Its All Come Down to This (Marinated Delicious)

15 hours on a United flight straight out of the Dharma Initiative

Not all photographers go ‘on press’ for their books. If the printer has a lot of experience printing photographic books and the proofs are spot on then it can simply be a case of the printer doing their best to match the proofs. When Aperture first asked if I would want to go on press I felt it important for a lot of reasons. My photographs are not easy to print. The crummy lighting often can make getting things neutral very tough, other times a nuanced shade can get lost and frankly I’ve seen my work produced badly enough to try and coax as good quality out of the book version as possible. In addition I knew I could learn a lot about the CMYK printing process while there. Honestly I was not all that enthralled with spending a week in China. It’s not that I’m not enamored with the idea of the place, I’ve certainly thought often of China in relation to my work over the years, but the idea of a trip that taxing sounded very ‘un-fun’, in addition to the expense, I was hoping a trip to China could be more explorative.

The un-funness was clear when stepping into the giant plane tube to endure 15 hours of recycled air, grumpy folks and Adam Sandler movies (is a plane ride ever fun these days?). 4 movies, some naps and 2 1/2 meals later I was groggily picked by Philip See from Main Choice. Philip drove me from Hong Kong into mainland China and up into Dongguan. Dongguan is a large manufacturing city producing many of the consumer goods that appear in my photographs. I had known of Dongguan since it is ironically home to one of the world’s largest Dead Malls, the New South China Mall. Hopes of photographing at this place were curbed quick though by the tight schedule printing. PBS Documentary, Utopia on the New South China Mall. The more I mentioned a possible visit to the place, the more my hosts seemed rather nervous about the prospect of a westerner roaming the streets at all. (Can’t say I don’t blame them, I do have a bit of track record of getting myself into places I don’t belong).

We arrived late that evening at the Goodview Hotel which was a surreal sort of place with bellhops in Hawaiian outfits and cowboy hats. Roaming the lobby were random bunches of white dudes with several cell phones on their belt and looking rather confused. This all gave the sense of the film, Lost in Translation.

Goodview Lobby

Serious Carpet

Late night buffet

Goose Web

One of the great things about traveling for work is the access. I hate feeling like a tourist and having a guide or host often presents some great and real experiences that give a much better flavor for a place than hitting the iconic sites. In general I enjoy having a policy of not saying no at all. Makes for some delicious meals and new tastes.

Finally it’s trying to sleep off the jet lag as the next day is a big day of printing.

Seeing in Color

Thomas Lock Hobbs writes in response to my post on making book proofs:

Hi Brian,

I’ve been following your blog for 4 or 5 years now and though you only post infrequently now I always look forward to reading one of your posts. Congratulations on the book! I can’t wait to order it.

Reading your last post got me thinking again about seeing in color, specifically having a really sharp eye for color casts and hues. In showing my work to other photographers I feel like I’m color blind sometimes. Its as if they are able to access a whole layer of perception that is closed off to me. For instance, the picture of the blue shopping cart is too cyan? I just see a blue shopping cart.

I think part of the trick may be in turning off those parts of the brain that deal with subject cognition. It’s almost like you have to look at something a little stupidly. How do you learn how to do this? Are there techniques for it? You said you have students. Does this ever come up as a topic? Is this something you can explicitly teach and practice?


These are great questions so I thought I would elaborate on the blog. Learning (and teaching) to see those subtle shades of color is tricky business. The tough part is our eyes are much more complex than these silly machines. Since our eyes are connected to our brains, we have a fantastic ability to process color as well as see very subtle shades rather quickly. For instance when in a dark room for some time, our eyes adjust and we eventually can begin to see shapes. For a camera to do this, it would simply need a long enough exposure to render image and in most cases the image would not replicate that incredibly nuance of light. A proper term for this is gamut. Gamut refers to the amount of color rendered by a specific instrument, a camera, printer, monitors, etc… can only render so many shades of a color. We try and cheat this by various methods and thus lies the great challenge and difference between great prints/images and mediocre ones.

When I first began to learn to print color in a traditional darkroom, I took a class from the wonderful Bill Frederking. Bill is a gifted teacher and photographer who has a knack for translating ideas in a way that makes them simple and achievable. He said one crucial thing to me then which was in order to see a specific color cast, you had to see the opposite cast against it. So for instance; make a print, if that print looks too yellow, make a blue print to see how yellow. This not only helps to see these hues but also establishes a threshold of warm and cool, neutral is somewhere in between.

I could on for days and do in classes. But after some time one really does begin to notice the reflected blue in a shadow on the wall, or the green cast over skin in bad indoor florescent lighting. After some time it can drive one batty! But the results are far worthwhile in that you’ll never look at color the same.

It’s All Come Down to This…(Is This Place Great or What?)

Last Sunday I began the trek to China for the printing of my forthcoming book with Aperture. It’s been a long journey with my editing and planning on the book beginning back in January of 2010. Early this year Lesley Martin at Aperture and I began forming out the 10 years of work into a cohesive narrative. Since there have been many back and forths, phone calls, skype calls, email, millions of PDFs and details I never even considered. Production of the 90 files and proofs happened in 2 1/2 weeks, while we were still editing/sequencing. Those weeks were many 20 hour days and in addition to the studio I had 3 classes and daddy duty on my hands.

I can say that this may have been the most and hardest work I’ve ever done on anything, ever… That being said I’m truly ecstatic with the results as they’re coming along.

Here are some notes from the early match print production. I set up all the files as RGB, profiled and printed them on Moab Colorado Gloss inkjet paper. From there the files and proofs were sent to nearby Prographics in Rockford, IL for the CMYK conversion and making the proofs from those files.

Going through many, many boxes of paper ...

There are always the finicky files that need rescanned on the drum scanner

Old School

My students laugh at my for still using the old school color filter sets for corrections

Looking for Consistency

From there the files and proofs were sent to nearby Prographics in Rockford, IL for the CMYK conversion and making the proofs from those files.

Notes on the first round of CMYK proofs from Prographics

I was very lucky to work with the excellent Pat Goley who is not only amazing to work with but an experienced translator from the language of RGB to CMYK.Prographics uses an Epson 4880 to make their CMYK proof and they truly looked incredible and extremely sharp. Bringing out detail I had not seen in many of the photographs before. I was happy to see that most files only needed a slight consistent adjustment which was a testament to how I setup my files (not meaning to pat myself on the back but nice to see that even in the 2 weeks of working while sleepwalking, my color is pretty good).

The stress of all this comes from my pictures really being not that easy to print. Many are photographed in mostly horrible lighting and worked from scanning to photoshop to output to get them neutral and dynamic. All in all so far so good.

Next stop China.

MoCP 2011 Fine Prints

Marshall Fields, 2009 11x14"

Honored to be part of the Museum of Contemporary Fine Print program for 2011. Along with the above image of mine, you can purchase prints by Adam Ekberg, Aspen Mays, Ross Sawyers, Kristan Horton, Kahn & Selsenick and Marcela Taboada. $300 a pop.

The Marshall Fields photograph was made in the summer of 2009 in a former Marshall Fields in Park Forest, IL. Park Forest Plaza was one of the first and largest ‘cluster’ shopping centers in the US. You can read more about the history of the Park Forest Plaza here and here. The building was demolished in the winter of 2010 and if you want to really add authenticity and aura, the Park Forest Historical Society is selling bricks from the former building.

February, 2006

Chicago Public School, February, 2006

Detail, 2006

Fizzle or Flame

Grill from Century Theater Projector, Date Unknown

In 1997 I made the difficult decision to leave NYC and a great job at the Howard Greenberg Gallery in favor of a return to the midwest. I decided this because it would allow for more time to make photographs. I loved the experience of New York but it left so little time for pictures. I found myself each weekend making the 75mph 7 hour journey from Manhattan to Ohio.

In the kindest of gestures good friend Tom Gitterman (then director of Gallery 292, now he owns his own gallery), sat for a while after the gallery closed on my last day talked for some time as we looked through books. I remember having a long conversation about the Robert Adams book; ‘What We Bought, the New World‘. I simply couldn’t fathom working on a project that encompassing for 4 years. I kept staring at the title where it noted 1970-1974. That context gave the photographs such tenure and totem. The dates marked something so specific and passing as I leafed through the pages. 23 years later the profundity of what Adams had warned us of hit the heart like a knife.

Ironically here I sit now attempting to come to grips with a decade long project of my own (Adams+6?). I can clearly understand how Eugene Smith at some point simply gave up trying to compile the work in Pittsburgh into cohesion, that much investment in a topic so huge can lead to a manic obsession. There must have been simply too much to photograph.

I’m there too. The photographs from the last 3 years have led to lots of time spending in empty malls and abandoned retail boxes. At some point I started picking up things. Receipts, ribbons, an ancient ad, then a large sign. The sign led to other signs and objects. Some trips began to simply be based on collecting empherma. It dawned on me that the historical trajectory in the project is wonderfully epitomized in this retail junk. Cast offs that were never meant to be considering or intellectualized have garnered a new kind of hunt, for the thing itself. And so the lineage goes Retail begat Thrift, Thrift begat Dark Stores, and Dark Stores begat some kind of ridiculous journey to find any and every meaningless retail artifact and do something with it. On the bright side, it’s nice to simply follow the breadcrumb trail, in contrast I’ve been half-jokingly referring to this forthcoming book as an intervention (insert acoustic guitar music pls.).

Last week in conversation with Joerg Colberg we spoke about the whole and the book. It sparked this post on the idea of production vs. time invested in a certain idea. Some musicians at their prime step into a studio with an idea and after a few experiments record some of the most deep and memorable sounds one could image (I like to remind people that improvisation is best when it comes from experience). Others need that long grueling-budget crunching-drummer quitting experience to produce the manifesto album that pushed musical ideas by leaps and bounds. In either context the idea can fizzle or flame, the deeper question might rely on where ideas come from and what possesses a person to invest so much in them.

If I could add a note to that 1997 version of myself looking at books in the backroom of the gallery I’d say be careful what you wish for.

The Ten Year Project

For the 2nd half of my Guggenheim grant last year I proposed to compile the last ten years of work into one cohesive whole:

With each project informing the other, I see an edit of each chapter published together as one book.

I knew the process would in many ways be a grueling one, I can second guess every stage of every stage. There is also a sense of letting go of the lengthy journey that has as an artist given me direction, a place to point my sails if you will.
January and February of 2010 were the beginning of combing the vast archive from Retail to Dark Stores, etc. Many works. In March I had moquette 1 which I took to Fotofest to get some initial feedback. To my surprise the feedback was great and I left with financial support for the project and a plan for the book and exhibition. Though I felt the book itself was at the beginning of a long process of editing, design and content.

February 2010 Version

At this point it’s gone through many iterations. Small to large, chronological, non thematic, on and on. It seems silly to fret so much about something I’ve spent so much time laying out already but it’s simply too close. Luckily help has arrived and Lesley Martin and the folks at Aperture are uber proficient at giving perspective to a large archive of images.

August 2010 Version

At this point a lot is up in the air but in a good way, titles, edits, sequence and the inclusion of the many bits, documents, found objects and signage I’ve been digging from the depths of long dead retail. Needless I’m excited. So many photographers now are making books left and right, I can hardly imagine doing 2.

October 2010 Version

It all goes down this fall, September 2011 will be the publication of the book and the opening of a large exhibition organized by the Cleveland Museum of Art. The exhibition will be a traveling one so if you’d like to see it in your town, sign on!

Aralie Caden 2

Aralie At The Beach

Aralie and her Great Grandpa Bill

7 mos now and old enough to hold still for the 8×10.


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