I’m huge fan of the hand-crafted print, and spent a lot of the 90s making digital negatives on imagesetters, as well as studying various 19th century printing processes. It was 1992, I was slinging images in Photoshop 1, cranking out imagesetter negs after hours at my local service bureau and taking them into wet photographic darkrooms to pursue that unique, and ever-satisfying handmade print. A few years later, I interned at Dan Burkholder’s studio and helped put together the first book on creating digital negatives for contact printing processes – a process that he deserves sole credit for pioneering. We were geeks, leaping tall technical hurdles with incredibly complicated workarounds that, surprisingly, made great looking final prints. It was so stochastic, man.

the first photogravure from a digital positive, 1994
the first copperplate photogravure from a digital positive, 1994 © SM

Bostick and Sullivan moved to Santa Fe and their alt printmaking supply business sky-rocketed, as has the alt-process printmaking niche. Thank goodness. IMO, Dan, Melody (Bostick) and Dick (Sullivan) deserve the lions share of credit for the alt-process resurgence we’ve seen over the last two decades.

But digital negs for alternative printmaking processes don’t make good prints by themselves – you’ve got to jack with them. For twenty years we’ve created convoluted methods of making Photoshop curves with Dmax and Dmin end points, and used complicated 3rd party RIP software and god-knows-what weird scripts to make it all happen. Dan and I, not to mention a handful of wannabees, have flown around the world teaching small groups of printmakers how to make their images come alive on these processes. Some have been more vocal about creating precise negs with the science of colorimetery on their side. I’m all about the color science, but these days I’m also devoted to elegance, and trying to see the bigger picture. I’m ready to jump ship from the very techniques that I’ve helped develop and teach over the years and push forward with newer, easier methods.

Let me tell you, all of this sucks. Not the print making part – that’s where the magic and passion lies. It’s the curves, MeasureTool, QuadTone inksets, weird drivers, scripts, even Photoshop that suck – we’re living in the dark ages. We’re working with glass plates with horrible halation problems.

Cyanotypes as seen in Photoshop prior to printing
Cyanotypes as seen onscreen prior to printing © SM

Today I hop on a plane to Mexico to see an old friend. Byron Brauchli left Austin for Xalapa ten years ago to make gorgeous alt-process prints for people who love them. We made the first copper plate photogravure prints from digital positives back in 1994 and taught workshops at Flatbed Press in Austin. This time we’re teaching a workshop on elegance. The elegance of making simple negs for alt-process printmaking without much fuss. We’re using common inkjet printers with their regular printer drivers and making common ICC profiles with free software that, with one easy step, provides print to screen matching and negs that print with perfect tonality. With these simple profiles we can see onscreen exactly how our images will look if printed with cyanotype rich blues or gentle warm palladium blacks. And we can print negs with one easy step that reproduce our images as perfectly as we’ve experienced them in the digital darkroom. It fits into a modern photographic workflow. No overwhelming technical gymnastics involved. It’s very clean. Back to making images, and making prints. Back to making.

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