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John Wawrzonek

What went into dye transfer prints and how does it compare to today’s pigment prints?

Please tell us about your work at Evercolor.

What do you look for in a great print?

What is one lesson you would like to share with the current/future generation of printers?

What is your current printing process?

Dye transfer prints

A more in-depth discussion of dye transfer print can be found HERE including a slide show of me making a dye tranfer print in my own lab.

What went into dye transfer prints and how do they compare to current pigment prints?

There are two categories of photographic color processes:

1. Those in which the color dyes are created by changing a chemical coating within the printing material. Examples are so-called C-Prints (or Ektacolor prints); direct positive prints and all E-6 transparency films. They are usually referred to as chromogenic materials or “incorporated color coupler” materials.

2. Processes in which the color dye or pigment is added to a base material. Examples include Kodachrome film, dye transfer printing, Technicolor movie films, and all inkjet printers. In general this second kind of process allows for more freedom in designing the color dyes or pigments because they do not have to be “developed.”

In dye transfer printing, the printing matrices (geletin relief films) are soaked in appropriate color dyes and rolled into ig fb gnbb to printing matrices (geletin relief films) just prior to rolling them into contact with the printing paper. (Please click on the link above to see a print being made.)

Dye transfer is a process of many steps involving considerable specialized equipment. This equipment often required the help of a good machine shop.

There is no standard way of making a dye transfer print. Kodak used to publish a phamplet called E-80 that was somewhat of a guide. Kodak also had technicians on their staff in Rochester that could help, in particular Frank McLaughlin, to whom I am deeply indebted, including putting me up for the night during several visits to Rochester.

To answer the question “What went into a dye transfer print?” I can list the elements, but the most important was careful, patient persistence in developing and refining the techniquest to be used.

To begin, there were (in my version of the process) eleven black and white films necessary before actual printing. They were:

2. Three low contrast separation negatives (Kodak Type 2 separation film)

3. Three highlight separation negatives (Kodalith film)

4. Two color correction masks

5. Three matrices to carry the dye

2. All precisely in register

3. Three solvent based subtractive color dyes (cyan, magenta, yellow)

4. Precision negative carrier

5. Vacuum frame for matrices

6. Rocker table for dying matrices

7. Electric water temperqture controller

A brief overview of my adventures in print may be found HERE.

In 1978 I built a lab especially for making dye transfer prints. Anything less and the process would be unreliable.

In 1978 dye transfer offered extreme color gamut and control over contrast and saturation plus a tolerable level of complexity (as opposed to color carbro).

Until recently the color gamut of dye transfer could not be matched by pigment prints, and technically still cannot be matched. However the pigment printers (such as the Epson 10-color P9000) are good enough that it is rare that more gamut is needed. Additionally, the pigent print can be made in a fraction of the time. However, the killer difference is in image stability when exposed to light. A dye tranfer print will show fading in direct sunlight within days. The pigment print in reasonable lighting will last for many decades.

However, it is the simplicity of Photoshop and a calibrated monitor that will give an excellent print in a very short time that makes dye transfer unreqsonable.

EverColor® Pigmet Transfer Print

Evercolor was the same process as AgfaProof but with custome pigments.

I became CEO in 1994 and moved the compqny to Worcester, Massachusetts. EverColor was involved in marketing fine qrt prints whicfh i will not discuss here. My primqry responsibility wqs tecchnicl isues with the QAgfa Process. Eventualy fatql flqws becqme evident in the process followed by Agfa discontinuing making the materiaqls. This led to the investors declaring backrupccy.

The process produced superb color, resolution and likely the most light stable print mqde. However, since it was a rollor trqnsfef process it was very sensitive to roller pressure variations qnd could not be reliedd to make qn qceptqble print in smooth areqs such as open sky. This proved to be unsolveable.

Great Prints

Often the first 1/2 second of looking tells me a great deal. I don’t have to think, I just feel a unique kind of please. Then some analysis. Is it really that good after a bit of study. If my initial reaction was strong, then almost certainly yes. However,some image require lingering. There are all sorts of qualities to point to: balance, contrast, color quality, etc., but there is no one thing. Everything works toward one end and my job is to anticipate what will happen when all is right. Then, of course there is the subject, but I don’t know how to generalize. It could be anything, but the parts must work together. subject matter. The print must have no obvious flaws but beyond that all is subjective. An excellent example is my current printing with an Epson P9000 on Canson Platine and Canson Photographique.

The printer uses 10 ink colors, has very wide gamut and color accuracy. However, placing the two Canson prints side by side shows entirely different renderings. The Photogrqphique has a matte finish and smaller gamut and when placed beside the Platine print looks dull and flat. However, when the Photographique print is looked at alone, preferably after hours of rest, it execudes a fine qrt quality that is extraordiary. There are zero surface reflections and a quality difficult to put into words. With an excellent origiginal it is almost three dimensional and its apperance is captivating. It is my preferred print for most originqls.

The imporqnt point is that print quality differences can be subtle yet be extremely importqant.

What is one lesson you would like to share with the current/future generation of printers?

Look at as many prints and processes as possible. Eventually you will develop a sensitivy that is yours alone. Then you muwst experiment with your most precious origials and push all dimensions: contrqst, saturation, lightness, darkness, burning, dodging until you reach too much or too little in each. Then you must choose combinaqtions and not judge quickly. It has taken me up to 10 years to achive the right rendering for one of my best images. However exper9ejce will redice this to hours, dqys, weeks. etd. Then hang it under optimum lighting, preferqwble frqmed. qnd live with it. Eventuaqlly you will be expert in your own rendition style.

Nature Photography

Translating from one medium to another.

All artists do this in order to bridge the unbridgable gap between an experience and using words to describe the experience. Poetry and great literature bridges some of the gaps, but not nearly enough. There are simply not enough words in any language to do this, nor can a word, by its inherent limitations, accomplish this.

Musical and visual artists express what cannot be put into words. However, there are different paths. Musicians require a composition perhaps by another artist. Painters may attempt to render something from nature or life or may imagine something and translate that into a paiting. However, even writers must drop back on experience, the rememberance of things past to suggest words.

Each is attempting to communicate something that cannot be communicated any other way. A melody or even a phrase by Chopin or Mozart or Beethoven or Mahler stretches our lives into territories they cannot access any other way.

A painter, such as Michaelangelo, encompases even more for the composition is a multiplicity of stories that are rendeered in the painters mind in a new form, often combining different “acts” into one scene where each act may illuminate ever other act.

The painter has entered into a world that is not his or her own, senses, comprehends in different dimensions something that exists and presents it in another form that transforms life from one form to another. The “other” brings not literal translation, but a new experience that informs, but more importantly, translates in a way that expands the viewer’s life. The result cannot be put into words, for the purpose is to give understanding of that which cannot be put into words. Words are finite and experience is infinite.

A great composper works for the same kind of result, but in a very differennt way. He or she “knows” what the painter knows, but encodes it in a form that will be realized as sound. The encoding, the musical score, however is an approximation, a road map, that likely required a lifetime to learn how to create yet requires another artist, who also has spent a lifetime learning to translate the musical code into sound that is like the experience of viewing a master painting, but here exists as sound.

The viewer and listener also require a lifetime to have the ability to translate light or sound into a life-expanding experience. A late Beethoven string quartet or a Mahler symphony each depend on an expertise in listening and this expertise may be as profound as the work of art itself and may require skills of the composer and performer to cross the threshold into a soul-expanding experience.

Photographers, on the other hand, face different challenges.

A photographer cannot work without a subject, a kind of score, and that subject is plucked out of an infinity of scores, just as a musical composition is. However, the composer in this case is nature and nature has an infinity of natures although we shall stay with that part of photography that relies on a “wild” or wilderness or natural subject, but one, however one wishes to compare it to different art forms, is also an infinity. But here the score does not have a clear form of notation that is expected to create a particular sound. Here, it seems to me, there is a new orchestra with instruments that can be similar or completely different from scene to scene.

So the photographer looks for an exceptional, perhaps one of a kind beauty. The composer can render the texture in various ways, the photographer must do three things: hunt, recognize and capture. Capture is deceptive in seeming simple, yet every element: film, camera lens, etc. but more importantly the capability of the photographer to sense what can be captured.

Hunting is simply part of the job. Recognization is more difficult although it will not be as obvious.

Then there is printing, translating a composition by nature and photographer working together to the experience of the viewing.

Here a complexity enters that parallels part of what a painter does, for creating a “score” on film is complex. That experience, in turn, depends on the life of the viewer.

However, if one dwells on these ideas one realizes that allof life falls into the same concepts. It would take all that has been written to explain the above, for ultimately, it incorporates all of life.

Dye Transfer Printing

The view in 1978

Dye transfer was invented in the 10380s and is based on the technicology motion p;icture process.

Making a print, by the technique I usedrequired 11 black and white sheets of film, from 6 contact separations to 3 print size matrices to carry the dye to the paper. Its solvent based are probably still unmatched in color gamut although the difference is now small enough not to be a significant issue.

When I built my lab in 1978 it was far and away the best process for the work I was doing and was used exclusively by Eliot Porter.

Besides unmatched color gamut it offered extraordinary control for an analog process including, most importantly contrast and color saturation. The alternatives were to shoot negative film and make C-prints or to make internegatives and make C-prints.

Its disadvantages were a full day of work (at least for me or my assistant) to make the first print; hours or days further work to optimiaze the print; and extremely fugative dyes. Life on display under strintiently controlled conditions was at best 50 years. Exposure to direct sunlight I estimate could destroy a print in a day. I saw one of mine after two weeks in a south window virtually destroyed.

My experience with today’s pigment prints is with the Epson P9000 10 color printer. From my perspective there is simply no comparison. I have made limited color gamut comparisons and consider any differences to be unimportant. However, the control digital processing offers combined with ease of printing, choice of substrates. combined with far better print stbility mqkes it no contest.

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