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Thread: Robert Adams prints--printing technique?

  1. #1

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    Robert Adams prints--printing technique?

    I'm just back from Los Angeles where I squeezed in a few minutes between other obligations to see the Robert Adams show. (A public thank you to the staff at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art who got me and my two kids in for free when I explained I had only a half hour to spend.)

    It's a large show and I wasn't able to spend nearly as much time with it as I would have liked but one thought struck me that mitt be worth discussing here on the LFF--what is Robert Adams' general printing philosophy? I've seen many Robert Adams images over the years but never so many in one place at one time. Putting aside the many other issues that the show and the images might raise, I want to mention a technical issue--most of the prints looked lighter than "traditional" printing, even underexposed. Significant areas of white are simply paper white--clouds, chutes, etc.

    Clearly is was a deliberate choice.

    So two questions:

    1) Why did he print the images that way?

    2) Do you think his strategy (if that is what it is) in doing so is effective?

    --Darin

  2. #2
    Kirk Gittings's Avatar
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    Re: Robert Adams prints--printing technique?

    I knew him pretty well in the early 80's and spent some time with him in his darkroom-have lost touch since the mid 90's. I saw that show twice when it was in Denver with lengthy stays. The prints in that show are superb-many quite beautiful-though not my personal style. I would say that he starts with a fairly linear negative-with a lot of shadow and highlight detail and then prints for the mid-tones letting the highlights fall where they may. If he "felt" that the light was blindingly bright at the time of the shoot the that's how he will print it. He's more into reproducing how the light really felt-not romanticizing it. I think it is effective for his style-a kind of raw documentary aesthetic.

    I just did a panel discussion with Ed Ranney, a masterful traditional printer. Ed quoted and referred to RA a few times. I find it interesting how many traditional printers like Ed and myself have a lot of respect for RAs images and technique even when our own work is more in the AA vein (though over the years Ed's work has gotten more documentary in style too).
    Thanks,
    Kirk

    "When did photography become a desk job?" Kirk Gittings 2009

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  3. #3

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    Re: Robert Adams prints--printing technique?

    I obviously have not seen any of his prints in person, but I have 2 of his books. To me they are important because they represent a different printing style to what I have seen elsewhere. One of the problems with digital photography, is that it becomes much harder to develop a distictive printing style. It takes a lot of work to deviate much from the norm. So its good to look at his work and compare it to Vaughns mate who prints dark and even Nick Brandt whose book is printed very contrasty with a high dmax, and Walker Evans, Paul Strand, Lee Friedeman even.
    David

  4. #4
    Drew Wiley
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    Re: Robert Adams prints--printing technique?

    His technique seems pretty garden-variety for whatever era - dektolish. The understated
    manner of his printing and even the understated subject matter are more characteristic of his personal inclinations than of materials. How much of this ties into the "less in more"
    mentality of the 70's museum crowd is hard to say. It might not fly if he were just being
    "discovered" today. But I find his reserve and emphasis on nuance to be refreshing. You
    need to slow down and take in the prints.

  5. #5
    Drew Wiley
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    Re: Robert Adams prints--printing technique?

    Getting the look per se would be a tad tricky with today's paper selection. Simply lowering
    the contrast doesn't cut it. I'd probably choose EMaks graded and 130 dev with fresh glycin. A local photographer who does similar lovely understated work is Mark Citret - a
    former AA student who doesn't print anything like AA - and his paper of choice is no longer
    made either.

  6. #6
    Kirk Gittings's Avatar
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    Re: Robert Adams prints--printing technique?

    Mark Citret is an excellent example Drew. I forget what he prints on. He showed me his portfolio once-stunning. What does he print on now? I don't remember what RA printed on either but 30 years later it would be different anyway.
    Thanks,
    Kirk

    "When did photography become a desk job?" Kirk Gittings 2009

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  7. #7
    Drew Wiley
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    Re: Robert Adams prints--printing technique?

    Kirk - as I recall, Mark had stockpiled a lot of Kodak Polygrade, which went a bit off-color
    in Selectol Soft, much like the Ardol effect Caponigro liked. I haven't talked to him in at least three years. You might find his commercial architectural photog interesting. He picked up one of those expensive Toyo geared VX cameras with the urethane bellows.

  8. #8
    Drew Wiley
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    Re: Robert Adams prints--printing technique?

    I just checked, Kirk. It seems Mark has moved onto inkjet b&w printing, which would seem to be ideal for his particular kind of images. Gosh- how I must old-school Brilliant Bromide
    for soft "snatch" printing. Most papers now go bland if you pull them early, EMaks being a
    partial exception. The round-about method is masking, which I'll be doing tonite.

  9. #9

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    Re: Robert Adams prints--printing technique?

    I printed really "open" like RA when I got out of college and got slapped when I started assisting commercial photographers.... remember that lesson vividly. It is really hard to switch gears or to manage to print two ways.

    But with todays' digital imaging/RAW processing I think you see a lot of people trying to define themselves with their processing (lots of vignetting and consistently unnatural color).

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