I was first introduced to Dan Burkholder's magnificent photographic work at a gallery in Washington, D.C. Stunned by his landscape images, I went on to find that Dan is also a virtuoso in several other styles or categories of image-making including his revolutionary "pigment-over-platinum" prints. Originator of the digital negative and author of the ground-breaking book Making Digital Negatives for Contact Printing, Dan is a true pioneer who has successfully bridged the gap between chemical and digital photography.
-- Harald Johnson 12/27/02
Q: What do you see yourself as: a photographer? artist? educator? or ??? At your core, what is it you really love to do?
A: I see myself as floating among the three categories of photographer, artist and educator. After the second edition of Making Digital Negatives for Contact Printing was published, I found myself being forced into the role of educator as the interest in digital imaging started to balloon. For a while this took its toll on my creative/artistic pursuits. Then in 2001, I came to terms with it all, acknowledging that my first devotion is to the medium of photography. Everything else, be it art or teaching, is a distant second. I'm now comfortably juggling my artistic efforts with teaching internationally. What this all means is that I'm happiest when I'm involved in any aspect of photography... as long as it isn't shooting weddings!
Q: You were one of the first photographers to embrace digital technology. How do you view the interplay of traditional and digital techniques?
A: Obviously, chemical based photography has no future outside of the artistic expression segment. We will all make inkjet prints as the "standard" way of expressing the photographic image. This is good for the environment and good for countless bathrooms that have been compromised as darkrooms for decades.
Still, for those of us who cherish hand-made objects and enjoy making things by hand, the inkjet print isn't completely satisfying. Even in this new digital-centric era, it's possible to combine chemical photography with digital imaging to make new and exciting images.
Q: Can you describe your "pigment-over-platinum" process? How did you come about creating it, and what differentiates it from other printing processes?
A: Though I learned color printing decades ago at Brooks Institute, I could never get excited about color because of two glaring problems: the lack of control with projection printing/chemical processing, and the fugitive nature of color output (fading colors, etc.). Both of these concerns have been addressed with digital imaging and the new pigment inks.
The dilemma was that I now had a renewed interest in color but still loved the handmade print. What to do? The light bulb finally came on as I realized I could combine the two with pigment-over-platinum printing. I now combine digitally applied, archival pigments with hand-coated, UV-exposed platinum/palladium. I love the look and feel of the subtle pigment colors along with the browns and blacks contributed by the platinum/palladium. The fun part is, try as I might to control the image in Photoshop, the final image will have a look of its own. It's hard to predict exactly what the pigments and precious metals will look like until you make a print. I like this degree of uncertainty. So much of what we do digitally is designed to remove that element of the unexpected. That's sad because I think both photography and art are more vital when there is constant discovery and surprise.
Q: You seem to have a strong opinion about pricing and editioning your prints. What is it?
A: I'm hesitant to create limited editions because I don't see it as having anything to do with the photographic process, though it has a great deal to do with commerce and marketing. Editioning is a hold-over from the lithographic print market where multiples are so easy to produce. That being said, I've finally knuckled under to my galleries by limiting the pigment-over-platinum prints to editions of 50. As a new form of photography--I don't know of anyone else doing pigment-over-platinum though I've been teaching the basics of the process for six months now--editioning may make it more acceptable in the marketplace and allay the (ridiculous) fears that I'll make 500 copies of each image.
As a sidebar, I do think those photographers working with inkjet output should seriously consider limited editions because this new medium does offer easily reproduced prints.
Q: You basically originated the digital-negative process, correct? What's the current state of that sub-genre of digital printing? Any new "developments"?
A: As far as I know, I was the first to explore and advocate the digital negative. Call it a lucky move or call it a curse (if you saw the number of e-mails I must ignore you'd understand why I say that), but it looks like I'm the father of the digital negative. Though imagesetter negatives still offer some advantages for certain printing needs, the real excitement is on desktop with inkjet printers. I now make all my negatives for platinum and pigment-over-platinum via inkjet printers. That's thrilling!
Q: You're currently selling the second edition of your book, Making Digital Negatives for Contact Printing. How is that going, and any other books on the horizon?
A: I don't see any new editions of Making Digital Negatives for Contact Printing, though that could change without notice. The book has become something of a standard and continues to sell well four years after its introduction.
I'm working on a "Dan Does Digital" book (for lack of a better, final title) that will help usher photographers from chemical imaging to digital imaging. Since I have lots of experience in both arenas, it seems like I'm the one to write the book!
Q: What are the most important hardware and software items you use for creating your images and prints? Any unusual uses, workflows, tips, or tricks you want to share?
A: At the heart of my digital darkroom are Macintosh computers. I've used Macs for 17 years and can't begin to say how much I appreciate what Apple has done to make computing life easier. At home in the studio and office, we have four Macs. When traveling, my wife and I both tote PowerBooks along. My current PowerBook has a DVD-R burner included so it's even easier to archive images when shooting digitally.
For the pigment-over-platinum work, I'm using an Epson 7000 that is loaded with Indelible Inks (www.mandmstudios.com). These pigment inks are incredible with long life, no clogging, and beautiful color gamut. And of course a Wacom tablet is a must!
Photoshop is the hub of my software world. I try to learn something new every time I work in the program. After 11 years, I think I understand about 27 percent of Photoshop! When interpolation is needed, I use Genuine Fractals.
While most people are concerned with resolution, digital photographers would do well to focus on bit depth. I'm shooting almost all my digital camera images as RAW images. These 12-bit images (16-bits when they open in Photoshop) have much more tonal information than 8-bit TIFFs or JPEGs. This means I can bend the tones more as I stylize the image without worrying about banding or artifacts.
And the best workflow advice I can give is to remain inquisitive and experimental with your digital imaging. What worked well and made the chemical darkroom fun still applies in the digital lightroom.
Q: I didn't realize until recently that you were such a celebrity in the photo world. I mean, Art Business News actually called you the "#1 photog to watch." How has all that affected you? Helped or gotten in the way?
A: I didn't realize I was a celebrity, either! Any good press helps, and I'd like to say that, in the end, it's the quality of the images that matters. Unfortunately, there's a plethora of evidence that all too often, it is marketing hype and nonsense that builds demand for work. Any tour of New York galleries will confirm that. My personal hope is that I'm making memorable images that stand the test of time.
Q: What's your latest project, and what's next for you?
A: Last week (Dec. 2002) I returned from Spain where I had a show, taught a workshop, and did lots of shooting. I'm very excited about printing these images in platinum and pigment-over-platinum!
I'm also planning more one-day workshops across the country. So many busy adults don't have the time for a week in Santa Fe or New York but love the idea of an intense day during which I share lots of digital negative information along with a tons of meat-and-potatoes digital techniques.
Q: Any final words of advice for those who want to improve their digital printing and imaging?
A: Here are a few things I'd recommend:
First of all, every photographer should have a digital camera. (I'm shooting with a Nikon D100 and my "carry-everywhere" camera is the Nikon Coolpix 5000.) The strongest recommendation I can give for shooting digitally is quite simple: you will make more photographs! And, as a photographic learning tool, digital cameras are wonderful. You can try different things with the camera and immediately see what works and what doesn't.
About film, I haven't shot any of that stuff in a couple years. Once you get bitten by the angel of proofing thousands of images with a few clicks of the mouse, it's hard to go back. Don't get me wrong, I'm not
anti-film, and I certainly acknowledge its advantages in some areas. But, I'm willing to give up those few advantages for the longer column of pluses that comes with digital capture.
Second, get a Mac, spend countless hours with Photoshop, learn about nerdy things like profiles, and play, play, play with your digital images.
Finally, anyone wanting to be a better photographer should carry a camera at all times. I've been asked, "Why do you always carry a camera?" My answer remains the same: "I've never made a good photograph without one."
(All images © 2002 by Dan Burkholder. All rights reserved.)
P.O. Box 111877
Carrollton, TX 75011-1877 USA