I remember years ago asking a photographer and gallery owner where he did his printing. I didn't know if this was an appropriate question, as many professionals are very reticent about sharing this kind of information. He quickly stated, "West Coast Imaging." The luminance of the images struck me and over the years I have watched West Coast Imaging continue to grow and then spin off a second company, Aspen Creek Photo to handle the needs of the growing numbers of photographers who want the same level of professional quality, but in an easy-to-use company. Richard Seiling, the founder and owner of the two companies, answered Pictureline's questions about this world of photography that is so important for the final presentation of all of our hard work.
Pictureline: What is the greatest mistake photographers make when they first start printing their photographs?
Rich Seiling: Having expectations that are informed by desire instead of experience. Experience is what lets you achieve what you see in your mind's eye. It takes hands on doing it. A common example of this is not understanding that a print will not exactly match a monitor, and even more so if you are not using a reference display like the NEC Spectraview/Lacie/Eizo monitors.
Pictureline: What are your philosophies about printing photographs?
Rich Seiling: Prints are the ultimate expression of a photograph. Nothing offers the resolution, the detail, the beauty of a well-made print displayed on a wall. What I work to build into prints of my expressive work is a rich use of the photographic language. I’m what I call "classically trained." I cut my teeth on film and the analog darkroom. My aesthetic is informed by what an 8x10 contact print from Ansel Adams or Edward Weston looked like, or an enlarged print by John Sexton can achieve, and what Ilfochrome/Cibachrome prints from Christopher Burkett and dye transfer prints by Charlie Cramer can emote. Writing a short poem with a photograph is easy. Learning the visual language to write a Shakespearian play requires a entirely different understanding of craft. I love what that kind of craftsmanship can produce, and it’s part of what excites me to make prints.
For color photography, I’m also looking for a congruence to reality. I’m not a big fan of the over-saturation effect. If I show you a picture of a lupine flower and then you go out and look at the real thing, I expect there to be a congruity in the experience, that the blue-green of the foliage hasn’t been rendered yellow-green by the printmaker’s decisions. I spend a lot of time looking at my subjects with my eyes. I try and burn real life colors into my head so that my prints evoke that deep essence of the thing itself in the print. If blue-green foliage is what gives a thing its essence, I sure don’t want to make it yellow-green in my print!
My photographs are often inspired by light and color more than subject, so I want to communicate that inspiration through in the final print. Alfred Stieglitz called prints made with this approach "equivalents" because he felt they were equivalent to what he saw when he made the photograph.
Pictureline: I believe you still print for some pretty large names in the photography world such as Jack Dykinga and Robert Glenn Ketchum. How does the process of working with these well-known photographers go? Do they inspect prints before printing large numbers of them, or do they trust you to fine tune the details in house?
Rich Seiling: We’re very blessed at West Coast Imaging to work with people like Jack Dykinga, Robert Glenn Ketchum, Bruce Haley, and so many other true masters of the craft. It’s inspiring and rewarding to help put their vision into a print. All of our custom printmaking is done with our Master Printmakers Terrance Reimer and Michael Jones. It’s a very collaborative process with the artist. When you are talking about top professionals, they have a long relationship with the medium. They know what it can do and what they want, and how to express what they want. This actually makes working together easier. Typically, one of our printmakers will make a set of adjustments to a new file then make a proof that is sent to the photographer, and they discuss it on the phone. Some images need more adjustments and then more proofs are made, and the process is repeated until it meets the artist's expectations.
Our job as printmakers is to learn to read our clients' minds, to translate their qualitative descriptions into quantitative adjustments that make the print match what they see in their mind's eye. We try and make the process as easy as possible for the photographer, and the longer we work with a client, the easier it becomes. With our longest standing clients, we can almost read their mind, and it’s very common to have our first proofs approved. I think a lot of people have misconceptions about it being hard to work with a master printmaker when it can really be quite easy. The thing that is consistent with professional photographers is that they methodically work the process. They don’t shoot from the hip. They talk to us, they make proofs, and they understand that it is not a 1+1=2 formula to make a great print. Pros also understand that proofing saves you money in the long run.
Pictureline: Supergloss, it seems, has been a very popular paper in the past several years. Why are photographers enjoying it so much? Do you think this type of ultraglossy paper will be a fad?
Rich Seiling: If it’s a fad, it’s a long running one. (Laughs) There are a couple of reasons supergloss is so popular. Supergloss causes a very visceral reaction in viewers, and most love the look. Gloss always makes colors richer and blacks deeper, and that really engages the viewer. SuperGloss prints glow as if they are illuminated from within in a way other papers do not. Photographers have a long relationship with this surface. Fuji Supergloss prints have the same surface gloss as Ilfochrome / Cibachrome prints. The Ilfochrome process was the preferred process for printing from color transparencies until the digital printing with the Chromira and Light Jet came on the scene in the late 1990s. So this look and feel has deep roots in color photography, especially fine art photography.
The trend is being expanded by the use of face mounting, where the face of a print is attached to a piece of acrylic with a optically clear glue. This creates an even deeper gloss, and solves the problems of keeping a print perfectly flat and smooth for display. Popular photographers like Peter Lik are further driving demand for it because so many people are being exposed to it in his galleries. We have a lot of people saying they want their prints to look like Peter Lik’s because they are so impacted by the effect of face mounting in a darkened gallery with bright lights.
Pictureline: You have a variety of services. When you started, you were dedicated to printing for professionals in somewhat large volumes. Tell us about how that has changed with the increasing popularity of photography and less familiarity with printing in a new customer base. (Aspen Creek, PrintLab, etc)
Rich Seiling: When I started West Coast Imaging, It was me and a piece of plywood for a table. It came from my passion for making prints for galleries and museums. At that time, I was working as an Assistant Curator at The Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite, and that genre was what I and friends lived and breathed. At that time, digital was so expensive that setup for one print was in excess of $300, so it wasn’t something wedding photographers were going to use very often. I was just applying the tool to what I was doing. As the technology grew, it became possible to offer it to more and more genres of photography. West Coast Imaging solved the equation perfectly for fine art photographers who exhibit and sell fine art prints, but I wanted to take what we’d learned making the very best prints possible and apply that to other genres like wedding, portrait, amateur fine artists, etc., basically the other 99% of photography. That’s where Aspen Creek Came in.
West Coast Imaging (WCI) is where you can have a five star chef be your personal chef for every meal, making it with the exact ingredients you want, including mussels from only a one mile stretch of the New Zealand coast with vegetables from one specific farm because only that will meet your expectations. WCI has unlimited combinations, which is good for those who have a lot of experience, but is a barrier for those who don’t.
Aspen Creek Photo is the casual atmosphere restaurant with top notch dishes, set up by our five star chefs, who created the menu and trained the chefs. You get a phenomenal dinner there, but you have to order from the menu. You don’t have to speak French to order at Aspen Creek Photo. (Laughs)
Pictureline: I've noticed that you can still order great menus, but it's easier to know what you want. Printing on canvas has definitely been a development of the last few years. Tell us about it, why people started to want it and how your companies are handling it. What should photographers know when they prepare images for canvas printing?
Rich Seiling: Canvas took off initially with painters and other non-photographic artists who created their original works on canvas and needed to reproduce them for sale. Photographers naturally wanted to do it as well. It makes an easy-to-display piece because it doesn’t need a frame, which makes it less expensive for the client. They just look good on people’s walls, and people like them. I see a lot of horrible looking canvases out there, from poor quality canvas being used, poor printer resolution, poor color management and inferior inks which leads to garish color, and no coating which leaves canvases venerable to damage over time.
We take a totally different approach. We use a high grade canvas that produces color as rich and vibrant as our photographic prints. We use ICC profiles and color management so that our canvases look like our photographic prints, and we print them on our fine art Epson printers at high resolution. Because of that, there is nothing different about prepping a file for canvas than for a print.
Pictureline: What is one thing you would like to tell all photographers who use a third party printer or even print on their own about the process?
Rich Seiling: If the print is being made from your file, you are the one most responsible for how your print looks. Garbage in, garbage out. A good profile and proper color management will not solve your decision to make it too dark. Don’t think getting what you want is science. It’s art, and you have to learn to express yourself within the limitations of the medium. You have to learn by doing. Don’t expect to get it right the first time. John Sexton says the most useful tool in his darkroom is his trash can. Thomas Edison tried about a thousand materials for the filament before he got a lightbulb that met his expectations. Just don’t forget to have fun doing it.
Check out Richard's companies West Coast Imaging and Aspen Creek Photo as well as his personal website.