After 6 years and over 28,000 prints sold, it was necessary to discontinue the program because we could no longer procure the digital negatives we were using to create the Special Editions prints. Here is our press release about this.
LensWork Closes Darkroom
Press Release: 25 August 2005
After a year of agonizing, we have now officially closed the LensWork darkroom. In fact, we have dismantled it completely, effectively shutting down the LensWork gelatin silver Special Editions program.
We have done so for a variety of reasons not the least of which is the increasing difficulty in the availability of materials. We used a great deal of Forte paper and it is gone. We used Ilford paper and although it is still available, they have recently reorganized and their future is unknown. Paper is one issue, and although still available today, it's future is in question — a difficulty that complicates long-term business planning. Assuming there would be no problems at all with obtaining paper, there is an even larger problem that has plagued us now for some time.
The larger and more troublesome issue is that we rely on the availability of large scale digital negatives — the 425-line screen negative technology we pioneered. To obtain these negatives we rely on outside services and their ability to consistently provide high quality negatives. The machines (image setters) that make these negatives are a fast dying technology as more and more high-end printers convert to the better quality and less expensive computer-to-plate technologies. Image setter machines are rapidly disappearing from the printing industry and even those who are keeping them for a smaller client base are not keeping them in the same top-state of operational refinement. These machines require constant maintenance, cleaning, and tuning which is an expensive proposition. Without consistent maintenance, problems show up and are particularly noticeable when you push the machine to its limits — which we do with our 425-line screen negatives. We thought about just buying one for our own use, but the service contracts are incredibly expensive — a fact which complicates the business decisions of service bureaus whose clients are moving more and more to CTP.
In fact, the last several portfolios we did (Fay Godwin, Huntington Witherill, Tatiana Palnitska, Ryuijie, and Wynn Bullock) caused us fits. In each case we had to order up to a dozen of the same film in order to get one that was streak-free. The problems show up in horizontal lines that run the width of the image and are especially visible in smooth Zone 6-8 tones, especially skies, clouds, or water. This flaw is a result of the image setter not being in top condition, dirty, or the gears being slightly worn or out of alignment. Our service provider was very understanding and worked long and hard to help us resolve this, but their primary business is not high-resolution film for fine art reproductions. There are limits for any business that is trying to push a delicate technology for only a few customers. Without flawless negatives, we are simply stuck. With the increasing difficulty of getting these negatives, the risks of promising prints which we may not be able to deliver was just too great.
Curiously enough, the problems we have been having do not show up (fortunately) when one uses digital negatives for platinum printing. I have seen 300-line screen negatives make stunning platinum prints whereas a 300-line screen negative shows obvious dots in a silver print. I suspect this has to do with the paper fibers and texture of a platinum print helping to disguise the dots — as compared to the higher resolution of silver paper which requires a 425-line screen to achieve the same visual effect. Funny, but the older printing technologies marry more successfully with digital negatives than the newer ones! What a strange world we live in.
In order to solve this, we've experimented over the last year or so with digital negatives from inkjet printers, but have not been able to create anything that approaches the fidelity of our 425-line screen negatives. Simply put, it seems the technology had snookered us. This hybrid technology — with a foot in both technology camps — was always a dicey combination. It worked beautifully when it worked, but in the final analysis there are just too many ways it can go wrong. As difficult as it is for us to do, it is time to move on.
Please understand this is a business decision, not an aesthetic one. Quite frankly, we are heartsick about this. It has been a good run. In the last seven years we've sold over 28,000 gelatin silver prints. We've been encouraged by so many of you for which we are very thankful.
Over the last couple of years we have been frequently asked if we will offer LensWork Special Editions in ink. We might. We are not sure. Right now I am working on about 10 years of backlogged personal projects. (See my personal website at www.brooksjensenarts.com) For years I focused my attention on developing and perfecting the LensWork hybrid printing technology. (Which I could have avoided if Burkholder had just written his book about 5 years earlier!) It's now time for a bit of a rest and regroup.
I hope this helps you understand our reasoning. Please note that our decision has nothing whatsoever to do with aesthetics, analog processes, or in any way be interpreted as an insult to the tradition of analog printing or materials. (In other words, I am keeping my enlarger and my negative archives!) Thanks for understanding and for your support these last seven years of gelatin silver Special Editions.
Editor, LensWork Publishing
Written Thursday August 25, 2005