Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Print Mounting


It's probably a good time to experiment with  print mounting if you have some rejects floating around.

Before that though many thanks for your comments re Joe and Agnes and Shan. A quick answer in reply to the relative values of the approaches in style. I'd say unequivocally that there can be no comparison in the value of one style over the other. It is important that we, and I don't just mean you and I but all professional photographers, have respect for other peoples' style. But I find it difficult to handle images which have poor technique (and find them being lauded by curators) and will continue to be critical in that respect. I think, in particular with B&W silver work, that it's important to push technical standards up to the limits. It's important not only from the point of personal satisfaction but also because world standards are extremely high and we need to match them.

Anyway, that aside, I want to get the issue of mounting out of the way. It's become tricky in recent years simply because both of us are familiar with dry mounting and it is now next to impossible to get archival tissue in Australia.

So, in my opinion, there are two avenues.

The first is not to permanently mount the prints at all. I see nothing wrong with using the tried and tested system of using archival tape to hinge mount prints in a matt. This has several advantages not the least of which is if the mount board is damaged over time it is a simple matter to remount/matt the print. This technique also allows the print to hang in the mount/matt which allows an air flow around it. Providing high quality acid free board is used the print will virtually last forever.

The principle, in fact I think the only, disadvantage of this system is that prints can be subject to warping, causing an undulating surface. This can be unsightly and is caused by changes in temperature and humidity.  The effect can be restricted by having a print with a very wide border. This doesn't entirely eliminate the effect but it does restrict it. I tend to print an image of about 12x16 inches on a 16x20 sheet of paper. That gives a 2inch border which helps a lot. It's also worth noting that prints, if they deteriorate at all, will do so from the very edges of the paper. This is often caused by insufficient washing and residual acid being left in the paper. It's a simple matter to trim those edges off.

I know many people see this as a waste of paper but I think that in any event it makes a nice presentation. Another thing I try to encourage collectors to do is not mount prints at all but keep them in a Solander box. They're expensive but are perfect protection for silver prints. Collectors can then underline the value of images by showing viewers prints on a viewing table under good light and wearing cotton gloves while handling them. I'm all in favour of getting prints out and talking about them in a group situation or one to one.

That said and done how do we get around 'proper' mounting - bonding the print to rag matt board - if we wish to?

For some years I have been using a product sold by Zeta Florence in Melbourne <http://www.zettaflorence.com.au/>. They stock all manner of archival materials, neg bags, Solander boxes etc. I use pure rice starch paste with neutral ph made by Lineco inc in Holyoke, USA (I left a bottle with you). Its not cheap but is cheaper than dry mounting and, to my mind, a lot better once you get a technique buttoned down. Hence needing a little practice.

It's very easy to mix up. The powder is talc fine and mixes very easily with water. It's important to follow the mixing quantities. In effect it's a very high quality wallpaper paste.

It's important to find a technique which suits you. I cut the matt and the mount board to the respective sizes and put to one side the centre from the matt.

I then use a couple of small hinges, using archival tape, to fix the print in position in the matt.

Now use a wide high quality brush to 'paint' the board evenly. The paste spreads easily and evenly. This takes a little trial and error as different boards have different absorption rates. It's important not to be over generous with the paste, nor to be too mean.

When the board is covered take the print and matt and gently lay them onto the pasted surface of the board. I actually find it easier to lay the print and matt face down and put the board on top. Doing that means the print doesn't flop about.

If you've done that turn the print over, face up, and put the centre of the matt into the original space. Now, take either a piece of glass of sufficient size to cover the print and mount or use the dry mounting press (with no heat) and place the mounted print under very gentle pressure. Remember that it is important to ensure there are no air bubbles in the print but I've never had a problem using this system. By gentle pressure I mean that it's important to strike a balance between ensuring that the print bonds evenly without the texture of the board showing through onto the surface of the print. As this is a wet process there is a danger that the board can swell.

The end result is the best I've had - better than dry mounting. It takes a little longer. And the big plus is that it is a reversible process. If the matt or mount become damaged it is only necessary to soak the whole lot in water and the print will float off. It will then be possible to remount it.

This is probably not a great example. I let the light reflect from
the surface of the print which is in fact absolutely  flat.
It looks a little textured as the canvas background
in the picture makes it look that way

I think that's covered that issue and I hope we can try a few prints when I come down in June (6-10).

Before I go can I have a moment of self indulgence? I went out on Anzac Day in Fremantle and shot a lot of (digital) snaps - just street shooting which I love and find quite relaxing. I was particularly pleased with a shot of an old Anzac being wheeled onto the parade ground. As this happened he reached into his jacket pocket, whipped out a hip flask and took a few swigs of something - I don't think it was lemonade.

Anzac Day Parade, Fremantle Esplanade, 2011                                                                                                 ©Roger Garwood

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


The portrait of Shan is sensitive and beautiful Roger.

I remember saying to you after I'd finished the studio shots with her that day and she turned still seated and started talking that I knew you had a good image there. Shannan carries herself with such grace through life that is often physically expressed and you caught that.

In relation to your technotalk re printing, you'll have problems convincing me that such an approach can work. Landscape negatives invariably require a huge amount of exposure/contrast manipulation throughout the print based on highlight and midtone values.

Portraits and approaches

I too as you know love the portrait of Joe and Agnes at their camp Roger. Firstly a setting like that is rare and too good to pass up - you'd have been mad not to shoot some 'wider' frames including it even if you were seeking simpler head and shoulder compositions.

Generally speaking though your discussion of approach and style is informative. It's about why we make photographs as we do, both coming from very different directions and motives. It is also about aesthetics and sensibilities and therefore subjective.

Does a photograph that tells a story have more value than one which asks questions or provokes stories in the viewer? I'm not going to enter the minefield of discussing value here but would suggest it is perhaps central to the question. Such photographs serve different purposes but there are fundamentals to what makes a good image regardless of context.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Dewi, one of the issues we discussed the other day was portraits and style, approaches to subject matter etc.  When you explained to me your motivation for your current project I felt: "Great, this is coming straight from the soul".
I'd also say that approach is a long way removed from the overly contrived photography which is swamping the planet. There would be many reasons for that.  Not looking at it from an intellectual standpoint a principle reason for this flood of what in many instances amounts to junk is the onset of the digital era where the camera actually takes care of too much. It removes the need for talent, training, and thought. People simply shoot, look at the image and feel very clever.
Our approaches to portraits differ widely.  I come from a media background and often it is necessary to make a single picture tell a broader story. I'll post an example with this.
When we spoke I did make the point that viewers do like some information about pictures. I'm a bit tired of the Paris, 1938 style of caption. Again, that comes from a media background where often a picture had a great deal of value added by way of an extended caption.
Your current portraits, the style of shooting - the simple lighting, plain background and very simplified technique which boils down to a couple of sheets of film, is courageous and allows no room for an error of judgment. The end results show something of the soul of the subject and to be able to achieve that is nothing short of a minor miracle. The whole approach demonstrates the KISS principle - Keep It Simple Stupid - works.

I'll drop in one of my favourite pics and caption here followed by one which I snapped after your recent shoot. 

Joe Sommerfield and Agnes, Kingston's Rest, The Kimberley 1993.                            © Roger Garwood & Trish Ainslie
When I spoke to Joe Sommerfield at his camp in Kingston's Rest, south of Kununurra, he was happy to tell me pretty well his whole life story. When he was kid his mother was the post mistress of  the Fink River Post Office, east of Alice Springs. Joe, at the age of twelve, was a camel driver and would take camels across the desert, carting supplies to communities. Nights were freezing cold in the desert and Joe would sleep cuddled into the camels for warmth. When cars and trucks became popular, displacing camel trains, Joe simply let his team loose into the desert.
Joe and Agnes have been companions for much of their lives. Agnes was married to a tribal aboriginal who had excessively associated with white people and for that he was speared to death. Before he died he last request was to Joe, asking him to look after Agnes. Joe did that until the day he died. A week after joe's death Agnes was moved into an aged care facility in Derby. A week later the camp was looted.
Joe wears a belt in the picture and he said that he stole the buckle from the bodies of one of two  members of the Durack family who had been speared and killed by local tribesmen. He quoted, " ... and they didn't kill people without good reason ..."

The picture was shot on 4x5 neg by Trish Ainlsie and me while we were working on "'til She Dropped Her Strides" a book about the Kimberley which we produced in about 1993. The one thing about shooting with a large camera on large tripod is that you have the undivided attention of the subject.
I've used this picture, not just because it's one of my favourites but because with a wider viewpoint, taking in the camp, clothing and other detail, like chooks and water tanks, a great deal of information is given to the viewer. The caption helps to round off a bigger story.
Now, if you don't mind Dewi, I'll post a shot of Shan taken when I was there recently.  I have to say I take no credit for this. I simply moved in when you had finished your shoot and squirted off a  digital pic.

Shan, Esperance March 2011
I think this will be a bit wider than your shot Dewi. It will be nice to see the comparison but I liked the way the arms formed a nice a nice arc to loosely frame the face. I'll leave it to you to post yours.

In a day or two, for the next post, I'll outline my system of contact printing which is a very important link to film exposure, processing and to dispensing with test strips in the final printing process. I'd like to demonstrate it to you on my next trip.