Los Angeles is the second largest photography community in the United States. Here, aspiring photographers of all ages can learn from some of the world's most accomplished commercial photographers, photojournalists, and photographic artists.
Serving as the beating heart of this vibrant photography community is A&I Studios in Hollywood's media district. Formerly Isgo/A&I Photographic and Digital, this family-run, legacy photo lab is staying true to its roots in photography while helping photographers learn how they can benefit from advanced digital presses and flatbed inkjet printers from HP.
Photo: John Livzey, www.johnlivzey.com
For nearly 40 years, Isgo Photo was the premier photo lab for fine art black and white printing and Hollywood actors seeking head shots. In 2004, Isgo acquired A&I Photographic, a high-end lab catering to artists and photographers. Together, the merged companies are helping foster an appreciation of photography in all of its forms, ranging from classic darkroom printing of black-and-white photographs to independent publishing of fine-art photo books. In addition, A&I has been encouraging photographers and artists to experiment with printing images on whatever surfaces they choose, including glass, metal, wood, copper, acrylic, and canvas.
A&I is an active supporter of the Julia Dean Photo Workshops and participates in MOPLA (Month of Photography in Los Angeles) events.
And, A&I is nationally known for the quality of its photo books. When the New York Chapter of the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP) submitted the identical photo book to 18 different print-on-demand book-publishers, the book produced by A&I Studios received the highest average score from the dozens of pro photographers who compared and rated the books.
I recently talked with two A&I representatives, Rex Weiner and Veronica Thomas, about some of the ways A&I is pushing the boundaries of what's possible with digital printing. Rex is Editor-in-Chief of the boutique publishing imprint, Great Circle Books and Head of Publishing for A&I Books and Veronica is A&I's Director of Marketing and Business Development.
Q. What type of digital equipment does A&I currently have?
VT: At our affiliated Julia Dean Photo Workshops, we have 20 state-of-the-art Mac computers, loaded with Photoshop and all of the relevant photography software. At A&I, we have two HP Indigo 5000 digital presses and an HP Scitex FB500 printer. The Scitex is a 64-inch-wide flatbed printer that can print on virtually any surface up to 2.5 inches thick.
Q. Does A&I still operate a darkroom?
RW: Yes. Many photographers come to A&I for custom black-and-white printing on Durst enlargers. In fact, A&I master printer Steve Moulton conducts workshops on darkroom techniques at The Julia Dean Photo Workshops. Many of the younger students or adults who are just getting into photography had never been in a real darkroom before, so it's such as revelation to them. Darkroom printing is magical in a way that isn't the same as looking at a computer screen.
Q. Tell me more about how you are using the HP Scitex flatbed printer?
VT: We are pushing the limits of the Scitex from an industrial machine for sign printing into a creative tool that can be used in the realm of fine art. We have worked side by side with artists who have tried using the technology in ways that have been simply unbelievable. It's very exciting to see some of the results of these projects. For example, one artist prints her digital image directly onto canvas and then hand paints over the prints. It produces an effect she hasn't been able to achieve with typical canvas prints.
Artist Allen Barnes has photographed some his wet-plate collodion prints, then used the Scitex to reprint the images onto mirrors. Printing the images on the mirrors retains the antique look of the collodion prints.
Q. Is A&I acting like a traditional printmaker in terms of collaborating with each artist to help them choose the right substrates and get the best results?
RW: Yes. It's definitely a collaboration. A lot of incredible experimentation is going on. It's quite exciting, especially at a time when photography is in transition. As editorial markets for photography dry up, we're showing photographers and artists that there's a whole new world of interior designers who may be looking for one-of-a-kind pieces to decorate the walls of homes and offices.
For one photographer Wayne Schoenfeld, we recommended that he try printing his classy and artistic nudes onto copper and stainless steel. The metal really adds an extra dimension to his art. The prints take on a whole new quality.
Photo: John Livzey, www.johnlivzey.com
Q. Let's talk about your book publishing work on the Indigo. How do A&I services differ from other companies that sell photo books to professional photographers?
RW: For one thing, at A&I we do all the printing in-house. And, except for our custom wedding albums, we also do most of the binding in-house. So, A&I customers know that when they return for additional copies of a book they can expect the quality to be consistent from one book to the next. That isn't always true with photo book publishers who outsource their printing and binding to different suppliers.
VT: Our Indigo operators are wonderful. They are artists themselves, and play that machine like a violin.
RW: The other thing that differentiates A&I is that we offer publishing services, which could be anything from very basic proofing all the way to up to advice on how to market and publicize the book. We're here to help photographers and artists maximize the value of their print-on-demand book. You can get the benefit of designers, experienced editors, and all the auxiliary services that contribute to a published book with the look and feel of anything that might come from a traditional book-publishing company.
We start with a free half-hour consultation so the photographer can consider ideas he or she might have overlooked. For instance, we might suggest putting your picture, bio, and contact info on the inside flap of the dust jacket. Or, we might suggest ways to do something special on the back cover.
Photos: John Livzey, www.johnlivzey.com
Q. What advice do you give photographers who are producing a book for the first time?
RW: Think through what you are trying to achieve with this book. Each photographer has a different goal. For some, it might be creating a prototype that can help them land a deal with a mainstream publisher. Others choose to produce 32-page, softcover gallery-exhibition books that fill the middle ground between a show catalog and a coffeetable book. Some photographers and artists produce higher quantities of softcover books for sale to consumers and limited-edition hardcover books that can be numbered, signed and sold as collectible items.
VT: One benefit of print-on-demand book publishing is that you can do the first book as a proof book. You can take it home, pass it around, and let others gives you suggestions. Then, you can come back and make multiple copies as needed.
Q. Is there anything else photographers should understand about A&I Studios?
RW: Yes.We're a legacy photo lab. We come from the world of photography. When we do a photography book, we look at it from the point-of-view of photographers. Our fearless leader Baret Lepejian grew up working in the darkroom with his father Isgo Lepejian who was one of the top black and white printers in Hollywood.
While Baret has been leading our staff in the transition to the digital age, he has encouraged us to preserve the intimate exchanges that occur when a photographer wants to express his or her vision on the printed page. It's very personal to each photographer and artist, and we take their needs seriously. We believe in the process as much as the result!