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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.