The idea for a retrospective was born when Adamson, owner of the Washington, D.C.-based fine art digital printmaking studio Adamson Editions, attended the 2001 opening of a retrospective on the works of Jim Dine at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie, for which he had printed many of the images. At the opening, he and museum director Jean-Luc Monterosso set the wheels in motion for the current exhibit.
"My mission was to create an exhibit that would show the convergence of painting and printmaking with photography, and how the digital creation of these images brought all of these elements together," says Adamson. The artists in the show are painters or printmakers who work with photography as part of the process, as well as fine art photographers.
For the next few years, Adamson and the museum reviewed thousands of images, eventually narrowing down their selection to 100 works from 11 leading photographers, some three months before the show opened.
Space was at a premium, so selecting the images was a challenge. "I took the biggest names that I work with in photography and in art," says Adamson, "people whose works are already in museum collections around the world." They phased into a normal production schedule and secured the artists they selected.
While the 100 show images span a 10-year period, the rapidly evolving nature of digital printing technology means four different generations of printers were used to create the prints.
Those from the mid-1990s were made on an Iris printer, later prints on an IXIA printer, more recent prints on the Epson Stylus Pro 9600, and the newest prints were created on the Epson Stylus Pro 9800 (production units will ship around September). All show photos by Adam Fuss, Jack Pierson, Chuck Close, Victor Schrager, Donald Sultan, and Francois-Marie Banier were created on Epson printers.
"I was pleasantly surprised by the Epson Stylus Pro 9800 and the new UltraChrome K3 inks. These inks have virtually eliminated metamerism and bronzing. Their neutrality and highlight detail are also exceptional and the transitions are much, much smoother. The printer is amazingly fast and self-calibrating, so it's constantly looking after itself. What's so exciting is it took years of calibration and a lot of technical knowledge to make a neutral black-and- white, and now we can do that right out of the box."
Nonetheless, the printing was a complex, intense process. The demands of the job varied from artist to artist, image to image. "It included something as simple as making prints from an 8x10 file or as complex as capturing a new chrysalis," says Adamson. "Each artist worked differently. Some were quite hands-on, like Adam Fuss, Robert Longo, and Chuck Close. Yet, the longer I worked with them, the less they stayed in the studio. I think my background in traditional techniques played a significant role here."
Even following a rigorous schedule, the project came down to a four-week period during which all works had to be prepared for the public. The museum's professional team had arranged for the work to be transported to the museum—five days before opening day—as well as insured, installed, labeled, and guarded.
"The Maison de Européenne also had responsibility for lighting the exhibition—they chose various spots and floods—and for temperature and humidity control," reports Adamson. In addition, the museum managed public relations and media coverage for the opening, and assumed all expenses—as well as all revenue—for the exhibit catalog, published by Steidl.
Since the exhibit is housed in and supported by a large museum, and is receiving printing assistance from Epson, a greater share of the planning, orchestration, and funding are being handled by others than might be the case if you were to be involved with a show held in a more intimate gallery environment. But the bottom line is this: The attraction of digital printmaking is growing every day.
Adamson explains: "Digital printmaking lets us give artists everything they imagined. Before digital, clients would say, 'We want this color and this color and this color' and you would say, 'But we don't have that.' With the new generation of inks and papers, such as Epson's UltraChrome K3 Ink Technology, we're able to give clients a gamut they've never seen before, as well as increased image quality for color and black-and-white prints. In addition, black-and-white ink sets are testing out well over 200 years of longevity, and color over 100 years."
That means 200 years is the first point at which a noticeable color shift would occur, although most of us may never notice a change.
"I am constantly re-energized by the printing process because it keeps evolving," says Adamson. "I'd like to see this level of technology delivered at an even larger scale. Artists are always looking for the next big thing."