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The Finished Article

by

Association Member China Hamilton

Over the now many years, there has been a steady stream of ‘students’ of the wonderful subject of fine art, erotic photography who have flattered my extensive ego by seeking my opinion and advice on their work. These have ranged from the young, just starting out and part of a college course and often the very mature and experienced. I have always been happy to give freely of my time and abilities if it will help them and put back something into the subject that has given me so much.

One question/problem so often arises, that I identify but which usually escapes them and that is that what I am shown is the beginning and not the end of the product. To understand my premise we must first look back into the history of photography and the value of having an actual print.

The production of our subject only exists and even considering our now digital world, with the finial, actual print. I say this as even though we can look upon our work on a computer screen, see it in the camera, digitally project it onto a wall, [that also used to be done with things called slides] send it wirelessly to an ever-changing picture frame, it isn’t a photograph until it becomes a print that we can hold in our hands. All other forms are ephemeral and victims so often of the vagaries of the device by which we view the picture. On this I am most dogmatic, a photograph is only that, when it is a print or reproduced [printed] in a book etc. Just as a film is not a film when it is broken down in to individual frames but is a film when it is run at usually 26 frames per. second. We live today in a world that misappropriates the truth to a point where it sadly becomes accepted by the majority.

The essence of the photograph was and still is that it should have a finial, inalterable resting place in time and space. It is something that so many photographers today, born of a digital age forget. I find it almost bizarre and often offensive to be asked to consider a picture thrust under my nose on the screen of a mobile phone. If any creative artists of the camera stop to think for a while, they will find themselves in for a serious shock. Anything made of plastic, from the components of a digital or magnetic storage system to a computer will deteriate to a point where what they contain will be lost. Our plastic world is inherently unstable and starts to deteriorate from the moment it is manufactured. One of the greatest contributing factors is ultra violet light.

We do however know that paper, as far as we can see, will outlast most materials assuming that it is made in an acid free state. I have handled the pages of books that are hundreds of years old and are yet still as fresh, white and as pliable as the day the paper was carefully made by hand. We have still in perfect condition the silver point, ink and chalk drawings of people like Leonardo De Vinci and Michelangelo. Our friends the Victorians produced their photographs on paper and when the paper used was acid free and the correctly processed to remove destructive chemistry, their often wonderful pictures, one hundred and fifty years old or more, survive and continue to survive as almost completely archival records. We still need to protect such paper based photography from both daylight and the pollutants such as sulphur dioxide in our atmosphere but correctly stored they will survive as a testimony of the image for an indefinite life.

Plastics, even if stored away from UV still deteriorate as their molecular structure is unstable; the classic symptom is that they become brittle. The same is true of course of negative stock. Films for example made upon acetate film stock of course eventually become unusable mush. Negatives from still photography often, even before the deterioration of the plastic stock, suffer from a loss of density and pin-holing after only a few years, as they are acid fixed and seldom successfully washed. Only glass plates seem to have an extended life, though the emulsion can still deteriorate and even fog.

So only photographs preserved upon quality, acid-free fine art papers, using archival ink sources when considering modern digital printing, have a chance of indefinite survival. In the case of wet processed prints... today it is very difficult to get quality, acid-free, fibre printing paper, perhaps impossible. Then the paper print must be processed to full archival standards using preservation silver conversion chemistry such as selenium and hypo-clearing solutions. It is though the best we can do and certainly will provide prints that will we hope go on into the future far beyond any plastic storage system.

I am well aware, for the sake of the pedantic reading this, that it is possible to operate a digital copying protocol say every ten years into new storage but who will perpetuate this regime after your death?

We therefore have the initial part of my discussion for the absolute case of still producing prints. I hope that slowly discerning members of the public - collectors of our erotic photography - will in time become educated again to the love of and consummate appreciation of, the top quality photographic print, to hang proudly upon a wall or to store lovingly in a draw. There is nothing quite like holding a print carefully in ones hands, compared with it’s garish and distorted counterpart upon a computer screen. A screen has always been for the moving picture and the paper print for the still photograph. Re-education is badly needed.

What I have written above is but a sub-text for a more fundamental debate which is that if one is going to all the trouble and expense of producing beautiful prints of personal work, exactly what should we actually print and offer as the finial solution?

All photography is a gross distortion of the truth and of reality. It’s time the law and the censorious public stopped taking photography so seriously as all its images and forms are no more real than the daubs of oil paint on a canvas. The question I raise is a very old one, should one print exactly what the camera records or should that be seen only as a starting point for further creative intervention, it will always remain a serious debating point. There are the purists who see the unaltered image as a fundamental truth; they will not even make a basic change like cropping. I feel that rather as with those who believe in a god there is little point in arguing against their belief. There is a fanaticism about purity. Such purity sometimes happened because of expediency when say the five by four negative from the ‘press camera’ was contact printed for speed of publication in the newspaper office. It also occurred when large format plates were used as they do give such intense and perfect quality. These cameras were used for both industrial, fashion and publicity photography and of course the portrait. Time was given to setting up the shot such as ensuring makeup covered any blemishes and lighting was perfect, rather than needing to alter anything afterwards. The purists have even offered us exhibitions of little Polaroids. There are still purists out there, fighting against the now heavily fiddled with pictures that surround us. I would even support a case for the cold, graphic realism and sometimes inevitable erotic value, of such straight from the camera pictures. I do though feel that though such work has to have a most valid place, it distances the photographic artist from the finished picture. It is too much the product of the camera alone.

In the days before the camera, artists were the photographers of society. Their prime job was to produce pictures that to the eye seemed to be realistic representations of either fictitious subjects or actual things such as portraits and landscapes buildings and devices. The camera and photography liberated fine art and off it went into the realms of abstract madness. However what is seldom appreciated is that every photograph is as abstract as a blob on a canvas and no more real or honest to the truth than the ‘artistic licence’ of the painter.

Image AI therefore argue that what comes from the camera, especially when we are supposed to be creating a fine art image, is but a starting point. Even from theexample of ‘B’ of Jan Saudek’s earliest days of photography, many printing processes by their very nature imparted creative and shall we say ‘painterly’ qualities to the basic image on the glass plate. There were crude attempts to combine drawing and photography, see the example ‘A’ from about 1900, followed by the more sophisticated methods of the air-brush artist. By simple techniques like extended exposures people can be made to vanish from a street scene, the parallax of church towers can be straightened with the plano-movements of view cameras and long ago technicians learnt to ‘drop in’ most successfully bits of other photographs. [See the example of ‘B’ of Jan Saudek’s brilliant skill with this technique and of course his wet hand-tinting] So there is nothing, absolutely nothing new in working upon photographs to amend and change them to produce the desired, finished work.

I therefore find it very strange that I still see so much work produced today by serious students of the subject that offers as finished work, photographs that I would see as but the raw material of a picture and not as a deliberate, purist choice. It is even more strange today, as for the first time in history we can so easily alter and amend almost every aspect of an image using sophisticated software. That is not to say that there are very many amongst us who breath creative life into their work by skilful use of these digital tools and indeed use new and wonderful ideas like UV lighting, textures and layers.Example ‘C’ by member Robert Babylon [Example ‘C’ by member Robert Babylon]

Example ‘D’Long ago I used to photograph shiny metal objects and suffered the curse of the highlight that even polarizing filters would not control, today in seconds I could vanish an unwanted highlight. That to me is magic. When I worked on film I had to be so careful to ensure the scene was perfect. Today I am lazy and don’t worry if a lighting cable runs across the picture for I can shop it out. That ability means I can work far more freely and spontaneously than I could in the past. I can for dramatic shadow and highlight effect take pictures almost into the lights, as I can easily get rid of the flare. [Example ‘D’] Not only that but I can get rid of spots and double chins I can make my subjects shine with erotic joy, which is what they want and what my job is. My job is not to purvey tedious reality, my job as a photographer of erotic subjects is to generate fantasy, to light the fire of the mind’s dark sexuality. Art in any medium is the finished product. So I hope to remind and encourage you all to remember that the aim should be to work to produce finial, real, paper prints that push your creative skills and tease the desires of those who see them, by presenting refined and polished moments that will last beyond our graves. [Example ‘E’ Below are two pictures of mine, the original ex-camera and the finished print].

Example E Original by China Hamilton
Example E

 

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