It was a busy 800+ kilometer weekend for me with 2 installations and one opening/artist talk. My series Blood Unquiet is on display at Evald Okas Museum in Haapsalu from 18.07 to 09.08. The gallery is open from 12-18, Tuesday-Sunday. This is the last show for Blood Unquiet in Estonia in the foreseeable future, right after unmounting the prints will start their way towards Photoville, New York.
During the preparations of my exhibition in the last six months I wrote a lengthy series of posts about different decisions I needed to take. Now I'm trying to analyze what worked and what didn't. Of course I don't know what the outcome would've been had I took different path, but in general I think I did a pretty good job even though I completely rethought some aspects just days before the pictures went to print.
Diasec vs showcase floater. I chose Diasec and I'm happy about it. For me, Diasec somehow represents the bleeding edge of printing technology although I do have much respect towards the classic matted and framed photos. In this case, Diasec made me able to print bigger which was necessary to fill the gallery space. Showcase floaters would have been more expensive and thus smaller.
Diasec vs anything else. I ruled out canvas pretty early, although I have to admit that after seeing Arne Maasik's Deep Sea exhibition, my attitude towards canvas changed a little bit. If the canvas in question has fine texture and is put onto quite shallow frame (not the usual 2-3cm deep things), it looks pretty good. Had I chosen the classic framing with passe-partout I wouldn't have been able to make the pictures as big, leaving the gallery visually empty again.
Glossy vs matte Diasec. I chose glossy. Definitely happy about that, because matte version reminded me of ordinary photo paper glued to foam board. I might have to rethink that after Photoville, but that's then. I would have been able to afford non-reflective museum glass had I gone down the classic passe-partout route, but then again, I really wanted to try something I cannot afford without grant money.
Sizing based on photo importance. In the early stages I thought about this, but then realized it would have resulted four different sizes. That's obviously too much (for me to handle).
Sizing based on visual appearance - that is, make both portrait and landscape pictures all the same height. It probably looks nice in the gallery, but the pictures will have different visual importance, downgrading all portraits to B-pictures. I'm happy I was talked out of it just hours before the final commitment.
Sizing based on Photoville requirements - fit the pictures into 2,3x2,3x6m container taking into account the convenient viewing distance/picture diagonal ratio. It would have certainly resulted too small pictures for Tallinn City Gallery. But as I'm not yet back from Photoville, the jury is still out there on this one.
Overall sizing. I settled with 92x76cm prints which I consider optimal for the circumstances. Not too big, not too small. It would have been nice to have one really big print, but here my rational thinking held me back - I going to need to transport the pictures quite a lot after all.
Borders vs no borders. I chose to add 6cm white borders to the pictures. No practicalities here, I just like the way they look. Maybe this will have a practical aspect to it at other exhibition venues where the walls are not plain white.
Alignment. I tried two options - pictures aligned by top border and by upper thirds. When I did the sketchups in computer, it seemed that aligning upper thirds will make the visual appearance more uniform while aligning top borders gave too much visual weight to portrait pictures. When I finally went to install the exhibition into the gallery, the guys who design and install all the exhibitions there still suggested aligning top borders. I took their advice as when the pictures are at real distances from each other, this solution looks better and there're no problems with visual weight.
It sounds so natural and effortless now that it's all decided and worked out and my wife has even teared down the brown paper placeholders from our living room I made to try out different sizes and alignment options. It didn't come nearly as easily though, if I'd need to come up with a rough estimate, I'd say 200+ hours (over 50h comes from some 7 trips to Tallinn). And that's not counting shooting, editing and postprocessing.
In this post I'll try to describe some of the some of the final decisions and thoughts before the exhibition opening. Here's the link to the post where I described the last moment decisions.
The final size of the pictures: 76x92cm and 92x76cm (with 6cm of white border on each side) portrait and landscape formats, respectively. I wanted both formats to have the same weight. I'm very happy how it came out.
I chose glossy finishing. Although I had more restrictions when hanging the pictures in the gallery (I had to put brighter images opposite to the windows), I'm again very happy I didn't choose matte version. It's working very well in the current gallery.
Intro text on the wall in both Estonian and English looks amazing too, it catches the eye even from outside of the gallery. I could complain a little about the design, but well, I didn't have much experience with this either.
One of the last choices I had to make was whether the pictures should be aligned by top third or top border. I made some tests and found out that when the pictures are not very close to each other, they should be aligned by top border, when they're close - by top third (otherwise the portraits will have more visual weight). I had plenty of wall room in the gallery, so the pictures are aligned by top border. Looks good to me.
I had a small panic when ordering the pictures in the gallery, because the plan I made at home didn't work very well. So I spent 2+ hours in the gallery just reordering the pictures and it finally seemed logical to me. Whether other people find the same rhythm and associations, remains to be seen.
All in all, it's an amazing feeling when more than a year of work comes together and looks stunning. Sorry for praising so much my own work, but it definitely is the high point of my photographic career.
Go see it for yourself (Facebook event in Estonian) and let me know what you think ☺
My exhibition titled "Blood Unquiet" is on display right now at Tallinn Art Gallery. The gallery is located at Harju Street 13 and open from Wednesday-Sunday 12:00-18:00.
You're more than welcome to visit!
This is probably the last update before the exhibition itself. I'm saying "probably" to leave open the possibility to add a few more thoughts, should there be any. All the decisions I described in previous update have been taken and the pictures are sent to printing. But I'm not saying what the decisions are - you need to come and see by yourself. I'm still unsure if all works out as it should, so I can only make the conclusions once the pictures are hanging in the gallery. Hoping for the best.
This weekend was the first in several months when I didn't have a long TODO list related to my current projects waiting. Meaning I was able to go out with the camera first time since November - one of the results is shown above. The rest of the April will be crazy again, on several fronts - fundraiser, exhibition, application writing, day to day work, family, maybe even some travelling. And when it's over, it'll be clear if I'm going to Photoville and how my exhibition turned out. Whatever the outcome, I'm looking forward to spending more time behind the camera again.
I'm quietly thinking about continuation to project "Blood Unquiet". I have several interesting - or at least possibly interesting as you're never know before you've got the shot - ideas still waiting for their time. And I'm contemplating a new project. This one is going to be incredibly complex technically and I'm not even sure it can be done the way I imagine. And it also needs fairly large investment into gear, all while my resources are fully booked for Photoville.
This is a continuation to the series of articles about my exhibition. So Artproof made a test print of matte Diasec at 75x90cm with 6cm white borders you see above (I'm intentionally not showing the larger versions, sorry for that). A few words what worked and what didn't.
I like it. Sort of. The reflections are very well controlled, you can view the picture under any lightning conditions and it takes well rooms with busy backgrounds (thinking about Photoville containers).
I certainly like the borders. They make the picture stand out. It's like the difference between framed and matted print and a print glued to the plastic sheet. Some people said the border should be wider - I'm thinking about it. They seemed just fine for me. Maybe 1cm wider, but not much more.
Another pro is that no other major exhibition in Estonia has been done in this technique. So it's interesting from technical point of view too, at least to some. Chance to be the first.
Sadly there're things I don't like too.
Firstly - the blacks are not really black. Like these deep juicy blacks of the glossy version. There're pictures where it's not a problem, where most of the picture is made up of rather bright tones. But there're several pictures in my series than count on blacks.
Secondly - it lacks the glamour, the punch, the wow effect of the glossy option. It's much more forgiving in bad viewing conditions, but it's doesn't shine in the very good conditions either. It's a very nice compromise. Just I'm not here to make compromises.
A good point was made by one of Artproof guys - human brain itself is very effective in removing the reflections. If you want to see the content, your brain makes the distractions go away. If I want to show my pictures to possible gallery owners (I dream big, I always have) at Photoville, they don't care about how the pictures look in the container, if they like them, they imagine how they would look in their gallery.
For everyday working in the office where I can't choose lighting I prefer matte computer screen. When I really want to enjoy photographs, glossy screen beats matte hands down. And even if there are some reflections, I can quite effectively ignore them.
So, I still have to make the glossy or matte decision. Just as a comment - if my photographs were color, I wouldn't think about the matte version, it would be instant glossy.
I also talked to fellow photographer and curator Kaupo Kikkas about my choices. He made a good point about the sizes (currently 75x90 and 75x63) - making portrait format smaller immediately makes the photographs less important. So true. And not ideal for my story.
So, I still have to make the final decision regarding the sizes. I even figured out how to line up the pictures in this case - they're usually aligned by the upper third. Why not.
I have to iron out the details by the end of next week the latest. Although the same things have been on the table almost since day one, I feel much more informed taking the decisions. Not going to be easy nevertheless.
On my trip to Tallinn I also visited Linnagalerii where my photos will be exhibited. There was an installation that made it very hard to understand what the conditions will be for my exhibition though. The organizers on Linnagalerii's side liked very much the text accompanying my series so that they proposed to fill one wall of the room with it. Another thing to work on. At least no decisions here ☺
All in all, I feel my thinking when it comes to exhibiting my photos has made a giant leap forward.
This post is follow-up to Exhibition Considerations Part II, where print sizes were discussed.
I spent two evenings this week cutting out placeholders from packaging paper and taping them to the wall. My main concerns were to find suitable sizes and layouts that would work for both of the main venues (Linnagalerii and Photoville container). I tried the following sizes:
- I have one test print in landscape format at 100x80cm and I added 80x64cm portrait picture (actually just the paper cutout) to it. Landscape is definitely too big for Photoville container.
- So I tried both landscape and portrait formats at 80x64cm. The sizes are fine, now the layout becomes questionable - do you arrange the pictures by tops or by bottoms? Tops is better, but I still don't like it.
- Fine, let's try landscapes at 80x64cm and make the portraits match the height, so they would be 64x51cm. Layout is good, tops and bottoms match, but the portraits are just way too small for my liking.
- There're not too many sizes in between, so I made some 90x72cm placeholders for landscape photos and 72x57cm for portraits. I found it to be just right. Not that I had too many options left, but still - I felt somehow very comfortable with these, especially in comparison to the previously discussed options that filled my other walls.
At some point after googling "diasec in gallery" I stumbled upon framed Diasecs - there're several options but I instantly liked just plain white border around the picture. Not a frame in classical sense (wooden frames are available too, but I don't fancy those), but rather something that separates the photo from the background. I discussed this with Artproof and they thought that it would be good idea for the Photoville containers where the background is rather busy. It also makes the picture area a bit smaller and improves the viewing experience from short distance.
After some experimentation I found out that at 90x72cm 6cm white border is the very minimum. I'd like it to be even wider, but then it starts eating too much of the picture area, particularly in case of the smaller 72x57cm portrait format. And it also changes the aspect ratio, so I have to do all my calculations from scratch.
I still want the long side of landscape to be 90cm, so that's the starting point. If the border is 6+6=12cm, the longer side of picture area would be 78cm. 78/1,25=62,4cm and 62,4+6+6=74,4cm. Note how the aspect ratio changes here - we started from 90x72cm which matches exactly to the 4x5 (and thus the division by 1,25) originals and end up with 90x74,4cm which is not 4x5 any more because we added the same amount to both sides. Applying the same to portrait format and using the new length 74,4cm (cause we want them to form a perfect row in the gallery) as the longer side of portrait format: (74,4-12)/1,25+12=61,92cm (62,4x49,92cm being the picture area).
So the (hopefully - you never know before it's done) final sizes would be:
- 90x74,4cm for landscape format
- 74,4x62,92cm for portrait format
- And maybe - depending on the budget - we'll throw in one bigger picture to liven up the exhibition a bit
I'm hoping to solve the other dilemma - matte versus glossy Diasec - next week with a test print. More on this when I see it.
As mentioned in previous post, I went to Artproof to make some test prints of my upcoming exhibition. Writing down some random takeaway thoughts.
A word of warning. Our discussion with Artproof guys both started and ended with the conclusion that the material is good enough that if I want, we can make the final prints right here, no need for any additional adjustments. But there is room for improvement on some pictures and of course I'm going to use it. I'm not into spending big bucks on prints when I know I haven't given my absolute best. So the remainder of the post is discussing these minor places for improvement that 98% of the people won't even notice.
The whole process looked like this - first we went through the photos together with the printing expert and made some corrections. These were actually quite small, like lifting the very dark areas a bit on some pictures and making them deeper in some others, setting the white point where there's more room on the highlights side, etc.
Then we cropped narrow strips of most critical parts of the pictures and printed them. We set the size so that when the pictures would have been printed whole, the size would be 100 x 125 cm. One of my pictures has been printed 3 x 6 m for outdoor advertising banner, but I haven't had a chance to look at it closely. This time we looked at 100 x 125 cm prints with a magnifying glass under gallery spotlights.
That's revealing I would say, revealing being a modest word here.
- I've always struggled with the pattern noise of my Canon's sensor. At this size, the patterns are at their best. Once you notice, you can't forget it and concentrate on the picture any more. Part of it is psychological effect, but still. Nasty, nasty, nasty. Although the printing expert said that very few people will notice it, I'm still unhappy. I need to start over with post-processing of some pictures. The below example is overprocessed to the point my wife could see the pattern, my tolerance for it being far lower. And it only gets worse when blowing it up to 200+% needed for big prints. The point is, it's there in the data.
- It's unfair and totally unscientific comparison, but the one picture in my series made with Sony RX100 Mk3 actually looked better than the rest from Canon 5D Mk3. Grain is much less noticeable, tonal transitions are linear even in the places that have been heavily processed (and by heavily I mean +1 stops of exposure compensation and some clarity). If the term non-linear transition makes you wonder what the heck I'm talking about, then here you are, an example of state of the art Canon sensor:
- We also looked at some RAW files and the printing guy showed me why it makes sense to set sharpening to zero for the workflow and sharpen only at the end for the right output size. Much less noise and weird artifacts (which amplify with every additional processing step). Grain can and should be added later, knowing final printing size. Having some unobtrusive grain actually makes the tonal transitions smoother. Example: 200% crop of sky on ISO 100 image, left - unmodified image, right - sharpening +40, clarity +50 (not unheard of amounts for local adjustments, but something I usually don't use globally):
- Grain has to be uniform. I have one picture which is made in good light, not at some crazy ISO, but the main subject is in relatively dark area, where I've lifted the shadows considerably. So most of the picture is almost noise-free, but the lifted dark area shows strong noise artifacts, making it rather unpleasant. see patch three from left on the first picture. To be processed from scratch.
- We looked at the test prints both in ambient light and under gallery-like spotlights. There is one picture in my series that is very dark, making it very dependent on lighting. It's beautiful under spotlight, the details come through very subtly. Now when looking at the same print under ambient lighting, most of it is just pitch black. So I have to choose whether to make it lighter and viewable under not-so-good light (and too bright for spotlight) or leave it darker - perfect for spotlight, but pointless under any other lighting. Another hard choice because there're no spotlights at Photoville.
All in all, it was a very informative experience.
PS: I feel strong urge to mention I hate discussing camera makes and models and I have avoided it for years already. The reason has been simple - the camera is by far not the weakest link in my work. Cameras just haven't gotten into my way. This post is an exception and this blog will not become place for bashing gear... Then again, why not say out aloud what I think - this is my blog after all, describing what I'm working on and struggling with.
- Photoville festival held in converted freight containers
First of all, these are two very different venues, but the one thing in common is that neither of them is very well suited for displaying pictures with highly glossy surfaces. Tallinn Art Gallery because of the first room where there's one big wall opposite to the windows and containers because the walls are light gray and close to each other.
I consulted with some people who confirmed my doubts and said that photos on Diasec are very demanding when it comes to the rooms where they're being displayed. I have a 80 x 100 cm test print on a high-gloss paper used in Diasec process taped to my living room wall opposite to a big window and I have to admit it's very hard to find a suitable viewing angle so that the reflections won't distract you. I explained in Part I why I chose Diasec (showcase floaters won't save me from reflections either and are even harder to transport and display in containers, matted prints under museum glass are just too ordinary), now lets investigate how to proceed from here.
After some googling I found out that there're several types of Diasec - the ordinary high-gloss version, the same thing just with matte acrylic (sometimes called anti-glare) and so called anti-reflective version (basically Diasec under museum glass). The last one is ruled out by price, that leaves me the matte Diasec.
When visiting Artproof we checked the test prints under frosted glass, mimicking the finishing of matte Diasec. It cuts the dynamic range of the prints noticeably, making the nice deep blacks a bit less black and probably the bright whites also a bit darker, but that's not so noticeable. But it also widens the viewing angle and cuts reflections.
I probably want to see a real example before making the final decision, but I don't think I have many other options to choose from.
Today's post is about determining the sizes of my exhibition prints. This is how my ideas have developed. If you're here for the first time - Part I explains some background.
First thought - OK, I have 5000€ to spare, let's get the price for one square meter, divide 5000 with it and then divide with the number of prints and I'm done. For example, let's assume the price is 200€ per square meter of Diasec, so:
5000 / 200 / 15 = ~1.7m²
That would make huge prints - around 1.5 x 1.2m in size. This is a bit oversimplified, but enough to make the point.
I cannot discuss sizing without the venues where the exhibitions will take place. First of them is Tallinn Art Gallery (Linnagalerii), which consists of two fairly large rooms and is not very restrictive. The other exhibition - Photoville in New York - takes place in converted freight containers. The dimensions of standard freight container are 2.6m x 2.6m x 6m. So my theory doesn't hold up very well:
- I can't even fit all 15 photos into the container (easy workaround is not to show all pictures).
- Assuming there'll be people looking at both walls, the average viewing distance will be around 1m, which, for a 1.5 x 1.2m print is way way too close.
- Be assured that hauling prints of such size from Tallinn to New York is neither easy nor cheap too.
Obviously that's not going to work and I need to think of something else. Let's try to calculate the optimal size by viewing distance instead. The rule of the thumb is that optimum viewing distance should be around 1.5-2 times the diagonal of the picture. So if my smallest real viewing distance is 1m and we assume 1.5 as the multiplier (we're in eco mode, remember), it would make ~0.7m as the diagonal of the picture. That would make the print about 40 x 60cm (I'm deviating from the 4:5 ratio, but that's OK for illustration purposes). That does not make much sense from Linnagalerii's perspective nor will it fill my budget. This is supposed to be my big day with huge prints I can't afford otherwise, after all.
Next idea - let's make prints in two sizes, so that I can show, say, 7 big prints and 8 smaller prints in Linnagalerii, then make duplicates of the big prints equal to the smaller size and show them at Photoville. To be more specific, I was thinking about the following sizes:
100 x 80cm - the big prints, 7 pieces
80 x 64cm - the "small" prints, 8 pieces
The above set will be shown at Linnagalerii, then I'll make 7 more 80 x 64cm prints of the pictures that were previously big and show only the smaller sized set at Photoville. I can make all of them proportionally smaller if I don't fit into the budget. I even thought which pictures are more important and will thus be made bigger etc.
This was my working theory until last Friday when I went to Artproof for making proofs and to discuss sizing. What the guys there suggested is that the vertical size should remain constant - otherwise it won't look good in gallery. Thus I can make smaller and bigger sizes, but the division will be made whether the orientation is landscape or portrait. To give a visual reference of what I'm talking about:
█ ▐ ▐ █ ▐ █ ▐ █
It actually makes a lot of sense. It seemed so logical I was embarrassed I couldn't figure it out on my own. On my previous two exhibitions there were only photos in landscape orientation ☺
So I'm back to square one. I don't have a valid idea what the sizes should be to work for both venues.
Long story short - I won Artproof Young Photographic Artist's Grant last year. The objective of the Grant is to create top quality exhibition of the artist's project. With 5000€ to spare and times already booked in top galleries of Estonia one can think that it's a piece of cake. Well, it's not.
First thing to consider is finishing. What I've tried so far:
Canvas. Actually not an option. I passionately hate canvas and cannot imagine my works printed on it. The texture reminds me big potato bags used when collecting them.
Good photo paper, matted, framed, under glass. This is what I've been doing all the time until now. I could afford museum glass with this budget and some really big sizes. But... been there, done that. It will surely be beautiful, but I'd rather want to try something I'll never be able to afford myself. Also, matted pictures have a size limit from where on they're not so good any more.
I visited Artproof production to see some of the examples they offer. The following are the two high-end options.
Diasec - photos are glued between a sheet of 2-4mm thick aluminium and sheet of highly glossy acrylic glass. I've seen several exhibitions printed with this technology and impressive it is. The glass on top of it somehow makes the print super-realistic, the contrasts and colors pop. With good lighting it feels almost 3D. Choose a suitable picture and it's almost like a window to artist's reality. In some context, one could make an argument against Diasec that it has no frame - not relevant for me. My main problem with Diasec is also it's main strength - the high-gloss glass and all the reflections.
See Diasec at it's best in Kaupo Kikkas's Miner.
Showcase floater - photo paper is glued onto aluminium and then put into showcase where the picture seems to float (it's not fixed from the edges, but from the backside so that the fasteners aren't visible). It's beautiful, but somehow does not click for me. I can imagine color photos with this finishing, but not my black and white series.
Last year's winner Maxim Mjödov used this type of finishing.
So, for now my working theory is Diasec. I've been proofing and editing the series on an iPad, which is probably closest thing to Diasec you can have without printing.
Next up - sizes & venues.