Guest column written by Jay Fine
The Statue of Liberty and fireworks in NY Harbor are frequent themes in my photography.
Unlike most places in the U.S., Lower Manhattan, my home for the last decade, gets treated to spectacular firework displays year round. Anyone with enough money can hire a pyrotechnic company and have their own show set in NY Harbor near the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island and get no promotion or publicity with the exception of a text alert from New York City’s emergency alert system Notify NYC – a text and phone alert system for people in our area post-9/11.
Last week I ran into a neighbor after returning from photographing a fireworks display near the Statue of Liberty. I had my camera on a tripod and she was curious about what I shot. I showed her a few of my fireworks shots. She liked what I shot but said “I’ll wait to see a print – that’s the only thing that counts.”
Digital conversion becomes epiphany
My neighbor is a casual iPhone photographer, not a collector or photography aficionado. I was surprised by her reaction, which got me thinking about what is really important in creating and showing my work.
I’ve been shooting for over 40 years, dipping in and out of photography as time permitted. About 12 years ago I switched to a digital camera (a 4MP Canon G2) and digital post-production. My new digital camera gave more time for shooting and instant feedback. All that shooting resulted in a lot photos sitting in my computer that I wanted to share so I started making prints – this was in the days before social media was ubiquitous. The problem was that I wasn’t very satisfied with the digital prints I was making compared to what I used to producing in my traditional wet darkroom.
A few years into my digital conversion I wandered into Adorama Camera in Manhattan. I checked out the cameras I fantasized about acquiring some day when I noticed a fine art paper department for inkjet printers. I bought a variety to experiment with and see if any of them could improve my printmaking and make me feel better about my new digital photographic life.
I had an epiphany as I tried the different papers (maybe this was obvious to others) but the least expensive way to improve how I and others saw my photography was to buy the best paper I could find for print making. Sure, I’d love an 80MP camera with a few lenses or a new HD drone or some expensive lighting gear, but for less than $50 I could buy a box of paper that made my work stand out.
Proof in the print – beauty and consistency of Hahnemühle
Over the course of a year I tried a number of different brands and types of paper before settling on one brand for my fine art and personal work. The Hahnemühle papers worked consistently well with my printers and looked noticeably better to me and to others. The quality difference of my new prints was commented on by my artist friends and led several of them to have me make prints for their own gallery shows.
For my first one-person show, all the prints were made on Hahnemühle Photo Rag® 308gsm. The unframed prints looked so good I almost regretted putting them under glass.
Since that show more types of papers have come on the market giving me more options to show my work. Although I love the look and feel of the matte papers, I found the Hahnemühle FineArt Pearl works beautifully with my fireworks prints.
Thanks to social media I can share my work with thousands of people around the world. But I’m always wondering how they are viewing the work and if we are seeing anything close to the same image.
I realized that the most satisfying thing I can do photographically is to make a great print. The print has a gravitas that a thumbnail on your phone doesn’t have. Thanks to a selection of Hahnemühle Digital FineArt papers I’ve been ramping up my printing again which makes me feel good.
This 4th of July I’m heading up to the World Trade Observatory to photograph the fireworks show on the East River. If I get something good I plan on making a print for my neighbor.
Jay Fine is a Manhattan-based photographer who has been shooting for over 40 years. His work focuses on the people and places of Lower Manhattan, Battery Park City and New York Harbor. He is represented by the Kim Foster Gallery and World Trade Gallery for his fine art prints. His photographs have appeared in publications and websites worldwide including National Geographic Magazine, Popular Photography and The New York Daily News.