Photo Corners

A   S C R A P B O O K   O F   S O L U T I O N S   F O R   T H E   P H O T O G R A P H E R

Enhancing the enjoyment of taking pictures with news that matters, features that entertain and images that delight. Published frequently.

Matinee: Charles Cramer on The Fine Print Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

7 May 2016

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the 134th in our series of Saturday matinees today: Charles Cramer on The Fine Print.

If you've been to the Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite, you've seen Charlie Cramer's work. It's hung on the walls and displayed in a big book of available prints.

That's no accident.

Like Adams himself, Cramer was a pianist. And also like Adams, his first visit to Yosemite made a profound impression on him. Cramer eventually studied under Adams before becoming something of a bridge between the world of film photography and the digital age of photography.

It's a fascinating story which he tells through a series of his own prints that illuminate fine art printing in plain language.

He jokingly calls himself a disciple of the cult of the fine print. The print is primary, Ansel taught him. And, Cramer says, it's a lot of fun.

Don Worth, an assistant to Adams, suggested "an alternate view of tonality in prints," Cramer says. No blacks. Like the Impressionists. A higher key tonality. Pale prints.

Cramer has a beautiful example of that and a story that goes with it in which he confesses his reluctance to take what turned out to be one of his favorite pictures once he printed it.

He met Apple's Bill Atkinson in the late 1980s at a class he was teaching for the Ansel Adams workshop. Atkinson was keen to duplicate the results he saw in dye transfer printing with a digital system.

He became interested in color photography in the 1980s when he went to the Southwest. He started making Cibachrome color prints but was dissatisfied with some of the reds you see in the sandstone of the Southwest.

So he tried dye transfer. It was phenomenally complex but did allow "tremendous control over the final print." He developed a love/hate relationship with dye transfer, he says.

He shows a gorgeous dye transfer that shows just what the attraction was.

In 1994 Kodak announced it would cease making dye transfer materials, offering the remaining supplies to the highest bidders. Cramer borrowed some money and got a stock pile of supplies.

But dye transfer was just another step in his printing odyssey.

He met Apple's Bill Atkinson in the late 1980s at a class he was teaching for the Ansel Adams Workshop. Atkinson was keen to duplicate the results he saw in dye transfer printing with a digital system. "There must be a way to do this digitally," Atkinson insisted.

And he worked on just that, updating Cramer on his progress. "He became a one man R&D lab for digital printing," Cramer says. Atkinson could afford things like drum scanners to push the technology forward until it delivered the first digital prints with LightJet printers that used lasers to expose photo paper digitally.

In 2002 the first good inkjet printers came out, Cramer remembers, and today's inkjets are even better than the Lightjet printers. "It's almost too easy," he laughs. A $99 Costco inkjet does a very good job these days, he adds.

Cramer then talks about his own approach to photography, focusing on detail and avoiding the sky, preferring the diffused light of overcast days and shooting into the sun to get backlit effects.

For extra credit, watch Cramer's The Print Is The Performance in which he demonstrates Adams' proposition that the negative is like a musical score and the print its performance.

In that short video, Cramer plays the slow movement from Beethoven's Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor, Op. 13, first as the score suggests and then in his own interpretation, emphasizing the melody and dampening the chords.

He compares that interpretation to a print of his own depicting steam rising off tree trunks in a winter morning in Yosemite. He shows us the straight print first of all and then his modification of the tonalities to represent what attracted him to that scene that morning.

As he says at the end of the first video, "It's the light that really makes a picture come alive."

And his images almost seem to be breathing.


Thank you for the excellent writeup! I may be biased, but it's one of the best I've seen!

-- Charlie Cramer

Thank you for the very kind words, Charlie. Not to mention your inspiring work! -- Mike

BackBack to Photo Corners