THE CORRECT FINE PRINT
Many have come to believe that unless you come as close as possible to matching the quality of a print within the standards of someone such as Ansel Adams or his predecessors you are not achieving a truly "FINE PRINT". This seems to be a continuing myth of what makes a FINE PRINT. It has been taught in photography departments and workshops for decades and books have been written on how to achieve this specific quality print. Nothing though could be further from the truth, although there is no denying that these individuals have and continue to produce some beautiful prints. More than any other area of study in the medium, this continuing myth has produced the greatest number of photographers of technical excellence but little vision. These are photographers who have very little or new to say in their work, but are capable of an extraordinary vocabulary (technique) when saying it. Or coarse the opposite also exist, those with amazing and important things to say, but with little or no vocabulary with which to clearly communicate their ideas.
There are also those individuals who will tell you that unless you are printing from a large negative (120 mm, 220 mm, 4x5, 8x10 etc.), that your negatives are practically grainless, your prints must be kept within a specific scale of enlargement or that you must be using the finest and most expensive equipment that itŪs impossible to achieve a FINE PRINT. Again nonsense!
A FINE PRINT is a print that best expresses the intention of the photographer and not one that meets some perceived measurable standard. There are FINE PRINTS that contain no more than two or three total mid-range values and there are FINE PRINTS that do not contain an absolute white or solid black. There are also FINE PRINTS that only contain a black and a white. A žcorrectÓ fine print is always the result of a proper marriage between the photographers technique and their personal vision.
We all see and experience the world in different ways and as a result we have different ways of expressing these experiences. Most of us truly and rightly believe that no two people sees or experiences the world in the same way. Yet within the photographic medium there seems to be a generally held perception that there is only one correct way of technically expressing these differences.
For example as you look at work from different parts of the globe, one of the things that you begin to notice is that there are different FINE PRINT standards in various parts of the world. A great deal of work from Britain and Eastern Europe generally has a harder and darker look than work you see coming from france. American printing can seem soft or full when compared to work out of Japan. Even within the United States you can find different approaches to the FINE PRINT. Western photographers seem to prefer the Ansel Adams style while Eastern photographers will often have a softer or flatter feel. The most important issue is that you not allow someone else's taste to dictate what is correct for your photographs, be it you best friend or gallery director. If you are honest with yourself in attempting to understand your work you know what is correct.
The point here is
that there is no žcorrectÓ FINE PRINT. Use your sense of your own vision
when you enter the darkroom. Make it an aesthetic experience, rather than
a test of your technical prowess. Printing should be a continuation of
the creative process that began when you were first attracted to the moment
you recorded on that negative. The žsecretÓ, as if there was one, is to
know as much about your materials as possible. The more deeply you know
them the more intuitively you can use them and the more they become expressive
tools rather than technical challenges.