I find it ironic that black and white imagery seems more popular than ever in the digital age. There’s just something about a strong monochromatic image that is more compelling than anything you can create with color. But obtaining a quality black and white from an inkjet printer has been frustrating, with many prints showing a color cast or significant bronzing.
While monochrome inksets are available from vendors such as MediaStreet, Jon Cone’s Inkjet Mall, and Lyson (yes, there are others, but these three have been the top-quality inks in my experience), new printers such the HP Designjet Z3100 have reduced or eliminated the need to go with a pure black and white printer. Obviously, not having a dedicated black and white printer saves money and space, but is the quality from the HP Designjet Z3100 really that good?
To find out, I made some comparison prints using this black-and-white image. For neutral tones, the HP printer was a clear winner with better tonal gradation and more neutral grays. Only when I went to a toned print did the dedicated inks show any advantage at all.
One area in which the other printers and inks couldn’t compete was the use of the gloss enhancer available on the Z3100. When printing to fiber or gloss media, the addition of gloss enhancer made a dramatic improvement, eliminating bronzing from the final print.
Part of the reason for HP’s high quality is that you’re essentially printing to a quadtone printer when using fine art media. The Z3100 uses both photo black and matte black along with the two grays. By not using any of the color inks, you eliminate any color cast that may otherwise be present. The only way to accomplish this with other printers is to replace the inkset with a dedicated monochrome inkset. This is costly and impractical when you also want to print color because you need to flush the ink lines with every cartridge change.
During the past 30 years that I have been observing and photographing indigenous people in the developing world, I have noticed entrenched discrimination against females in many of the communities I have visited. Gender inequality is truly a universal phenomenon. But for a long time, I felt I would be a ‘cultural imperialist’ if I created a book or exhibit that addressed the subject of gender discrimination. Who was I to pass judgment on what roles women should or should not play in foreign cultures?
My attitude started to change in 1998 after I partnered with Amnesty International and created a book and exhibit celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The rights articulated in the UDHR include the right to education, the right to own property, and the right to have a voice in community affairs. It was hard for me to ignore the fact that these rights are often not available to many women in the developing world.
Soon after I had decided to create a photo project around gender discrimination, the humanitarian organization CARE contacted me and asked if I would consider doing some photography for them. It turned out to be a serendipitous inquiry that ultimately led us to partner in the creation of the book and exhibit Women Empowered.
I had always known CARE as the relief organization that sent ‘CARE packages’ to disaster zones around the world. But I wasn’t aware of how much their mission had evolved. CARE’s photo editor Valenda Campbell explained to me that CARE now concentrates on economic development and that the cornerstone of their work was the empowerment of women. CARE believes the most efficient way to lift a community out of poverty is to allow girls to get an education and empower the women with micro loans.
Whenever I create a photo project that addresses disturbing issues such as poverty and inequality, I look for positive stories that will bring the issues to life in a powerful and uplifting way. In the case of Women Empowered, my inspiration came from a 91-year-old woman named Transito, who was living alone in the Ecuadorian Andes. Because of her lifelong struggle to bring respect and human rights to indigenous people she was known as the Rosa Parks of Ecuador.
I met Transito by chance when I was working on a film project for the Discovery Channel. After meeting her I decided to approach the Women Empowered project by portraying women who have broken through barriers of convention and oppression to improve not only their own lives, but also the well-being of their communities.
Transito, of Cayumbe, Ecaudor, is often referred to as the “Rosa Parks of Ecuador” for speaking out about the plight of indigenous Ecuadorians and gaining greater respect for indigenous peoples in Ecuadorian politics and in society at large.
The photographs and stories of the 16 women featured in the Women Empowered exhibit shed light on specific gender issues worldwide and the struggles of women in developing countries to achieve gender equality. Their triumphs speak to the universal themes of courage, empowerment, and human rights.
We kicked off the Women Empowered project on International Women’s Day March 8 with an exhibition of thirty 60 x 33-in. prints in the lobby of the United Nations building in New York.
Although I’ve put together more than 20 exhibits since the 1990s, this was the first exhibit that I had not created in the darkroom. I had struggled for years with digital output but couldn’t get a print that didn’t shift color in the neutrals under different light sources. Since my images have a lot of neutrals, this phenomenon known as metamerism had been a big problem.
But HP has addressed and resolved that problem. When my images for the UN exhibit were output on 310 gsm Hahnemühle Photo Rag fine-art paper on the HP Designjet Z3100 printer, the prints looked fabulous. The blacks were deep and rich and there were no color shifts in the neutrals. That’s because with fine-art papers the Z3100 uses 4 neutral inks--both photo black and matte black inks as well as grey and light grey. Having four blacks eliminated the color shifts in the neutrals that had plagued my former digital prints.
I don’t matt my prints. Instead, I float them in a shadowbox frame. We found we had to use extra large taped hinges to float the large 60 x 33 in. prints. We had trouble with the prints coming loose during shipping. The Hahnemühle Photo Rag has a surface that pulls away from the linen tape more easily than other papers. Unfortunately, we had to reframe the entire show, but we considered it a lesson learned the hard way. The exhibit is now re-taped and ready to begin its national and international tour.
The exhibit schedule and a preview of the book Women Empowered can be found on my website www.philborges.com
As the first female chief of the village of Dekoto Junction in Ghana, Nana Gyeutah (also known as Mama Koko) has vigorously defended the rights of the villagers, whose cocoa trees were being destroyed by the timber industry.
I’ve been in a photographic rut for the past few months. Lately, it’s been easier for me to find reasons not to pick up a camera than to get out and shoot. So, for my New Year’s resolution, I’m assigning myself projects to keep the creative juices flowing.
I’ve always kept a notebook with shooting locations – sort of a “someday I’d like to shoot here” log. Now, I’m keeping a list of types of photography I’ve seen and admired, or have just been interested in learning more about. I’m finding that this gives me more flexibility in choosing subjects than a location list that might not be practical to do at any particular point in time.
For this month, I’ve been working on panoramics. I love to shoot macro and flowers, so thinking in terms of panorama composition is a stretch for me. But, it’s been a great way to get myself out and shooting again. It also reminds me why photography was so interesting to begin with.
A panoramic is at its most effective in print of course, so I’ve been experimenting with different media types. My favorite so far has been an image that I decided to try as a triptych on Moab Entrada. I printed this as three 32 x 24-in. images on the HP Designjet Z3100.
Although I’ve been consistently happy with the Z3100, the print quality of this triptych blew me away with the rich color. By using the built in spectrophotometer, I was able to create a very accurate custom profile for the Moab paper. I gave the three prints a deckled edge treatment and float mounted them for best effect.
So, if you find yourself in a similar rut, start thinking about what gives you pleasure and what drew you to photography to begin with. Then, get out there and do some shooting! My self assignment for February? Food photography. That gives me a double incentive – I’ll only shoot food I like to eat.