Completing The Creative Circle

Editor's Notes

Completing The Creative Circle

Photographic expression is more than snapping the shutter and "walking away" from the picture. The creative circle becomes complete, if you will, by the photographer taking the captured image in hand and enhancing, adding, and sometimes subtracting from the tonal values and scene. That final step, of processing and printing, is where the true vision of the photographer is created, where the scene or allegory photographed matches what the photographer saw in his or her eye, mind, and, yes, guts. Too often we surrender this completion to often indifferent and always mechanistic processing. But we can't fault labs for this, as they cannot live inside the mind of the photographer. The best we can hope for is a proof, a sketch of the final work. And if the lab does their job we have the full potential of the image in hand, one that holds all the tonal values we captured and awaits our final touch. Having worked for years as a custom printer I can attest to this, as it often took psychological profiling to get anywhere close to what a photographer had in mind for their prints, and there was always a final tweak, or a changed mind with which to contend.

Now you might say that in many cases the processing of the image is even more out of our control than ever before, especially with digital cameras and strict lab processing parameters for film. The image processor in digital cameras can take control of everything from color to sharpness--if you let it. But there is an option, that being the fairly new raw file format. David Brooks explores the potential of this format in this issue, and for those who are unfamiliar with its potential the article should be a revelation. As to film, most of those who process their own black and white know the potential for contrast and density controls it affords. Frances Schultz's article in this issue goes a long way toward making the process easy, and more efficient.

Where we have begun to take even more control is in printing. Ink jet printing technology has reached the stage where equal quality can be obtained from prints from film and prints from scanned film or digital camera images. Yes, black and white silver prints still have a unique charm, but digital printer technology today delivers incredible continuous tonal images. Add in the amazing capability of imaging software and the high-speed computation power of today's computers and what you have is a new era in photographic printing. More people are engaged in making their own prints than in any time of recent memory, and that has engendered a newfound excitement about photography in general and printmaking in particular.

Not that making great prints is easy--but it never was. For those who have labored in the film darkroom to make the best prints they can this comes as no surprise. It took lots of time, experience, and testing. The same goes for digital printing, where a whole slew of new issues come into play, such as color management, profiling, and ink options, all of which can seem quite confusing at times. But the ability to sit down and even make your own print, regardless of the struggles involved, is what's new, as many have never experienced the joy of watching their own print emerge from the developing tray, let alone see it inch off the digital desktop printer.

With all that in mind we present this issue with a focus on printing and processing. You'll notice that we include both darkroom and desktop tools and techniques here. As we go through the current technological transition there's room for both, and we don't make judgments about which is the best for you to use. Indeed, even though digital is becoming the predominant form of printmaking (at least in the sheer number of people engaged in it), there's still room for the darkroom in the creative arsenal of photographers. We trust that those who still labor in that amber light will create beautiful images for all to share in the years ahead.