From the Darkroom

Laurie says:

I finished the Okinawa portraits for Women of Japan. Until the models see the photos (I’m sending them images in the next few weeks), I can’t post them to the blog, and it felt too difficult to discuss them on the blog after the first post about it. Talking about photos without showing them doesn’t work well for me. I will write more about these pictures after the models have seen them.

But I thought I’d discuss one of the FAQs about my work. How do I decide how to interpret a negative and what are my choices? (The language I use in this post is very personal. It’s how I think – not how photography is taught.)

I’m using a working print (the whole negative enlarged) and the final print of Justin Chin from Familiar Men.

The first thing I do after a photo shoot is make a “contact sheet.” That’s all of the negatives printed at their actual tiny size. I go through these, looking for a good portrait that has a strong sense of the model. Sometimes I have lots of choices, sometimes not. Black and white photography’s interpretation of people’s faces and their expressions can vary greatly with the model.

So, once I decide that the portrait aspects of a particular image are wonderful, I start thinking about the crop. There are lots of other choices and manipulations before a photo is completed in the darkroom, but today I’m talking about cropping composition.

I start by considering the working print. I’m showing these big so that you can see the process.

working print

final print

The background patterns in this image are complex and really good, but in the working print they are also confusing and need clarification.

Also, Justin’s body is exaggerated below the knees in ways that are neither useful nor aesthetic.

My first crop is to eliminate the parts of the image that interfere. In this print, that brings attention to his face and hands and makes the patterns in the pillows and sheets important. Then I look at all of the background patterns (the quilt, the walls, the sheets) and crop again to make them balance.

Then I look at his tattoos (also a pattern) and make the cropping decisions for the final print.

OK. This is the first time I’ve written about this, so I’m not sure how clear or useful it is for folks. If you like it, I’ll be doing it again.

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