INTERVIEW : Simon Baker on Collotype

Posted by takumi suzuki on 23.2013 English   0 comments   0 trackback
サイモン インタビュー

Tell me your name and job title.

My name is Simon Baker, I’m a curator of Photography and International Art for TATE in London

Tell me the significance of collotype in the context of historical photographic processes.

Collotype is an important historical process mostly associated with the end of the 19th century in Europe. Something that was far more wide spread than it is now. It was a revolutionary way of producing very high quality fine art reproductions of images at that point. Now it is much more of a specialist process because it’s no longer… Because in that time it was a leading way of reproducing images and now, it’s still a very beautiful, very aesthetically interesting way of reproducing images, but it’s not so wide spread. In fact, it has become very rare.

What is the uniqueness, beauty that you are attracted to collotype.

The collotype has a very specific aesthetic. It was originally taken up by, to reproduce artwork because it is very very subtle. It is very very subtle in the way of showing the difference between light and shade, so you have very subtle gradations of light and shade and you can control with very skilled craftsman how an area of deep black looks and you can also have highlights in the same image. When first invented, it had this incredible ability to reproduce things in a very faithful way.

サイモン 工房

How does collotype fit into today’s digital world?
Now there’s something very interesting happening in photography in general. Because of the rise of digital, and also because of the decrease in the availability of many kinds of analog material, there are far less photographic paper available than it used to be, far less subtlety in terms of what you are able to do with analog processes. In fact, many leading photographers has stored all the paper that they like, and storing chemicals, they are basically hanging on to the kind of prints they like to make. So at this moment when photography is becoming apart from those individuals who are very skillfully kept thing apart from those people it is becoming more uniform. If you see gelatin silver prints made in labs, they look very much the same, everyone is using the same paper, apart from these expert artisans using different processes, it is becoming more uniform.
What that means is, now, these kinds of processes like collotype and other gravure processes become rarer than the dominant kinds of black and white reproduction. So it’s almost exactly the opposite of how it would have been at the end of the 19th century. Then you would have had many many kinds of photographic paper, many kinds of ways of printing photographs, and maybe only one or two reprographic processes. Now you have very few means of reproducing photographs but this very rare reprographic process. So it’s very interesting that it has a renewed importance almost because of the way of how the photographic field has become leveled.

サイモン WS

Today you looked at the studio and tried making collotype. Tell me about the experience being at the studio of Benrido.

The experience being at Benrido has been incredible and really eye opening. You imagine it is like an old fashion process but it is really carried out incredibly, its like a workshop like you would have imagined. You could have visited this workshop a 100 years ago and people would have been doing things in a similar way, not exactly the same way. There’s a very incredible balance of manual dexterity and facility that the technicians here were showing. They were able to do things very precisely, judging things by eye, incredible attention to detail, the passing the print through the machine several times to achieve different kinds of balance within the image, and these are skills which are entirely in the eye. It’s not like photoshop where you can make a setting and everything will come out the same. It’s really an amazing amount of skill and we were very lucky today to be able to try making a collotype with experts supervision, Mr. Yamamoto who is showing us exactly what we need to do so it wasn’t as hard as it would be for someone with no help.

What you understand from being here is that there is a place for this kind of process in the contemporary world. The stillness aesthetic, complexity, the stillness ability that the collotype has to respond to different kinds of depth, and different kinds of tonal value in the photograph, which makes it still important today. As I was saying before, the balance of taking a contemporary image and then subjecting it to something that has absolute control in terms of the mastery of printing process is really unique. I would imagine there are very few places in the world where this is still possible.

サイモン A.Takizawa

This is going to be a competition where the winner's image is going to be printed by benrido with Mr. Yamamoto. What are you looking for from the contemporary photographer who’s going to print in this antiquary process?

What I think is really exciting about, and what we’ve seen at Benrido today is, we’ve seen some works by some of the most famous Japanese photographer and indeed American photographers. We’ve seen works by Shoji Ueda, by Hosoe, by ***, by ***, we’ve seen some amazing things. A very classic, historic and living artists who become very successful with their work. Each of the different kinds of work, you see different qualities of the collotype. We also have seen work by younger photographers, Akiko Takezawa, who’s been working with Benrido for several years. And you see in her work, because she is more of an emerging artist, you see a different kind of sensibility. In fact, what is most interesting is the ability for someone like Benrido, which is steep in tradition, steep in this attention to historical process, they are able with their expert eye in the way that they look at the visual material, they are able to bring something to the work of a younger artist who is maybe still experimenting herself with the way her work looks. And I think this idea that as many photographers enjoy or have enjoyed in the past working with a master printer to make photographic prints, particularly in color. You have this ability to have a relationship with an expert who is able to look at your work and say, “Well maybe you should consider doing it like this, maybe this kind.” We saw, for example many different kinds of paper and advice that you could get from somewhere like Benrido in terms of printing on a different paper, printing on a different kind of way to really make collaboration between an artist and a master printer.


When you choose winning images for this competition, are you looking solely based on their images or are you thinking to take in consideration the marriage between the process and the image?

I think the really important thing about bringing somebody to Benrido and the amazing opportunity that will be for a young artist to come and work with the people here, will be that they will be able to benefit from the exchange of ideas and from the exchange of expertise. I think it’s an amazing opportunity for somebody who is still thinking in an experimental way about their work, and who maybe has a real deep interest in process and printing and, maybe in their own practices already experimenting with different kinds of black and white technique or different kinds of color technique and to get to allow them to really spend some time. I think the main advantage of this kind of situation will be spending time with expert people and you never be able to do that in your ordinary working life. And should with any luck, and not only producing an amazing body of work, because they will be producing collotype editions here, but also change the way that they work afterwards and make them think about their own practices in a new way.

Photography is becoming a very competitive field. What is your best advice for young emerging photographers?

My best advice for young emerging photographers is to do essentially what happens in Benrido, which is to look at the past, look at the things that have came before but also to think really carefully about what’s going on around them. To be interested in process and attention to material. To think about things like printing and paper and not to think of photography just as taking a picture, to think of it as it’s a long process that includes using a camera, first of all, and then it includes making an amazing print, and then it includes publishing or showing that print in an interesting way. If you think of the whole structure of photography is including all of those things, then you are probably on the right track.

Najima Box
Akiko Takizawa Najima collotype portfolio


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takumi suzuki

Author:takumi suzuki
【コロタイプの過去・現在・未来。創業明治20年の京都 便利堂が100年以上にわたって続けているコロタイプ工房より最新の情報をお届けします】


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