By Kristin Reimer
Photography has been evolving since its conception, however the age of digital seems to be ushering in new technology with a rapid speed that has exceeded the industry’s expectations. New technology brings with it fresh ideas and creativity. It’s often inevitable when things are new, that it will bring with it, its share of critics and curmudgeons who must have something negative to say.
When I had been asked to write this article about the HP DesignJet Z3200, with the Large Format Negative Application, a printer that has the technology to create large format digital negatives, I was very excited. I thought to myself how far this industry has come and how exciting these times are. My thoughts immediately took me back to my days in college learning photography… more specifically, it brought me back to the stone age days of laboring over making the perfect digital negative that I could use to create my platinum and palladium prints. I was young, I was impatient, I wanted everything “now” and on top of it, I was made even more impatient from the constant inhalation of chemicals in my little darkroom.
Times Have Changed
As I read about this printer, I drooled and immediately began thinking of getting into non-traditional processes once more. I had been wanting to for a long time, one of the things holding me back was the reaction I had to thinking about the time extensive process, not to mention the expense of, making digital negatives.
I immediately heard the wedding bells of technology, the marriage of digital photography and alternative processing. I saw myself barefoot in the kitchen printing out thousands upon thousands of digital negatives and spending my time lovingly stroking platinum over a sheet of paper, confidently sandwiching my perfect digital negative and placing it under U.V. lamps to finish to perfection. The end result—exquisite.
As I was mapping out my plan to become the supreme ruler of non-traditional processes, I had another thought; everyone else and their Uncle Bob would be too. I’m sure by now you’ve heard all the rants that have come from how easy digital photography has made it for the masses to partake in our profession. This brings both advantages and disadvantages. The market changes, it becomes tougher to keep the proper rates, it becomes more competitive. On the flip side, it forces us to become more creative, it forces us to push ourselves, to find ways to stand ahead of the pack, to stay away from complacency. This is the attitude that led Hewlett-Packard to push ahead and create this innovative tool for our industry.
HP’s slogan was created in 1999. I think they chose wisely.
I want to digress a moment here for a history lesson. You won’t be quizzed, but there is a nifty little tidbit at the end.
Sir John Herschel, mathematician, astronomer and chemist, made significant contributions to the birth of photography. From Sir John, we received the word “photography” which is Greek for “light” and “writing,” in addition to the terms “negative” and “positive.” Sir John also contributed to the work of fellow photography pioneers, Niepce and Daguerre, supplying them with his discovery of an early photographic fixer.
Joseph Nicephore Niepce, chemist, brings to us, the invention of photography, and the world’s first known photograph in 1825.
Louis Jacques Daguerre, artist and chemist, was also working to perfect the process of early photography. From Daguerre, we have received the famous Daguerreotype. Daguerre was in direct competition to William Fox Talbot, inventor of the calotype process, and the first to hold a patent in Britain for this early photographic process.
In 1829, Niepce and Daguerre formed a partnership to further explore and create in the world of photography. Unfortunately Niepce passed away a few years later. The contributions by both live on today.
In those early days of photography, the art world was ablaze with excitement about this new process. Just as we often think there are too many photographers working today, the new processes brought to the photography world brought an ease that had the masses rushing out to create “Daguerrotype Studios” worldwide. Of course, with the creative excitement, came the local critics. Many artists claimed photography was not art. It was considered “soulless” and simply a “mechanical process.” Many artists felt photography threatened their livelihood and the invention would destroy the world of painting.
Photography continued to expand and develop. Competition continued to grow and boundaries and creativity continued to be pushed further. By 1884, the photography world saw the development of film by George Eastman.
Digital Merging with Film and Alternative Processes
The birth of digital photography began in the 1960’s and by 1990, the first digital camera was available for commercial sales.
Just as in the late 1800s, the debate raged between painters and photographers, so today does one often see a debate between digital and traditional photography. In the early days it was in relation to the lack of personal touches eliminated by using a mechanical box, much as today we are presented with further mechanical debates, which seem to take photography even further away from “art.”
As digital photography entered its more mature years, we began to see another faction being created, that of traditional film photographers who stood firm in their craft, abstaining from further mechanical interferences to their art. The film faction holds that it can be seen as being even more artistic for its connection to the human touch required. The “alternative processes” that employ even more of the human hand, the mixing of chemistry, the precious metals that are painted by hand on to a single sheet of paper, have raised the bar, and the price tag of another early aspect of photography.
And here is where Hewlett-Packard enters my history lesson. Just as photography began with mechanics and chemistry, not the “arts” per se, so too has HP entered our world. Similar to the birth of photography, HP was birthed in technology, not the “arts.” In the early 1800’s a partnership was created between two chemists, Niepce and Dagueere that led us to this exciting new world. In the early 1930’s, a team of engineers formed a partnership to create a company that would eventually find itself involved in a rich history of photography and creative leadership. Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard founded their business in 1939, and in the 1980’s they entered the photographic printer market. How’s that for that “nifty tidbit” I tried to entice you with earlier?
And for those us who are working in digital capture? Imagine being able to take a digital file and transform it into an actual piece of film, and to be able to do in a way that one can afford! Let your mind run away with ideas of the future of your photography.
Preserving Photographic Masterpieces
Of course, this printer has another wonderful selling point. In the hands of masters that we have studied, this is a way to preserve old negatives and to ensure that a fragile archive and its history isn’t lost. In the hands of master photographer, Elliott Erwitt, the HP DesignJet Z3200 was used to create 30×40-inch, perfect renditions of his most iconic images in platinum. Who would have dreamed we could afford to see 30×40-inch platinum prints? Erwitt and HP have bridged our “mechanic” digital world with the artistry of years gone by and allowing precious, original negatives to sit undisturbed in a proper climate to ensure they will remain preserved in history.
On a personal note, I was fortunate enough to have worked with Elliott Erwitt for a number of years running his studio. I wish I could fully describe what it was like as a young photography student viewing his vast archive of negatives. The history at my fingertips was awe-inspiring. I was able to see the elaborate and time-consuming process that happened with every print that was created in his darkroom. Elliott treats his tools with the utmost respect.
Elliott keeps the tradition of photography alive, but I also know how much he respects his time and strives to work the most efficiently he can. The HP DesignJet Z3200 must be a welcome tool to his studio, one which enables him to keep his archive of negatives pristine and enables him to produce gorgeous gallery prints while leaving him time to continue making the art we all know and love.
HP has raised the bar and has closed the gap between artists around the world. With that gap closed, we may find some competition among ourselves, but I urge you to join in on the fun and see where that competition may take you. Without the early competitiveness of Talbot and Daguerre, I wonder where we might have ended up?
More information about HP Designjet solutions is available at www.hp.com/go/designjet. Retail price from $ 3,496. (24”) to $ 5,799. (44”).