…Or, why I chose the Ctein prints I chose for the current print sale.
Printmaking—a word that encompasses making photographic prints, and the prints themselves—has always been an exceedingly important part of my enjoyment of photography. I'm both a part of the audience and a maker. I like objects. I like pictures of all sorts. But I especially enjoy well-made photographic prints.
Having done it professionally for a spell in the '80s and '90s, I'm aware of some of the problems and pitfalls. Without a doubt, one of the problems is representing light—or, I should say, representing light with reference more to the experience of seeing the real light than with reference to the photographic conventions we've all come to take for granted (some of us with more sanguinity than others). Few things in my opinion are more difficult to get right than Christmas lights. I don't personally care for photographs of Christmas lights, but they're a subject that Ctein has pursued for years and clearly greatly enjoys, so I thought, why not? I thought his bereft fans hereabouts would approve of seeing samples from various themes in his work. I envisioned this as a print that people might frame but put away for 11 months of the year, and then bring out for holiday guests! But the amazing thing is how close he got to the visual impression you'd get seeing those lights. They seem to glow. And it's just not easy to print objects so they seem to be emitting light.
As far as the icefall print is concerned, I could gas on for a while about the quasi-abstract properties, the movement of the lines, the richness of detail that pulls your eye around and about inside the print, and the tension of field-flatness versus the sense of bas-relief that you get from the three-dimensional ice. But really, for me, the ice print is just about those astounding blues. It seems like there are only a few colors and yet at the same time dozens of colors, all them shifting and shimmering, playing off each other; the color seems bright and vivid yet at the same time subtle and gentle. I don't know quite how he does this. Anyway all those tensions (never mind the tension inherent in a vertical wall of ice in the first place) make the print both quiet—yet another contradiction?—but with a lot going on.
The star of the show in my humble opinion is the Canadian Northern lights photograph, taken on a cold night near Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories. Primarily, it's a spectacular display; you can almost hear the eerie "music of the spheres" as a ghostly soundtrack to the visuals. There are a couple more things I like about it. The leaning traffic sign—recognizable by its shape—and the receding line of telephone poles (you can hardly see them in the JPEG) give the scene on the ground a desolate, remote feel, intimating the inhospitable vibe of the cold nighttime landscape. Then in the middle of the picture there is just a hint of pink or reddish color, which gives the flagrant greens more depth and subtlety. Finally the stars. You can see what must be thousands of them (unlike the four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire, I'm not going to count them all). How the printer (human) and the printer (machine) managed to image such tiny pinpoints of white I'm not even going to ask. The JPEG just can't begin to resolve all this. Again, this print is something of a printmaker's virtuoso trick—taking light of such fathomless complexity and translating it into the limited range, palette, and resolution of pigment ink on paper such that it really does convey not just the visual impression but the emotional impression of real light, real sky. It's remarkable.
It's what realistic, naturalistic, representational fine printmaking is all about in photography. Love it. Isn't it a shame that just as the best-ever (or best-ever-so-far) method of color printing really comes of age, with such gorgeous materials, the making of fine prints itself is starting to go out of fashion? Even I look at 99% of the photographs I see on screens—and I love prints.
Don't forget Ctein's return visit here is going to be brief—this sale lasts only three days. It ends tomorrow. Here's the link. All I can tell you if that if you like the pictures you will like the prints. Very enjoyable to look at, and a pleasure to see.
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Featured Comments from:
David Dyer-Bennet: "I've seen, not the print sale versions, but other versions of the aurora print, and I think the Christmas lights print (I've seen a number of Christmas lights prints and am thus not utterly certain it was exactly that image), and they are everything Mike says they are. As for the colors in the icefall print, my answer is 'that's what's there when you see it.' (I'm only moderately confident it's the waterfall I'm thinking of; but the colors are a property of ice, not a property of the particular waterfall; you'll see similar colors in many glacier and iceberg photos). And in my experience they seem reasonably compatible with modern digital color imaging (not always the case). Which makes them no less gorgeous, and the higher compositional elements of that image no less excellent."