Old negatives that never got printed

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I went through my files the other day and pulled a negative I shot back in 1977. I had shot two other photographs of the same Victorian house and those two got printed and worked very well. However, this one I passed over, thinking it was not as exciting. Well, I was wrong. Here it is, 25 years later, I took some time to do a print and it seems to have a stronger visual impact then the other two! So the next time you have a negative you don't think has worked at the time, just file it away. Don't throw it out. You may surprise yourself 20 years from now!

-- Rob Pietri (light@narrationsinlight.com), April 12, 2002


Hi Rob, I'm very happy to read your post! it seems to be the difference between a negative and digital shot! You'd probably have cancelled the second and loose it forever, so, long life to the silver photo please!!

-- Daniel Luu Van Lang (daniel.luu@worldonline.fr), April 12, 2002.

Well Rob,

It centainly doesn't take 25 years...

Last few month I 'discovered' that I'm not always happy with the result when I print the photographs shortly after the exposure. Negatives that where on the shelf for a few weeks or reprinted give far more pleasing results. I do not say that all are better.

I think that the vivid memory of what I photographed interferes with the printing process.



-- Huib Smeets (hsmeets@plex.nl), April 12, 2002.

The phenomenon you describe - discoverning months or even years later that a negative you didn't print actually makes an interesting photograph - is pretty interesting and I think most of us have had a similar experience. It was discussed at some length in a workshop I attended a couple years ago. The consensus seemed to be that when we view a contact sheet or proof shortly after making the photograph, we remember what we were expecting from the photograph at the time it was made. If the proof doesn't meet our expectations we discard it without considering whether it has other merits. When we look at the contact sheet or proof months or years later, we've forgotten what it was we originally expected to get and instead just look at what we got. Often that's something pretty interesting but we were blinded to that by what we originally thought was our failure.

-- Brian Ellis (bellis60@earthlink.net), April 12, 2002.

In an interview somewhere the brillian photographer Josef Sudek mentions that he kept a strict rule to never, ever, print a negative until at least six months had passed. He says he wanted to relate to the negative, not the original event, when printing from it, and the delay was essential for this. In his books you often see the titling information showing a date for the negative and another often ten years later for the print.

-- Carl Weese (cweese@earthlink.net), April 12, 2002.

Indeed... recently I found a box of negatives I shot when I was in high school in the late fifties, probably with my first adjustable camera, a Super Richoflex for which I had slowly saved up $20. There were some shots of Red Rock Canyon, and the Alabama Hills near Whitney Portals in California that I would have been very proud of having taken today. The prints I made by scanning these negatives are far better than any darkroom print I made then, or could make now. The Richoflex lens was a little soft around the edges, but otherwise I'm proud of these shots.

-- Tony Galt (galta@uwgb.edu), April 12, 2002.

Interesting thread, especially Carl's response! I thought I was the only one who had a time limit rule for printing my images (3 months in my case).

I usually do a quick edit of my negs and transparencies right away, but I only get rid of the blatantly obvious losers. I wait at least a month before performing a true edit of a session. While I might print an inkjet proof of a promising image (I have to live with some images for a while to clarify my vision of what the final print should look like. I dry mount it and hang it, then make notes and comments right on the proof and mount), I almost never print a final image until my "3 month rule" is met.

I've made exceptions only a couple of times for images that captured a "moment". In each case, I returned to those images after the 3 months were up and reprinted them. The reprinted images are both technically and aesthetically superior in every case.

-- Tim Klein (timklein@qwest.net), April 12, 2002.

Rob, this happened to me just this weekend, how coincidental! Mine was a 35mm portrait of a women in Siberia in an open fieled taken 10 years ago. I think maturation has something to do with it.

-- Andre Noble (andrenoble@yahoo.com), April 12, 2002.

Very interesting thread. For some time now I saw an analogy with wine...You have to wait at least a few months before drinking it. It is funny because my best prints always seem to come from last year's negatives...

-- Pierre Robitaille (pierre.robitaille1@videotron.ca), April 15, 2002.

Last week I spent several days printing a group of negatives from last year that I had shot for an assignment but didn't print because I didn't think they were good enough. Now I look at what I handed in instead and I swear I must have been out of my mind.

-- David Munson (apollo@luxfragilis.com), April 15, 2002.

Thanks for the great responses! One thing that comes to mind is that at times, a photographer may shoot beyond himself. Meaning, he may not truly understand what he has photographed at the time, and may have to grow into understanding the image, like a kid into an oversized pair of trousers or into his older siblings bike. Maturing as an artist definitely has a lot to do with it.

David, I hope the client didn't see what you left out.

-- Rob Pietri (light@narrationsinlight.com), April 15, 2002.

You guys are ambitious. It often takes me months just to develop my negs I do my own B&W, but am just as lazy about bringing color to the lab. Laziness is my standard routine. My classic example was during the week of September 11th. Working in downtown Manhattan I had nowhere to go but stay home after the 11th. So I developed some Konica IR that I had experimented with in March. Low and behold was a nice WTC shot from across the Hudson. Black sky with white clouds, black water with white water behind a ferry, and a nice bright WTC. I ended up making prints for everyone on my construction site the next day. In to every life a little serendipity must fall. Even if it's a sad event.

-- Terrance McDonagh (tmcdonagh2@hotmail.com), April 17, 2002.

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