Hybrid Workflow, Part One: Rationalizations

I couldn't find a picture I liked for "hybrid workflow," so instead I used this picture of Linkin Park getting ready to pump your gas from the back of their Hybrid Theory album.

I couldn't find a picture I liked for "hybrid workflow," so instead I used this picture of Linkin Park getting ready to pump your gas from the back of their Hybrid Theory album.

So you’ve read my biography, at least as far as photography is concerned. If not, I’ll condense 1600 words into a short sentence: I’m a dyed-in-the-wool film guy who, after a few years of wandering the digital wilderness, has returned to the fold.

I had mentioned that I have a BFA in photography; I’m pretty sure that I was at the tail end of curriculums that were written when film was the be-all, end-all of photography. Within a couple of years of my graduating, digital curb stomped film, leaving film’s teeth shattered in the gutter. So I count myself fortunate there, because there are millions of people out there right now who will never hold a film camera.

But film is where I’m most comfortable, and I’m glad to be back. I like the look and feel of it from an aesthetic standpoint, and I like the way it forces me to work while shooting. When you have a 12 exposure roll of 120 film or an 8 exposure pack of instant film, it forces you to think more about what you’re doing. I also appreciate the fact that I don’t have 500 fucking pictures to sort through after a fact like I did when I was shooting digital. I’d rather have a couple of rolls of film to deal with than sift through hundreds of minor variations of the same thing.

So I’m a film guy, and I had always been a wet darkroom guy as well. But while I was lost in the proverbial wilderness, a lot had changed. Obviously most people are using digital now, and for those who aren’t, a lot has been made in the film photography world about the hybrid workflow: using analog capture (film) and digital output (scanning and printing from a computer).

Now, the punk-as-fuck part of me has always scoffed at the idea of integrating a computer into my workflow. After all, I’ve done entire record layouts with a pair of scissors, some tape and a photocopier. I liked the idea of being purely analog and thought of the hybrid people as being a bunch of sellouts. I see people on Flickr or the Lomography site shoot film, scan it, upload it and then call it a day. That’s weak shit. As Scott Sheppard from the Inside Analog Photo podcast likes to say, “You don’t have a photograph unless you have a print in your hand.” Amen, brother. If these people were content to just scan their negs and be done with it, how is that any different, really, from shooting digital?

Fuck that, I thought. I was on some Chain of Strength shit — true ’til death.

Which was how I was thinking until earlier this year. My sole 2011 New Year’s resolution was to make some money on photography; it didn’t matter if it was five dollars, as long as I got paid. But to do that  would require prints that I could confidently sell, and up until now, I haven’t been making anything but work prints in my home darkroom. So now I have a quandary: I want to sell prints, but the prints I have aren’t at the level where I feel comfortable taking someone’s money for them. What to do?

Well, after thinking about it, I came up with three main problems that I was having:

  1. Now part of the problem is just my setup. I have a couple of old Durst M600 enlargers, which have seen better days at this point. They also use a glass negative carrier, which is extremely prone to dust. That fucking sucks to deal with.
  2. The fact that I can only print after nightfall doesn’t help, either. Darkroom printing is a laborious, time-consuming process; starting at 9 PM after a long day of work and family isn’t particularly conducive to getting good results.
  3. And because of my life situation (job, family) and my darkroom situation (it needs to be night), I don’t really have the time necessary to print at the level I need to print at, or the time to make the number of prints that I need to.

I realized that these are just excuses, ultimately, and I needed solutions. And while I’ve been thinking about this stuff, I came to a realization: I’m not particularly enamored with printing in the first place. I’m not at all into the technical aspects of photography, or anything else, for that matter, and that’s really what printing is about. For me, I like taking pictures and then having a finished print. Everything in between is just a means to an end.

I guess you could say that the above realization was an epiphany, of sorts, and a liberating one at that. So I started thinking seriously about implementing a hybrid workflow. After all, I’m not famous or wealthy enough to have someone make all of my prints for me (Robert Frank took thousands of shots for The Americans and didn’t print a single one of them himself), so I still needed a solution that I can do by myself. And I got to thinking that hey, I’m pretty good at Photoshop, and there are a ton of other photographers out there making fine art prints from digital, so there’s obviously something to it.

This mulling-over process probably lasted a few months as the pragmatic side of me waged battle with my purist side. Eventually pragmatism won out, and I decided that yes, I’m actually going to try to make this work.

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