Hello Friends and Family,

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Crafting the Fine Digital Print

Wow! What a week! I'm exhausted but my brain is filled to overflowing with everything I learned this week.

The week began on Sunday night — we had a reception, dinner and orientation. Each student was given a name badge, color coded for the class in which they were enrolled. Naturally we tended to seek out the other people in the same class and got to know each other over drinks and dinner.

After dinner the Director, Reid Callahan, gave the orientation talk and emphasized the most important thing to remember — drink lots of water. The reason? Because the elevation of Santa Fe is about 7,000 feet — meaning that there is less oxygen than in Phoenix (or most places that students came from) and it takes a bit of acclimatization.

After orientation, we broke into our respective groups and learned a bit more about the class — although our instructor was delayed and Reid had to fill in. We also formally introduced ourselves and talked about our goals for the class. Everyone was obviously very excited and anxious to get started the next day.

The campus is located at the IHM Retreat Center complex, which is a Catholic facility with dorms and a monastery (for nuns — and I thought monasteries were for monks). The dorms are available for students and I took advantage of staying on campus. There are no phones, TVs, or air conditioning in these rooms. Some folks did not care for such Spartan facilities but I found it, uh, shall we say "charming"?

The building at the left houses some of the rooms as well as the dining hall.

Just across the driveway is the building containing offices and some of the classrooms.

What religious retreat would be complete without a chapel? Santa Fe Workshops uses it for meetings, particularly the instructor slide shows which are a "don't miss" affair. Not only are the students invited but also the local residents.

Another of the buildings with rooms for students — I stayed in this one — as well as one classroom.

The real highlight of our class was our instructor — John Paul Caponigro. He has fully embraced digital photography having discontinued shooting film four years ago. In doing so, he has totally immersed himself in cameras, color spaces, photo manipulation (primarily Photoshop), photo-quality printers and papers. He has talked extensively to the experts from various vendors to understand the full depth and capability of their products — plus has given them feedback and suggestions for improvements.

As a result, he has extraordinary knowledge and skill in using these tools to "craft the fine digital print". You can see a sample of his prints on his website by clicking here. John Paul favors using images from nature and mixing then in various ways to present abstract and semi-abstract visions.

Even though his photographic style is, as one would expect, different than those of each of his students, he uses his background and training to gently but effectively guide them to craft their own quality prints. I must confess that even though I have attended many NAPP (National Association of Photoshop Professionals) sessions, John Paul's work flow is the absolute best I have ever seen. This is exactly what I wanted in such a class — imparted knowledge that would take me to the next level. I felt that previously, I was a proficient user of Photoshop but John Paul has made me a photographer who can effectively use the tools — the camera, the computer, the printer — to make my pictures, if not works of art, at least images that have much more impact than before.

I do not have a particularly good background in either art history or the history of photography. Thus John Paul's last name did not ring a bell to me — although it may have to any of you with such knowledge. His father is Paul Caponigro, who is renowned as one of America’s most significant master photographers. He (Paul) was friends with Ansel Adams and collaborated on techniques even though their styles and subject matter were somewhat different. John Paul entertained us with a number of stories about his father and Ansel Adams that also taught us valuable insights into our own photography. The image shown here is the most famous of Paul's works, Running White Deer. John Paul told us that his dad and Ansel Adams were shooting together and Ansel was capturing images of birds when 180 degrees behind them was a small herd of deer gathering at the edge of the meadow. Paul turned around and captured this image — and a moment later, the deer were gone. One chance, one shot — the result — a career image.

We had quite an eclectic mix of students in John Paul's class. One student is from India (and is taking another class this week). She plans to return to India and establish herself as a photographer. She is very talented and I was quite impressed with her images from Indian society — they tell quite a story — I am confident of her future success. Another student is a psychiatrist who uses his photographs as imagery in his practice — both he and his images were quite interesting. We had an anthropologist who annually participates in digs in Belize. Also, one student is a new photographic artist who won tuition to the class as a result of a photo competition. On Saturday, she had an opening at one of the Santa Fe galleries and, as I understand it, she has actually sold a number of photos at $1500 each. Last (that I will mention) but not least was a restaurateur from Dallas who physically resembles my good friend, John, from Austin, TX — they look so much alike that they could have been brothers. Martin said that as far as he knows, he does not have a brother. It's a small world.

We were extremely busy the whole week. Class started around 8:30 and ended around 5:30 with a break for lunch and mini-breaks during the day. Two evenings, there were slide shows presenting the photography of the six professional photographers who were the instructors for this week's classes. The shows were interesting although a couple of the photographers ran a bit long, contributing to our fatigue due to lack of sleep.

Two other evenings, our lab was open until late for us to work on our prints — complete with deadlines for submitting work for the Friday night slide show, a magazine article on our class and large printing (large prints take more time and thus we had to get them done as early as possible so all the student's work could be printed). Since we had limited time with the computers, printers and John Paul's expertise, we all wanted to do as much as possible before we returned home and the accumulated knowledge began to leak from our brains.

Friday night was the "graduation" dinner. Each class was seated at their own tables for the final moments to ask questions of their instructor. After dinner was the slide show where we got to see sample images from every student in every class. It was quite remarkable to see the quality of the photography after only a week of instruction.

Santa Fe has been interesting but the classes have kept us so busy, our main interaction with the town has been dining. It appears that you cannot get a bad meal in Santa Fe — the food has been wonderful. Adobe, adobe, adobe. My impression is that every building in Santa Fe is fashioned from adobe. Yes, there is the occasional Spanish colonial style architecture that is more prevalent in Phoenix, but largely adobe. In a subtle irony, one might consider it appropriate since our whole week of class was in-depth Adobe Photoshop. (Sorry for the lame joke but my brain was fried with all that I learned and my literary judgment has suffered.)

Santa Fe is filled with art galleries. One night after dinner, we walked up Canyon Road, which turns out to be one art gallery after another after another for blocks up the hill. How can so many art galleries survive economically? Fine art is not cheap but I don't know how they do it.

Friday night prior to dinner, our class stopped at the Andrew Smith Gallery — a gallery that specializes in photography. John Paul had arranged for one of the staff to talk a bit about some of the artists, including Paul Caponigro and Ansel Adams. It was fascinating to learn about non-photographic techniques that were applied to photographs (BC — Before Computer) to change their appearance — resulting in photos that are totally unique. We also learned about how some of the photos were set up and others were spontaneous.

So what about my photos? Naturally, I worked mostly on pictures of Hawaii. My favorite picture turned out beautifully. Although I have shared this photo with a few of you, it never looked as good as it does now. Judge for yourself.

One last item. If you might possibly find it interesting to see our class slide show, feel free to click here.


Life is good.

B. David

P. S., All photos and text © B. David Cathell Photography, Inc. — www.bdavidcathell.com