According to renowned artist-author-printmaker Harold Davis, Photoshop, DSLRs, and pigment-ink printers have empowered artists to produce photographic works that go far beyond what they could print in traditional darkrooms. Now that digital capture equipment, processing software, and printing technology have matured, he believes digital photography has emerged as an entirely new art medium.
With his background as a classically trained painter, accomplished professional film photographer, and meticulous printmaker, Harold Davis is proud to be at of the forefront of this new art medium. Through his experiments, craftsmanship, and unique insights, Harold Davis is expanding the definition of photography to include realms that go beyond documenting the decisive moment.
Harold Davis describes his current work as “Digital paintings that use photographs as the medium.” With the power of Photoshop and advanced digital printers and inkjet media, he believes that photographers who have the vision to tie it all together can craft images and styles that are uniquely their own.
To put his concepts in perspective, let’s review how digital photography workflows have evolved and why traditionalists in the art world must overcome some misperceptions about how Photoshop is being used.
Photoshop Preceded Professional Digital Cameras
First, it’s important to remember that Photoshop and digital photography didn’t always go together.
According to the timeline Adobe created for Photoshop’s 25th anniversary, the first version of Photoshop debuted in February, 1990 – about 15 months before Kodak launched the first DSLR camera.
In an interview on Adobe’s website, one of Photoshop’s creators Thomas Knoll explained that the first few versions of Photoshop were primarily for graphic arts and publishing. Photography workflows weren’t practical with Photoshop until inkjet printers enabled photographers to scan their film, manipulate the file in Photoshop, and then print each image without the cost of making film separations for each photo.
In the mid 1990s and early 2000s, DSLR cameras became more powerful and less expensive. The popularity of Photoshop surged, because digital photography made it faster and easier to bring digital files into Photoshop.
To inspire the huge new wave of photography enthusiasts to “shoot like the pros,” the digital camera and printer manufacturers encouraged professional photographers to adopt digital photography and the “digital darkroom” in which Photoshop was used in conjunction with pigment inkjet printers. This required the technology developers to make products that could generate digital prints that were as good as (or better) than the prints that buyers expected from professional film photographers.
This took a while, because many established pro photographers were reluctant to change. Many photography pros might still be shooting film if their editorial and advertising clients hadn’t demanded the workflow and cost benefits that digital capture provided.
Unfortunately, eager newcomers to professional photography never learned how to shoot film. Many regarded Photoshop as a fast way to “fix” photographs that weren’t properly composed or lit on location. Plus, graphic designers routinely “doctored” images of models and celebrities that would be featured on magazine covers. Because some of these photographs looked “unnatural” and “off,” photographs that were “manipulated” in Photoshop were initially shunned by photography contest organizers and art collectors.
Those attitudes are changing because most professional photographers today have become much more skilled in the nuanced use of Photoshop. Digitally manipulated images have become the norm – in print and online. Most people really can’t tell if an image has been “Photoshopped.”
So now, photographic artists feel free to experiment and explore everything that’s possible with Photoshop. In addition to replicating film photography, Photoshop can be used to execute the artist’s inner visions.
Photographic artists such as Harold Davis don’t necessarily care if their work looks like a traditional “photograph” or not. They make images and visual stories that until now could only exist in their mind’s eye. Today, if an artist can dream it, they can depict it in photographic art.
Experience in Multiple Disciplines Pays Off
Harold Davis thoroughly understands the vast differences between film and digital photography because he has such an eclectic background. In the 1980s he supported himself as a commercial film photographer after studying painting in college. In the 1990s, he took a break from art and photography and wrote books about software and computer programming. He missed all the technology iterations that professional photographers struggled with as the digital imaging tools matured.
By the time Harold Davis’s publisher asked him to write a book on digital photography, most of the quality and permanence hurdles had been resolved. Digital capture, processing, and printing technology had become incredibly powerful, versatile, and accessible.
When Harold Davis picked up a DSLR for the first time in 2004, he quickly discovered that with Photoshop and new advances in printing media, he could combine his love of painting with his love of photography. He quickly recognized that his Photography 2.0 digital photography career would be vastly different from his Photography 1.0 film photography career.
One collector of Harold Davis’ work appreciates his unusual and effective use of technology in support of the classical tenets of photographic art and is excited about its possibilities: “I would compare his work to Ansel Adams’ and Edward Weston’s work during the crucial 1930s and 1940s time frame.”
Inspiring Others to Make New Forms of Photographs
To inspire other creative souls to push the boundaries of what’s possible with digital photography, Harold Davis leads workshops, posts webinars, and write books on topics such as Monochromatic HDR Photography, Creative Black & White, Creative Landscapes, Photographing Flowers, and Creative Lighting.
His newest books encourage photographers to develop their own visions of what a photograph might be. In his award-winning photography book, The Way of the Digital Photographer, Davis emphasizes that previsualizing an image today not only includes how a shot will be composed and lit but also how it will be processed in Photoshop and printed. Creative choices can be made during every phase of the process.
His next book (which Focal Press has scheduled for publication in August, 2015) is entitled Achieving Your Potential as a Photographer. The book presents an organized and cohesive plan for kickstarting your creativity and taking the resulting work into the real world. The concepts are accompanied by a workbook of exercises that can help you refine your thinking and skills.
Making Artisanal Prints and Limited Edition Portfolios
In a recent post on his blog, Harold Davis answered questions about “Making the Artisanal Inkjet Print.” Unlike the inkjet prints you buy from places such as Costco or giclee printmaking studios, artisanal inkjet prints are crafted one by one in the studios of solo artists. They take their time and fret over every detail. Taking into account file preparation, printing, and post-print issues, Harold Davis says he might spend five to ten hours making one print. Sometimes, he prints the same image 20 times until he gets the desired result.
“Just as much craft, skill, and artistry go into making a good artisanal pigment print as ever went into a print made in the chemical darkroom,” says Davis. His printer of choice is the Epson Style Pro 9900 with its Ultrachrome HDR pigment inks.
He considers paper selection an important element of the printmaking process and has experimented with a number of different papers. Because he is a huge fan of the range of Moab photo and fine art papers and an expert printmaker, Harold Davis was named a Moab Master in 2012.
Harold Davis numbers and signs each print he makes, but doesn’t sell limited editions of single prints. The concept of “limited editions” arose from printing processes in which it made sense to destroy the plates after relatively small number of copies were printed. But most photographers are unwilling to destroy any of their best files that could be used to make additional prints. So if a “limited edition” of one size print sells out, they might simply change the size of a print and call it a new edition.
“What I affirmatively do is keep track of my prints,” explains Davis. “That way, I can look up how many copies have been printed of any one image. Knowledgeable gallerists and collectors I have discussed this with tell me that this provides them with all they really need – a good sense of how many copies of a given print have been made.”
Harold Davis does make limited editions of the portfolios he prints. The first portfolio he made (in collaboration with his wife, graphic designer Phyllis Davis) was called Botanique. Each collection contains 21 original floral prints that emerge delicately from the hand-assembled presentation box. The images are printed on a variety of substrates, including Moab’s Moenkopi Unryu Washi, Moenkopi Kozo Washi, Moab Slickrock Metallic Pearl, Moab Lasal Exhibition Luster, and translucent archival vellum.
Because so much work is involved in hand-crafting each portfolio, Botanique is limited to an edition of 25 copies. Each book is hand-signed and numbered, and accompanied by a 9 x 12 –inch print of Harold Davis’ popular “Red Poppies” image.
Harold Davis has also released a portfolio entitled “Monochromatic Visions” and is currently working on “Kumano Kodo.”
Monochromatic Visions consists of twelve high-dynamic range black and white prints, created in an edition of 12 portfolios (plus three artist proofs). The idea of the portfolio is to show the capabilities of new high-tonal range black and white printmaking in the context of an apparently classical portfolio presentation.
A Modern Pilgrimage: The Kumano Kodo portfolio is based on photography of Harold Davis made during his journey through rural Japan in 2013. This portfolio is unique, hand-assembled and strictly limited to 12 copies plus 4 artist proofs. Each copy is hand-signed and numbered, and embellished with the artist’s hand-applied personal Japanese inkan.
The primary portion of the portfolio is printed on one continuous 16 ½ foot long piece of archival Japanese kozo washi produced at Awagami on Shikoku Island, Japan. (This paper is distributed in the United States as Moab Moenkopi Kozo.) This printing technique combines traditional paper with technological innovation and ideas into a handmade artist book creation.
The portfolio is wrapped in a cover showing a view of Kumano Sanzen Roppyaku Po, meaning “the view of 3,600 peaks,” from a high pass on the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trail. The cover is printed on a single piece of archival, mould-made cotton paper.
Webinars and Workshops
To learn from Harold Davis, you can watch some of the webinars he has posted, order one of his books, or apply for an upcoming workshop in several locations in California, at the Heidelberg Summer School of Photography in Germany, or the Maine Media Workshops in Rockport, Maine. In October, he will lead a 15-day photographic adventure to the Sea-Girt Villages in Italy.
Harold Davis is excited to be pioneering new forms of photographic art. He believes the type of prints and portfolios he is currently creating could never have been produced before because the technology simply didn’t exist: “I am able to create in a domain where many techniques and crafts have come together for the very first time.”
“Times of disruption bring great opportunity,” says Harold Davis. “Basically, digital photography is emerging as an entirely new art form.”