Interview with John Zokowski

John Zokowski represents a wholesale paper distributor – Butler-Dearden Paper, selling papers to artists and the alternative photographic process market.

Interviewer / Malin Fabbri
Photography / John Zokowski / Tomo Uehara

Weston paperWhat is your background?

The paper industry is where I’ve worked for just under 42 years. I have represented Butler-Dearden Paper Service, Inc., of Boylston, MA, a wholesale paper distributor for 21 years. My interest in paper runs very deep. I’m always exploring for new papers or new uses for existing papers.

Image right: John Marcy and John Zokowski.

Over the last 20 years, with the demise of paper mills that produce the beautiful text and cover papers we’ve worked with for so long,

I’ve looked for ways to augment sales, remain challenged and become more creative.

This eventually led me to the artist papers market and eventually to the alt. process market.

How did you discover alternative photographic processes?

I discovered alternative photographic processes through John Marcy, a master of PT/PD print making. A letterpress printer introduced us. John owns Northampton Photographics and prints for 21st Editions. Upon our introduction, John demonstrated his process to me, and

I was taken with what appeared to be coaxing images out of plain paper. I had never seen such wizardry.

I’d been accustomed to images produced by letterpress and offset lithography print shops. Although by 2006 I’d been in the paper business some 39 years, I’d never seen a print made by an alternative process.

John Marcy’s print making was so new to me, it was exciting for me to see an image made
on the samples I submitted to him for testing. I was in for a bit of learning, and I’d been challenged to come up with a paper for the process. And as I am a paper nut, I wanted to come up with the best possible paper that I could find. Although I’ve come up with the Weston, I’m still searching for others. I’ve identified several candidates which do print, but we need a lot more time with them to see if we can economically commercialize them.

Weston paperHow is your business specializing in papers for alt. proc. Printing?

One day back in 2006, at the suggestion of a letterpress printer in the same building, I cold called John Marcy, a PT/PD master. John prints for 21st Editions. He was very welcoming and asked if I would see if I could find a paper he could use in addition to his regular stable of papers. So I took on the challenge. Weston Diploma Parchment came out of the effort to identify another paper for John. And in the fall of 2006 we launched the product. Of course, it was subsequently discontinued and then relaunched.

Image right: John Marcy coating Weston paper.

The movement to mills running alkaline and/or buffered product, shutting down because they are not economically viable and the movement away from creative papers is leading to the shrinking of available papers on which to print alt. process. And the remaining mills do not want to run acid balance papers. Furthermore, the minimum to run a specialty grade can be anywhere from 7,000 to as much as 20,000 pounds of paper, a very sizable investment. A further complicating factor may be that not everyone is going to like the shade of white, weight and texture which we may run. So there are a lot of variables to be considered before investing in a special run.

How are you currently working with papers for alt. proc. Printing?

I was fortunate in gaining the interest of the manager of the Weston Papers division of the Southworth Paper Company of Turners Falls, Massachusetts. We’ve been working very closely since my original foray into the alt. process world. He has been very instrumental in guiding his technical and production departments in the nuances of manufacturing the Weston Diploma Parchment. Over the last thirty years, the Weston representative and I have forged a lasting friendship.

In addition to new customers, in the last 2-1/2 years I’ve made many new acquaintances and several friends in the alt. market. I’ve also had the pleasure of learning many new things about putting images on paper. The major takeaway from all this is the constant learning.

The other paper specialties I sell are digital ink jet papers, specifically Innova Art ink jet photo and fine art papers and the Hahnemuhle line of digital ink jet papers.

Weston paperHow do you see the future of papers for alt. proc. moving?

Unless there is a paper manufacturer working on some obscure paper project, whose paper coincidentally matches the physical characteristics of those required for alt processes, I do not see where there will be new cotton papers brought to this market through direct development.

Image right: Photograph printed on Weston paper by Tomo Uehara

What I do see happening is new papers manifesting themselves through serendipity. Recently I was sorting some samples of papers I’d been sent a couple of years ago. I discovered that several of them had a slightly acid balance. And upon further testing we discoverd that we made a very nice print. All seven of the paper samples are alpha cellulose and not cotton. Yet they exhibited a great deal of strength after bathing.

Alpha cellulose papers, and not cotton-based papers, is probably from where you’ll see new papers manifest themselves. There are far more alpha cellulose papers produced than cotton grades, and I just have to believe that there are some as of yet undiscovered papers whose characteristics meet those of the alt. process community.

John Marcy and I have tested several alpha cellulose papers from which he’s been able to make beautiful prints. Right now, the market is using cotton based papers for lots of reasons. To convince photographers and artists to transition to alpha cellulose is going to be difficult, but it is going to be rewarding for those who dare to experiment and see for themselves that there is opportunity beyond cotton. Our initial testing indicates that we can make beautiful prints on the right non cotton papers.

One of the main concerns is longevity. Not to worry. Longevity can be achieved with non cotton papers. We just have to overcome the psychological block of “we only use cotton” papers.

The other possibility I see for making more papers available for the processes is taking a presently unsuitable paper and rendering it through chemistry and coatings as suitable. I cannot elaborate on this idea as I do not have a chemistry backgroung, but the idea seems logical.

Open for discussion!

It is a pleasure to work with our alt. process paper customers. I’ve made many new acquaintances and several new friends. The community at large is a robust source of constant learning and challenges. I think that the more we all share our learning and experiences the better off the community will be. Some of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had have come from a photographer asking me if a certain paper will work, or when he/she asks me if a certaing type of paper exists, and I send them samples to try out. Eventually, I get an email or call from same, and they are all smiles, because they’ve been successful. A wonderful example of experimentation is when I supplied samples to Dan Burkholder to test for his PT/PD over gold process. The results are just striking, and the translucent vellum I supply to Dan is now his standard paper. I get a kick out of helping people become successful.

Experimentation is one of the keys to success, along with diligence. If we stop experimenting, then the growth will end. So whatever it is that your experimenting with, don’t give up.

I am always open to discussions about paper(s). So if anyone has a question about paper in general or would just like to brainstorm and idea, my phone line and email are always open to hearing from photographers and artists.

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