February 20 2010
A friend of a friend who photographs corporate honchos and makes them look interesting and commanding wants to show me his stuff. As I find professional photographers’ portfolios inspiring, I’m happy to be bought a coffee.
It’s good, but, geeky as this sounds, I’m most drawn to the paper a lot of his work is printed on. It’s matte, but more than matte; matte photographic papers (the old style, wet developed papers) still have a slight sheen. These digital prints, however, are absolutely dead, reflection-wise. The ink gives the appearance of being embedded in the paper, as if it’s not really printed. The bigger prints have a luminous, Canaletto look, while smaller ones have the quality of miniatures. The photographer also has the prints mounted in incredibly good leather binders, which make it look still higher quality.
So I ask about the paper. It’s Hahnemühle art paper from Germany, he says, and it’s the best a man can get. I’ve never heard of it, so I Google Hahnemühle when I get home, see that it’s rare stuff, but there’s a whole range of interesting-sounding types. So I buy a couple of sample variety packs online from a company in, of all places, Thurso, Caithness. (Not for the first, or even the 10,000th, time I have to marvel at the web and Google in particular.)
Almost at the same minute – weird how these things happen – I get a press release from Ilford, which I imagined had long disappeared. The company wants me to try its range of... art photographic papers. I ask for a couple of variety sample packs. And 24 hours after having first heard of art photographic paper, I am virtually buried in the stuff. There are many other brands: Epson, I see, does a Gold range; Fuji is in the field. Each manufacturer has several intriguingly named art papers – the mattes I was first attracted to, but also glosses, pearls and all sorts. All are around £1 for a sheet of A4, which gives scope for experimentation. All seem suitable for any decent inkjet photo printer, so no need, if you’re going to play with these art papers, to buy professional equipment you may end up not using.
I start printing with my bumper box of fancy paper early one evening and am still churning them out at 3am. Getting into art papers reminds me oddly of olive oils; the deeper you get into it, the more confusing choice there is, with the important point that they’re all so lovely it hardly matters which you choose.
OK, a few of the finishes veer towards something you’d find in a naff wedding photographer’s portfolio – so do take care. Unless you really know what you’re doing irony-wise, step away from the gilt frames and canvas-look papers. Otherwise, it’s one step closer to becoming a photographic artiste, as opposed to a mere snappeur.