The Online Darkroom Store

Monday, March 23

Portfolio? Is this the year?

I'm starting to gather together some nice Leica negatives that deserve more than
just a quick work print or scan. Leica M2, 50mm Summicron, Tmax 400.

If this question sounds a little familiar then you're probably thinking of the post I wrote here when I explored the not inconsiderable matter of finally printing a portfolio of my best shots. The idea has come to the forefront of my mind again after a very kind and generous reader said he wanted to gift me a box of 10x8 Ilford FB Warmtone paper which he bought with the intention of doing some darkroom work but then realised that there are no facilities within an easy travelling distance of his home.

He said it would be by way of a "thank you" for The Online Darkroom. Rare acts of thoughtfulness like this make blogging worthwhile. The thought occurred that this would be an excellent paper on which to start a portfolio, something I was sure I'd written about last summer.

Well, true to form, I once again underestimated my tardiness in printing a collection of photographs: it was in July, 2013, that I first broached the subject. Here I am, 20 months later, and still no portfolio. Even someone as perennially unmotivated as I am recognises that this is a bad thing.

Were I to be hit by a rogue meteorite tomorrow then my three children would have a hell of a job emerging with anything special from my darkroom after raking through packets and boxes of prints. The problem is that I tend to make work prints mainly for scanning for TOD but seldom go the whole hog and produce a "fine print" for a portfolio.

Aside from sheer inertia, a large part of that has to do with the nature of blogging. I usually post three times a week and that almost certainly precludes any pretence of a long-term view of my photographic work. I need something to write about and photographs to show so I have to think and act on a week-to-week basis.

And here's another obstacle to a portfolio - although it pains me to show
you it. How the hell did I let my darkroom get into that state? Sadly, stuff
builds up there whenever I turn my back and it's the kind of thing that
is too valuable to throw out but which is difficult to store anywhere else.
I've promised myself that I'll make an effort to knock the darkroom into
shape this week.

Portfolio prints can take quite a bit longer than knocking out a work print and I often feel I simply don't have the time to put that much effort into a photograph. I suppose it's a daft way of looking at things because I certainly give it my best shot at the taking stage and I'm only selling myself short by not following through with the best possible print.

When I looked into the idea in July, 2013, I'd been thinking of something like 12x16 inch prints. My thinking now is that I'd rather print much smaller. Two of my favourite photographers are Michael Kenna and Bill Schwab and they tend to print images no more than seven or eight inches square. If it's good enough for them, etc. (Having just had a quick look at Bill's website, I see he's even printing some "holiday print offers" at 4.5"x4.5" on 10x8.)

There is also, I think, something more personal about picking up and scanning close-up a 10x8 print.  It's big enough to see all the detail but also of a size where the viewer can sit back in a chair and scan it like reading a book. That's a more intimate way of viewing a print than propping a large image against the wall and looking at it more like you would a painting in a gallery.

Another source of motivation has just come by way of an email from Silverprint. The film and darkroom suppliers have now introduced a new range of reasonably-priced portfolio boxes. Here's some information about a 10x12 one which retails for £25. I think I'd rather mount my prints in 12x16 card, the portfolio box for which is £37. With good timing, for which I can only credit my mum and dad, I also happen to have a birthday coming up at the end of the month...


Herman Sheephouse said...

Go for it Bruce - or a small hand-made book with the prints mounted into that - they can be very effective indeed. You need something better than the usual old paper boxes stuffed with prints nobody looks at . . so definitely give it a go.
And yer darkroom is a disgrace man! It's worse than mine.

Bruce Robbins said...

I'm going to get totally ruthless in the darkroom, Phil. If I can bin It then I'll do so. Might even ditch my work prints and start from scratch...

DavidM said...

What a lovely darkroom! Just like home. I even have one of those metal tins, but not the lovely Leica enlarger – the best thing they ever made, I think.
Can I make two suggestions about portfolios?
Firstly, it seems to me that it's important to distinguish between image size and paper size. A 10x8 print with the 1/8" edge that the easel gives looks mean, whereas the same image on, say 10x12" or 11x14" looks precious.
If you are holding the print in your hand (which I agree is the best way to view a print) your fingers will not intrude on the image, and will be more-or-less out of your field of view. Making mats achieves the same effect, but that seems to smack of the gallery wall. It's a matter of individual perception and preference, I suppose.
The second thing to guard against is making a collection of Greatest Hits and calling it a portfolio. It's mentally tiring to look at a mixed bag, whatever the merits of each image – one moment you're in Brett Weston mode and the next you're trying to be Robert Capa.
I feel strongly that the images should be organised into (what to call them without slipping into Pseud's corner?) themes, projects, series – related groups, in fact. One virtue if doing this is that each group (for want of a better word) can have its own distinctive appearance. It might be a set of tiny 5x4" image floating in a luxurious sea of pure white,or something bigger. Naturally, you'd choose the medium to suit the message. You might feel that a different print colour suits some subjects best.
I suspect, but I don't insist, that well-observed abstract details can look good when tiny, but people-pictures need to be big enough for facial expression to be read.
And Mr Sheephouse's suggestion of a book is excellent. Hand-made is good if you enjoy the craft part of making the book. Even organising prints in sequence in some sort of album will make you think. Then there'a always Blurb – not to be despised at all. With Blurb, you have the opportunity to add text.
In short, yes, have a go! You won't regret it.
(Did I mention gallery wall? Hmmmm...)

MartyNL said...

I'm with you all the way on this one Bruce. Your posts on printing have been among some of the very, very best. Now get those enlargers humming dude and "Power to the darkroom Printers!"

morris1800 said...

How about a book Bruce...'The First 100 days with my Leica '. What do you think? Sounds a winner to me. I think your image posted here would make an excellent shot for the cover.