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Fine Tuning the Expressive Print Workshop by John Sexton

John Sexton Introduces Advanced Negative Alteration Techniques

John Sexton introduces advanced negative alteration techniques

I have already attended John Sexton’s world-renowned The Expressive Black and White Print Workshop in 2011 (read about it here). That single workshop has changed—for better!—my photography more than the thirty years of prior experience put together. Most of the improvement took place in the months that followed that workshop, as I was changing my habits, simplifying the way I print, removing unnecessary equipment, and putting in place a few new techniques. Eventually, I felt ready to have my skills re-assessed again, and to take them to the next level. I have signed up for Fine Tuning the Expressive Print Workshop, which I took in April 2013.

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Ansel Adams at 111

The Tetons and the Snake River by Ansel Adams. Image in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Tetons and the Snake River by Ansel Adams. Image in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Ansel Adams, born on 20 Feb 1902, would have been 111 years old today. His approach to photography, requiring a precise technique, coupled with a sensitive heart, and a perceptive mind, is as fresh today as it was in his heyday, in the early part of the 20th century. Even a cursory search for his name on the websites popular with the more involved photographers, APUG, Large Format Photography Forum, or photo.net, yields 20,000 unique posts and comments about him, many of which are recent.

Why is Ansel Adams so relevant today? In short: Adams continues to inspire photographers. He has been inspiring me for a long time, so let me share my perspective with you, as my small way of saying a thank you to this amazing man.

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It’s All About the Print

A framed, matted, and dry-mounted print. It is missing my signature in the lower-right corner of the opening, because this is a work-in-progress print (the blacks are too deep for my liking).

Perhaps I am old-fashioned, but I think a physical print, something tangible, that you can put on a wall, gift to someone, handle, or just share with friends, is a more powerful form of visual art than an ephemeral digital file, or a slide show. There is absolutely nothing wrong, inferior, or superior about digital photography, and I enjoy it very much. With traditional, analogue photography, the primary way to share a photograph has always been a print. I admire digital even more, when it has been printed and presented well. However, I feel that the art of simple, understated print presentation is getting lost in the sea of gigantic prints, affixed to oddest surfaces, rarely adding to the expressive power of an image. I prefer the important detail of a print to be in front of me, rather than stretched onto the sides, or even the backs, of a frame…

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The Expressive Black and White Print Workshop by John Sexton

Rafal Lukawiecki and John Sexton at John Sexton Workshop 2011

Rafal Lukawiecki and John Sexton at John Sexton Workshop 2011

After many years of thinking about it, I have taken the courage to apply to attend John Sexton’s famous The Expressive Black and White Print workshop—click here for the Fine Tuning workshop—which he has run for 29 years, having started in the days when he was Ansel Adams assistant. I was delighted to have been accepted, and I arrived in Carmel Valley, California, on the evening of 15 November 2011, where I met seven other attendees, from all over the world: Alastair Firkin, Frank, Herb Swick, Linda Fitch, Mike Reeves, Stephanie Slaymaker, and Steve Hartsfield.

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Photographing Slot Canyons

Canyon X, Abstract 2

Canyon X, Abstract 2

I have just completed my third trip to the slot canyons of the American Southwest, and a second one to Canyon X—and my 41st to the Southwest. It is a breathtaking place, somewhat challenging technically, extremely rewarding, and a sort of a spiritual experience—all at the same time. While I wait to print my new photographs, I would like to share a few thoughts about that place, about my photographic technique, and about the feeling of being there.

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A Love of American Landscape

When I was a child I lived in communist Poland. I knew America—which is how we usually referred to USA at the time—as that land where everything was possible, people were free, and the landscape was filled with miraculous shapes and vistas. Later, when I read the books and when I browsed National Geographics at the library of the US Consulate in Kraków, I felt I was right, and I aspired to see it with my own eyes, some day. When I was fifteen, I saw the Challenger disaster on TV, and I was shocked by it. I hung a poster of its crew, which I have also managed to get from the Consulate, over my desk, to remind me of the hopes and the dreams that some people were prepared to fulfil by going to such extremes. That inspiration imbued me with a hopeful feeling towards that land and its people, that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

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How to Print a Book of Black-and-White Photographs?

Proudly holding a test run sheet at the back of a Heidelberg Speedmaster

Proudly holding a test run sheet at the back of a Heidelberg Speedmaster

My exhibition, (Be)Longing, has closed, but the book of the same title, which I have printed for the show, is here to remain. I am pleased with the book. The layout is nice, and the reproductions of my prints came out really well. I’d like to share a few thoughts about the process, and the people, who helped me get it printed. Of course, you can buy it here, too.

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Opening of (Be)Longing in Kraków

Karolina Vyšata and Rafal Lukawiecki at the Opening of (Be)Longing Exhibition in Kraków

Karolina Vyšata introduces Rafal Lukawiecki. Courtesy © Szymon Madej.

(Be)Longing, my first solo exhibition, has opened at 7 PM, on Friday, 14 January 2011, at the Stained Glass Museum in Kraków. It has been a very emotional moment for me, but there was no time for tears: a last minute rush to get everything ready was followed by an unexpectedly large turnout. Having planned for 40–50 guests, I was very nicely surprised when some 120 turned up. Thank you!

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Interest in Photography

I have been interested in photography since I was a child. I became enchanted when I saw an image appear on a sheet of paper floating in a dish filled with developer. That was better than magic. I received my first camera from my uncle. My mother took the next step when she signed me up for membership in a local photo club. Soon, as a nine-year-old, I started developing my first pictures and I was showing off my knowledge of optical aberrations to my playmates.

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Travels

My day-to-day job requires me to travel a lot. I beat my own record by visiting forty-six countries in 2010. I used my large format camera in only two of them, in one I used medium format. This does not alter the fact that all of my travels have been teaching me respect and understanding for other cultures as well as helping me perceive colour and uniqueness in the world that surrounds us. Nevertheless, my heart always wants to return to the mountains and the deserts.