Printing Music's Biggest Legends at Dickerman Prints

As one of rock ‘n’ roll’s preeminent photographers, Ethan Russell chronicled the everyday life of music’s most iconic faces: both on stage and off.

Ethan Russell - Keith Richards
 

Ethan Russell's Career as a Rock & Roll Photographer

During a storied five-decade career, Russell photographed Janis Joplin, Eric Clapton, Paul Simon, k.d. lang, Audioslave, The Doors, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, to name a few. He also is the only artist to shoot album covers for The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Who.

Astonishingly, much of Russell’s music photography went unseen for nearly 30 years. Only recently have these historic images been dusted off, scanned, restored and printed.

Long removed from his darkroom days, Russell now prints his iconic images at Dickerman Prints: a custom photo lab in San Francisco. By fusing digital technology with traditional darkroom techniques, the lab creates timeless prints on extraordinarily elegant papers.

 
Ethan Russell photographing The Beatles in 1969

Ethan Russell photographing The Beatles in 1969

Ethan Russell's iconic photograph of The Beatles' final photo session

Ethan Russell's iconic photograph of The Beatles' final photo session

 

Creating Timeless Photographic Prints With Seth Dickerman

Recently, Ethan Russell and Seth Dickerman sat down for an interview with Rangefinder Magazine. What follows is an excerpt from the article.

"Back in the days when Russell lived in England, he worked with a lab run by a father and son who did traditional gelatin silver prints. Years later when he moved back to San Francisco, he couldn’t find a local printer who could match the quality of their analog work. “It was always a struggle,” Russel recalls. Whenever he needed a print, he flew down to Los Angeles. Then, in 2011, he was introduced to Dickerman Prints, a full-service San Francisco lab founded in 1996 by Seth Dickerman, that had switched to digital process in 2007.

“I was nervous about it,” Russell says of trying digital prints. The first piece Dickerman produced for him was a 30x40” print of Keith Richards in rehearsal, a memorable shot. Richards was beyond pleased with the result. “As soon as I saw it,” he says, “I decided I could move away from analog printing.” He’s worked with Dickerman exclusively ever since.

“We work together, but Seth has a determination and patience that I sometimes lack,” Russell admits. 

Russell is in the lab with Dickerman at least once a week, if not more. Depending on demand, Dickerman Prints may produce a single 8x10-inch print for a collector in a week, or up to 60 images for an exhibition.

“Seth will take an image and make it better. He understands the direct relationship between the digital file and the paper.”
 
Gabriel Agiular, Garnell Boyd, Seth Dickerman and Ethan Russell (left to right) 

Gabriel Agiular, Garnell Boyd, Seth Dickerman and Ethan Russell (left to right) 

 

Choosing the Perfect Paper for Ethan Russell's Rock Legends Photography

While preparing for a recent, Russell wanted something other than his typical framed or mounted prints. The weight of Entrada Rag Bright allowed his large-format photographs to be hung using magnets, while ensuring the print would not ripple when exposed to the elements.

This simple and elegant solution left the prints uncovered, allowing the viewer to truly appreciate the stunning images without distraction.

After seeing the results, Russell is excited to continue using Entrada Rag Bright for future shows. He especially loves how the paper brings out the best in both color and black and white photographs. The Beatles would certainly have approved!

Click here to see more of Ethan Russell's work.

 
Ethan Russell's photography - printed on Entrada Rag Bright and on display at the 501 Gallery in Sherwood Park, Canada

Ethan Russell's photography - printed on Entrada Rag Bright and on display at the 501 Gallery in Sherwood Park, Canada

The Rangefinder article on Ethan's career and his collaboration with Seth Dickerman - as seen in the January 2017 issues

The Rangefinder article on Ethan's career and his collaboration with Seth Dickerman - as seen in the January 2017 issues

Daily Life at a Photo Printing Lab - a behind the scenes tour

ever wonder what it's like to work at a photo lab? 

From helping people create art to editing photos, scanning film, chatting about a print and catching a whiff of darkroom chemistry, there's always something new going on.

Now, go behind the scenes and explore daily life at Dickerman Prints - a modern photo lab in San Francisco.

 

Come visit our beautiful, light-filled lab space in the South of Market (SOMA) district.

Come visit our beautiful, light-filled lab space in the South of Market (SOMA) district.

Here's what our print shop looks like from across the street. We are conveniently located at 1141 Howard Street in San Francisco. We've got plenty of street parking! 

Here's what our print shop looks like from across the street. We are conveniently located at 1141 Howard Street in San Francisco.

We've got plenty of street parking! 

 

PHOTOGRAPHY, HISTORY, ESPRESSO & MORE

 

In addition to being a photo lab, Dickerman Prints is a gallery, coffee shop (complimentary, of course!), photographic history museum and an inviting place to learn how to create the best prints possible.

Start off your visit with a cup of organic espresso or tea in our communal area.

Take some time to enjoy the fine art photography displayed on our walls.  

Chat about the latest trends in photography ... or peruse 70 years of photographic magazines.

Then, finally, settle down in your own calibrated workstation to edit and print your photographs using our DIY service.

 

YUP! WE STILL PROCESS FILM

 

Part of being "your darkroom for the digital age" means that we still provide traditional C-41 film processing in both color and black & white. Each roll of film is individually developed with fresh chemistry, ensuring that your precious film gets the very best ... every time. 

That trusty ol' clock has been timing down film processing for decades.

That trusty ol' clock has been timing down film processing for decades.

 

This is our Wing-Lynch C-41 film processor

Reel of films are hand-processed in small batches, using only clean and fresh chemistry.

Reel of films are hand-processed in small batches, using only clean and fresh chemistry.

 

HI-RES SCANNING

 

Our wide range of scanning options are the perfect way to breath new life into an old image! From film to slides, existing prints, flat art and even large paintings, our expert staff is ready to create high-quality digital files from your analogue originals.

 

IMACON SCANNING                       FLATBED SCANNING               DURST SIGMA PLUS SCANNING

                                    HEIDELBERG DRUM SCANNING        LARGE FLAT ART REPRODUCTION  

Gabriel prepares to scan a roll of film in our Durst Sigma Plus scanner.

Gabriel prepares to scan a roll of film in our Durst Sigma Plus scanner.

 

CUSTOM & DIY C-PRINTING

 

USING THE WORLD'S BEST PHOTOGRAPHIC PRINTER! 

Our world-class Polielettronica Laserlab "Polie" digital C-printer is the best of both worlds — using digital technology to emulate the darkroom process ... in under 8 minutes! 

First, red green and blue lasers activate the photographic paper, which embeds your image into the very fibers of the paper. Next, your print travels through a traditional bath of darkroom chemistry and a high-powered dryer.

Finally, your beautiful new print drops into a wooden tray — dry, ready to hang and of the highest possible quality. 

Should you want to manage the process yourself, our DIY service allows you to use the Polie to your heart's content. Or, if you would rather give us a file and let us work our magic, we also offer custom printing services.

PolielettronicaLaserlab
 

ARCHIVAL PIGMENT PRINTING

 

Whether you want to go BIG or just want a wider selection of papers, our custom Archival Pigment Printing is the way to go.

Sometimes called Giclée or inkjet printing, our Epson 11880 printer represents the state of the art in pigment printing. It’s 64-inch wide paper path allows the creation of prints up to 64×96 or larger.

Additionally, our expert staff will ensure your image is optimized for the paper of your choice ... and that you're completely happy with your print.

 

THE PERFECT PAPER FOR YOUR PRINT

We offer a carefully selected set of archival papers and canvas designed to provide the very highest quality across a variety of finishes and textures: perfect for fine art and commercial applications.

Not sure what paper might suit your image best? Let us help! 

Our Epson Stylus Pro 11880 inkjet printer

Our Epson Stylus Pro 11880 inkjet printer

 

Whether it be a DIY print, custom print, or a pigment print, our team loves to help customers achieve the best possible print.

Here's Gabriel working with a customer to get the colors in her image just right.

 

 
 

WE LOVE OUR CUSTOMERS!

 

One of the most rewarding parts of working for a fine art photo lab is seeing all the wonderful images that come out of our printers! There's always something new ... and we love seeing the smile that comes across someone's face when they first see their new print.

 

ENSURING PERFECTION

 

We love to have fun at Dickerman Prints. We also take our work very seriously, and demand perfection from every print we produce. From start to finish, our expert staff ensure that every pixel and inch of your photograph is the best it can be.

 

Garnell carefully examines and marks up a print, before preparing the next round of edits

Garnell carefully examines and marks up a print, before preparing the next round of edits

 

DICKERMAN PRINTS GALLERY

In addition to being a photo printing lab, Dickerman Prints Gallery is dedicated to exhibiting and promoting the work of our vibrant photographic community.

With subject matter as diverse as the artists we serve, past exhibitions have featured some of San Francisco's most well-known photographers. Additionally, we regularly curate group exhibitions ... and our gallery is home to an always-rotating collection of fine art photography.

 

Interested in seeing more?

Come on by! 

 

10 Tips for Mastering Landscape Photography

Mastering landscape photography can be a lifelong pursuit.

From chasing the best light to shooting in inclement weather, dealing with crowds and lugging your prime lenses on a long hike, landscape photography is full of challenges. That said, there's no greater feeling than being surrounded by nature, pressing down the shutter and knowing you've just created a masterpiece.

Now, to help you on your next outdoor adventure, we've assembled a collection of simple yet powerful techniques to improve your landscape photography.


 

1. UNDERSTAND depth of field AND FOCUS

>> In landscape photography, focus is of paramount importance. For sweeping vistas, the simplest way to achieve sharp photos is to use a small aperture setting (such as f/8, f/16, etc ). The smaller your aperture (and larger the f/stop number), the greater your depth of field.

Here's a great overview of aperture and depth of field.


2. Work with weather

>> Sure, photographing landscapes on a bright and sunny day will produce nice and even images. However, braving the elements and shooting in inclement weather can lead to something far more striking, emotional and awe-inspiring. When preparing for your outing, make sure to scout your location beforehand and check the weather conditions in advance. Also, remember to protect your gear by packing preventive measures, such as a rain cover for your camera, cloths to wipe down your gear, extra batteries if it's cold ... and proper clothes for yourself.

Photography by Niall David  Follow Nial on Instagram - Facebook - Twitter 

Photography by Niall David 

Follow Nial on Instagram - Facebook - Twitter 


3. Tripods can be your Best Friend 

>> Most people use a tripod to prevent camera shake and ensure their photos come out sharp in low light or small aperture situations. However, for landscape photographers, "the waiting game" is another key reason to use a tripod. Basically, you'll want to find a perfect spot, put your camera on a tripod, frame your photograph ... then sit around and wait for the perfect light and moment to present itself. For extra insurance when it comes to camera stillness, consider investing in a cable or wireless shutter release.


4. Experiment with your Foreground 

>> One element that can make or break your landscape image is the foreground. When setting up your shot, consider using leading lines; or, try placing your horizon lower to capture a different and interesting perspective. Don't forget about your depth of field and remember to keep your aperture on the larger side to keep as much of your image in focus as possible. 


5. USE LEADING Lines


>> Leading lines are extremely vital when it comes to photography, as you'll want to guide your viewer’s eyes across your image. Lines can help you guide your viewer's eye to the main point of interest and  also create a  feeling of depth and scale to your image. A few examples of natural leading lines you might find would be roads, railroad tracks, streams, pathways, etc. 

Photography by Greg Goodman  Follow Greg on Instagram - Facebook 

Photography by Greg Goodman 

Follow Greg on Instagram - Facebook 


6. Don’t forget about the sky!


>> A truly great landscape photograph has a well balanced mix of beautiful sky and captivating foreground. However, Mother Nature, time constraints or happenstance may have other ideas. In those situations, don't be afraid to focus on one of the two elements and see how the other falls into place. An interesting foreground can sometimes make up for a bland sky. Conversely, many landscape photographers fill most of their frame with a beautiful sky of dark or dreamy clouds. It's amazing how many different emotions the air above can convey. Have fun and experiment.

Photography by Josh Berger Follow Jsh on Instagram - Facebook 

Photography by Josh Berger

Follow Jsh on Instagram - Facebook 


7. The Power of Movement 

>> Though landscapes are usually sought after for their peaceful, quiet and overall serene qualities, landscapes can be a perfect place to capture movement. Take a moment to look around you and observe the wind rustling through the trees, birds in flight, waves crashing over rocks and even clouds moving overhead. 


8. Two words - Golden Hours

>> Twice a day, the landscape is bathed with beautiful golden light ... instantly making any photograph more warm, vibrant and magical. Specifically, the "Golden Hours" are the times just after dawn and just before dusk, when the sun is still low on the horizon. The light is a perfect shade of gold, which can create many interesting elements such as shadow, silhouettes and patterns. 


9. Find your Focal Point


>> Focal points are a crucial factor when it comes to photography. Without them, your image can come off as empty, dull and lacking purpose, which tends to make viewers move on rather quickly. Think carefully about your composition and always consider the rule of thirds to make your images come alive. You focal point could range from a building or structure to an interesting rock, tree, animal, person ... sky's the limit, so go out there and get creative!


10. Have fun and Experiment!


>> Photography is about having fun, so always remember to try new ideas and concepts and get out of your comfort zone! Good luck shooting!

Why Prints Still Matter

In a world of digital media files, why does printing photographs still matter?

Whatever camera you use to make a photograph, a print is still the ultimate expression of your creative vision. Plus, they don't need power plugs to survive.

First, let's discuss the nostalgia of prints...

Forget what you've learned about the technical aspects of photography and remember why we press the shutter in the first place.

We photograph to remember ... to capture a moment in time that allows us to control both what we see and what the viewer takes away from the shot. Printing photographs allows a much more meaningful way to observe, improve and appreciate all the effort that goes into the work.

A printed photograph becomes a real object. It's something you can hold and touch, rather than an image among thousands you can see on a screen. 

 

A print will last a lifetime

One of the best parts about printing a photograph is that prints typically withstand the test of time. Most professional papers are guaranteed to last at least 100 years, and a quick Google search for "photography from the 1800s" shows that your prints will probably last even longer.

Now, compare that to digital files and think about how technology is constantly changing. Remember floppy discs? VHS cassettes? Zip Drives? Even CDs/DVD's are on their way out. Apple has been ensuring this for years, as Macbook Pros don't even come with disc drives anymore. 

With prints, you'll be able to leisurely enjoy your work for years to come ... without the worry of computer crashes, hard drive backups or rapidly changing technology. Sure, your negatives will still be digital, but at least you'll also have something tangible.

 

Prints help you grow as a photographer

Prints are also the best way to receive feedback on your work. If you are looking to improve and receive critiques on your photography, the easiest way to do so is by showing someone your prints.

Holding your printed work allows a fresh perspective where you will be able to notice different facets of your work that you might have missed before. Parts that are too dark, too light, dust, color variation...these are all things that might be overlooked on a computer screen.

Plus, a print will help you determine if you have correctly calibrated your monitor. 

 

Printing matters as a professional photographer 

As a professional and full-service photographer, there are many benefits to being able to produce high quality prints of your work. Let's explore a few reasons why:

 

CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE

Making prints for your clients shows that you care about their customer experience. Providing their images in their final polished form also shows that you are a full-service photographer, which is a rarity nowadays. 

Image a scenario where a potential client wanted to see photographs of a wedding you shot. Instead of only being able to provide images on a screen, you can dazzle them with prints that they can physically hold and appreciate. It shows you care about your work, and are willing to go the extra mile to give your client what they want. 

 

ADDITIONAL REVENUE

As a photographer, offering printed photographs gives the opportunity to make additional income instead of just making money from session fees. 

 

QUALITY CONTROL

Quality control is essential for a full-service professional photographer! When you make prints for a client, you can control the quality of the finished product ... as opposed to leaving it up to your patron to produce their own (potentially off-color and low quality) prints.

 

SUPPORTING THE ART INDUSTRY

Above all, printing your work supports the intricate web of the art industry ... much of which is still locally-owned. In addition to getting a physical print, you are supporting businesses that help artists connect with clients, expand their trade and, above all else, continue doing what we love to do. 

 

So, Why Do Prints Matter?

While the world seems to be propelling into a digital age with access to hundreds of thousands of images at a moments notice, it's important to remember what photography really stands for.

Photography is more than just a paycheck. It's the act of capturing a moment in time and preserving that memory for years to come.

When you take the time to learn how to be a professional and full-service photographer and improve your trade, you show that it's more than just about pictures, it's about loving what you do- and every client wants to see that in their photographer. 

ICC Profiles » a photographer's guide

If you have ever taken a photograph or had one printed, you have dealt with color profiles … perhaps without even knowing it.

What may seem like an innocuous option in a drop-down menu might mean the difference between an accurate, high quality representation of your image and a lackluster, disappointing imitation. So, just what are color profiles and why are they important?

Every digital camera and printer has its own idea of what a specific color looks like. In order for the devices to communicate with each other properly — and reproduce the image without color distortion — they need to find common ground. That's where ICC profiles come into play.

ICC Profiles and color correction

 

What is an ICC profile?

ICC Color Profile

An ICC profile is a set of data that characterizes a color input or output device (or a color space) according to standards promulgated by the International Color Consortium (ICC).

The International Color Consortium was formed in 1993 by eight vendors in order to create an open, vendor-neutral color management system, which would function transparently across all operating systems and software packages.

ICC profiles provide a common understanding between multiple editing programs such as Photoshop, Lightroom, Capture One and others.

These profiles act as languages of color and compression, interpreting the image as close as possible across devices; from the camera to the monitor, the monitor to the printer, the printer to the paper. If these settings are not aligned across the different platforms, information gets lost in translation.

 

An Intro to Color Profiles & Color Spaces

In order to have a clear understanding of ICC profiles, you have to be familiar with color profiles and spaces. 

Color profiles include CMYK, RGB, LAB, etc with more specific versions depending on the output. Each one represents a color gamut, which basically represents the range of colors that are supported. A printer has it’s own specific gamut of colors it can print, as does a camera when it captures an image.

Additionally, a particular paper has it’s own color gamut ... as does a specific monitor. Ultimately, different types of printers, cameras, papers, and monitors all have their different color gamuts.

 

For now, let’s focus on the camera. 

How to color correct an image using an ICC profile

On it’s own, a camera’s color information doesn’t really mean anything. Before the data it collects can be useful, we need to know the specific colors that the information corresponds to. That's why we map the colors in the image into a color space

A color space is basically a standard that defines a specific set of colors. When we map the colors in our image into a color space, then the color values that our cameras captured have specific meanings. Now you may not know this, but most cameras have been mapping their colors into a color space all along.

Most SLR cameras offer a choice of two color spaces  — Adobe RGB 1998 and sRGB — which are the most common color spaces (gamuts) for images used for display (digital format, web, monitors, projectors, etc).  

 

 

The shortcomings of sRGB

Currently, sRGB color space is the default color space on most cameras (Canon, Nikon, Sony, etc.) and photo editing systems, such as Photoshop, Aperture, Lightroom, etc. Unfortunately, sRGB tends to lose a lot of colors out of spectrum.

If you shoot in a format such as JPEG, image information, including color, is compressed and lost. Instead, we suggest shooting your images with the RAW setting, because no information is compressed, allowing you to produce higher quality images.

Below is an example of the difference between sRGB profile and Adobe RGB profile. Note how many more colors, especially green, are made available with Adobe RGB.

 

How to Use an ICC Profile

In order to produce the highest quality image, it’s important to play attention to your ICC profiles. Each printer, computer, camera, and paper all will have their own unique ICC profile and will allow you to be able to pick and choose which you like best for your work.

So now that we know how important ICC profiles are when it comes to taking, editing, and printing your images, how do you use them? Here's a step-by-step example using the ICC profiles we have available for D.I.Y. printing at Dickerman Prints!

First, download your preferred profile:

 

HOW TO INSTALL AN ICC PROFILE ON MAC

Screen Shot 2016-12-08 at 1.09.00 PM.jpg
  1. Locate and unzip the file you just downloaded
     
  2. Open a separate Finder window
     
  3. From the main menu, select "Go -> Go to Folder"
     
  4. Type in the following:  ~/library/colorsync/profiles
     
  5. Drag the profile from your downloads folder into the colorsync folder that you just opened
     
  6. That's it!

 

HOW TO INSTALL AN ICC PROFILE ON WINDOWS PC

  1. Locate and unzip the file you just downloaded
     
  2. Right click on the unzipped ICC file and select "Install Profile"
     
  3. That's it!

 

Setting up an ICC Profile in Photoshop 

1. Make sure you have restarted Photoshop after installing your ICC profile.

2. From the main menu, select "View -> Proof Setup -> Custom"

3. Under "device to simulate," select the option for either: 

Polie_FujiRA4_Matte or Polie_FujiRA4_Glossy

4. Once selected, the rest of the window should look like the image to the right. 

5. Click save, name your profile and click OK to close the window.

6. To confirm that it has been installed, you can once again use the menu and navigate to "View -> Proof Setup." On the bottom, you will see a new option with whatever name you specified in Step 5.

 

HOW TO USE AN ICC PROFILE IN PHOTOSHOP 

To use your new profile, simple press command + Y (Mac) or control + Y (PC)

To confirm that it's working, look at the filename of your active document. At the end, you should see the name you specified earlier.

 

 

HOW DO I OPTIMIZE MY IMAGE USING THE ICC PROFILE?

After activating the ICC profile, you may notice a shift in colors. What you are seeing is a more realistic representation of what your image may look like when printed. You should use these colors as a guide when prepping your images for printing.

Also, please keep in mind, our ICC profiles are meant to be used with a properly calibrated monitor. If you want to ensure that "what you see is what you get," please feel free to bring your files into our lab and use our complimentary and calibrated workstations! Organic espresso and tea included!

 

 

 

 

12,000 Years in the High Desert

Ancient and hidden petroglyphs, timeless landscapes, wild animals, indigenous tribes and North America’s oldest human settlements come together in Dennis Anderson’s latest photographic project.

 

OPENING RECEPTION

Thursday, April 21, 2016   6-9pm
1141 Howard Street, SF

 

12,000 years ago, humans had a symbiotic relationship with our world. Nature was sacred, the cosmos untouched and mysticism a part of everyday life. While modern progress has paved over most traces of that existence, pockets of early civilization remain scattered across North America.

Hidden in the high desert plateaus of south-central Oregon, Native American tribes live in harmony with the same flora and fauna that sustained the region’s first paleo peoples. They gaze up at the Milky Way with the same reverence, and now keep the locations of their sacred sites secret from wandering visitors.

It took years of building relationships before Dennis Anderson learned the exact locations of certain ancient cave drawings and ceremonial rings. When asked about the inspiration behind this long-term project, Anderson explains,

“The sites are well out of cell phone range … but definitely in range of something bigger. Standing on that ancient and unpopulated land, one feels a powerful connection to the universe and to our planet. Even if it only provides a glimpse into that world, it’s worth seeking out.”

12,000 Years in the High Desert features more than 50 fine art prints, each transporting the viewer to a simpler time of prairies, indigenous rituals, bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope and thousands of migratory waterfowl soaring across the sky.

 

 

OPENING RECEPTION

Dickerman Prints Gallery will host a public opening reception on Thursday, April 21st from 6:00 – 9:00 p.m. at 1141 Howard Street, San Francisco.

The exhibition will remain open on weekdays through May 28, from 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m, and on Saturdays from Noon – 6:00pm.

Click here to RSVP

 

 

ABOUT THE ARTIST

Named one of the 10 great hospitality photographers by Hospitality Design Magazine, Dennis Anderson is an internationally published tribal art, commercial and architectural photographer whose fine art photography resides in the permanent collections of both the New York and San Francisco Museums of Modern Art. Today, Anderson is still exploring the world with his camera … just as his mentor, Imogene Cunningham, encouraged him to do.

You can visit Dennis Anderson's Web site by clicking here.

 

 

An Interview with Kenneth Shevlin

Meet Kenneth Shevlin: artist, former commercial photographer and participant in Dickerman Prints' artist-in-residence program.

Kenneth's unique and varied photographic works range from the surreal to the hyper-real. His Places In-Between | New Landscapes series emulates the style of 19th century impressionism using a homemade pinhole camera. Meanwhile, My Space takes an intimate look into that most personal room in our home: the bedroom.

Recently, Kenneth was kind enough to spend some time chatting about his photography and career. Here is that interview...

35_51_18_N_119_49_59_ W_261_8ft_final_print-Edit.jpg
 

DP: What does photography mean to you?

Photography is a complicated subject for me. In a day and age when everyone has a camera in their pocket and the ability to broadcast every moment of their lives, I find the amount of images I encounter on a daily basis overwhelming. The over saturation of imagery in the world maybe even threatens the medium of photography to be taken seriously. As far back as 1977 Susan Sontag had already written in her book, On Photography, that - 

Recently, photography has become almost as widely practiced an amusement as sex and dancing—which means that, like every mass art form, photography is not practiced by most people as an art. It is mainly a social rite, a defense against anxiety, and a tool of power.

Photographers today seems to relish the idea that “there’s an app for that…” or “Don’t worry about it, I can change it in post…” Expediency and convenience seems to be king in the medium, robbing it of a kind of specialness. I’ve always loved photography and the potential for it’s meditative process in making art.

I think that’s why photographers like Ellen Susan and Sally Mann use the 19th century collodion process. Aside from the unique images that are created through this process, I imagine the cumbersomeness of that process slows them down and helps them more deeply engage with their subjects.

Photography is a complicated medium that skirts the line between a means of art making and a mechanical reproduction process - (Think Walter Benjamin). So what does photography mean to me, or rather why am I a photographer? I like the process of using a camera as an investigative tool and hopefully uncovering new ways of seeing and interpreting the world. That and I can’t paint!

 

You have spent most of your career as a commercial photographer. How does that work differ from your passion projects?

To clarify, I only spent a relatively small amount of time as a commercial photographer in the early to mid 1990’s … and most of that time was spent as a first assistant to a very successful commercial photographer here in San Francisco. He specialized in fashion and table top. It’s safe to say that experience killed most of my interest in commercial photography and almost killed my interest in photography in general. After quitting my assisting job and any commercial photography pursuits, I didn’t really pick up a camera again until 2010.

 

To answer the second part of your question, although quite a stretch in time, the way my photography differs now from before has everything to do with having gone to college and studying art history and conceptual art practice. Art history taught me how to think about art aesthetically and how to appreciate art and its trajectory in a social and historical context.

The conceptual art practice part taught me how to challenge conventional thinking around materials and what art could actually be outside of mainstream interpretation. The experience taught me to think about the “why” and “what" when considering what I was doing. I think without that experience I probably would never have come back to photography… up until then it had seemed so devoid of meaning for me… other than a way to promote products.

 

Can you describe the idea and inspiration behind your My Space project?

The My Space project came about in late 2014 while recalling my childhood. I had these memories of hearing nightly muffled interactions between my parents through our shared bedroom wall. Usually devoid of any discernible content because of the wall separating us, my parents bedroom became a mysterious place where private things were spoken about, done, and kept hidden away.

Being left alone quite a bit as a child, I would enter their bedroom as a kind of anthropologist any chance I got. I would search through their drawers and closet trying to find clues as to what was going on in that room during those nights. I came across allot of things I shouldn't have: A gun, war medals, pornography, money, cigarettes… It was both fascinating and frightening to me that my parents were one thing on the outside and two complete strangers to me when inhabiting their bedroom. So it got me thinking about the bedroom as unique space, the things we do in that space and the artifacts we keep there. So as a subject, photographing bedrooms seemed it could make an interesting series.

I’m still working out how best to present the spaces in terms of the amount of room to photograph and composition. Once I figure out what seems to work best, I plan on doing as many rooms as possible for a future show and maybe even try to self-publish a coffee table book of the images.

 

If you could photograph the “spaces” of any five people – living or not – who would they be and why?

I’m not sure. It’s the same issue I have with “if you were marooned on a desert island, what album would you want to bring with you?”  

I’ve found every room I’ve photographed so far to be fascinating in some respect.  I go into every environment excited by the challenge of how to compose the photograph and how to light it.  What I find fascinating are the participants reactions after seeing the completed shot of their bedroom. It ranges from them really liking the photo to feeling it looks like some kind of forensic crime scene … filling them with a kind of dread … I guess I couldn’t ask for a better reaction!

 

Your landscape series attempts to emulate the look and feel of 19th century impressionism, what draws you to that particular art style?

For this body of work, the impressionistic look is a result of having used a pinhole camera. I felt the landscapes needed a particular visual style in order to explore the idea I was having about them. Namely, rapidly diminishing open spaces resulting from resource extraction and the expediency of wholesale development.

I felt Impressionism as a recognizable style was both in concept and technique best suited to the look I was trying to achieve. In this approach I’m trying to blend the scene, allowing light and natural forms to subsume the disfigurement caused by human imposition. My hope for these images is that they create an abstracted landscape existing somewhere between the literal and the imagined, encouraging contemplation around more thoughtful use of these spaces and the need for their conservation.

 

You developed your own pinhole lens for full frame digital cameras. Can you talk a bit about how you made it and how you use it?

 

There was a lot of trial and error getting the pinhole lens configuration to work correctly. Lots of gluing, drilling, step up rings, ND filters …etc. Even with the final lens configuration, it’s still a very hit or miss process trying to capture the image when shooting, but I love the process.

One of my favorite parts of being an artist is experimentation. I think most good ideas come from the “happy accident” when trying to solve creative problems. Recently I bought a new camera body from a different manufacturer … now I have to make the lens all over again!

 

You recently returned from a long photographic trip along the Northwest coast of America and Canada. Could you share a few of your favorite stories and photos from the adventure?

Indeed I did…last summer. It was an amazing trip. I try and get out onto the road each summer for a month to recharge and do the landscape work. It’s also a time I like to think about new photo projects. This trip though, I did more thinking than photographing.

My hope this last trip was to focus on the West Coast. Photographing the sea and the surrounding area from the tip of Washington State down back into California. Unfortunately with the strange weather - El Nino and The Blob (large mass of warm water in the Pacific Ocean) most of the trip the entire coast was blanketed in fog.

So short of a meditation on the color grey through photography, I opted to do a bunch of reading on photography and exploring coastal towns. Many of those towns relying on tourism (now that logging is mostly gone) reminded me of something out of a David Lynch film …. scenes of desperation mixed with anxiety, fear and secrets. Could be another body of work!

 

On your Web site, you claim to have “no interest in whether analog photography is better than digital.” This begs the question, “why not?” Also, which do you prefer and why?

Well I’ve since removed that from the web site as I am not sure how much it added. But to clarify… My relationship to photography has always been a bit frustrated by the tension of its need for supposed precision, science and loyalty to purism and tradition. That and there’s a certain machismo around “gear” and the medium as if it were a kind of sport. It’s a real turn off and ultimately has no real bearing on the making of meaningful images.

It seems, unlike in other art forms, there’s this perceived notion that photography has a set of rules that need to be followed: One must use the correct shutter speed and exposure. There’s a particular lens or manufacturer that’s better than another. Adherence to “classical” composition is mandatory for a proper photograph. Lighting ratios … needing to follow development chemistry exactly (mostly during the days when I worked in the darkroom)… Pro vs Prosumer… A full size sensor is better than a cropped. It goes on an on. As far as I’m concerned these divisions are meaningless and do nothing to further photography as an expressive art form. Mostly it seems to relegate the camera’s use to an elite class of technicians working within a set of confining parameters.

With the development of digital photography there were the arguments between the purists and early adopters about how analog was better than digital…. how film had more fidelity or dynamic range or resolution. In the meantime most of these detractors were still doing the same stultifying work they’d always done. I don’t know… maybe the same arguments went on between those early photographers doing daguerreotype, ambrotypes and tintypes. Ultimately it all just seems like a bunch of noise.

I realize in the stridency of my response I should probably differentiate between my impressions of commercial photography and art photography. My experience working in commercial photography taught me it was important to represent the product or brand idyllically (realistically?) at any cost - regardless of the inherent falseness of the final “hero image”. This most of the time required manufacturing shots by using professional models wearing tailored clothing or in he case of table top … glycerin and water to emulate water droplets on a beer bottle. In these instances maybe it does call for a kind of science, being there is a need for consistency and repeatability.

On the other hand, with art photography (my opinion), it’s not always just about the final image, but the creative process of working towards the desired idea independent of the accepted means and conventions of getting there. More of a free and exploratory process of trying to create something unique in look, texture and feel ….something one of a kind. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the reluctant say, “I’m not a good photographer … I don't know how to use a camera” …. It’s hard to imagine the individual(s) who did the cave paintings at Lascaux having such an ingrained notion of proper technique and skill!

So as to which do I prefer… analog or digital photography? Neither … they’re both great. I do more digital photography as it affords me the opportunity to experiment economically.

What projects are you working on during your residency at Dickerman Prints?

For the residency at Dickerman Prints, I will mostly be working on the pinhole landscape series. I did however work with Seth for one session on a “My Space” photo… discussing how I might do some adjustments to the image before printing. If time permits I’d like to work with Seth and print more from that series before the end of the residency. 

What advice do you have to those among us who dream of following their passion and turning photography into a career choice?

If you're talking about advice on how to become a commercial photographer as a career choice …. do NOT spend $100,000 to go to a art school to become a commercial photographer. Find the commercial photographer who’s work you admire and figure out a way to assist with them. You’ll learn more about technique and business that way than all the classes you could ever take at the Pasadena Art Center.

If you want to follow your passion as an art photographer …. get a skill … wait … get a few skills that you can use to make a living while pursuing your vision and personal style. Don’t be afraid to break rules. Create projects for yourself and figure how to bring them to fruition. Figure out what your work is about and why you’re doing it … it will help as a guide in realizing the look, feel and content of what you’re exploring.

Finally try and get into a residency program like the one offered at Dickerman’s. The ability of being able to work with an artist and master printer like Seth would be invaluable in helping you to get closer to whatever vision your trying to achieve.

 

To meet Kenneth and experience his pinhole landscape series, be sure to stop by opening night of The Residents: Volume III - Friday, December 4, 6-9pm at Dickerman Prints Gallery - 1141 Howard Street, San Francisco.

8 Questions with Preston Gannaway - a Pulitzer Prize Winning Photographer

As an independent documentary photographer and filmmaker, Preston Gannaway focuses on intimate stories about American families and subcultures. Her story on the St. Pierre family, Remember Me, was awarded the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for feature photography. 

As a participant in the Dickerman Prints Artist-in-Residence program, Preston completed a new series of photographic prints from her Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea project. We recently sat down to chat with Preston about her life and career, as she prepares for the upcoming The Residents: Volume III event.

 

Bathing, by Preston Gannaway

DP: What does photography mean to you?

PG: Photography for me personally is a language, a creative outlet, a way to affect social change, a livelihood, a shared human connection, a reminder of beauty, a way to understand the world. It’s so many things.

. . .

You spent years working in the newspaper industry before moving on to freelance work and passion projects. Can you speak a bit to that transition?

Twins, by Preston Gannaway

I was frustrated with the newsroom barriers I hit while trying to do work I felt was important. I realized that too often my goals were at odds with the newspaper’s goals; it seemed like the right time to leave. My partner got a job in San Francisco so we decided to move West and and for me to give freelancing a try.

A lot of the work I do is still the same, most of my clients are newspapers and magazines. But I have so much more Flexibility to choose how I spend my time. Almost three years later, I miss the paycheck but I can’t imagine going back. Ultimately, I don’t want anyone else to be able to claim ownership over my work.

. . . 

Your work focuses on documentary photography; specifically, intimate stories about American families and subcultures. How did you become drawn to this genre of photography?


I think I grew up always feeling like an outsider. I suppose many of us did. Because of that, I’ve always been drawn to people who operate outside of the mainstream. Even as a child I felt that way, so it was a natural thing to be drawn to in my work life as well. In terms of the intimate work, I was lucky to be trained by a photo editor I had at the Concord Monitor named Dan Habib when I was first starting out. Getting photographs of intimate moments was a job requirement. And then I saw how effective it could be.

. . .

To create such intimate portraits, you must spend a lot of time with the families you photograph. How do you choose your subjects and develop these relationships?

Sledding, by Preston Gannaway

Relationships are crucial to my work but they can be built over a span of minutes or years. Being genuine and honest is a big part of it.

I find if I’m comfortable with myself and what I’m doing, it helps put people at ease. I try to be non-threatening and unassuming. I don’t carry a lot of gear with me. That said, some people are open to being documented and some aren’t, it’s important to spot the difference. I try not to push people.

. . .

Can you tell us one of your favorite stories from your career?

I got to spend a day with President Obama while he was still a senator campaigning for the New Hampshire presidential primary. He was very personable, as was his staff. It was one of those days on the job that was filled with seemingly insignificant details that I’ll hold as cherished memories for a lifetime.

. . .

What projects are you working on during your residency at Dickerman Prints?

I recently published a book on my project, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. During my Dickerman residency, I’m focusing on creating an exhibition of the work. I’m really happy to have this opportunity.

. . .

Watermelon, by Preston Gannaway

Winning the Pulitzer Prize for feature photography is an incredible accomplishment. Congratulations! How did that come about? What was the process like?

Thank you! Yes, it was an amazing honor. From 2006 to 2008, reporter Chelsea Conaboy and I documented a family as they dealt with the mother’s terminal cancer. We following Rich and Carolynne St. Pierre, and their children, through her sickness and during the grieving process.

The award was for that photo story. I submitted it for consideration. Though I must admit, I was in total shock and disbelief when I heard it won. Rich came with me to the newsroom as the news was made public. He also attended the ceremony at Columbia University in New York with me. We’re close friends now and I’m still documenting the family today.

. . .

What advice do you have to those among us who dream of following their passion and turning fine art photography into a career choice?

Oysters, by Preston Gannaway

What advice do you have to those among us who dream of following their passion and turning fine art photography into a career choice?

I’m still trying to Figure out if fine art photography can become part of my career! I mean, at least from a business standpoint. I’m grateful to have editorial photography help pay the bills. But one of the things I’ve learned recently is how beneficial it is to connect with people one-on-one. It’s really tough to make those connections from a cold call. I’m a big proponent of portfolio reviews as a way to get your work in front of someone you’d like to work with.

. . 

Thanks so much!

Thank you! And thanks again to everyone at Dickerman Prints for supporting this project! 

Plankers, by Preston Gannaway

To meet Preston and see her latest work from Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, be sure to stop by opening night of The Residents: Volume III - Friday, December 4, 6-9pm at Dickerman Prints Gallery - 1141 Howard Street, San Francisco.

Click here to learn more or to RSVP