Monthly Archives: April 2011

The cult of youth and the arts

Lately I’ve been looking at a lot of art competitions as a way to get my art out there. It gets it on walls in group shows which provides experience and simply gets it seen. Even online competitions can be valuable that way. After all, if no one can see your art, what’s the point?

I’ve been getting rather annoyed though as I look through the requirements for many calls for entry, some of them quite major, and find significant barriers for many emerging artists. And worse yet, this is in calls for entry specifically for emerging artists. The big barrier, sadly, is our society’s ongoing fascination with the cult of youth. That’s right, even the arts are prey to ageism.

Here’s a news flash to curators out there. Many emerging artists are over 35 or even 40, the age limits on many of the calls for entry specifically for emerging artists. Many new artists are not fresh out of art school at 20, and even if they are fresh out of school, they may be 45. Artists are not all set on their careers from day one, just like most other people in most other careers. Many of us have come late to our artistic calling, may be on second, third or even fourth careers. It’s hard enough to change your path later in life without having this kind of discouragement placed in our way.

If the goal of the curators who set these limits is to ensure they get only emerging artists, or feel that’s the way to get new, fresh, contemporary art, they’ve failed completely. Young artists can be very successful and far from a new voice if they’ve been out there for 15 years. Conversely, a 50 year old who’s only been starting to show their work can bring a vibrancy lost to someone who’s an old hand at it. There are better ways to limit work to emerging artists than age. Things such as number of shows, if any, success with sales and collectors, etc. Really, how much has their work been out there and how long have they been doing it is the main definition of an emerging artist is it not, so why not make that your limit?

Drop the artificial and quite frankly discriminatory age limits and celebrate all emerging artists, no matter how old they are.

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Laziness is the mother of efficiency

In my last post, I briefly mentioned I don’t do much in the way of test strips. I don’t like doing them as it takes time, and more importantly, wastes paper, and quite frankly, the less effort I have to make the better. And at a buck a pop for a sheet of 8×10, (yes, Foma is expensive, but gorgeous), I hate wasting paper.

Instead, I make work prints, one sheet per negative, without bothering with a test strip at all. How do I do that? Well, I’m no darkroom guru, reading my negative and knowing just what exposure it will print at. You need to spend a few years slaving away in a commercial lab, day in and day out, making prints, to get to that stage. For us amateurs, there is an easier way, an enlarging meter.

I have this nifty gadget from Darkroom Automation, which allows me to do wonderful things like profile my paper versus my negatives and stuff, works as an enlarging meter and a densitometer, but I’m lazy. I use it to simply give me a base exposure which allows me to pop out a work print in one go. I measure the darkest tone, which gives a value in stops. I compare that to my base negative (one I’ve printed with a full range of tones and a known exposure time and value for my paper) and calculate the difference in exposure. Using that, I can pop out a work print, usually with a reasonable exposure (at least as a starting point to fine tune from) with just one print. If I want to also factor in contrast control and dial in the right amount of magenta, I can also measure the lightest tone, and with the difference between the two, (compared to my base neg/print which I measure all against) I can dial in the contrast too.

It does involve using a calculator as I might need .67 of a stop less exposure, but I’d rather use a little time than waste paper, and do things only once. Thus, other than determining that first exposure for my baseline negative, which I do test strip, to get a baseline exposure, I don’t bother with test strips at all. Unless of course, some bastard at the darkroom changes the enlarger bulb on me. At which point, I usually have to do it again. Now, bear in mind, I am using the same enlarger all the time, and if you use more than one, you would need to do a test with each one to get your baseline exposure for each.

I’m all for making your life simpler with handy gadgets that actually work.

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