Thursday, November 3, 2011

The sprig and the optimal lag

True to my 4 month shutter lag, I've finally begun printing some of my sprig pictures from the summer. The problem isn't as bad as I'd expected. In most photos the sprig blends easily into the scene.

Sometimes it's more pronounced but even then it doesn't dominate the photo. If I hadn't told you what it was you might think the sprig below is a leaf in the foreground. Maybe.

Getting a bit more bothersome in the next photo. Still I can live with it. Which is good because I'll have to during the next few weeks of printing.

It's not too hard to remove the sprigs in Photoshop, especially from these low-res web jpgs. The photo below is an example. It had two sprigs. I've removed the one from the lower left corner but kept the other one shaped like a cat.

This method works fine for digital images but removing the sprig from darkroom prints is a pain in the ass. Since that's where I do my printing I'm leaving it in.

As I've hinted above, I don't actually mind it much. I've come to think of it as a sort of beauty mark. What would Madonna or Marilyn Monroe be without their moles? What would wet collodion pictures be without developer stains? It's like a negative ballistic, the way a Hexar leaves a little notch on one side of the frame or a Hasselblad leaves two. When you see these notches you know what camera made the photo. When you see my sprig you know who shot it and when. I suppose I could get the same point across by scratching a big X with a date across every negative but that takes more effort.

Bob Dylan with Suze Rotolo, 1963, Don Hunstein
Photo of the young sprig unearthed after a 45 year lag
(Note ballistic notches on left)

It might seem crazy to wait so long to make prints. After all, wasn't it just such a delay that created the "problem" in the first place? If I did things in a timely manner the sprig never would've endured a month.

But I like waiting. I think lag is healthy, maybe even necessary. Memories interfere with judgment. You have to trick them by delaying. Right now my lag is about 4 months. If I shoot something today, I won't see a print of it until next February. Hopefully by that point when I look through my negatives I won't immediately recognize them. And when that happens, Bingo! I will see them the way others see them. Which is what I want. Which is invaluable.

4 months works ok, but I've been trying to gradually extend that to a year. Right now my shooting slightly outpaces my printing. I shoot around 50 rolls per month and print around 45. If I hold to that pattern, by 2018 my backlog will be one year.

The king of lag, shot by Judy Winogrand in the late 1960s

Actually the optimal backlog is probably longer. Ten years would be great. Twenty even better. But then mortality begins to enter the equation. The thing is I need to wrap all this shit up at some point. Put a bow on it. Which means I can't have 20 years of crap in the production line indefinitely. So my goal is a one year lag, at which point I will equalize my shooting and printing to keep pace with one another.

Or maybe I'll get lucky. 2018 is still far off. I'll be inhaling a lot of darkroom fumes in the interim. Maybe my memory will be so destroyed by then that I won't have to worry. I'll look at yesterday's film and wonder who shot it. If I'm lucky the whole damn photo will look like one big unrecognizable beauty mark.


Christian said...

I love the three hats in the photo. I am counting the frisbee as a hat because that merger is so perfect!

China Plate said...

Yup, have to take my hat off to you for the hat picture. Everything fits.

Scott Martin said...

Your point about the lag being invaluable because it allows you to see the images as others do is incredibly useful. I had never properly thought of it that way. Unfortunately on my uni course I don't get the time to do this but I will certainly be doing this with my personal work!