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Thread: Pictorialism - Soft focus and alternate processes

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    Pictorialism - Soft focus and alternate processes

    I have two sf lenses and have been exploring my vision with them. Wandering through history most of my favorite soft focus images are from the pictorialism era. It appears the combination of soft focus and grain/contrast during development created that wonderful style of image know of the movement at that time. During the transition to modernism the usage and soft focus has steadily declined. There are beautiful samples on this site from photographers like Gandolfi/JP and Gali who combine the lens and process to great effect.

    Nocturne by Karl Struss http://www.cartermuseum.org/artworks/297
    Brooklyn Bridge, by Edward Steichen 1903 http://www.flickriver.com/photos/pho...us/4789322126/

    Both these samples are beautiful minimalist images.

    Do sf images require the alt processes to move you?

    What are you favorite alternate processes for soft focus landscape or people images?

    For those of you practicing these combinations do you feel like your paying homage to the past or have simply found your chosen medium of expression?

    I welcome any discussion or thoughts you may have.

    Regards Lee Simmons

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    Mark Sawyer's Avatar
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    Re: Pictorialism - Soft focus and alternate processes

    There's been quite the resurgence of soft lens work over the past decade or two, most of which I think is owed simply to the beautiful signature these lenses give. But one of the funny things about it is that the images are often printed on air-dried glossy fiber-based papers, the choice of the f/64 movement that decried the soft look. I think there are subtleties of the soft lenses that are often lost in the alternative processes, and similarly, the signature of an alternative process is often in competition with the signature of a soft lens. Relatively few are using the soft lenses with the old processes, even as the old processes made their own comebacks...
    "I love my Verito lens, but I always have to sharpen everything in Photoshop..."

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    Re: Pictorialism - Soft focus and alternate processes

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Sawyer View Post
    I think there are subtleties of the soft lenses that are often lost in the alternative processes, and similarly, the signature of an alternative process is often in competition with the signature of a soft lens.
    Thanks for the insight Mark. Food for thought.

    "air-dried glossy fiber-based papers"

    I think for me that's part of it. My printing to date is a scan and luster digital print which feels incorrect with these lenses. I have no experience with alt processes. I have an interest in Gum bichromate, Platinum and carbon printing. With a family and limited space I have to pick a poison and stay with it for a while.

    Again appreciate the thoughts

    Lee

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    LF/ULF Carbon Printer Jim Fitzgerald's Avatar
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    Re: Pictorialism - Soft focus and alternate processes

    Well, I own and use several wonderful soft focus lenses and have always been a fan of this movement both past and present. For the longest time I have wanted to perfect my work with these lenses for landscape and especially portrait work printed in carbon. As I move into retirement I hope to devote a lot of time to working on making better prints in this style. When I use a soft focus lens I always feel that the mat fiber paper gives me the soft look I am after. Completes my vision so to speak. When I got into carbon some eight years ago I started in the F-64 style of sharp high relief prints. I still print this way and I love it. But for the pictoralist style mat paper is the way to go. My thoughts only. It is just how I print.

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    Re: Pictorialism - Soft focus and alternate processes

    Quote Originally Posted by LeeSimmons View Post
    I have two sf lenses and have been exploring my vision with them. Wandering through history most of my favorite soft focus images are from the pictorialism era. It appears the combination of soft focus and grain/contrast during development created that wonderful style of image know of the movement at that time. During the transition to modernism the usage and soft focus has steadily declined. There are beautiful samples on this site from photographers like Gandolfi/JP and Gali who combine the lens and process to great effect.

    Nocturne by Karl Struss http://www.cartermuseum.org/artworks/297
    Brooklyn Bridge, by Edward Steichen 1903 http://www.flickriver.com/photos/pho...us/4789322126/

    Both these samples are beautiful minimalist images.

    Do sf images require the alt processes to move you?

    What are you favorite alternate processes for soft focus landscape or people images?

    For those of you practicing these combinations do you feel like your paying homage to the past or have simply found your chosen medium of expression?

    I welcome any discussion or thoughts you may have.

    Regards Lee Simmons
    Appreciate the compliment!

    I enjoy pictorialism AND the 1920-30's messy mix of pictorialism and modernism.

    I develop all film the same, so I don't consider grain and development necessary peculiarities at present. finished output texture is important. Many times the grain in old photos is from the gravure process which didnt use line screens like later printing. hand made prints also used paper with nice texture sometimes. Processes like Gandolfi do definitely create texture in the final product.

    SF and alt process. Its not so much a love for alt process, but the simple reality that many photos can be made that don't output well on glossy (or sometimes any) silver gelatin print material. Some alt processes are not practical for fast paced image making (e.g. copper plate photogravure). Due to time constraints I do silver prints, cyanotypes, and inkjet. If I were retired I'd probably get into more historically accurate methods like photogravure, platinum, salt prints, etc.. The most famous pictorialism images seemed to end up as photogravures (camera work featured pictorialists, book illustrations, artists like Edward Curtis whose final output was book), which isn't practical for me as it apparently takes considerable time and money to print that way. Some of the later pictorialist work looked good in silver, but it tended to be matte prints; platinum was in short supply for WWI and wasn't as commercially available after the war for manufactured photo paper.

    So to be practical, I think inkjet on matte paper is probably the most versatile option presently. I also do cyanotype as I can tone them warm shades with tea and coffee. Sometimes matte silver paper works well, particularly matte and/or warmtone. Art300 paper is good for some things that are not super soft. Foma makes some super creamy warm papers too. Silver is OK if the images err toward abstract. If it's about the final image, inkjet is not heretical. I'm not a purist. However, pictorialism was part or at least closely related to the arts and crafts movement, so an aspect of physical craftsmanship/handiwork is an essentiail ingredient which may preclude some people from using inkjet. I also mount my own photos, cut my own mattes, etc..so I think I still have handiwork in it. My next step is to get the woodworking tools and skills to build nice simple frames.

    As you seem interested in output, another factor is the size. Many images get too sharp if you shrink them, many images get to soft as you enlarge them. Knowing the constraints of output size is also important to success here. They may look nice any size on the computer, but on paper, things work different.

    For a reader to determine what they like, there is no substitute for visiting musuems and galleries which have original pictorialist work. I have been to a few exhibits and galleries and observed everything from paper texture, overall shapes, sizes, and tones of images, mattes and frames where original, etc.. Follow that up with books. They are cheap used from amazon and other online book sellers. Visit other artists too. A print exchange and workshop have proved fascinating and inspiring in this regard.

    I'm not out to duplicate it or pay homage to the past. I honestly think the movement ran out of steam too soon before it had a chance to grow up and explore it's possibilities. This was due to WWI and the distraction and excitement of modernism. I like to think practicing it today is reviving it and giving the style a chance to grow a little more and see what the possibillities are for it's abiltiy to be expressive, particularly with a century of hindsight. Doing pictorialist photography is learning. I also think pictorialism is excellent and authentic training should one want to pursue 1930s-50's modernism. The composition, minimalism, & mood so evident in pictorialism never go out of style, even when the themes and visual language change. It was a good teacher for the masters of modern.

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    Re: Pictorialism - Soft focus and alternate processes

    Also, having a couple sf lenses and some curiousity doesn't take you far. You need to use them exclusively for about 15 outings and 100 sheets of film to start getting photos you like consistently. It's a tough learning curve and I think that contributed to it's demise. Sharp and well exposed photos are much simpler and perhaps less subjective to create.

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    Re: Pictorialism - Soft focus and alternate processes

    Do sf images require the alt processes to move you?

    No. The very early grainy images you're referencing are probably bromoil's. I DO think that process might have something to add, but . . . and this is a big but, you'd just end up with prints that looked like you were trying to copy Alvin Langdon Coburn. Plus I'm too lazy to be bothered.

    What are you favorite alternate processes for soft focus landscape or people images?


    I promised myself that I'd make a pile of negatives now and print platinum / palladium when I'm retired some day. Odds on that actually happening are poor. For now, I scan to see what we've got and they get filed. I post a few here because y'all are so kind to me.

    For those of you practicing these combinations do you feel like your paying homage to the past or have simply found your chosen medium of expression?

    The latter. I've found MY voice in the soft focus images, not someone else's. But I'm not locked in that jail. I make many many sharp images too.
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    Re: Pictorialism - Soft focus and alternate processes

    Thank you Jim and JP for your responses. Jim I was looking through your Black Oak Project last night and really enjoyed the images. I like "In my dream" amongst others. Photographing trees for me often brings forth a rich mindfulness. I imagine the prints in carbon are amazing.

    JP thanks so much for the relevant and wonderful insights. You articulated many of my internal tripping points so well.

    I'm not out to duplicate it or pay homage to the past. I honestly think the movement ran out of steam too soon before it had a chance to grow up and explore it's possibilities.
    I know they were competing with painters but it was so staggeringly good I found it hard to believe the movement evaporated. To this day many of the images are truly contemporary and solid.
    All of us wish to create a vision and not just dig up an old technique to parade around. Thank you for your perspective.

    Also, having a couple sf lenses and some curiousity doesn't take you far.
    Thanks for the kick in the ass. You know its funny. I've been a working professional for almost 20 years. I'm paid to know what the image is about before I hit the shutter. However the nuances of soft focus photography are elusive, unknown. That steep learning curve is definitely part of the draw. That and I feel the world is full of sharp information rich images that this style is fresh.

    The print output size is a very experienced statement as well. I had experienced this but hadn't identified it as a variable.

    Thanks again for the your thoughts

    Lee


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    Re: Pictorialism - Soft focus and alternate processes

    You'd just end up with prints that looked like you were trying to copy Alvin Langdon Coburn. Plus I'm too lazy to be bothered.

    This has me smiling.

    I promised myself that I'd make a pile of negatives now and print platinum / palladium when I'm retired some day. Odds on that actually happening are poor.
    As does this.

    I've found my voice in the soft focus images, not someone else's. But I'm not locked in that jail. I make many many sharp images too.
    Thanks Jim.

    And that is what it's about. Finding your voice.

    Thanks Gali

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    LF/ULF Carbon Printer Jim Fitzgerald's Avatar
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    Re: Pictorialism - Soft focus and alternate processes

    Lee, thanks. The image you reference is a favorite of mine. They really sing in carbon. Again Mat fiber paper completes my vision. They look like etchings when printed this way. I am totally hands on. I build my cameras and make hand made prints. I found my calling with carbon transfer printing. It gives me everything sharp or soft.

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