U of S | Mailing List Archive | alt-photo-process-l | Re: curves and gum and Christopher James book

Re: curves and gum and Christopher James book

Hi Yves,

Yes, as others have explained, the "ugliness" of the curve matters not. Isn't all of photography a matter of tone mapping? Our film or chip maps the extreme contrast of the scene into something we can print. The Zone System was nothing more than chemical based tone mapping, complete with all the vagaries that come with chemical based processes. 

Just because we get to pull back the covers on the tone mapping when we warp our image densities (with a curve) to create a negative with appropriate densities does not mean we're damaging the image or distorting the original intent of the image, any more than Kodak or Ilford or Nikon or Canon are making our images "ugly." Make sense?

Thanks for being open to different ways of thinking about this.


On Mar 11, 2008, at 11:15 AM, Yves Gauvreau wrote:

correct me if I'm wrong, but the way I interpret what you say below, is because of many other factors the uglyness of the curve effect is burried or hidden to ones eye.
If it's the case then I can understand why you all have no time to waste on this.
It comes back to what I said before, either something or your tweeking that is hidding this adverse effect and it's not the method of making the negative.
----- Original Message -----
Sent: Tuesday, March 11, 2008 7:44 AM
Subject: Re: curves and gum and Christopher James book

Ah, we finally hear what's really bugging Yves about the curves. He's disturbed at how the curved image looks. Please keep in mind that any "profiling" is bending color and contrast. It's just that when you have the luxury of choosing a "3800 Enhanced Mat" profile for a color print, the dirty work of that bending and changing is done behind the scenes, away from prying eyes. One could liken it to observing a corpse at a funeral and saying, "my, doesn't he look alive." Were you to have an honest discussion with the mortician, you might not enjoy hearing about the cardboard forms jammed in the mouth, the cotton under the eyelids and the plugs in the ears. But if that's what it takes to make for a pretty body, why should we care? Our "curving" is just like that. Sure, we're bending tones, but when you have tens of thousands of tones to futz with in a 16-bit image and you don't see any evidence of problems in the final print, why the dickens should we fixate on the curving? That's time better spent shooting or making prints.

In the 16 years I've been making digital negs I've witnessed an evolution in the ability of the average photographer to grasp curves. For most people who've been immersed in digital imaging for a while, tweaking a digital neg curve is no more "trial and error" than using curves on the image itself as part of the post processing. I tell students that if you learn Curves and Masks, there's a lot of Photoshop you DON'T have to learn. My personal feeling is that about 70 percent of our image-editing power resides in those two controls so learning how to finesse a curve, whether for a print or for a digital neg, is a skill that will serve you well for the rest of your photographic career now that photography is digital.

Speaking of printing, right now I'm going back into the darkroom to print platinum. And the 3800 negs (on InkPress Transparency Film) are printing beautifully. Yes, the Curve that is applied did make the image look like hell on the computer monitor. But when I finish the print with gold and varnish later today, I'll stand back and say, "my, doesn't that print look alive."


On Mar 11, 2008, at 2:59 AM, Yves Gauvreau wrote:

The question that come to my mind is why a print that transformes your original in a very similar fashion as above become something that everyone seems happy about? Do you all accept these limitations as part of doing alt-prints?