Hmmmmm . . .
Let's see how digital B/W photography in its current state of development would stack up if we offered this wonderful new technology to a master of the past. So we will warp back to the 1950s with our computers, printers, Photoshop and RIPs, and set it all up in Ansel Adams' place. "Here you go, Ansel me old mate", we say. "You can dump all that stinky old darkroom kit now, this is the bee's knees". “And what is it?” mutters Ansel suspiciously. “Well, Ansey old buddy, this super high-tech setup will print your snapshots without any chemicals, no darkroom, no print washing or drying and with far better results than you are getting now”, we reply, confident of making yet another digital convert. “Show me”, says Ansel.
So we set up our scanners, PCs and printers, all state of the art, and proceed to make digital prints from an old negative Ansel has lying around, some rather boring shot with a moon and a kind of a graveyard thing in the foreground. We were going to impress him with a load of stuff about colour gamuts and ICC profiles, but he doesn’t seem to have any colour pictures at all, just these old black and white ones. No matter. The first print rolls out of the printer.
“Here you go, Ansey – this is from the HP 8750 with the photo-grey Vivera inkset, guaranteed to last more than 100 years, perfect greyscale, on the Premium Plus paper. Just look at that gloss!” Ansel handles the print suspiciously. “This paper is beyond horrible” he says. “The white is cold, and what is this vile rough surface on the back?” He walks to the window. “My god! It’s gone green!” Slightly flustered, we attempt to mollify the Great Man. “Er, well, yes Addsy, they do tend to look slightly different under daylight. It’s called illuminant metamerism actually, but you can get around it by …” Ansel spits on the printer, screws the print up into a ball and hurls it under the table. Sensing that things are not going too well, we quickly hook up the next candidate.
“Yes, dye-ink printers do have their little problems Addso, but try this. The Epson pigment ink R4800 printer, loaded with the fantastic Ultrachrome K3 inkset on Moab DaVinci Picasso Rembrandt 400 gsm Photo-Rag fine-art paper. Just look at the DMax on that!”. Ansel picks up the print. “This is matt”, he says, “This is watercolour paper. This is not a photograph”. “No, Addsey, that’s what everyone is printing on these days, all the fine-art printers. It’s called giclee, you see, and of course all the best photog …” Ansel tears the print into small pieces. “I do not print on matt paper”, he scowls. “I have never printed on matt paper”.
Feeling slightly nervous now, we try to grasp the initiative. “Of course, of course Ansey old buddy, we should have realised. Glossy? Have we got glossy!” A superb A3+ print rolls from the Epson 4800. “Here you go, look at this – Fibaprint Museo Platinum Silver Rag Supreme, just the same as a fine doubleweight darkroom print!” Ansel takes the picture to his desk. “The surface is rubbery”, he mutters. “It doesn’t feel right. And what is this? When I hold it against the light I can see a strange gold sheen. And my clouds – the paper is showing through the ink and ruining my clouds!” “It’s just a little bit of bronzing and gloss differential, Addso, nothing to worry about, and Epson have really improved things over the older models, we can probably do better with a different profile. Perhaps you could take pictures without clouds in?” Ansel takes out a match, strikes it and sets fire to one corner of the print. He drops the smouldering remains into the printer feed tray.
Desperate now to convince the master, we play our last card, the killing blow – “But Mr Adams, once the print is framed and behind glass, no-one will know the difference anyway!” Ansel draws himself up to his full height, sticks out his beard and looks us straight in the eye. “Gentlemen”, he says, “I will know the difference!”
Well, there’s just no pleasing some people