The following books listed are no bargains, but they are available. You will pay retail plus packaging and shipping, and sales tax if you are in California. If it is a used book, Ill say so and probably charge an outrageous price as a penalty to you for not buying it when you should have.
High-Lonesome Books, Silver City NM. Web site at: High-LonesomeBooks.com and a catalogue listing new and used books of interest to anyone who loves the West and the great outdoors. One teaser. Tales from The Bloated Goat. $4.95. Who could resist such a title? Last year I found a early Elliot Porter book on the southwest in B/W. Swell.
To purchase books, (except Orchestrating Icons, Healing Energy and the two by Nancy Linn) send a check to Al Weber along with the titles. California residents must add 7% sales tax. Packaging and shipping, $5 first book, $2 for each book thereafter. Cash or check only. No CODs. Call first (831 624-5535) about used books.
Special Edition Prints. I have made special edition prints since 1979. The idea has been that I could offer prints at reduced prices. The number has always been limited; sometimes 100, sometimes 25. Some years I skip the program for a breath of fresh air. Thats what Im doing now.
Poster. How about a nice quiet poster, 20x24. Laser printed by Bill Nordstrom. Hanks Trading Post in Arizona, the best trading post ever. Photo by AW and the Tag-A-Longs. $25 plus s&h($8).
|The Workshops: Act III||#1. The Nevada Landscape. May 6-16. $200.* |
Nevada has always been that place I drive through to get where Im going. Ive always said to myself, Someday, Ill work this landscape. Someday has come.
For ten days the workshop will traverse Nevada, from the Oregon border to Las Vegas and back up to Pyramid Lake. We will search out places of interest to photograph and camp. Everyone must be self contained. It will be better if you have been with me before; like in the Southwest, The Sierras, the Mojave Desert, Utah Slickrock, Colorado High Country or Jackson Hole.
In 1970, a man from Fresno joined my workshop in Big Sur. He was a Superior Court Judge on the outside, but a Motherlode cowboy on the inside. He traveled with me more than twenty years. Hes gone now, but Ill never get him out of my system. I still look in my rear view mirror and see his truck. I can still smell and taste the fantastic beans and onions he cooked. His day started with a Henrys Birthday, (bourbon and orange juice), and ended the same way. Although his Aristocrat camper would sleep four, the way he traveled, there was barely room for him. Numerous ice chests, a case of Ancient Age, cheap red wine for dinner, a couple of cameras, a sawed-off shotgun, a .38 cal revolver (liberated from a murder trial) one clean shirt, just in case, and a greasy old slouch cowboy hat. He was a fixture in my workshops, and everyone loved him. They couldnt help it. He had a thing for Nevada. He always wanted me to do a workshop to photograph just brothels. It was tempting, but it didnt quite work out.
Im looking for a dozen easy going, non-whining, not-too-clean independent souls who can think for themselves, who like to photograph, hang out in small beer halls, sit in the sun, read a book, shoot a little pool, maybe play a few hands of poker, you know, the kind of stuff Denver Charles Peckinpah would have done were he here.
#2. The Alabama Hills and Owens Valley. September 23 to 26. $175.
#3. The Southwest. 30 September to 10 October. $500.*
#4. Rendezvous at Songdog Ranch. 19-21 October 19-21. $115.
#5. The Halberstadt Memorial Retreat and Workshop. January 4-6, 2002. $175.
#6. Death Valley Junction. March 15-17, 2002. $175.
The Times Between: The Tag-A-Longs.*
Lets hear it for Stephen Johnson. Working from a studio and gallery complex in Pacifica, California, Steve runs a fine series of workshops directed towards digital photography. No one I am aware of is as advanced as Steve, and few others have the proper training to teach. Steve offers the complete package. Not a rented space with tired old computers, but a real digital lab, with state of the art equipment and printers and scanners and ... expertise you wouldnt believe. Soft-spoken and easy going, Steve has years of experience and it is all on the walls. Write for a brochure and calendar of on going classes. Stephen Johnson, 580 Crespi Drive, Suite A2, Pacifica CA 94044. 650 355-7507. email: firstname.lastname@example.org AND check his webpage: www.sjphoto.com
Sacred Earth Photography. Workshops with Cynthia Johnson-Bianchetta. For those who know Esalen Institute, where Cynthia has taught for many years, the door opens. Skilled in the craft of photography, Cynthia outlines that the workshops also include Poetry and Journal Writing, Circles of Sharing and Ritual, Meditation and Gentle Movement. The workshops run throughout the year, but it appears the feature program is a six day retreat exploring the Polaroid Transfer called Womens Creativity Retreat. May 13-18, 2001 in Cambria California. For information, 831 667-2502 or email email@example.com
Sun Mountain Photography Workshops. PO Box 1007, Virginia City Nevada, 89440. Noland Preece and Erik Lauritzen run workshops from the old St. Marys Art Center in Virginia City. Two that appeal to me are: 1. Black and White Photography and The Nevada Landscape, $450, and 2. Noland Preece-Intaglio Techniques, $400. Lodging in what was the town hospital is included. Lab facilities are very good. St. Marys Art Center offers a summer series of art programs, modestly priced and lots of fun. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org for Sun Mountain information and also St. Marys.
Don Cameron in Santa Clara is doing a field workshop, A Photographic Exploration of the North Coast, May 17-20. Call him at 408 727-7763 or fax 408 982-9243. e-mail: email@example.com. Good guy, knowledgeable and efficient. From his studio, Don also has a running series of classes and tutorials. If youre in the Silicon Valley area, his in-house program is most convenient.
Other Newsletters. I hold fast that David Vestal still writes the best newsletter in the country. Grump. PO Box 309. Bethlehem CT. 06751. Cant beat it. $30 for six issues. I also like Post Factory Photography. Crammed with pages of highly detailed craft and comments. A great guide for buying stuff. $24 for 4 issues. 61 Morton Street. New York, NY 10014.
Press 9 to forward all complaints and gripes, and Ill see you when I see you.
Application for a workshop
Please print and mail; I'm not accepting anything over the Internet. Yet.
city, state, zip:
workshop number and name:
tuition enclosed: $
I have read the workshop description and policies, and understand them: ___ (initial)
If you sign up for a workshop and find you cannot attend, all of your money will be cheerfully refunded, no questions asked, if you give notice three days prior to the start of the workshop. NO SHOWS will pay a 20% late fee.
* These workshops call for extensive driving. There will be days when 200-300 miles must be covered. There will be some really rotten, twisty up and down narrow roads, not impassable for a car, but rough and dirty. (They all lead to great photographic sites) All vehicles must have reasonable road clearance. Basic map reading skills are necessary. Finicky eaters or those on tedious diets may find the road trips impractical.