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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Chris Rainier - A Journey In Ink

Chris Rainier completes a seven-year project culminating in a unique photo book

Finding Collaboration

“I had explored doing the book with a number of contemporary publishers, and they weren't willing to go to the high-end quality or size, so I backed out of that,” says Rainier, who explains that working with a traditional publisher is an exercise in compromise. “One of the things I learned prior to making Ancient Marks was that so many photographers work very hard to create a photo project and search for a publisher. In the end, what often happens is a compromised event, driven by the marketplace in terms of size, quality of paper, quality of ink, distribution and the number of books that are eventually created. With Ancient Marks, I wanted to think way out of the box.”

Rainier found in Media 27 a publisher who shared his passion and vision for the book. Along with Michael Verbois and Shukri Farhad, Rainier set out to work on a yearlong journey to produce the book. All three were products of the Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, Calif. Rainier was a student of Verbois, and they had kept in touch over the years, looking for an opportunity to work together.

This collaboration would involve hundreds of work hours. The biggest challenge involved Rainier's schedule, which often found him traveling all over the world.

“Chris was traveling so much, and we knew that this was going to be a difficult issue,” says Verbois. “But what we did was take all the images and do rough scans of them to start the design process. I spent more time with Chris on the images, while Shukri spent more time with Chris on the design using Adobe Creative Suite. He brought out all of his work prints that he was considering including in the book, and we sat down and reviewed them all. We just had a discussion of how we were going to organize the book and how we were going to structure it.

“While he was traveling, we'd create PDFs and he'd go to a cafe with Web access and look at images and PDFs, and we'd discuss it that way. Sometimes, he'd get access to a satellite telephone. Every time he had a chance, he'd try to stop in Santa Barbara for a day or two. This was definitely an e-mail-, Internet-, FedEx-based project.”

A Digital Transition

This project was the first time Rainier's images would be reproduced not from his prints, but from his negatives. It was a change that he eyed warily and for which he required serious persuading.

“Chris comes from a very traditional background,” says Verbois. “He wasn't convinced that the digital process was going to enhance his pictures or take them to another level. I think he felt that the digital process would degrade his images rather than help him.

“I had a real tough time convincing him that going back to the original negatives was going to be a better way of doing it. But I finally convinced him to try it,” says Verbois. He and Rainier used an Apple 1.8 GHz G5 with 1 GB of RAM. The images were backed up using an Apple Xserve RAID and a two-terabyte linear tape drive. “We took some of his negatives and used the prints he had created as a guide. He sat with us as we worked with the images in Photoshop, using traditional burning and dodging techniques you'd do in the darkroom,” explains Verbois.

“I've spent close to 25 years printing,” says Rainier, “but I think the exciting thing was to collaborate with Media 27, who gently ushered me into the technical world of Photoshop. What unfolded for me was the vision to realize that the digital darkroom is taking Ansel Adam's initial visualization of the Zone System and expanding it to a total and utter control over the visualization of the image. To me, that was just so liberating and exciting.”


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