(en)Visionography Masters: George DeWolfe interview and article on creating the best black and white print and making a masterpiece by achieving presence in the photograph
(en)Visionography Masters – The best contemporary fine art photographers – A new series
Introduction – Fine art photography as an experience
It has been a long time since I wanted to create a series of articles about the best contemporary fine art photographers, about artists who have inspired me over time and who I admire as creators and thinkers. I am very selective in my choices so you can be sure that you will see here the best of the best. I intend to present artists who have influenced the evolution of fine art photography, not only through their beautiful work but also through their inspired writings and their educational work.
I am one of those who believes that the image alone is not enough, no matter how beautiful it is, that the image has to be sustained by a spiritual substance and by the thoughts and feelings of the artist, so it can truly become fine art photography. In other words, I think fine art photography has to hold within a silent content that cannot be seen immediately but can only be experienced through the interaction with the photograph we have in front of us, a silent content that unveils the essence of the artist who created the photograph.
This is why I believe in the artist talking about his work, about his vision and the experience he lived when creating each of his works, this is why I believe in artists who take photography beyond image and reach deeper levels of spirituality with their work. I believe art has to take us further than what can be seen, that it has to be a transcendental experience that transforms the artist and the ones who come in contact with his work.
My aim is to present you here artists who can do that: who can offer an experience to the viewer and not only a mere image.
If you want to receive these articles as soon as I publish them you can subscribe and they will be delivered to your inbox, just as my future tutorials on black and white fine art photography.
About George DeWolfe
I’m starting this series with George DeWolfe, one of the most respected, inspiring and interesting fine art photographers of today.
George was very kind to write the preface to the book From Basics to Fine Art – Black and White Photography that I wrote together with Joel Tjintjelaar and I was personally thrilled about the things he had to say about the book.
George DeWolfe has been a photographer since 1964, which means he is photographing for half a century already and this is a tremendous experience. He has studied with iconic figures like Ansel Adams and Minor White in the 70s and is himself teaching photography for a long time, besides working as a photographer. George is an award-winning photographer and a well-known author, having published several sought-after books on photography with a focus on fine art printing.
More about George’s photography, about his books and teaching activity you can find on his website at http://www.georgedewolfe.com/.
George is an expert in printing, not only as for the practical part and the craft itself but also in analyzing the theoretical part and in teaching others how to achieve the best black and white print and why they need to go through every step in the process.
Printing an image is what gives it life, what transforms it from an idea into an actual object that you can watch, touch and feel. A print is the material proof that your photograph exists and it has to be the best it can be so it can offer a complete and overwhelming experience to the viewer. This is why I asked George to talk about how to achieve the best results through printing and create the best black and white print, and he kindly accepted. This is the subject of the article he is going to present as the starting point of a series that I hope will bring everyone much inspiration.
But before reading George’s thoughts about printing, I asked him a few general questions about photography, whose answers you can read in the interview below. You can also admire a collection of some of his black and white photographs so you can see in practice the results of what George is talking about in his article.
Discussing with George DeWolfe about fine art photography
1/ Julia Anna Gospodarou: How do you see the balance between vision in photography and processing techniques? How much do you think vision influences the photography one creates and do you think good processing skills can make up for a lack of consistent or original vision?
George DeWolfe: The most important possession of a photographer is original vision. Period. That original vision takes many years to create or discover – probably close to 10 years at least. Anyone can learn good processing skills and this in no way substitutes for original vision whatsoever. This is a problem with educational institutions that teach only technical skills. Almost no institution I’ve ever heard of teaches a student how to develop their own vision.
2/ Julia Anna Gospodarou: Do you believe in talent? If yes, why? If no, why?
George DeWolfe: There is no such thing as talent. Only hard work.
3/ Julia Anna Gospodarou: In a world where so many photographers don’t even think any more about printing their work, and photography consumers are more interested in the digital images than in the printed ones, you are one of the few who has studied black and white printing in depth and who is sharing his knowledge about the process with others. How do you see the future of printing and do you think in the digital age people can still be educated to understand the real value of a printed image, especially in fine art photography?
George DeWolfe: Unless you print a photograph well, you’ll have no idea of the quality of the tonal values that make it up. I call this process (printing) articulation. People who only make digital images for the web are not photographers, just as a negative or a transparency were not prints. Printing is a totally different universe than just taking a photograph. It takes – um – hard work.
4/ Julia Anna Gospodarou: You have studied with Ansel Adams and Minor White, two of the most iconic figures in the history of photography and in your turn, you are now teaching workshops and educating photographers too. How important do you think is for photographers to find a mentor, to study with a photographer they admire, so they can find their own path and voice in photography?
George DeWolfe: Only a master photographer can really show a student the real ropes of photography. When you want to study something in you’re going to do for a lifetime – only study with the best.
5/ Julia Anna Gospodarou: How about the business part of photography? Do you think marketing techniques and following a sound business plan can help the fine art photographer, or do you think it is not so much about planning but more about “fate” and that the good ones will make it only because of their quality? Or maybe it is about a combination of the two?
George DeWolfe: You need to have (at least) a business manager (who takes care of the books, etc.) and an accountant (who does the taxes). I hire these people to do this for me, but do not employ them directly. They are essential pieces of any business. You cannot do without them.
Marketing has mostly to do with targeting (finding) the correct kind of customer who will buy what you have to sell. Once you have the “target” figured out it’s pretty smooth sailing after that. Yes, you need to advertise, but only to the target market. Advertising to everybody is a waste of time.
6/ Julia Anna Gospodarou: Could you tell us a few things about the photography project you are working on at the moment?
George DeWolfe: The current project is Stones. I’ve been collecting rocks and stones for many years (I majored in Geology and Geography as an undergraduate). At one time I had a crystal specimen of all 206 minerals in the earth’s crust, but my mother threw them out one day.
7/ Julia Anna Gospodarou: What would you advise an aspiring fine art photographer who would come to you and ask: “George, what do I have to do to become like you one day? “
George DeWolfe: Get a college degree in something you like except photography. Study and read about photography on your own and find a mentor to teach you the ropes about the craft and business.
And here is the article by George DeWolfe where he talks about creating presence to achieve the best black and white print possible.
Creating a masterpiece with George DeWolfe – Creating the best black and white print
Black and White: Creating Presence
© 2016 George DeWolfe
What is a masterpiece?
A masterpiece is the product of an artist’s individual authentic genius. An examination of the great master painters and photographers reveals that the relationship masters create in their works—light on form creating presence – is the key element of a genuine masterpiece. That authenticity creates The black and white Master Print is about learning skills that can increase both our perception and working knowledge of creating presence in a print.
Two of the great black and white printers of history: Ansel Adams and Edward Weston and their approach to printing
There is a tremendous misconception about printing black and white images (digitally or otherwise) that I’d like to clear up. The misconception is about both the equipment and the process. With rare exceptions, neither of these two factors really matters very much. There is no mechanical device or special sauce that’s going to make you a good black and white printer. Consider for a moment two of the great black and white printers in history: Ansel Adams and Edward Weston. Ansel used a very complicated set of enlargers and processing baths. Edward contact printed and used one developer. You can just about throw a rock from Ansel’s house to Edward’s.
Ansel Adams and the notion of “Presence”
I have tried all these processes over 50 years and found no real qualitative differences in the chemicals or the process. Okay – so you liked Agfa Portriga Rapid printing paper and so did I – it had a rich tonal value and what Ansel used to call presence. But so did many other papers. And remember what I said – it doesn’t really matter.
This same equipment/process distraction continues to plague us in digital printing. Take a look on Amazon and you’ll find there is not one Black and White or digital printing book that does not talk about process, technique, and equipment – including those written by famous and important photographers.
I am throttled into talking about these things in every workshop I teach: What is the best paper? What is the best printer? What inks should I use? How do I make profiles? Should I use Photoshop or Lightroom? …and a host of others.
The real problem of making beautiful black and white prints lies elsewhere – in the visual articulation of the gray values in an image and in the relationships of those values.
Mastering negative space and the right side of the brain
As photographers, we are conditioned to see things – or shapes. However, real success in composition comes in mastering spaces – the negative space around the shapes. Mastering negative space makes you a better photographer (the most important resource on negative space is Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards, the definitive, 4th Edition, and the workbook that accompanies it).
The visual articulation of gray values
The visual articulation of gray values is a similar problem – you can’t just pay attention to the values, you have to observe and optimize the relationships between and among them. The term articulation refers to the number of grays we perceive with our eye and brain. It has been shown by perceptual psychology that the more articulation (i.e. the more grays) within a framework (highlights, midtones or shadows) the more real and present the image becomes. I would put this another way: we need to optimize the gray values in the highlights, mid tones, and shadows to achieve presence.
How to achieve Presence
- 1) To achieve presence we first have to make sure that the gray values are existing in the right order with overall brightness and contrast in Lightroom or Photoshop. This is relatively easy and everyone reading this will know how to do this in any number of different ways.
- 2) Then we have to select the highlights, mid-tones and shadows separately and optimize the contrast and brightness within those frameworks.
- 3) Lastly, local controls (again, only brightness and contrast) achieve the final personal touch to a beautiful grayscale image.
The optimization of the second (or what I call broad controls) step is achieved by using the Color Range tool in Photoshop. This tool allows us to select highlights, mid-tones and shadows and adjust the brightness and contrast of these selections to get better articulation in those frameworks.
The “Web of Light” and creating Presence
This step both optimizes the grayscale in each framework and binds them together through a process called anchoring (Maximizing each framework to the highest value in the framework), another term borrowed from perceptual psychology.
I call it the “Web of Light.”
Here is an example showing the process: This is only one example. In many photographs, the web of light will appear in the shadows and mid-tones, highlights, or all three frameworks. With the simple adjustments of selecting the framework and applying brightness or contrast to that framework, the underlying relationships become connected and the overall image has presence.
Conclusion and (en)Visionography Masters series news
I hope you found this first article in the series (en)Visionography Masters interesting and useful and you were inspired by George DeWolfe and his ideas and photography.
Soon I will be back with a new master for your aesthetic and intellectual delight. I will not tell you yet who will be my new guest. It’s going to be a surprise but to find out as soon as I present my next guest you can subscribe to receive the articles of this series in your email, together with my future tutorials and other articles on fine art photography.