One of the most under reported photographic relationships is that of the photographer and their printer.
Other art genres rely heavily on the artisan skill of the printer – the person who transfers the original artwork onto paper. The engravings of Rembrandt and Albrecht Dürer, the aquatints of Goya or the many versions of woodblocks originally created by Hans Holbein the Younger. These artisan craftsmen were prized for their technical skills as these were an integral part of getting the artist’s creativity onto the final media, and thereby out to their audience and patrons.
In the photographic world such relationships have existed, even in an industry that has been extensively built around the solo activity of the photographer who processed their own negatives and printed their own photographic images. One of the great documented relationships was that between Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004) and Voja Mitrovic (1937-). Cartier-Bresson was more interested in the creation of a photograph and disdained what we would today call ‘post-production’, where the image is enhanced during the printing stage.
Voja Mitrovic worked for Picto Labo Photo, the legendary Paris based photographic laboratory; and whilst Cartier-Bresson was one of the big name clients, it is difficult to separate him from names like Sebastio Salgado, Marc Riboud, Robert Doisneau, Helmut Newton, Peter Lindbergh or Edouard Boubat – such are the authors of negatives that Mitrovic worked with. Mitrovic produced images between 1967 and 1997.
The partnership between the Australian artist Bill Henson and the Melbourne photographic academic Dr Les Walkling was borne from Henson’s need to move from analogue based printing to digital editing and printing. Walkling’s skills are also shared by Melbourne based artist Polixeni Papapetrou, showing that these particular printing skills are in demand by photographic artists seeking the best possible outcome for their work.
Mexican born Maurice Otega worked for Arnold Newman in New York, before moving to Sydney, where he has printed for, and advised the likes of, Henri Talbot and Tracey Moffatt. It is Otega’s definitive skill in working with the palladium process that has stood him apart – a skill that is rare at the best of times, but almost unobtainable in Australia. Of course it may be the trade secrets that Otega learned whilst sweeping the darkroom floor at the atelier of Manuel Álvarez Bravo (1902-2002).
Then we have well recognized practitioners like Landscape photographer Michael Kenna who publicly states that the job of printing (and he is referring to the analogue process) is his and his alone. Kenna is at home in his darkroom and finds that the process does not finish with the click of the shutter, but rather when he has exposed his print and signed it.
Whilst the work of Walkling and Otega is in the area of fine art, Mitrovic’s work for Cartier-Bresson has a parallel in the oeuvre of Brisbane photographer Darren Jew. Whilst Jew is known for his underwater camera work (Australian Science Photographer of the Year for 2012/11/09), his mainstay endeavour is custom printing for a select group of clients, as well as his high quality on-line sales of personal work. Jew practices the time honoured craft of interpreting the photographer’s exposures and placing that onto paper using archival ink. His recent effort of printing over 90 exhibition quality prints for over 20 photographers entered in an industry awards competition, produced over 30 images receiving awards. Including the winning portfolio of the 2013 Queensland Professional Photographer of the Year. This is where the collaboration between photographer and printer is best illustrated.
No less a skill than that of the artisans working under the direction of the great classic artists, partnerships recognising without ego that complimentary skills can realise a vision of perfection; rather than merely achieving a state of workmanlike adequacy.
Somewhat begging the question, why is this traditionally symbiotic relationship so rare these days? Do we increasingly embrace creative DIY for pleasure, for ego or for economy?
And a follow up question, as more applications for imagery move towards display devices rather than surfaces or substrates, why has this enabling ‘printing’ craft not migrated to the desktop as ‘visualising’, fostering a new generation of craftsmen and women enabling, enhancing and perfecting imagery for the screen, much as the printer would have done for paper, board or canvas?
Reproduced with kind permission – p138 July issue f11 Magazine