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Roger Hicks -- Author of The Rangefinder Book

Roger Hicks is a well known photographic writer, author of The Rangefinder Book, over three dozen other photographic books, and a frequent contributor to Shutterbug and Amateur Photographer. Unusually in today's photographic world, most of his camera reviews are film cameras, especially rangefinders. See www.rogerandfrances.com for further background (Frances is his wife Frances Schultz, acknowledged darkroom addict and fellow Shutterbug contributor) .


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Why did you quit the wet darkroom?
Old 12-18-2011   #1
Roger Hicks
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Why did you quit the wet darkroom?

Assuming you have (I haven't).

Cheers,

R.
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Old 12-18-2011   #2
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I developed a lung condition from breathing all the fumes from the chemicals, as my darkroom wasn't well ventilated, so I had to quit. That was over 20 years ago.
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Old 12-18-2011   #3
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Old 12-18-2011   #4
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Because the silver geletin print is deader than dead.

Until a few years ago, however, inkjet prints werent generally accepted for gallery work or sales. That's changed. Archival concerns have been put to rest.

You can do more, easier, with inkjet printing than wet darkroom printing. The level of manipulation available to the less skilled is much greater at the computer than in the darkroom.

I've had this conversation with George Favre on more than one ocassion. George, now gone, was the man who printed HCB's work from the 70s on. When you view an HCB print hanging in the Met or any other museum, there's a high likeihood George printed it. He was a master. Yet even he admitted the obvious superiority of digital prints and saw that his skills were rapidly becoming an anachronism.
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Old 12-18-2011   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Teuthida View Post
The level of manipulation available to the less skilled is much greater at the computer than in the darkroom.
Oh boy.

I stopped wet printing color after several supply chain problems left me with paper but no chemistry in stock anywhere, then my paper being unavailable after the chemistry came in. The erratic supply of the chemistry I used (since discontinued completely) went on for a while, and after the dropping of the paper I used in all but rolls I decided to pack it in. I've not looked back, and now work with digital exclusively for color. Scanning film has never been something I did well despite trying hard to master it. Several scanners and several kinds of software, and many, many negatives and many many hours later the scanning film in a high enough quality fashion is something I just don't seem able to do. I'm in the process of choosing a batch of negatives which never made it to final print form to have scanned. I'll not disagree the work is easier, but I must say the level of enjoyment is different. While I find the quality of color inkjet prints far superior to the RC C-print, the end result does seem too easily reached often-times. There is seldom a challenge in Photoshop like there is in a wet darkroom, so much of the 'work' seems rote.

My darkroom is now solely B&W, and I still enjoy every minute of time in there. WHile there certainly is much repetition in darkroom work, the time spent being both mentally and physically active (even if it is simply standing there rocking a tray) is time I personally find more engaging. Partly it is the time during steps when the mind can wander- with the computer it so easily turns into a 'go-go-go' way of work.
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Old 12-18-2011   #6
pawel glogowski
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I quit just because it's no longer necessary. Besides darkroom was always very low on the list of things I wanted to spend time on. I don't mean i prefer to sit at the computer. I just waste less time.
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Old 12-18-2011   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Teuthida View Post
Because the silver geletin print is deader than dead.
You don't get to many galleries or exhibitions, then? Sure, silver halide is no longer obligatory, but it's still very widespread. Go to Arles and see.

And of course, silver halide is what most people use, most of the time, for minilab prints, so in the mass market it's pretty lively too. The prints are 'written' to silver halide colour paper, even from digital originals.

Cheers,

R.
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Old 12-18-2011   #8
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I was considered a very good printer, but it always took me a long time to get the results I wanted. Digital printing is far quicker, easier, and for me, much more precise.
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Old 12-18-2011   #9
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Well said Bob. For me also, darkroom work is more engaging, and more challenging, therefore more rewarding. As a hobby (or artistic persuit, if that is ones intent) it is more satisfying, which is what it's all about.
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Old 12-18-2011   #10
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This thread has instantly become a comparison of the virtues or otherwise of the two systems with Roger already challenging someone's frank answer!

Pretty pointless so far and ultimately just an analog verses digital bash in another guise.
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Old 12-18-2011   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Roger Hicks View Post
You don't get to many galleries or exhibitions, then?

R.
Actually, I do. Next time you're in Paris, stop into the VU. Unless its a showing of "vintage" prints from some "old master," the new work almost invariably is inkjet, and has been for a number of years.

In the Maison de la Photographe, which usually hangs older establiahed retrospective work, less so, but increasingly so with newer artists.

Cheers to you.
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Old 12-18-2011   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pawel glogowski View Post
I don't mean i prefer to sit at the computer. I just waste less time.
I find sitting at the computer to be quite the opposite. Far too easy to let any stray thought turn into a quest worthy of the Knights of the Round Table. Lock me in a dark room with just an iPod and some chemicals any day of the week and I'll be far more productive.


And thanks Frank.
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Old 12-18-2011   #13
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I realized about 10 years ago, that being a good photographer and being a good wet printer were two completely different callings. I was much better at the former than I would ever be at the latter. Then along comes Photoshop, a completely different way to mske a print, and suddenly my skill level in making prints finally measures up. I am much better at digital manipulation and printmaking than I ever was in the darkroom. I still prefer shooting film, though I shoot some digital, but I scan film and always print digitally. Photoshop is the darkroom on steroids. Anything that can be done in the darkroom can be done in the computer more easily with greater precision, and so much more that we have only begun to imagine. I tell my students that everything that traditional photography has been befor Photoshop is like having been only in the foyer of a gigantic masion. Now we have discovered, there are hundreds of other rooms we have yet to explore.
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Old 12-18-2011   #14
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Like HDR?


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Old 12-18-2011   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by diagularax View Post
This thread has instantly become a comparison of the virtues or otherwise of the two systems with Roger already challenging someone's frank answer!
Not really. And the fact than an answer is 'frank' doesn't make it correct. Declining? No doubt. Deader than dead? Hardly.

What we have learned is that for some, it is/was a matter of space; for others, supplies; for others, focusing on what they were good/better at; and for at least one, ideology.

Cheers,

R.
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Old 12-18-2011   #16
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And we have participants who have no relevance to the original question jumping into this thread to tell us how much more meaningful the wet darkroom experience is to them!

I'm off to find a bag thread ... at least their intentions are truthful.
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Old 12-18-2011   #17
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I haven't quit the wet darkroom.In fact I still very much enjoy spending time developing and printing but I am going to quit...........when I am in a box underground.....
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Old 12-18-2011   #18
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I had to stop using the darkroom on and off for nearly 4 years because of lack of space and no public darkroom available. During that time I made some digital prints and they lacked the lustre and quality that I was doing in the darkroom. I bought a nikon 8000, learned it well and I think my editing skills are pretty damn good. But looking at an 11x14 of each...I'm glad I moved and built a nice big darkroom in the basement.

Teuthida: You can appeal to the authority of Master Printers all you want, but they all have different opinions. Many Master Printers out there will say (if the skill is there) that the darkroom produces better results hands down. There's even a lot of digital Master Printers who will say that the darkroom produces better prints. In fact, if what you say is correct, George Favre is the first Master Printer I've heard make the claim that digital prints are superior to wet prints. I'm wondering if you got the context of his statement misinterpreted.
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Old 12-18-2011   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Teuthida View Post
Actually, I do. Next time you're in Paris, stop into the VU. Unless its a showing of "vintage" prints from some "old master," the new work almost invariably is inkjet, and has been for a number of years.

In the Maison de la Photographe, which usually hangs older establiahed retrospective work, less so, but increasingly so with newer artists.
At this point, we are in no disagreement: but 'almost invariably' in one place, and 'increasingly so' in another, does not constitute 'deader than dead'.

Cheers,

R.
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Old 12-18-2011   #20
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My problem was that I didn't have a darkroom, I had a kitchen. Conversion to a temporary darkroom was on a Friday when my wife went to her music group. The surfaces in our tiny kitchen had to be cleared of the microwave and all the other stuff that clutters it and replaced with enlarger, dishes, safelight, etc. Then I had to tape bin bags to the window and glass of the door and check for lightfastness (is that a word?), mix the chemicals at the proper temperature and I was ready to go.

Four hours later, if I was lucky, I had three or four prints that I was reasonably happy with and a bin full of test strips and failed attempts - all on expensive paper. The whole setting up process then had to be put in reverse to restore the kitchen to its proper function. Days later I would spot the prints to remove dust spots etc. and the process was complete.

Nowadays it's just so much easier. I still shoot mainly film but everything is processed digitally. Let's face it how many times nowadays do we clone out unwanted intrusions in seconds and think nothing about it. My wife also prefers it as she no longer is kept waiting outside in the rain (this is Scotland after all) on her return from her music group until I am finished my masterpiece, before I can let her into the darkroon/kitchen.

Having said all of the above I know that if I had a house big enough to accommodate a permanent darkroom I probably would have one because there is something about the magic of the whole process that appeals to me and there are plenty of occasions when I say to myself "This would look really good as a traditional Print!"
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Old 12-18-2011   #21
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After having explored scanning, digital phtography and mastering Photoshop, setting up a darkroom and doing wet printing felt like a rite of passage. I will probably never be a master, but at least I can make prints that look good, even from my early b/w negatives.

So I entered the game late in life, but I plan on doing wet printing until the day I die. Why? Photography is not a pursuit in itself, but being happy with myself and my life is. Wet printing is simply deeply, deeply satisfying.
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Old 12-18-2011   #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Roger Hicks View Post
Assuming you have (I haven't).

Cheers,

R.
I haven't either.
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Old 12-18-2011   #23
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I haven't quit the Darkroom and probably never will but availability of Darkroommaterials is starting to be a problem( I use matt paper that become less and less available). I've seen some marvelous digiprints and I am envious of all the papersurfaces available to the lightroom user and sometimes I am catching myself thinking about using the lightroom just because of the paperchoice they (lightroom users) have. But at the end of the day I prefer the look I get from classic silver halide material it's not better just different.

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Old 12-18-2011   #24
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I had a purpose built darkroom for decades, with enlargers from small format up through 4x5. And after decades of printing, and many hundreds of hours in the darkroom, got pretty good at it. But I never enjoyed the darkroom. It was a means to an end...a print. Digital and Photoshop were a ray of sunshine and I really enjoy digital printing. So I dismantled my personal darkroom almost a decade ago, and have no nostalgia for the "good ole days" at all.
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Old 12-18-2011   #25
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From an amateur perspective:

1. Required a fair amount of space, needs to be near water supply
2. Didn't have a room to devote to it, used a dark corner of my basement, had to cover small windows, seal areas with tape, put a sign up so no one could come downstairs - etc. (i.e. a hassle)
3. A consumable monster - alway seemed to be out of or running low on something, or things like developer had "turned". Too many times I'd go to develop only to discover I was out of fixer, low on paper, low on developer, what have you..
4. Too much trial and error - especially at my skill level. Printing paper wasn't cheap, and I'd mess up or tweak scads of paper to get the print right..
5. Dust
6. Other newer technologies caught-up.
7. Too many error-prone "touch points" in the develop negative - make final print chain. From struggles even getting your negative loaded onto a reel to over/under developing or bromide streaks in the neg, to struggles nailing the print exposue, to water streaks while drying, etc. Too many opportunities for error
8. So it's not the most efficient way of doing things, is costly, cumbersome, can be tedious... alternative ways have improved.
9. Dodging and burning is very limited to the point of being "stoneage" given what you can do with a digitized file...
10. Chemical fumes ain't the best thing to be inhaling, I recon and...
11. Are bad for the environment.
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This all said... while I no longer make wet prints, I'm glad I did for a spell and know how to do it...

It is certainly very rewarding getting a nice print doing things old-school. It is a very fun craft/hobby. You definately understand the photographic process better, it is magic seeing that print emerge in the developer... I'm glad I flirted with this for 4-5 years but doubt I would ever go back.

Last edited by NickTrop : 12-18-2011 at 07:27.
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Old 12-18-2011   #26
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jordanstarr View Post
In fact, if what you say is correct, George Favre is the first Master Printer I've heard make the claim that digital prints are superior to wet prints. I'm wondering if you got the context of his statement misinterpreted.
no misinterpretation. I've sat around a table with George more than once talking printing, viewing prints, discussing prints, discussing student prints, discussing HCB's prints, discussing photoshop (which George learned in his last few years).

George was a no bs guy. Very humble and kind. Unwilling to countenance the high faluting crap spouted by a lot of "experts." He worked with every great phorographer who came through Paris at one time or another. He saw all their contact sheets. He admired VISION, not technical skill. Technical skill can be farmed out .Vision can't.

Anyone can ge an artisan. Few can be artists. This forum is an artisan's forum. Nothing wrong with that. But don't confuse the issues Mr. Hicks deals with with Artistic concerns.
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Old 12-18-2011   #27
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Quote:
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( I use matt paper that become less and less available).k
Dear Dominik,

Try Ilford Art 300! Frances's review is at http://www.shutterbug.com/content/il...e-silver-paper

Cheers,

R.
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Old 12-18-2011   #28
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quit since I moved to a smaller house, with no room for a dark room
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Old 12-18-2011   #29
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I haven't. It's just been a question of means.
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Old 12-18-2011   #30
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NickTrop View Post
11. Are bad for the environment.
Dear Nick,

I won't argue, but equally, I'd like to see an environmental impact study of silver halide versus digital. The problem is that both sides (pro- and anti- halide) tend to take extreme and usually indefensible positions.

Thanks for the rest of the post, too.

Cheers,

R.
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Old 12-18-2011   #31
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What changed for me is the editing: adjustments and manipulations, even cropping, are so much easier in digital workflow than at the enlarger.

More controls, easier/faster to apply, see results instantly vs. a few minutes per test print, and the changes are recorded permanently and perfectly so I can produce the same print again in the future. With this, I'll never dodge and burn in the darkroom again.

Digital editing was the big game-changer for me.
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Old 12-18-2011   #32
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Roger thank you for the link just read your wife's review of the paper and I've been wondering how the paper compares to the old Forte/Bergger Portrait unfortunately I can't seem to find ART 300 in Austria. According to your wife it isnt really suitable for lith printing which would be a shame.

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Old 12-18-2011   #33
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A few things........

Time. I have other things to do that are more important.

Space. I had other use for the space I used to develop in.

And.......I have a very good Mom & Pop camera store that Does a great job.
And I like to support small local business.
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Old 12-18-2011   #34
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I teach photography in a prep school in the US, I would't dream of teaching it without beginning with film and wet darkroom. When the art building at my school was flooded in 2006 and everything was lost, the School wanted to eliminate the darkroom and go all digital to reclaim the space and avoid the replacement cost. I fought to keep it and won. I demonstrated how crucial it was to have the analog experience to inform the new digital one. i'm not sure who said this, but on the subject of eleminating analog photography processes from the photo curriculum, it was pointed out to me that we would never consider teachibg painting without teaching drawing first. I think this is a good analogy. I totally agree, that wet prints can surpass digital prints for technical quality, especially for true blacks, but neither surpasses the screen image. My hope is that someday the digital print will caych up in this regard. I put my emphasis on the vision and not the precious object when it comes to my own work. Why I photograph is to see what I see, to measure my awareness, to express my inner vision. The print is just a record of that seeing. Adams called the print a peirformance and the negative (today a file might be included), the musical score. i think he got that right.
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Old 12-18-2011   #35
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DominikDUK View Post
Roger thank you for the link just read your wife's review of the paper and I've been wondering how the paper compares to the old Forte/Bergger Portrait unfortunately I can't seem to find ART 300 in Austria. According to your wife it isnt really suitable for lith printing which would be a shame.

Dominik
Dear Dominik,

DEFINITELY not!

Cheers,

R.
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Old 12-18-2011   #36
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I enjoy the wet darkroom too much to totally give it up. It does see less use though. All my color is now done on inkjet but all my B&W is still done in the darkroom. I do admit it's easier, for me, to fine-tune a photo in Photoshop than in my darkroom. But, there's nothing like pulling the perfect print out of the final wash in my wet darkroom. Incredibly satisfying.

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Old 12-18-2011   #37
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Teuthida View Post
Because the silver geletin print is deader than dead.
...
I wish I had the time and the place to set up my darkroom.

Invited to exhibit my Paris 1978-1982 photographs, I found an excellent printer in NYC to print my negatives. I am reasonably adept with a scanner and have produced very good black and white prints; however, these prints, even printed on Museo Silver Rag paper, cannot compare to the silver gelatin prints my printer is producing. There is something about the silver print, a depth of tone (even if digital black and white enjoys a wider tonal range) that I do not see in digital prints.

An anachronism? Perhaps not.
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Old 12-18-2011   #38
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Never even started. I went straight from Snappy Snaps and Boots the Chemist, to the kitchen sink and the scanner.

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Children. More specifically, lack of room for...
But children fold away quite small - one can easily fit four or five into even the smallest packing crate.
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Old 12-18-2011   #39
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Unless its a showing of "vintage" prints from some "old master," the new work almost invariably is inkjet, and has been for a number of years.
I don't know about bw but if you're inlcuding color work in your assessment then I disagree that most new work is inkjet. No doubt, most contemporary work comes as a 'digita print' in one form or another but whenever I go to galleries and museums I see loads of digital C-prints hanging on the walls.
Inkjet or 'pigment prints' might be more prevalent with b&w. I really don't know as most of the contemporary work I see is in color.
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Old 12-18-2011   #40
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ruby.monkey View Post
But children fold away quite small - one can easily fit four or five into even the smallest packing crate.
Smaller still if you boil 'em down...

Cheers,

R.
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