Where I Work

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I am featured in Rfotofolio‘s series Where We Work.

Please tell us about your work space.

I share the space with the photographer Cy DeCosse. I’m fortunate in having such a large space although the darkroom is now on the slightly small side for all the processes I work with – platinum, silver and polymergravure.

At one end of the studio is the darkroom. I used to have two enlargers in there but now have just the one Omega 4″ x 5″ enlarger, sinks and a 5kW ultraviolet light source with a 30″ x 40″ vacuum frame. This is necessary for making the platinum prints and the polymer plates for polymergravure.

The large studio area can be used for both photography and as a work area. My computer, scanner and printers are at one end, while one of the walls that runs the length of the studio is used for hanging work prints and proofs. If I’m working on a series of images or a portfolio over the course of many months, I can see the progression and how individual prints relate to each other easily.

At the far end of the studio there is print, paper and digital negative storage in eight large flat files stacked two high, with a huge work surface on top. Beyond that is bookbinding and portfolio case making equipment, such as the Kwikprint press for debossing and hot foil stamping, dry mount press, intaglio press and everything that goes with making polymergravure print editions.

Suspended on an intricate pulley system from the centre of the studio ceiling is a 7′ x 12′ softbox with 20 flat panel LED lights in it. It makes for a beautiful, soft work light.

What “objects of inspiration” do you have in your space?

I have many framed prints (not owned by me, unfortunately) that are on the wall above my computer and that I look at all the time. Irving Penn, Sarah Moon, Imogen Cunningham, Robert Parke-Harrison, Kenro Izu, Sheila Metzner, Frederick H. Evans amongst others. It hasn’t gone unnoticed either, that the print that hangs above the Epson printer, and the one I look at every day as I wait for the printer to output my digital negatives, is a Robert Parke-Harrison print titled “The Waiting.”

Books are very important to me too, although most of my treasured books are at home and I bring them in as necessary.

Do you have any favorite tools in your work space?

I love combining 21st century technology with that of the 1800s, so I have a RAID setup, for storing image files, sitting under a platinum print of Imogen Cunningham’s along with a cast iron book press from the 1800s.

The one tool I use every day though, and because of which it must be my favourite, is my Mac Pro, because without digital technology I’d be lost. However an image is made, digitally or with film (I still prefer to use film most of the time) everything printed in platinum or polymergravure goes through Photoshop at some point.

My silver prints are still made the traditional way with an enlarger and chemistry in the darkroom though and I’m very attached to my set of dodgers that I still use and have been with me for over 35 years and five darkrooms.

The studio has a great stereo setup and I usually need music around me. I also keep up to date with things happening back in Britain by streaming BBC Radio 4, which has great documentaries and plays. Again, only possible because of digital technology and the computer. Did I mention the espresso machine?

How did you set up your space to accommodate the different media and techniques that you use?

The darkroom was originally designed solely for platinum printing, but over the years it has morphed into what it is today through natural progression. Gelatin-silver printing was quickly added, then polymergravure and finally gum dichromate. Bookbinding and portfolio case-making also requires space and equipment but fortunately not in the darkroom.

If there was one thing you could change about your space what would it be?

The answer is probably the same as everyone else’s; I’d like it to be slightly bigger. Having said that, I’ve worked in some very large darkrooms and hated the experience! I prefer the intimacy and comfort of working in a smaller room with good safelighting and music.

How do you keep track of all of your ideas?

I love technology, as I’ve mentioned, but I’m also one for a good Moleskin book (only squared, mind you) and a fountain pen. I much prefer paper and pen. I do use the software Omnifocus to keep my work, clients’ work and projects organized though, and that syncs across all my devices, Mac Pro, MacBook Pro and iPhone, so I’m up to date and can make notes wherever I may be, with or without notebook. This probably makes me sound organized, but in reality it’s likely a futile attempt by me to be more so.

Does your space inspire you?

Yes, of course! I wouldn’t be able to work easily or creatively if it didn’t. My darkroom has always been a comfort to me and a place that makes me feel good.

Thank you Keith for sharing your workspace.

Tools of My Trade — No. 59 in a Series

Half-the-Pressure copy

 

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‘Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed’ is the motto of my favourite pencil in the studio and darkroom, the Blackwing, and one which I imagine can apply to most things in life. A classic, loved by animators, writers, composers and artists alike — even Paul Kinsey used one.

My using it may also imply that I can either a) draw or b) write. Wrong.

 

Polymer Pitfalls

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One of the problems with polymer plates is that they can be susceptible to scratches, if not handled properly. I must have picked up the smallest speck of grit when I inked this plate, because once I started to wipe it, these horizontal and vertical lines appeared, and they hadn’t been on the previous five prints I’d pulled earlier.

In situations like this, there’s nothing you can do except go back and make a new plate. Fortunately, because I keep very detailed notes, the second plate ended up being practically identical to the first and I picked up an hour later where I’d left off. It’s not always this simple, believe me.

Proofing

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I have been proofing the first plate with a variety of Charbonnel black inks, which I probably use 90% of the time, plus Gamblin Carbon Black. I had recently run out of the Charbonnel equivalent and tried to buy a 1lb can locally, without luck, so I ended up with the Gamblin, just to see me through a small edition, and I still had it knocking around. It’s OK, but it’s a lot looser than the stiffer Charbonnel version that I’m used to, and prefer.

The Charbonnel inks were Carbon Black, Soft Black and Universal, both with and without modifiers. Over the years I’ve found I’m needing to modify inks much less than, say, 15-16 years ago when I first started using polymer plates. Part of that is due to the ability to control the contrast of the film positive within Photoshop. When I started with this process I was still making film positives with large format sheet film, an enlarger and chemistry in the darkroom – a much harder thing to get right.

The first proofs had great separation in the highlights and mid-tones but the shadows were just a little too deep and black and losing detail. Working with a looser ink gave better separation throughout but the sky was becoming over wiped and too light. I made a second plate, increasing the aquatint screen exposure to lighten the shadows a little while at the same time darkening the high tones slightly. Being the very first image in the series, it’s especially important to get this right as it will set the standard for the remaining prints to match to. After a day of proofing I finally decided on Charbonnel Universal Black.

 

New Project

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Last week I travelled up to the arrowhead region of Minnesota for a few days, to Grand Marais and the Gunflint Trail, to work on the start of a new personal project.

I’d made the decision some time ago that this series would be printed in gelatin silver, so I’m using Adox MCC 110, the closest replacement paper for Agfa Record Rapid. I love its surface sheen when it’s dry, which isn’t too glossy, and by using Ethol LPD developer I can control the colour of the prints from cool to warm. The film is Ilford Delta processed in PMK Pyro, as usual.

I’ve processed and proofed about half the film I shot and have printed three negatives, yet I’m already excited with how it’s starting to look.