A Prolegomenon for Gum Printers and Other Visual Alchemists: Trying to See What You See in Fringe

Join the discussion as Peter wraps up the series by fighting a border skirmish. Better wear a helmet.

Dear Reader—the following article is written in a decidedly provocative style. My purpose is to stimulate discussion, especially from opposing perspectives, concerning a practical, somewhat unsettled issue. Artists, including alternative photographers, grapple with a variety of practical problems in their workflow on a regular basis. As this prolegomenon series is geared toward beginners exploring our realm, I trust the prickly predicament I have chosen for our debate will serve as an able representative from the Thorny Wicket Department. Please know that I sincerely respect the many gifted and dedicated artists on this site and elsewhere who firmly stand on the other side of the fence. If I didn’t, this preface of forewarning would not have been written. Thank you. Peter J. Blackburn

1) Voilà!—that fancy fringe, over brushing, flashy pigment border—whatever you want to call it—presented for your viewing pleasure without the annoyance of any pointless, denigrating, imagery. Enjoy! 2) Alternative photograph with fringe. What do YOU see in fringe? Talent? Creativity? Beauty? Enhancement? Dollar signs? Contrivance? Distraction? Noise? Yeah, I use to make fringe, too. 3) Alternative photograph sans fringe. There now, stop crying. Blow your nose and go back to swooning over number 1. You’ll feel better in a jiffy. But would you mind closing the door on your way out? I’m staying right here.

 

Have you ever tried to listen to music, watch television, or read a book in the midst of a room full of screaming, fighting, ill-mannered children? How utterly frustrating to say the least! But that’s exactly how I feel when I come across an alternative photograph surrounded by what seems to be yards and yards of extraneous fringe. You know, that swirling, spiky border of leftover emulsion flung around an image like a Jackson Pollock revival. What might otherwise be a stunning or evocative print seems miserably embedded within a pit of convulsive pigment. Numerous examples can be spotted among the alternative galleries: gum, van dyke, cyanotype, platinum—any process which lends itself to a brush, hake, or foam roller. I can’t begin to tell you how often I drag those pieces into PhotoShop for the sole purpose of cropping out the busy fringe leaving a pristine print to enjoy in peace. Whew! What a relief from all the commotion.

And when it comes to fringe, countless are the times I’ve asked myself the same question. Why don’t I see what the creator sees? I suppose the fringe is there for good reason, but what is it? Why exactly did the artist choose to leave all of that distracting border stuff anyway? Is the erratic over-brushing essential to the interpretation of the subject? Does the fancy fringe somehow enhance the image? Could you even call that enhancing? So often I look, and look, and look some more to find a rational answer. Is the artist trying to make some sort of “this is a handmade print, not a digital doodad” statement with all that exaggerated brushwork lining the border? On the other hand, maybe the artist thinks a bit of sabre-toothed edging around a picture is a timeless and tasteful tradition. Perhaps the printer is secretly a frustrated painter. Or could it be that too many artists helplessly slither into the fringe framing fraternity as a consequence of living by the ‘ol cop out, “everyone else does it” mentality or worse—employs fringe as a first-aid device to remedy a pale and ailing print?

From an even more sinister viewpoint, it might be that a few alternative artists reserve fringe as an up-the-sleeve, fake-em-out maneuver which easily bumps a small picture into the big picture category, or better still, can transform an ordinary giant into a whopping behemoth. Are those the motives? And if so, are they valid?

I don’t know. Honest. I really don’t know.

What I do know is that if a fringe-choked photograph seems to catch my eye, I instinctively grab my PhotoShop blackjack and mercilessly chase (crop) those “annoying kids” out of the theater. “And stay out if you know what’s good for you . . .”

So, I have a few questions for all of my fringe-loving friends. Isn’t photography—all photography—a celebration of the IMAGE? And doesn’t the IMAGE usually END at the borders? And isn’t it ALL about the content of the image from the borders inward, rather than the boundaries outward? Now I will concede that in rare instances the artist can and will cross the margin to plant information pertinent to the photograph as a whole. This is especially true as photography merges with digital imaging techniques. But those occasions, I believe, are an exception rather than the rule. Well, I might not figure out what you see in compulsive hem painting, but I tend to see it as noise, distraction, and more significantly, as competing visual ornamentation trying to heap as much attention upon itself as the central imagery. Since when should outside-the-border-brushwork rise to the same level of attraction and importance as the principal print?

And yet, Freddie the Fringeloader,* the loud, oft times drunken guest who crashes every party making a complete spectacle of himself, is a celebrated enigma in this peculiar world of alternative photography. Hmm, is he really celebrated or just tolerated? No matter. When he invariably shows up, I politely snatch my coat and head for the door—“No, stay there, I’ll see myself out, thank you.”

What some relish as Shakespeare’s Juliet, I find revolting as Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Horror of horrors, to hear the words uttered by a well-meaning, well-heeled client, “Oh that gorgeous brushwork around your pictures is just to die for—so expressive—so pretty! Darling, how do you it? My, you’re so imaginative.” But the real painful insult to injury comes when that same Mrs. Iva Lotamoneybucks makes absolutely no mention whatsoever—none, zero, zip, nada—upon my actual, genuine photographic substance. So help me, no praise is better than fringe praise. And listen—when your supporters esteem the brushwork over and above your actual image, the time has arrived to seek other employment.

Expressive brushwork? Oh yes, how silly of me—almost forgot. “I received perfect marks in the Expressive and Imaginative Brush Wash Engineering course at the photo academy,” says the man to the patron with his tongue firmly inserted into cheek. Actually, I know some expert house painters who can slap a smooth wash over a primed plank complete with astounding flourishes swinging a six-inch bristle. Funny, but I’ve never met a single alternative artist wishing to identify himself with the likes of the Dutch Boy or Sherwin-Williams. Wonder why? No, I suppose some of our lot would rather envision us following in the romantic tradition of a J. M. W. Turner or even a Bob Ross! What’s up with that?

Sorry, I just can’t bring myself to accept fringe as part of any meaningful photographic endeavor. For blankets, perhaps. Photographs? No. As a photographer, the toil is all about the depiction, the subject, the story as told through my viewfinder—not the extraneous, not-much-to-do-with-the-image outer brushwork. Fringe is nothing more than a residual artifact serving about as much purpose as a belly button, another residual artifact. And while a navel might be cute and amusing to glimpse on occasion, quite disconcerting is a culture where the naval shares an equal magnitude with the face!

Look, it all bears down to one final question and here it is. Can you give me one good reason—just one—why your photographs, alternative or not, can’t stand solely on their own—four—corners?

[ CRICKETS CHIRPING ]

When I came to grips with the implications of that same searing question myself some years ago, fringe and all its Cover Girl hokum was abruptly pushed to the curb kicking and clawing every miserable inch of the way. Come to think of it, I remember hearing a Rod Stewart ditty cranking from the kitchen jam box as I managed to yank it those last gritty footsteps. “Wake up, Maggie, I think I’ve got somethin’ to say to you . . . you stole my heart and that’s what really hurt. . .” How apropos!

My plea to fringe lovers everywhere is to think carefully through each and every reason you choose to leave that . . . that . . . mess for all humanity to gaze upon. Oh, don’t worry, you’ll never run short of applauding spectators where fringe is concerned, but never forget that more than a few will most certainly wince.

This little satirical tirade, presented as a thought-provoking conclusion to this six-part prolegomenon series, was meant to reveal a few noteworthy cons of over-brushing for the novice printer to ponder. Of course, there could be a few pros to ponder as well. Yeah, there could be. Likely so. However, I’d rather issue a cordial invitation to our distinguished legion of fringe fans everywhere welcoming them to voice their own opinion right here, right now—which is just fine by me. “Equal time,” I always say.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to hightail it for the hills pronto—I discern an enraged posse of fringe followers gathering by yonder Starbucks. I don’t imagine they’ll be in any mood to treat me to a Double Chocolaty Chip Frappaccino, do you? So as I bolt for the exit, let me retort those famous words uttered by the persnickety W.C Fields in his unmistakable twang. “Get away from me fringe . . . you bother me.”

Okay, it’s your turn to speak out. I invite all who wish to cheer or jeer to do so in the comment section below. Beginners in alternative processes are especially advised to ponder both sides of this sticky, gooey, no one is right or wrong issue. See you next time—I hope! 

*This name is a parodied from a television character, Freddie the Freeloader (pictured above), regularly performed by popular comedian Red Skelton more than fifty years ago. Freddie was a whimsical, wandering bum who managed to win the affection of his audience in spite of his uncouth antics. I use the name to personify the fringe, not as a reference to any particular artist—heaven forbid!



20 Comments

  1. Posted February 20, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    Use the brushed borders if the nature of the image requires it. Hard and fast rules only limit creativity. Trying to make gum prints using colour separations results in prints that are not as good as those from high street photographic printers using normal processes. In this case the colour is crude. I recommend a good manual on choice and use of colour using pigments.

    As to Gloy and PVA, the advantages are that the substrate stabilises the paper and the results from each coating are more consistent.
    The tactility of the surface is different in that the PVA results are smoother and slightly shinier compared with water-colour.

    Gouache is designed to be opaque and water-colour transparent which enables subtlety in the combination and overlaying of colour.Use the right tool for the job.

    Make your own choice.

  2. Peter J. Blackburn
    Posted February 21, 2012 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    Hi Terry!

    Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. I, and I’m sure the readers, really appreciate it. I would like to respond, if I might.

    It seems that just your first two sentences relate directly to this particular blog. First, I’ve never seen an image with fringe which appeared to “require” it. Why would an image “require” fringe? The probable answer might be “creativity.” But I find that type of creativity of the pedestrian variety. Exactly how much “creativity” does overbrushing bestow upon a photograph, anyway?

    In response to the rest, I don’t know of any commercial paper manufacturer using Gloy or PVA in the sizing of paper, although I know many artists who do, which apparently works fine for them. Both Gloy and PVA are nontoxic which is a huge benefit. However, I use what many paper manufacturers (such as Fabriano and others) are using — AKD. It works great, too. To each his or her own—no hard and fast rules there.

    Of course, gouache is opaque (everyone knows that I hope)— that is, when used straight out of the tube! But I don’t know of anyone making gum prints straight out of a tube. When diluted with dichromate, gouache responds as a vibrant watercolor. For me, gouache IS the right tool, and it is more than capable of mimicking the “subtlety” of watercolor. I have hundreds of gum prints made from gouache ranging the complete gambit from wispy to eye-popping wow.

    And by the way, with all due respect to everyone working in the subtlety category, subtlety might be an honored, timeless virtue (I love it, too), but it certainly isn’t the only one.

    I say, “Gouache is a viable choice for gum.” Beginners starting out in gum should at least explore it.

    PS: I’m not saying artists should necessarily stop “fringing,” but they probably should know why fringe is part of any particular piece they create. I believe artists have a bit more explaining to do by leaving fringe in than by taking it out.

  3. Henry Rattle
    Posted February 21, 2012 at 10:57 pm | Permalink

    Peter – thanks for your thought-provoking prolegomena!

    I quite like fringes – enjoy the hand-craftedness that they evidence (provided of course that they aren’t Photoshopped in…). So I was going to speak up in defence. However, I’ve just taken a look round the 20-odd tricolour gums that are hung around our house (sad I know) and every single one of them has the fringes matted out.

    Still and all, *I* know they are there!!

    best wishes

    Henry

  4. Peter J. Blackburn
    Posted February 22, 2012 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    Hello Henry:

    I appreciate the humorous sentiment you wrote. Hey, nothing wrong with matting out the fringe. Sort of like having your cake and being able to eat it, too!

    “I quite like fringes.” You know, I didn’t really mention THAT reason in my article. Liking fringe is probably, maybe, kind of, a “valid” reason for showing fringe. Doing what we like is laced throughout or work flow. The paper we use, the pigments, the chemistry, the equipment we choose, just about everything all ends up in our work as a result of our “liking” it. Of course, our reasons for liking are probably more substantial for certain parts of our workflow than others. But how substantial a reason could there be for liking fringe, I mean really?

    Once upon a time I liked fringe, too. But then I realized I like the actual image better — a lot whole better. And I had (and still do) a boatload or two of substantial, concrete reasons for liking the image — philosophical reasons, technical reasons, aesthetic reasons, you name it! Those reasons are paramount. Fringe pales, is even laughable in light of those reasons. So for me that’s when fringe had to go. It was competing for attention, unnecessary attention—like a spoiled kid playing hookey just standing around being a showoff.

    Well, enough of that. There’s at least one other “valid” reason, I think, for fringe. But again, fringe isn’t my thing anymore, so I’ll leave it to others to defend.

    Thanks, Henry. I’ll bet those images hanging in your home make quite an impression upon your guests and have served as a wonderful themes of discussion. All the best to you. Thanks for reading!

  5. Posted February 29, 2012 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    Hey Peter,

    I just read this yesterday. I rarely show the “fringe,” mainly because I’m not all that neat with those brush marks, and– in the end– they just seem to detract from the image itself. I did make a series of relatively small butterflies and luna moths, and for those, I did show the “fringe.” Somehow the bright vivid colors of those brush marks just seemed to work with those particular images. So I think whether to show that really does depend on how it integrates with a particular image.

    More recently, I started making my digital negatives with a white surround (black on the negative), so that what surrounds the image is, in the end, clean. I rather like that, and doing so certainly puts the focus squarely on the image.

    But I agree that you should probably know why you’re keeping those marks in there– does it work with the image in some way, or do the visible marks just look busy– or, worse yet– a wee bit precious?

    Diana

  6. Peter J. Blackburn
    Posted February 29, 2012 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

    Hello Diana!

    What a true honor and treat to have you join in the discussion. I appreciate your take on this issue. Truth be told, I can’t make good looking brush fringe no matter how hard I try. However, sometimes I wonder if I can’t make visually appealing fringe simply because—well— I just can’t make it, or because my eyes are biased against fringe and refuses to accept it no matter how good. I don’t know.

    But, I’ve seen enough of your work to believe you know when and when not to add fringe. The fringe I’ve seen seems understated, not at all “Pollocky.”

    Yes, the white surround is an effective approach to prevent fringe. I use tape. Those two approaches are suggested to the reader considering toning down or eliminating fringe.

    Many thanks, Diana. I so appreciate your work, your vision, and the helpful, supportive voice you lend to the alternative community.

  7. Posted March 3, 2012 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    I’ll leave the fringe to which you refer when I want to make sure my coating is even throughout the picture. I sue a brush with a fairly heavy hand so the edges of my emulsions vary in density, thus I’ll make an are much larger than the negative to be sure I’m hitting a sweet spot for the main image. When I do this I intend to hide the fringe with a mat.

    I like to see the fringe sometimes, but being a printmaker I also enjoy seeing registration marks and all sorts of color dots and squares that are in the margins of any printing process. This is just a personal curiosity and I don’t pretend that any client/customer want to see this stuff, much like they don’t want to see all the marks that are normally trimmed off a page when it comes right off the offset litho machine.

    The one aesthetic I am particularly interested in is having the emulsion end inside the edge of the negative. I also like a soft vignette sometimes for the same reason. The reason is that my vision is not contained by hard edges. It fades off in the edges. It is also not a rectangle. It might have a rectalinear quality to it, in so much as it is best defined with a horizontal and vertical axis.

    As a printmaker, I want the printing process to create the irregular boundary. Doing it digitally seems contrived less connected to the visual experience I am addressing (since the image in photoshop is a box inside a box inside a box). I have been experimenting with brushing on the emulsion, letting it dry a bit, then either brushing the border with water or a diluted emulsion. It has yet to work to my satisfaction, but the idea is still worth exploring. I do enjoy the interruption of image that occurs when I decide to brush over an edge that is partially dry. The emulsion looks like it is uniform, but for some reason a little bit will not absorb into the paper so the edge gets broken up even more.

    I must point out that I’m thinking the about cyanotypes, vandykes, ziatypes I do when I write the above. I know that I have gravures and anthotypes in my gallery on this site and not the others. Directly addressing the anthotypes, the fringe was for coverage, and to leave enough sticking out from the positive transparency so I could judge how much fading/exposure had occurred in the month-long exposure. In the gravures, the distressed edge was a way to keep a straight edge from distracting focus from the image. I did some in photoshop and others directly with the negative. I like the results from working directly on the negative best.

    This topic makes me think of something that my guitar teacher told me. I also heard something similar from my high school photography teacher. They both wanted me to demonstrate that I understood the rules before I was tempted to break them. As teachers, they wanted to make sure I was understanding the concepts they were teaching before I was turned loose to find my own thing. (I ask the same from my students these days)

    Pollack stated many times that his splash paintings were full of intent and that he did not believe in accident. If the fringes have a purpose (which I believe is your question) then the purpose is worth stating. If they do not have a purpose, then why have them?

    I have a Master’s Degree in painting so have an obvious attraction to paint marks and signs of brush work. As a printmaker I have much interest in process. But, if any of these distract from an image, then I think they should be removed.

  8. Peter J. Blackburn
    Posted March 5, 2012 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    Hi Scott:

    Wonderful comments, as usual! I wish to respond to a few points you made, but I’m still working on writing my thoughts. Stay tuned . . .

  9. Posted March 5, 2012 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    Hi Scott,

    I read your entry the other day, and since then, I’ve been thinking about your comment, that your “vision is not contained by hard edges” – that your vision isn’t necessarily a rectangle or contained in some way. That makes so much sense.

    I’ve started to make my negatives with a black surround, so that when I print, I don’t see the brush-marks at all. An unexpected advantage, I realized, was that I sometimes don’t brush out as far as the square or rectangle of the image– so that, once exposed and developed, there is no ending to the image– it just sort of fades off, as you say. I really love that, and you articulated so well why that might seem so much more natural and appealing. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but makes a lot of sense.

    Thanks.

    Diana

  10. Peter J. Blackburn
    Posted March 6, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    Hi Scott:

    I think my response might be shorter than I first thought since you actually gave me a few ideas for future blog discussion—don’t worry, nothing bad at all. Actually you raise some important ideas which would make for excellent future blog essays. So, I’ve already set the titles for two of them—thank you, Scott!

    Now, from my point of view, much of your approach seems well reasoned, and again, it boils down to your “like” word. It’s hard to argue much with that kind of reason. But my question to you centers on the following statements:

    “As a printmaker, I want the printing process to create an irregular boundary”

    “The edges get broken up even more”

    Why is manipulation (even if it’s toned down) such as that so pervasive, so widespread within our alt. culture? I direct this question to everyone who produces fringe work of any sort routinely. I’m not suggesting it is right or wrong, but our site (last I checked) is alternative photography — not alternative painting, or even alternative printmaking (although printmaking might be considered a kissing cousin, perhaps even a fraternal twin). However, doesn’t photography have an established and distinct protocol of visual demarcation where imagery is simply confined by borders—where the edges are discreet, demure, even invisible? I believe that to advocate we produce and judge alternative photographs on the basis of painting or even printmaking, regardless of some overlapping criteria, is to do an injustice to the painter, the printer, and photographer alike.

    Back when silver gelatin was king of the beasts, I was always amused by photographers, both renowned and ordinary, who allowed the sprocket holes of their 35mm film to appear in the print. Oh, how entertaining to be sure. Very clever, indeed! But, can you imagine how irritating it would have been if EVERYONE produced their photographic prints in that same manner with the frequency in which we alternative printers do with fringe? How ghetto can you get? Rarely did I ever see any need for Sprocket Hole Theater, Film Notch Showcase, or even The Large Format Follies—you know, the telltale shape around an image boasting in a rather nasally, obnoxious voice, “Look! Look at me! I’m from a camera way bigger than yours!” How significant for the likes of a Mr. A. Adams to have refrained from employing those kinds of gimmicks to his own large format prints. Just show me the image, please, just show me the image — leave all the “cutesy” stuff in your briefcase or purse.

    You know, I really believe that if some of the fringe group (not you, Scott) were to suddenly and forever be prevented from utilizing over brushing as a visual augmentation, they would stop printing all together. I find that both troubling and sad.

    It seems both you an Diana enjoy soft edges. At least edges which fade don’t compete with the image — usually.

    Thanks again, Scott. I think we’re on the same general page and appreciate the time you took to state your views in detail! Stay tuned, though. You’ll see some future topics which were raised right here in this blog — thanks to you!

  11. Posted March 8, 2012 at 5:32 am | Permalink

    I got into the alt process side of things because of the potential for broken imagery and odd edges. I’ve seen it in Photoshop (and these days with Hipstamatic type apps for phones), which looks sort of, kind of, a little bit fun initially but loses impace when the same exact edge is reproduced over and over again.
    If I wanted hard edges I would stick to digital (gasp!) or even enlarger-based printing.
    I’m with you on the visible sproket hole thing. It satisfies a small curiousity about how an image was made, but I wonder how many we really need to see.

    Art schools, and particularly graduate programs ask a very important question, “what is the artist’s intention?” Of course it’s followed by a series of “why?” “why?” “why?” which is designed to get artists to think about exactly what they are doing and if their methods are adding to the piece or just being randomly decorative.

    I keep getting an image of some vacant-eyed fake-smile-wearing decorator trying to ask a farmer how he got the posts and beams in his ancient farmhouse to look so weathered and “interesting”. Weathered beams may look nice to someone, but I would laugh if I walked into a penthouse apartment in New York City and saw large faux beams in the living room.

  12. Posted March 8, 2012 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    I’m sorry to keep this conversation going, but I just had one more comment. I mostly show a defined edge; only recently have I begun to have the hard rectangle or square edge not show at all, and I do really like that and get the reasons for doing so.

    I’m actually dumbfounded by those digital prints that employ the (very uniform rough) fake edges. I just find that offensive. And while I never (well, hardly ever) showed the 35mm sprocket holes, back when I used a 35mm film camera, I have nearly always shown the edge of a large format negative. My reasoning is (has always been) that I crop in-camera. I realize nobody cares about that sort of thing anymore, if they ever did– but I’m quite proud of my compositional and in-camera cropping capabilities– so I show that off when I exhibit my images.

    I used to tell my students to take their time hitting that shutter– though no one does anymore with digital– and to tell themselves that it would be an impossibility to go back into the darkroom (or to the computer screen) to crop afterwards. I do believe that continually cropping in-camera ultimately hones your vision and, over time, allows you to take a picture quickly when you need to– and not have to worry about a good composition, because you’ve trained yourself to know how to compose in-camera.

    Honestly– that’s my last thought that I’ll post about this topic. I do like seeing the edge of an original large format negative– for that reason only– purely and simply showing off compositional skill. So . . . is that bad?? :)

  13. Peter J. Blackburn
    Posted March 8, 2012 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

    Oh, this discussion is good. My hope is for future readers, especially those new to alternative, to read and consider the many facets of this issue. Fringe or over brushing might appear as a subject minor consequence, but, in my view, it directly relates to our vision and how we choose to “frame” that vision—which is where the major consequence of this topic plays a far reaching role in our work.

    Diana, you make me laugh. “Is that bad…?” Why yes, yes it is bad. Now go sit in the corner and think about what you did. Wait till your father comes home and hears about this! He’ll take your camera and computer away for weeks!

    Of course, you know I’m joking with you. To me this whole issue of cropping, what to show and not show, etc. sort of boils down to motivation. “Showing off” — is that a good motivation or reason? I’ll leave that one to you and the readers.

    On the other hand, is cropping as a result of necessity or a “prior intention” a good reason? For example, if I’m out shooting with my Rolleiflex, which I do quite regularly, should I ignore compositions which would look better as an 8 x 10 simply because I am shooting with a square format camera? Remember, if I crop I won’t have that option of “showing off” my film margins on the print? Similarly, is my vision any less valid if the 8 x 10 format border and film notches are omitted simply because I chose to crop my artistic eye from a portion of the negative? What about those film photographers who make sure those little notches appear in the print so as to tell the viewer the image is full frame AND shot with a Hasselblad? Ooohh, can I touch it? I suppose those are rhetorical questions— the answers to which might make me bad, too. Oh well, scoot over, Diana. Let me put on my dunce cap and pout in the corner with you. On second thought, let’s make faces at the teacher!

    My opinion is if sprocket holes, notches, film ID numbers, format indicators, and even fringe appear on a print, there had better be a good, obvious, and indispensable reason for doing so. And whether the photographer wants to admit it or not, those little addenda to the image become part of your “vision.” Let’s hope they merit that kind of prestige. But I’ll lay 6-2 and even they don’t.

  14. Posted March 8, 2012 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

    Hey Peter–

    All worthwhile points.

    And I know I said I wouldn’t comment again, but here I am, commenting again.

    Firstly, I can’t envision any scene looking compositionally better as a rectangle than as a square. Seriously.

    Secondly, in your scenario of cropping, I don’t think your “vision is any less valid,” but probably not as sharply honed. Just kidding– (well, only just a little).

    Thirdly, I do think that showing off is as good a reason as any to allow the edge of the film to be seen– certainly the main reason why I always did it– but if it’s important to let people also know what type of camera was used, (eg, Hasselblad)– then that is, most certainly, very very bad– no matter how you look at it.

    Ultimately, though, if I sense that whatever I choose to do (eg, fringe; no fringe; film marks; no edge to the image at all . . . ) isn’t somehow part of the image and works in harmony with the image — and, instead, somehow negatively impacts the image itself– then I think that’s your (well, my) answer.

    And while we’re on the topic, I’ve seen some people sign the bottom of their image in such a way (let’s just say– in a not inconspicuous way) that when I look at the image, my eye just goes right to that signature. And I know that cannot be good.

    Thanks, Peter. This discussion has really made me think (which is good, because– otherwise– I’d just be off somewhere– you know– showing off.)

  15. Peter J. Blackburn
    Posted March 8, 2012 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

    But, Diana —

    Some of the images on your website are rectangle. Could you elaborate on what you mean by your first point? Or as I say around my house, “Too dark, use flash.”

    I see the format of any particular camera whether square or rectangular as part of the “automatic” settings of a camera. And as such, it is subject to being changed as I, the artist, see fit. I tell IT what to do, not the other way around. No camera is going to tell me how to expose any more than it will tell me how to compose. I realize that puts me in far, far left field with many artists, but what else is new? Truth be told I usually follow the dictates of that unalterable square opening I see in the viewfinder. After all, it’s so convenient and quite imposing.

    I agree with the signature issue. I was tempted to address that topic for this blog instead of fringe, but decided upon fringe. I am especially bewildered by those who sign the mat rather that the print. Oh well. It takes all kinds!

    OK, Diana. Fringe away! Go ahead, be like that! Smear that greasy kids’ stuff all around your beautiful prints. But I still lay 6-2 and even . . .

    Many, many thanks for the lively banter! It does make me think, too. In fact, I’m getting a headache . . .

  16. Posted March 8, 2012 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

    Hey Peter,

    Yes– that’s true– I use all camera formats, but I am definitely more drawn to the square. Not sure why– just easier to see that way, I guess. Even though many of my images are from rectangle camera formats, I still believe that any composition visualized as a rectangle, would/could be made and just as compositionally strong (if not more so?) as a square. And, of course, there’s always the option to eliminate those annoying borders altogether (see above comments.) ;)

    I agree with you, though, that the camera should never be the one in control.

    Oh– and what about those people who insist on signing their image(s) in pen? (And I won’t even get into the ones who sign on TOP of the image itself.) I was always taught to use nothing but a pencil for a signature– for archival reasons. I guess that little archival rule has gone out of favor now.

    Diana

  17. Peter J. Blackburn
    Posted March 8, 2012 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

    Hi Diana—

    Well, the ol’ format issue is another thorn in the side of many a photographer. I suppose for every square format champion such as a Bill Brandt, there’s a rectangular defender such as an Edward Weston. So, as they say in horse racing, the winner will most likely be determined by a photo finish (pun intended).

    But I love the square format, too. It’s one of the reasons I shoot with a Rolleiflex. In fact, my all-time favorite is to print diptychs using square images.

    As for signatures, I’m with you 100%. I use a 2B pencil, and always have done so in the lower right corner just underneath the image. Signed and dated.

    This all has been good stuff. Don’t be surprised if some of our discussion pops up again as future blog topics. Thanks Diana! Much appreciated.

  18. Posted March 9, 2012 at 2:37 am | Permalink

    Square vs. rectangle is a good one, and can be extended to different aspect ratios of a rectangle. For a while I made paintings that were either square or had a rectange with a 1:2 ratio. The square felt very balanced, static, and related to a circle, while the 1:2 rectangle had more tension than any of the more common ratios.
    With photography, … hmmm… I’m trying to think of an image that I did NOT crop either in the darkroom or Photoshop. Again, I think it’s the printmaker in me being so accustomed to “print safe” areas that compensate for the imperfections of printing. I tend to shoot just a tiny bit wider than I want in the camera, since I have yet to find a viewfinder that is a perfect match with the capture.

  19. Peter J. Blackburn
    Posted March 9, 2012 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    Hi Scott:

    Yes, aspect ratio and landscape vs portrait are also considerations debated quite frequently in photography. It’s interesting to see how some artists approach their work through the eye of other disciplines such as printmaking and painting. Of the two, I much prefer the applications made by printmakers, since as I stated before, photography and printmaking have much in common. I’m not so keen on applying “painterly” techniques to photography.

    Have a great weekend!

  20. Posted March 29, 2012 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    Hi Peter,

    It is really nice to see someone like me in the internet: loving art. But we do have a difference though, I paint houses. I am a house painter in Brisbane and been doing it for years. I wanted to be an artist like you but I think I’m too old for that stuff. Being old means that it is tough to learn new things. I hope I would get some tips from you.

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