Wednesday, December 17, 2014

It Can't Happen Here

Sigh. I always get reflective this time of year. Or maybe it's these damn hormone shots I've been taking lately. I dunno. Whatever the reason, the remainder of the blog-year will probably contain more personal posts than usual. Like the one with Bruce on Monday. And this one.
Tis the season for no time for Fruit

My print giveaway last week began as a whim. I figured it's the holiday season, I've got all these photos lying around, so why not? It was an experiment, and maybe a dumb one, but after letting it stew in my mind for the past few days the idea is beginning to grow on me. The truth is I've been moving away from the web over the past several months. Going to full print distribution may be the natural progression. Last summer I replaced my website with a simple filler page, and a few weeks ago I stopped my daily postings to Tumblr. So mail seems like an inviting alternative. 

The motivations for going offline are complicated and I'm still sorting through them, but I think at root it's general malaise. I realize I wasn't getting much satisfaction or feedback from posting recent photos online. Worse, they grew stale quickly. For me the most exciting photos are the new ones. I pump shit out like crazy -and shit is definitely the operative word for some of it. But when I throw a photo online it begins to age before my eyes. It becomes yesterday's news. 

I don't like that. I don't want to see anything of mine online I've already seen before, but of course that's difficult on the web. Things linger, sometimes for years. I know there's Snapchat and other ephemeral options, but I don't have the energy. So I'm switching gears, at least for now. Who knows what might happen in the future. If I knew the future, photography would be futile. I'd be in the fruit business. Because, I mean, duh. But I'm not in the fruit business. DAMMIT I DON'T HAVE TIME FOR FRUIT. Because I have to mail all these prints out.

By the way, the procedure went very well. As smooth as I could've hoped for under the circumstances. I feel like I'm in a brand new body. If it's awkward I've got to remind myself that that was the goal, and that everything will be fine.

Reactions to the print giveaway were interesting. It was a sociology experiment. Who will respond and how? Most readers ignored it. Maybe they're suspicious of online freebies? Oh well, tough shit. I asked those who responded to tell me the number of prints they wanted. People who didn't specify a number went to the end of the line. Those who named a number mostly chose 3 or 5. Weird. A few chose 1. One person wanted 100. It didn't matter. I filled the orders, each one with a carefully selected mix. 

The funnest orders to fill were the ones for 1o photos. 3 is too small because how do you say anything in 3 prints? 100 is too many. That just turns into photo diarrhea. But ten turned out to be just the right number. With ten I could make a statement: OPERATION! I could tell a nice story with ten. Not that I would. Just saying, I could.

If you live in the U.S. and you specified a number your prints should arrive soon. They may seem random but trust me, there's a pattern. Look again just after you wake up. Or try setting your alarm for 3 am, then look. Try just before sex. I bet they'll change. Or maybe they were in fact random to start with. Who knows. 

International and non-specific requests will be filled after Christmas when the Post Office is normal again. Maybe January. Or June. Patience. I SAID, I'M NOT DOING THAT RIGHT NOW. OK?

Anyway I'm going to distribute photos this way for a while. So if you missed out on last week's offer and really want a print or 100, just ask. Hint: Ask for ten. 

On the topic of physical prints, the big news in Portland -at least in some quarters- is the imminent closure of Digicraft/U-Develop on December 23rd. This has been brewing for a while, ever since the digital revolution gained full traction maybe a decade ago and people fled darkrooms in droves. But now it's real. In one more week it closes for good. 

Digicraft is the last rental color darkroom in Portland. I'm guessing it's one of the last on the West Coast. There's rumored to be one in Olympia, but that's 100 miles away. So the closure will be a blow to the old school color printers in town. Of course that's only a handful of folks at this point -that's why the place closed; not enough use- but I think just about all of them are in my photogroup, so I feel for them. It's been a pleasure and an honor to see beautiful handmade C-prints every month from Bryan, George, Faulkner, Missy, and Lisa. The five of them are probably busy at this exact moment printing as much as they can before the end.

OK, I know what you're thinking. BFD, right? Hasn't everyone gone to digital printing by now? Well, yes, mostly. But there was a small crew of holdouts in Portland. Why did they insist on using such an archaic process? Well, if you've ever seen a nice C-print made directly from a color negative you know the answer. 

Digicraft/U-Develop Staff (via Facebook)

I tried my hand in the color darkroom several times. One of the mystical things about the color darkroom is it's pitch black. No safelight. So most of the time you're bumping around like a blind man, and you develop the sixth sense that I imagine blind people have, a heightened awareness of space. It's a very delicate process but I never gained proficiency. I could never quite dial in the cyan, magenta, and yellow. Minus this. Plus that. I don't know. But I gained strong admiration for those who printed well, and for their prints. Because a good C-print can be drop-dead gorgeous.

My relationship with Digicraft/U-Develop predates Digicraft. It used to be called just U-Develop, and for many years they had a rental b/w darkroom as well as color. For roughly my first ten years as a photographer, that's where I printed. I cut my baby photographer teeth there. I'd spend a day each week. I could take off my shoes, listen to music, and get a lot done. After ten years I'd figured a few things out. 

And U-Develop was busy then. It was the main place in town. They had 6 monochrome enlargers, maybe 12 color enlargers, and a few enlargers devoted to R-type process (printing slides). Almost all of them were usually in use. You actually had to call ahead to reserve a slot, a concept that seems sadly laughable now. 

There was a monthly gallery in the stairway where I discovered a lot of great work. And another rotating gallery downstairs. It was a happening scene. Every photographer in Portland passed through there at one point or another, and I got to meet many of them and see who was around and what others were working on. It was a de facto community center for photography, something currently lacking in Portland. Newspace is now the closest equivalent. But Newspace has no color darkroom. In another week no place will.

I can't blame Al for closing it. I'm pretty sure he was losing money. He kept it open mostly as a public service, or maybe out of nostalgia. But it couldn't last. He tried to expand into the digital market. In the mid-2000s U-Develop eliminated the b/w darkroom. They added the name Digicraft and developed a business in Chromira printing and high-end pigment prints. They were good at it, but I don't know if their heart and soul was ever in it. I think the spirit of the place was always linked to darkroom magic. In my mind I still refer to it as U-Develop, even though it's been Digicraft/U-Develop for many years now.

But alas, Al and Wendy are retiring. They're selling the building. It's all gonna stop now and it's a crying shame. But that might just be the hormones talking.


John Cranford said...

Ah, Digicraft. I'm sad about this despite the fact that I'm guilty of not stepping foot in there this past year. Develop, scan, print seems to be the workflow these days for the film shooters. Luckily we'll still have Citizens photo here in PDX to take care of the film side. Who knows, maybe they'll acquire some gear from Digicraft.

However, I am glad I asked for 10 prints. ;)

microcord said...

"Most readers ignored it. Maybe they're suspicious of online freebies?"

Or maybe not.

As for me, I read it, I was very impressed by it, and I thought "I hope that some dick doesn't ask for a hundred of them." With the proviso, a few minutes later: "... unless he puts them up on a wall and invites the public to view them, of course without charging". (Yes I assumed anyone asking for a hundred was male.)

It's not the first time you've made this or a similar offer. The/a last time, I gratefully took you up on it. I enjoy(ed) what I received. To ask for more seemed like greediness. I wished other people (or most of them) well.

CJ said...

I'm with microcord on this one. A bunch of years back I was fortunate enough to get the Blake Andrew's deck o' cards accompanied by a few (3) gift prints (thank you). Figured "why grab more?"

Missy's C-Prints are quite lovely and it's nice to now know the back story on where they were created.

I can understand your move away from Tumblr, though your work is timeless and unique; I don't ever see it going stale. The majority of individuals who first discover your work online will be unknowingly thankful it's still "lingering".

Ian said...

Please could I have some prints? I'm terrible at instructions so I'm going to ask for 8. Or 7. Probably 8 though. That would be lovely.

My address is Ian Boys, Broadbottom Post Office, SK146AA, England.

Thank you. I am intrigued.

John said...

it's not the hormones talking. U Develop was a cool smelly place. Now I can forever regret not getting in more.