5 Question Interview Series with Howard Grill

Howard Grill has re-ignited my passion for reading about photography. In the truest meaning of the word “Motivation” (the name of Howard’s blog), that’s what he has given me. Reading about photography has become too technical for me; reading about how images are created on Photoshop does nothing for me. The art of composing a photograph seemed to be lost in my daily reading of the photography blog/internet world.

Then early in January ‘07 I clicked my way onto Howard’s blog and have been a daily reader ever since. There are a couple of things I’d like to share about why I enjoy his blog so much: strong focus on composition, great discussion/dialogue in his comments about his postings, local Pittsburgher and a fine selection of “Favorite Blogs” (that he reads located on the his blog side bar). Howard has graciously agreed to be part of my 5 question interview series. I hope you enjoy the interview and be sure to check out his “Favorite Blogs & Podcast” after perusing his site.

1) As a physician by profession, do you have an analysis on art therapy/photo therapy as a healing method?

Well, I’m not a psychiatrist (though I suspect that my wife sometimes thinks I could use one), so, in actuality, I’m not really sure that I know any more than you about that topic. However, that said, (and I am not trying to be glib here) it sure doesn’t seem like it could do any harm!

2) You seem to have a passion for the technique of printing a photograph; will you explain your printing process?

I probably do a lot of things the same as most people. I work in a color managed workflow with a hardware calibrated monitor and print on an Epson 7600 using the ImagePrint RIP.

One thing that perhaps I do a bit differently than ‘the books say to’, is that I feel that the ultimate decision as to how to make a print is based on how it actually looks on paper as opposed to following strict rules about where the highlight and shadow values should fall. I might find, for example, that retaining perfect shadow detail might lead to a flat looking print, in which case IF it looks good on paper I might well be willing to sacrifice some of the shadow detail for a better looking print overall. If the print looks flat it doesn’t make me feel any better to know that I can define objects that are in the shadows. The aesthetic result has to come first, in my opinion.

Along the same lines, I work a great deal at making adjustments to contrast and saturation locally, as opposed to globally, to try to make the print look like I think it should. I print my work on matte paper (a result both of my liking the matte aesthetic and of the 7600 making it an expensive pain in the butt to change over to semi-gloss paper) and I seem to find that prints need more contrast on matte paper as compared to semi-gloss or luster.

It takes me a good deal of time to end up with a print I am satisfied with and expresses what I wanted it to and so even though I soft-proof in Photoshop I find that I go through a good many ‘working prints’ before I am done. I guess the fact that I don’t do this professionally gives me the luxury to take the time and effort needed for me to get to where I want to be without deadlines, profit margins etc.

At some point I would like to get another somewhat smaller format printer to try my hand at black and white inkjet printing on some of the newer papers that are said to more closely emulate traditional gelatin silver prints.

3) You The digital photo age is still in its infancy stage: are there parts of the film world that you miss and/or wish that the digital world could duplicate as well as film did?

Despite the fact that I am 49 years old, I am still mostly a product of the ‘digital revolution’, at least as far as photography goes. I got started in photography when I was in high-school. At that time I put together a small darkroom. I am sure my parents, who had no connection to photography or the arts at all, thought I totally lost it when I would lock myself into our tiny linen closet and stuff towels into the bottom crack of the door in order to block out the light so that I could transfer my black and white film to the developing tank.

But after high school there was a VERY long hiatus of probably 20 or 25 years before I so much as picked up a camera again because of time limitations in college, medical school, post-graduate training etc. When I got the chance to come back to it, the digital revolution was well under way. Though I restarted with film and a scanner, I moved to pure digital capture relatively quickly. I taught myself the digital darkroom and began printing myself because I was never happy with what I got back from the ‘photo shop’….I always wanted the image to be a little darker here, more contrast there and so on. The digital darkroom was the way to go for someone who tended to be a perfectionist and had limited time because of work and three young children…it was simply much easier to do 45 minutes of printing at 10pm in the digital, as opposed to the wet, darkroom.

4) Composition is a frequent subject matter on your blog. A topic that I personally feel is missing in photography dialogue today. Will you please expand your thoughts on why a strong focus on composition is a major writing theme for you?

There is just so much information on the technical aspects of photography out there that, frankly, I think I would have very little to add. I think one of the reasons there is so much technical material out there is because that is the part of photography that is actually the easiest to learn and the easiest to teach.

I think composition is the heart and soul of photography. It is where the creation emerges. You can always learn more, practice more, and improve. It is not textbook learning and often there is no right or wrong, but that is what makes it so interesting and challenging. I enjoy that challenge of learning, doing, and writing about it.

In a way, composition also leads to the social part of photography. It is where people can get together and discuss an image and learn from each other. It is also a ‘great equalizer’, in that you can get great composition out of an inexpensive point and shoot and poor composition out of a 1Ds MkII. It only depends on who is behind the lens and not how much the lens costs.

5) What does the future hold for Grill Photographic ?

I honestly don’t know. If I think ahead five or six years, I would love to be in a situation where I can spend more time on my photography than I am currently able to. I guess for now I have to try to make the absolute most that I can from the time I do have.

I have also set some specific goals for myself. They include finishing several well defined photographic projects that I have in mind and trying to get the images ‘out there’. The project that I have written about on my blog is my so-called “Twin Jewels Project”, which is a photographic exploration of two relatively local parks that I have found very intriguing. Once completed, I would like to see if I can get the photos displayed locally.

Right now, I have been making some print sales, but, as I am sure you know, no matter how good your work is, the trick is having the time and ability to ‘market’ your artwork in one way or another.

I don’t know, sometimes it seems difficult to just plan past the next week!