Photography as Printmaking


©Ellie Ivanova. Leaning on a Weak Argument. Silver gelatin print and linocut, 2012 and 2013. Click on image to view it large

Franco Vaccari says that photography is an unconscious act: the technology largely eliminates the necessity of an author with his/her artistic will and hand.  And I bet every photographer hears at least once a day the lamentation that photography can’t really be considered an art, since cameras nowadays do all the work.

So I took the chance to see how my photographs would work if they were prints as a blessing. Prints as in printmaking, made not from negatives taken by a camera, but through the hard labor of your hand. I was curious what my pictures would look like in that form, but first of all, if they would really feel like my own.  And I’d have to say it’s been a very illuminating experience.

Even though my linocut and woodcut were based on images I had taken and printed in the darkroom and knew well, just the process of carving every single inch of each image made me really get to know them. To be really acquainted with them. To reconsider them. To claim every inch as something I endorsed. Because even though I had not used the camera’s auto settings to take the pictures, obviously I couldn’t control, choose and conjure everything that happened to be in front of it when I clicked the button. But in carving it, I did control and choose – and, surprise!, I consciously considered and willingly chose to include in the print almost everything that was already on the picture.

I also noticed certain little details that had eluded my attention but in reality had shaped the images in a significant way. The ominous shadows in the cloud above the lone figure leaning on a branch, for example. The subtle direction of the cloud. The conceptual balance between roots and branches (or clouds). This is the technological unconscious Vaccari is talking about. Even though I had not taken the responsibility of these details while taking the picture necessarily, they were an indelible part of what it was about. Making the print, however, was really taking responsibility of them.

It was a great exercise to see firsthand how the different media work. While photographs are all about halftones and subtle light, linocut is contrasty. And woodcut is so imprecise. It was a good occasion to remind myself that you can’t really translate one image from one medium to another, you instead create a totally new image, with its different logic and creative means, for each medium. While I’d be losing the halftones, I’d be gaining strokes. I can gain emphasis, grit, lines…

Of course, printmaking and photography have a lot of overlap. Both have been called “democratic arts” in terms of the potentially countless copies that can be reproduced from each matrix. There are some processes that both count as their own: photogravure, for example. And after all, the products of both photography and printmaking are called “prints”.


©Ellie Ivanova. Barefoot at the Door. Silver gelatin print and woodcut, 2012 and 2013. Click on image to view it large

So, which one do you prefer – the print or the photograph in each case? Have in mind, though, that these two are my first attempts at either linocut or woodcut. If they are not perfect, the problem might not be the medium, but the skill 🙂


2 responses to “Photography as Printmaking

  1. I really like the colors you chose for the second print. Wistful. And I think what appeals to me most about non photographic art is imprecision, which leads to whimsy. I do, however, struggle sometimes with imprecision in my own work – I get inspired by a photo or a flower, and then have to figure out how to make it work with what I use.

  2. Thank you, Allison! The funny thing about the woodcut colors is that originally, there wasn’t much of it in the scene I shot. I had to make them up, practically. You are so right when you talk about figuring out how to make it work! Photography has it much easier 🙂

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