Back in June of last year I wrote about the death of London printer Bill Rowlinson. Now, Silverprint, one of London and the UK’s leading photo suppliers, has put a podcast on its website (hopefully the start of a series) of a conversation recorded by Martin Reed between Adrian Ensor and Bob Miller in which they discuss Bill’s unique methods and techniques and his career.
Admittedly, a little of the humour may be lost if you never knew Bill, but I was grinning all the way to the studio this morning listening to this. Amongst the topics they cover are his love for for freezing prints that he hadn’t yet finished, his cats, toning techniques that were downright dangerous, his house, its inaccessible darkroom (in many ways) and printing naked; all covered with much laughter and good humour. Keep in mind, if you do listen to this podcast and didn’t know Bill, the person they’re describing was one of the top professional printers in the UK. But I guess all us printers are somewhat off-beam, usually working in solitude and within our own small and unique cosmos.
An exhibition of Bill’s prints as well as Richard Nicholson‘s images of darkrooms Last One Out, Please Turn On The Light has just opened at Photofusion, and both Adrian and Richard Nicholson will be giving a gallery talk on December 8th.
Adrian Ensor is one of the finest printers in the UK and has been for over 30 years, having won Ilford’s Printer of the Year award twice. Bob Miller is a leading UK advertising and editorial photographer working on assignments worldwide since 1978.
The latest issue of Ag magazine (57) contains an article I wrote on the polymer photogravure process, a process that I’ve been using for nine or ten years now. This variation uses polymer plates that wash out in water instead of the toxic acids that the traditional copperplate method uses.
Unfortunately, as far as I know, there is no distributor in the US for the magazine which is a shame, because it’s one of the better magazines currently out there, combining both technical articles with portfolios and book and show reviews. Chris Dickie, the editor and publisher, used to be the editor at the British Journal of Photography and does a fine job with Ag. Some past articles are also available as downloads here.
At the end of September Beth and I, along with a large proportion of Minneapolis it seems, flew out to Florence for the opening of Cy’s show. This is the show I spent a year or two printing as large 3-colour gum dichromates and which consist of three parts; food (The Four Seasons), flowers (Flowers of Legend and Myth) and portraits of Florentine artists. This last section is the reason I was fortunate enough to visit Florence twice last year – to help Cy photograph these wonderful artists.
The show is at the Accademia, which is home (next door) to Michelangelo’s David. The cast of the statue in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum apparently had a plaster fig leaf that could be easily attached so as not to offend Queen Victoria when she visited…
The gallery had been redecorated since I last saw it and the colour was a perfect match for the prints, as well as the salon-style hanging. Thanks to Roberto for that. It was wonderful to see many of the people we’d photographed a year or so before and see their reactions to the prints. After the show everyone made their way via a well organised (thanks Lorenzo!) fleet of taxis to the post-opening dinner at the Stibbert Museum, a collection founded by an Englishman with eclectic tastes.
Accademia delle Arti del Disegno, Florence
Hors d’oeuvres at the Stibbert Museum, Florence
During all of this, many of us stayed at Le Piazzole, a beautiful villa within a short walking distance south of the city. Paula DeCosse did a wonderful job at organising everything for us, and everyone owes her a big thank you. At the villa there were wine tastings, wonderful catering and a performance in the villa’s amphitheatre on Saturday night by Jamie Marie Lazzara and her friends. Jamie is one of the subjects in the show and is a Liutaio – that is, she makes and restores stringed instruments, many based on those from the renaissance period. It was her violin that Itzhak Perlman played at President Obama’s inauguration. Not only is her work stunning, but she knows the best place to get an amazing pork sandwich and glass of wine in Florence.
View from Le Piazzole, Florence
From Florence, Beth and I travelled by Eurostar train down to Rome for a few days. I can’t imagine why, but I had never been there before and Iloved it. We were primarily there for Beth who’s just starting work on another project, and for someone who says she doesn’t shoot much film, that’s a big bag of unprocessed film sitting in the corner of my darkroom right now. “If this were digital I’d be home by now”. A quick train journey back to Florence for one night and then back to Minneapolis – from 80+ degrees to snow in less than 24 hours. At least with Delta I got my meals this time.
Recently the Autotype gravure tissue that was popular with printers using the copperplate method was discontinued – this is a company that’s been in business since the 1800s. So now we have a situation, according to Dick Sullivan at Bostick and Sullivan, where the 500 ateliers around the world who are making gravures, and who rely on this tissue, have to immediately find a replacement.
Dick has been making tissue for the carbon transfer process mechanically for the past few years and naturally he would be the guy these printers would turn to in a situation like this. And they have. So now Dick’s under a lot of pressure to formulate and manufacture a gravure tissue quickly. Very quickly. Many of these ateliers are professional, commercial businesses and rely on a high quality product like this for their survival.
Now, I’m sure that Dick will come up with a replacement product and we hope that until he does, there will be as few casualties from all this as possible. And, of course, polymer plates will one day go the same way as the Autochrome tissue, perhaps sooner than we’d like and they certainly won’t be around for over 100 years like Autochrome. But here’s a situation where isn’t it advantageous to be ahead of the game and be using new technology, instead of being the purist, the traditionalist, relying on products that have essentially been around in the same guise for over a hundred years? I’m certainly not implying that there’s no place for those who wish to strictly follow traditional working methods – I used to be one of those people and you have to admire their dedication – but as a commercial printer in the 1980s I learnt to never entirely rely on one or two particular products because they can, and will, disappear just as quickly as they arrive. This normally occurs after you’re one third of the way through printing an exhibition for a client who just loves the new paper…
But in the last decade I’ve come to love the freedom that new technologies have empowered me with, especially when adapting and merging these technologies. I’m determined not to be in the same situation Frederick Evans found himself in when he gave up photography because the platinum paper he loved so much became unavailable.
Over at the Minneapolis Photo Center on August 18th – next Tuesday – I’ll be speaking about my photography and the various alternative processes I work with. Beth spoke there at the beginning of August and set the bar pretty high, I thought, so I’ll have my work cut out. And although it won’t be a technical talk and full of numbers, I’ll be covering the reasons why I think combining analogue techniques with today’s digital technology can be liberating for photographers.