CAUTION: The following posting contains non-sacreligious profanity. CAUTION: The following posting challenges some cherished notions. CAUTION: This is *really* long. NOTE: At times below I'll "quote" Bruce Barnbaum. Mostly these aren't precise quotes but are used to try to capture the spirit of what he said and how he said it. I just returned from a 5.5 day workshop with Bruce Barnbaum and Don Kirby. Since there are occasional queries about good workshops to attend, I thought I'd do a big write-up about this one. I'm not going to go into great detail about techniques as I think that attending the workshop, or at the very least buying Bruce's book, will be of more benefit than the sketchy details that I could discuss here. Cost: $475 + $75 lab fee. I understand that the lab fee is going up to $150 as of now. This cost is exclusive of lodging, food and transportation and inclusive of use of Bruce's outstanding darkroom, equipped with 7 Saunders 4500 enlarger. Lodging at the nearby Mountain View Inn runs $20 per night if you're willing to room with someone (recommended as there are 12 students in the workshop and only 6 rooms at the motel, the only motel around). I, however, made it known that I really wanted a private room and was able to have one. (thereby saving some poor soul from utter exhaustion from being kept awake by my snoring :-) This made my lodging $40 per night. The lab fee includes all the 8x10 Kodak Elite paper that you want to use during the lab sessions. Come to think of it, there are camp grounds nearby and people with campers are welcome to stay on their grounds and use their shower. Where: At Bruce's home in the Northern Cascade mountains in Washington state. He lives outside of Granite Falls. Beautiful location. People flew and drove in from California, Michigan, Texas, Nebraska, Arizona, New Jersey and, even, Washington (state). Title: "Complete Photographic Process" Bruce does many workshops. This one is devoted to black/white photography from exposure of the negative to mounting/spotting of the print. Although there are 3 field sessions during which you can expose film, and darkroom time allotted to negative development, students are encouraged to bring negatives with them, especially "problem negatives", so as to be able to rework old images under the instructors' tutelege. Printing in his great darkroom using Saunders 4500 enlargers with Dichro heads is a promiment feature of the workshop. BTW - this was my first actual use of the Saunders. Great enlarger. Nice bright bulb, easy to use controls, very, very rigid and all around a pleasure to use. If I get a second enlarger I'll give very serious thought to this one. When: Four times per year - Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall. Contact: Photographic Arts Workshops P.O Box 1791 Granite Falls, WA 98252 (206) 691-4105 Who they are: --- ---- ---- Bruce Barnbaum is one of the world's most highly acclaimed b/w landscape photographers. His work is available in galleries throughout the U.S. I was interested to learn that he has made stunning color (Ilfochrome) images as well. If "money is the most sincere form of appreciation", then consider: his UNlimited edition 16x20's now command $750 and his limited edition 20x24's go for $2,500. But if you don't believe in price as a measure of one's work, then: He showed us his work every evening after dinner. Beyond belief. This guy is incredibly good. Image after stunning image after exquisite image. He showed us between 80 and 100 prints throughout the course of the workshop and, while some were not really to my personal taste, the quality was always wonderful. One might say "What is this? I pay hundreds of dollars to stare at someone else's photography?" But these "exhibitions" involved lots of questions and discussion ranging from technique to philosophy and were highly worthwhile. And just plain interesting. Some of his anecdotes about photographing in slit canyons (and just missing a horrendous flash flood) were fascinating and downright frightening. And I can't wait to hike the length of Buckskin Gulch! Bruce is one of the most dynamic people I've ever encountered. He seems to bring an enormous passion to everything he does. I'm certain that this is a large part of the reason for his success. It doesn't matter whether he's exposing film, printing, listening to classical music, fighting the proposed quarry which may destroy his lovely community or fighting the clear-cutting which is destroying so much forest habitat. Whatever he does, he does with every fiber of his being. At some times I found his intensity somewhat off-putting but at the same time I developed great admiration and respect for him. Plus, he has an inexhaustable supply of really great jokes and anecdotes, which he shares at every opportunity. Incredible supply of "groaners". Really terribly funny "groaners". :-) E.g: "You gotta pity poor David Koresh. All his life he wanted to be a priest but in the end he was only a friar." All together now: Grrrooooooaaaaaannnnn. :-) Don Kirby is, perhaps, less well known but is a marvelous photographer as well. Similarly, every evening he showed us his work and it was humbling. His interests seem to be largely Anasazi ruins, which he's explored extensively for the last 10 or more years, wheat fields in their infinite variety of form, and abstract patterns in rock. Don is more laid back but I detect a passion for the natural world as deep as Bruce's. Don's printing, like Bruce's, combines the bold with the subtle in a wonderfully expressive way. Like Bruce, he's an excellent teacher, able to explain the complex, patient and genuinely interested in helping people to grow. I'm impressed with Don in another way. He not too long ago realized a 10 year goal: early retirement and delving completely into his photography. For the last decade he's worked at building a body of work and taken much time off from work without pay in order to photograph and to assist other photographers in teaching their workshops. He is now co-instructor of this workshop and others with Bruce and will be leading his own in the near future (exploring Anasazi ruins in So. Utah). I'm really happy to see as good a person as Don being able to realize his dreams. All in all, two very remarkable people. Oh, and for those of us in the Bay area, the work of both photographers may be viewed at the Photographers Gallery in Palo Alto. I've not been there since Bruce's exhibit opened there 1.5 years ago but will get there soon to see Don's work. What the workshop is NOT: ---- --- -------- -- --- It's *not* about any of the following: * Lenses * Cameras * Lp/mm * "Rules of composition" * Rules of pretty much any sort - Mr.'s Barnbaum and Kirby are happy to tell you how they do things while maintaining that the student should be comfortable doing things completely differently if that's what works for the student. For example, Bruce doesn't permit anything that beeps in his darkroom. But if you prefer a metronome, mechanical or electronic, then use one. Just find what works for you and then do it. (As long as you don't try to bring chirpers or beepers into Bruce's darkroom. :-) * Introductory darkroom procedure * Mathematical formulae * A "fun photo tour" * A light skimming-over of everyone's work at the critique. * An ego building "soft-soap" praising of mediocre images during the critique. * Slides. Although I do think that a "strictly slides" photographer or a color printer could benefit greatly from the workshop, it's really oriented toward b/w printing. My color work, and I was the only person in the class who showed color work, was well received by both Bruce and Don, but, as I said, the real purpose of the class is b/w prints. Not once during the 85 hours that I was around Bruce and Don did they mention gear other than wrt darkroom stuff and in response to questions. They would discuss equipment in response to questions and at great length. But rarely did they raise the subject themselves. Bruce, btw, uses the old-style "Time-o-Light" timers on the enlarger, refuses to have anything that beeps in the darkroom, and seems to time his dodging and burning by intuition. With incredibly consistent results. I made a point of not mentioning my two-memory, multi-mode, beeping, digital electronic enlarger timer. Nor my Zone VI Compensating Developing Timer. :-) They are concerned with the production of images and seem to have little interest in gear, per se. I found this refreshing. I gather that Bruce uses a Linhof Technika (from photos of him with his camera) with a Tilt-all tripod. He's becoming quite enamored of his Mamiya 645, although he considers the image to be of insufficient quality to replace the 4x5, deeming it more appropriate for "hand-held" work. Don uses a Technika as well. What the workshop *is*: ---- --- -------- ---- * Intensive. We went from 7:00 a.m. until 11:00 p.m. every day except the final day which as a half day. Monday morning through Saturday noon. I normally drink 50/50 real and decaffeinated coffee as the pure stuff really affects me strongly. But during the workshop I was drinking the real thing all day and most of the evening and hardly noticed the caffein. Not a place for those who cannot function on less than 8 hours of sleep per night. Nor a place for those for whom photography is a minor part of their lives or whose interests lie more in hardware than in images. * A place at which people who are committed to this form of artistic expression have the opportunity to grow. * As much about what's going on inside the photographer as about specific techniques. * Excellent in every respect. Oh, BTW, Bruce's wife, Karen, was a wonderful hostess, making everyone feel welcome and comfortable in their home. I've come to think that once one leaves the urban areas it becomes impossible to find a cup of coffee that tastes like coffee instead of warm water. But they served really great (and really strong) coffee and great goodies to munch on during the long sessions and this added to the pleasure of the class. Even their dogs and cats added a lot of enjoyment to the class. What they teach: ---- ---- ----- * Composition and light. But he never once mentioned "rule of thirds" or other "rules". BTW - if you ask "then what is there to discuss about composition?" then you *really* need to take this workshop. I did. * Intro to the zone system 101. Or advanced study, depending on the group. But he's not a fanatic about it. He believes in making images, not in spending a lot of time testing materials. He notes that he's yet to see an exciting image from those people who are heavy into testing of materials. He didn't mention names, but I'd already noticed the same thing in the articles on materials testing by the "big names" that I see in the magazines. (Well, John Sexton might be an exception, but there are always exceptions.) * His film development techniques. Basically he uses Tri-X in HC110, exposed at EI of 160, although he's switching to HP5 because he thinks that it's "smoother" and he can expose it at EI 300. He uses hangers/ tank development and uses extremely dilute HC110 for "extreme contraction and compensation" development, such as for his exquisite slit canyon images and his awe-inspiring series on the interiors of the great cathedrals of England. These go down to N-6 but the prints are marvelous. I questioned them because I noticed in some test prints that Don showed featuring extreme contractions that highlight contrast was really low. The highlights printed along with the shadows on #2 paper but were very flat and lifeless. I was puzzled because I knew that the highlights in their fine prints are lively and full, even in those cathedral interiors where I knew that extreme "-" development had been given. The answer was that you just have to use a higher grade of paper so as to get the sparkle in the highlights and then you live with having to dodge the shadows and burn and flash the highlights. Bruce went on to say that he considers it a major error to try to select paper grade based on what will allow both highlights and shadows to print without dodging or burning: paper grade should be selected on the basis of local contrast and overall effect, not by an arbitrary standard based on how much manipulation you have to do. He said that when people do select contrast grade based on overall density range in the negative, the prints seem to be flat and uninteresting. I wouldn't make so general a statement about other's printing, but have noticed that to be true in my own printing. This was very heartening for me as I used to think that I had problems with highlights because I had to burn them a lot if I chose a contrast grade high enough to make local contrast look pleasing. Now he's confirmed what I've been coming to realize on my own: it's just in the nature of the medium. My "problem", always having to do lots of burning of highlights, is this master printer's normal way of working. He had a "self-published" copy of his text book (which will be formally published in the near future) and it contained his development times for both N +/- and compensating (extreme contraction). I'll not post them now as this is available from him in either the workshop or in his book. I bought a copy of this self-published version for $20 and think that it's worth far more. The formally published version, complete with photographs and other illustrations, should be an outstanding text, delving into the philosophy of photography and composition as well as the mechanics of the process from exposure through mounting and spotting. * His sophisticated printing techniques. We watched him print three new negatives for the first time. In 1.5 hours he had created what I consider to be a masterpiece, far beyond anything I've ever accomplished, regardless of how many weeks I've worked on a print. He employed the following techniques: - contrast grade selection (he works with Oriental Seagull graded and O.S. VC Select almost exclusively and for this print he used the graded). - Split developing to fine-tune contrast using both Selectol-Soft and Dektol on the same print. (Using his personal system of diluting the stock solutions double what the manufacturor recommends and then doubling development time.) With his long development times he doesn't worry about timing things. Just goes with how the image looks and his own (very accurate) internal clock. His intent is to develop to completion and as long as that happens he figures that timing isn't terribly important. He also doesn't measure terribly accurately. When he thinks that the developer is getting a little exhausted, he just picks up the jug of stock solution and "pours a bit in" without measuring. Yet he gets very consistent results. Methinks that there's a certain amount of intuitive genius going on here. And maybe my mechanistic, timed, measured approach is not really needed. Might even be distracting me from the important parts of printing? More than anything, I think that he was trying to wean us (or some of us? :-) from our mechanical aids and toward a more intuitive and sensing approach to photography. He was very disgusted with the "focus gauge" that I've been using, for example. "Too mechanical!" "Gadgetry won't make your photos interesting!" (Not real quotes, just attempts to capture the spirit of his comments.) - Dodging and burning using some really neat home-made burning tools. I've used something similar but he's refined the idea. I'll be making some for myself asap. - Selective pre-flashing of dense (in the negative) highlight areas. Hmmmmm. Actually it was "post-flashing" as he gave the flashing exposure after the main exposure. - Ferricyanide (aka Farmer's Reducer) bleaching of selected areas of the final print. This, btw, is different from dodging. Dodging reduces density overall in the area dodged. Bleaching increases contrast by affecting lighter areas more than darker ones. Select your tool as the individual case suggests. Also, bleaching can affect a far smaller area than can dodging. I've used this technique myself but never had any idea that you could do the things that this guy does. The difference between the unbleached and the bleached print was subtle but dramatic. The difference between a "nice print" and a masterpiece. I'll not discuss bleaching in greater detail, but will note that both Bruce's textbook and Ansel Adam's "The Print" give good pointers to get you started. - Print washing: he's somewhat cynical about the entire archival ruckus. He pointed out that every time you turn around there's some new theory about what's going to produce an "archival print" and how to wash, etc. Plus he has, as do I, minimal confidence in accelerated aging tests. Putting it all together, he didn't quite say that "archival processing is a crock of s***", but came very near to doing so. And, being a fairly earthy person, that's pretty close to how he would have expressed it. I didn't really know quite what to expect from him but was pleased and made to feel quite comfortable when 1) He commented that "if this isn't an archival wash I don't really give a s***" and 2) First thing at dinner was to get the carafe of red wine *NOW*!!. This guy I can identify with. :-) He puts his prints in a holding bath for anywhere from several hours to a day or so. Ack! We're leaching out all those brighteners, right? He contends that he can see no difference between a print soaked for 24 hours and one soaked for 10 minutes. Personally I've been thinking the same for some time now. His prints glow. Absolutely glow. Unexcelled luminosity, especially in the highlights. If this what a print looks like after it's lost its brighteners, then you can remove all brighteners from my paper, thank you very kindly. After the holding bath he selenium tones and uses an HCA bath. BTW - he uses quite dilute selenium to minimize his use of heavy metals and soaks prints for a long time. At that point he figures that there can be virtually no fixer left in the paper. So his final wash consists of soaking each print individually in a try of water for at least 10 minutes and then pouring the water out. He goes through this loop 3 times, squeegees the prints and air drys them on screens. Yup. He doesn't own an archival print washer. And here I just bought one! I also note that experts agree that using his "soak-drain" method of washing for an hour will produce an "archival wash", whatever that means. He's only doing so for 30 minutes, but with all the soaking that they're getting before the final wash, I strongly suspect that he's, unwittingly :-), getting an "archival wash", whatever (once again) that is. - There is no drydown! Basically, drydown is an artifact of viewing prints with dark-adapted eyes under overly bright lights. He has an article on just this subject in a recent edition of Darkroom Techniques so I won't belabor it. But he demonstrated his "two light" viewing system and it worked. The print, wet, looked no better than the dry print did. I *did* think that I saw a little more detail in some highlights in the dry print, but the sense of luminosity seen in the wet print was not lost in the dry print. Highlights did not look darker in the dry print than in the wet one. Get the Darkroom Techniques article. It'll explain it all. BTW - I was gratified to at last find in Bruce someone else who has noticed the incredible amount that FB paper swells when wet and who has theorized that some of the accentuation of detail in highlights of a dry print may be due to the print shrinking back to its dry size, compacting all the little specks of black silver. I've measured 16x20 paper to be, indeed, 16x20 when dry but 16x20.625 when wet. That's a large dimensional change. - In addition, many of his images are composites of two negatives. We watched him create a new one. A slit canyon image where two negatives had interesting stuff but also boring stuff. He combined them into one print (using two enlargers and easels) so well that you could never guess that the image was "manufactured". He did it in less than two hours "from scratch", never having printed it before, and did so without benefit of a scanner or computer. :-) * Don Kirby demonstrated using split filtration with VC paper to print a difficult negative (making a great image of a wheat field with storm clouds above it) and also printed an abstract in rock forms which he selectively bleached extensively, producing a huge change in the final image. I was amazed. I'd never known that you could use bleach to effect that great a change in a print. * Dry mounting of prints, including fixing defects (dimples and pimples) in the mounted print. * Spotting of dust specks and etching out of black marks (from scratches on negatives and from dust on negatives at exposure time) on prints. Other things that I learned: ----- ------ ---- - ------- * Paper storage: he removes the inner light-tight envelop and just trusts the box to protect the paper from light. Seems to work just fine. I find the inner envelope to be a pain and put my paper in a paper safe while working with it. But this is a pain if I'm switching contrast grades often. I'm considering trying his techinique. After all, all I have to lose is a few hundred dollars worth of paper, right? :-) * One of the "bibles" often cited here in rec.photo, "Overexposed", the book on photo darkroom hazards, contains at least one notable error. One of their previous students was director of the USC Medical School. The issue of toxicity of selenium toner came up during that workshop and when he got home he had a research team look into it. They concluded that selenium powder is, indeed, extremely dangerous if the dust is inhaled. As we all knew. But in solution it will not penetrate the skin. Period. So I've been wearing rubber gloves when toning for no reason. Guess I should probably refrain from drinking it, though. :-) Although Bruce didn't go into the details, he also said that the researchers found that the book contains several blatant errors on toxicity (all on the side of saying that things are more dangerous than they really are) and that it comments on the toxicity of at least one compound which just doesn't exist. He notes that he's found that mixing developer, stopbath and fix produces an excellent fertilizer. He used to dump it on his lawn and it seemed to thrive on the mixture. He does, now, use a "Silver Magnet" to de-silver his fixer before discarding it. * Get the hell out of PSA before you're permanently warped. (PSA is Photographic Society of America - the umbrella organization for many photo clubs). He constantly criticized me for following too many "rules", as dearly espoused by the judges in PSA monthly competitions. Especially wrt composition. He said that I needed to get the **** out of PSA before the damage is too extensive. Then said to forget it as it was already too late and I need to spend some time seriously working to unlearn the bullbleep. That I seem to have a lot of rules floating around in my head, especialy wrt composition, and that they were limiting me. I have now consorted with maybe half a dozen top fine-art photographers at workshops and classes. Not one has had anything good to say about this organization. I also note that I've not heard of any member of PSA who has attained the stature of any of these top fine-art photographers. I'm starting to detect a trend. * I, as was true for many other students, need to be more bold in the darkroom. Make big changes, instead of tiny incremental changes. Print with brighter whites and blacker blacks (I.e. more contrast.) They thought that many of my prints were muddy and liked them more when I reprinted them during the darkroom sessions to have far more contrast. Personally I think that they're somewhat too contrasty, but I see their point. I can see some major re-interpreting in the immediate future. * Bruce devotes a lot of time to questioning why we make photographs. In particular, before the critique each student was required to explain what he's trying to accomplish with his photographs. Make an "artists statement". Then he might ask questions like: "And what is this photograph trying to say?" "Hmmm. It doesn't really say that to me. Why? What are you trying to tell me about this subject?" The critique lasted as long as necessary to discuss each student's work in as much depth as required. There was no rush. With 12 students, there were 16 hours devoted to the critique. No sense of being rushed to get through. Each student had the undivided attention of both instructors. I've been to workshops where the "critique" took place in a three hour period for all 15 students. And was virtually useless. This was the opposite. Not necessarily completely comfortable but highly beneficial. I learned, maybe more than anything else in this workshop, that I need to work on the philosophy of my photography. I don't think that I can grow much more just by exposing film and making prints. I need to understand, and to be able to verbalize, just what it is that excites me and how and what I want to communicate about it to the viewer. This is very difficult for me but I'm now convinced that I must work on it. One guy was asking Bruce what was wrong that he couldn't make an exciting print from a particular negative. Bruce kept asking him what it was that he liked about the scene and what he was trying to communicate about it. The guy couldn't articulate it and was frustrated because Bruce wouldn't say "burn here and dodge there". Bruce maintained that the reason that he couldn't make an interesting print was because he didn't know why he was printing it and the student kept saying "I don't want to talk about composition, I want to talk about the technicalities." Interesting conversation. During my "artists statement" I said, rather apologetically, that I was a little embarrassed by my photos as everyone else's had been a relative homogeneous body of work whereas mine were "all over the map" - a still life, interior architectural, "grand vista", detail of a pond and grasses, ... Bruce asked first what was wrong with that? (I suspect that he detected a "rule") and then said that he thought that there was more commonality than I was recognizing. He didn't explicitly state what it was, but I have a sense that he's right. And I think that I need to figure out what it is in order to continue to grow. I will. * If you don't care about your subject then you'll never make an interesting photo of it. I've been coming to this realization on my own for a while but we talked about it considerably. I have now completely stopped "exposing film because I'm here, even though I'm not really finding anything super interesting". I realized that Bruce and Don are intensely involved with everything that they photograph and it shows in their prints. I think that I must feel the same or there's no point to bothering. As I said, I was tending in this direction before the workshop but this crystallized things for me. * Shun rules! Avoid rules! Break rules! Don't do rules! Down with rules! Don't justify your compositional choices by citing rules! We don't *like* rules! * Bruce prices his prints based on size, although he thinks that this is silly. He does so because the world expects it. But he only prints each image at one size, the size which he thinks "works" best for that image. He considers choice of image size to be an integral part of the creative process. He dislikes the "limited edition" concept and considers his bowing to the demands of galleries and starting a few limited editions to have been a really big mistake. There was much, much more to be learned in this class and from these people. However, by no means do I think that I've "gone to the mountain and come down with the commandments". Nor would Bruce or Don want students to feel that way. What I've learned is a little bit about how two extraordinary photographers work, think and feel and now I can incorporate these into my own way of working as works best for me. This is what they want the students to do. This workshop was an outstanding opportunity for growth and I cannot recommend it too highly.
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