The photographic fine print tradition

The making of a print is a unique combination of mechanical execution and creative activity. It is mechanical in the sense that the basis of the final work is determined by the content of the negative. However, it would be a serious error to assume that the print is merely a reflection of negative densities in positive form. The print values are not absolutely dictated by the negative, any more than the content of the negative is absolutely determined by the circumstances of subject matter. The creativity of the printing process is distinctly similar to the creativity of exposing negatives: in both cases we start with conditions that are ‘given’, and we strive to appreciate and interpret them. In printing we accept the negative as a starting point that determines much, but not all, of the character of the final image. Just as different photographers can interpret one subject in numerous ways, depending on personal vision, so might each make varying prints from identical negatives.

The term ‘fine print’ (or ‘expressive print’ as I think of it) is elusive in meaning. The fine print represent, to me, as expressive object of beauty and excellence. The difference between a very good print and a fine print is quite subtle and difficult, if not impossible to describe in words. There is a feeling of satisfaction in the presence of a fine print – and uneasiness with a print that falls short of optimum quality. The degree of satisfaction or lack of it relates to the sensitivity and experience of the photographer and viewer.

A fine print has been generally assumed to have a full range of values, clear delineation of form and texture, and a satisfactory print ‘colour’. But what a catastrophe it would be if all photographs only met these criteria! True, a note of pure white or solid black can serve as a ‘key’ to other values, and an image that needs these key values will feel weal without them.
(excert from Ansel Adams The Print 1980, page 1-3)

Harry Nankin The Burning Bush 1990 (transparency) 1991 (print)
Dye transfer fibre based print 47 x 56cm
Collection of the artist