Jeff Gaydash is an international award-winning Black and White Fine-art artist who has won some of the most coveted prizes in international photography competitions like the IPA and PX3 awards. Jeff lives in Troy, Michigan close to Detroit where he also runs his print studio for exhibition quality digital black and white photographic reproductions. His monochrome fine-art prints are custom made and of the highest exhibition quality and that’s what makes Jeff stand out from the rest of the international top photographers and print makers: Jeff knows what a fine-art artist thinks, sees and wants from a fine-art print since he’s an award-winning photographer himself. There are many fine-art photographers who use his printing services, including yours truly.
I’ve had the honor to interview Jeff about his photography and his fine-art printing studio. Please visit Jeff’s website if you want to know more about him or use his monochrome printing services.


Interview with Jeff Gaydash

JT: Jeff, first of all I want to congratulate you on your recent double silver win at the prestigious PX3 Prix de la Photographie Paris awards for your Refinery and Solitude fine art photos and your 2nd place at the 2011 IPA with Along the Rouge River: Detroit’s Industrial Mecca. After having won the IPA One Shot award with ‘Yes’ I think it’s a confirmation of the true fine art artist that you are. Three international prizes in one year, that’s incredible. How do you feel about this and is this a preview of what we can expect from you in the future?
Critical Infrastructure Refinery
Rouge Remnants I Rouge Remnants II The Zilwaukee Transmission grid
JG: Thanks Joel, I am really excited about all the recent success I have had in the past year. Over the past 15 years or so, establishing a career and family became my highest priorities and creating art was something I just didn’t have time for. Commercial assignments took me even further from what I preferred to be doing with photography. About 2 ½ years ago I made a conscious decision to return to photography on my own terms. I decided to start making the kind of images that I wanted to make, which led me back to my first love of black and white photography. I set a goal of creating one image a month that I truly was happy with. I figured that would give me twelve images in a year’s time that I could be proud of. The PX3 and IPA awards have really helped solidify the notion that others are appreciating what I am doing with a camera. I can’t be certain what the future will bring but I have some big ideas that I am interested in pursuing.
JT: What kind of photographic equipment do you use and what is your favorite and why?
JG: Uh, the equipment question! Today’s digital cameras just don’t excite me very much. I really miss working with the view camera. It is a much more intimate process. Previewing an image on an LCD screen does not compare to the experience of viewing the scene before you on a ground glass. Working with large format you quickly realize that the camera is nothing more than a light-tight box holding a lens on one end and a piece of film on the other. It’s incredibly basic. You experience the physics of the light as the lens projects your subject onto the ground glass.Things are different with digital SLR’s. The camera is everything. It determines image quality in terms of resolution, sensitivity, dynamic range, etc. Today’s DSLR’s are truly amazing and they make photography very easy, but as powerful and convenient as DSLR’s are the experience of making photographs with them is not as rewarding to me as it is working with large format. However, I do love the convenience and increasingly good quality of digital capture. I am currently researching a number of view camera systems that will accommodate both film and digital backs.In my quest of converting to a completely digital workflow, I sold my favorite film cameras including a Rolleiflex TLR, Sinar 4X5, and a Zone VI 8X10. In regards to my current equipment, I love my tilt/shift lenses, mostly because they give me control similar to that of a view camera. The majority of my lenses are prime and manual focus. I also love my Really Right Stuff Ballhead. RRS makes some of the most beautifully designed and engineered photographic equipment I have ever seen.
JT: If I may characterize your work: your work is monochrome work of the highest quality with a great eye for subtle details. It’s work with the intention to be printed on paper, not just for online viewing. It shows in the subtle contrasts, the darker and warm tones and in the sensitive and subtle use of highlights in your seascapes. Just a few bits of whites but it creates such a fantastic atmosphere. It’s that subtlety that makes your work stand out from the rest. Do you spend a lot of time post processing your images? I feel there’s so much effort involved, as if you dodge and burn every single inch within that square frame. And is it your main objective to create work that should be printed on paper?

ChurningFluxJG:When I approach a subject, I am definitely previsualizing a final print in my head. It’s just how I have learned to see things since I learned photography when the print was the end result. I would think someone who learned photography in the digital age will previsualize how an image looks on screen but I can’t personally speak to that.

I am passionate about the print. It’s something that is difficult for me to put into words. I see a fine print as a physical object of beauty. The physical qualities of the print become an extension of the photographic image itself. The tones and textures in the surface of a fine print begs the viewer to get in close and examine every nuance and detail. Many people don’t look at photographs at this level but for me it can be quite intoxicating.

I wouldn’t say I spend an excessive amount of time post-processing but it is very important, possibly more so than the capture itself. Post-processing is where the ordinary can become extraordinary. Ten photographer’s standing in the same spot will capture a very similar exposure but their processing techniques will most likely vary dramatically. For me it’s a process that can take a few days, sometimes even longer.

I use Lightroom for cataloging and rough editing but all my fine art image processing is done in Photoshop. I have been using Photoshop for over fifteen years so that’s where I naturally feel most comfortable. I work as non-destructive as possible and use mostly adjustment layers, layer masks, and gradient layers which allow me to continually make very minor adjustments until I have obtained my desired results.

JT: There seems to be a consensus among fine art artists that there’s a difference between being a photographer and being a fine art photographer – an artist. The photographer mainly being someone recording the world as it is through his viewfinder and as his camera records it, and the artist being the one recording the world as it is through his mind’s eyes and the camera merely using as a tool to help him visualize the world he saw in his mind. That often involves necessary and heavily post processing of an image. How do you look at this – do you consider yourself an artist or a photographer?
JG: Photographer, artist or fine artist. It’s just a matter of semantics for me. Many artists put themselves on a pedestal claiming what they are doing is art and everything else is something of lower value. I think that is a fairly pretentious viewpoint.In its early history, photography wasn’t readily accepted as a form of fine art. Painter and sculptors viewpoints were that true fine art could not be made with a mechanical device. Alfred Stieglitz was instrumental in promoting photography as an accepted art form. Stieglitz however, did not believe a photograph was a finished piece of artwork until it was formally mounted. If you agree with Stieglitz then all this “fine art” photography being viewed online isn’t really fine art is it? I could take the point-of-view that I don’t believe a fine art photograph can exist in digital form and be viewed online, and that only true fine art photography exists as physical photographic prints that are exhibited in galleries and museums. My point is that we must first better define what fine art is and what it means to be a fine artist.My view is that if you have a camera and are taking photographs with it you are a photographer. If the photographer’s intent is to say something more with their camera than simply recording what they see in front of them, then I would most likely call this photographer an artist. The resulting image is insignificant; it’s the intent that matters. In other words, the visual content of a photograph does not determine whether or not it is art, it is the photographer’s reasoning in taking it.The term fine art is more specific, referring to the creation of works that are subject to aesthetic criteria and are most often displayed in galleries and museums. I tend to agree with Steiglitz in this respect and don’t really regard the digital files I post online as fine art. I especially don’t think that the amount of post processing done to an image has any bearing on it’s legitimacy as a piece of fine art.To sum this up, I believe that whether a photograph is art depends on the photographer’s intent, not on the photograph itself. Fine art to me is determined by the creation of a physical object with specific aesthetic properties that are usually viewed in galleries and museums and are often purchased and collected by art collectors.My intent is to show my photographic prints in exhibitions and ultimately be purchased for display in homes, offices or collected in private collections. By this definition I consider myself a fine art photographer.
JT: Personally when I’m working on an image I always try to stick to my highly subjective artistic rules when it comes down to post processing an image and when post processing becomes manipulation. I don’t have any problems to remove sensor dust, some leaves on the ground or even a part of a building disturbing the composition. But I have problems replacing an entire sky for instance – I feel the basics should be there, but that’s my own subjective opinion. When post processing an image, are there any limits for you? In other words how do you personally decide when an image is post processed to align it with your artistic vision or is manipulated?
JG: I believe this is one of the biggest debates between digital photographers today. How far should we go with our post-processing? It definitely is subjective and everyone seems to have his or her own opinion on the matter. I will give you my view on this and fully expect that many may disagree with me.There are inherent limits in traditional analog photography that define the aesthetic and essence of the medium. Throughout the history of photography, advancements in optics, chemistry and techniques slowly expanded the boundaries of what was possible in making a photograph. These relatively minor advancements over 175 years or so gradually altered the aesthetic of photography, yet the photograph remained unmistakably photographic in nature.Advancements in digital imaging have successfully expanded the photographic aesthetic with new techniques such as HDR, panoramic stitching and focus stacking. It is now possible to mimic just about any other visual medium such as a painting or a charcoal sketch. It has become popular to digitally simulate the look of analog photography, and there are applications that can automatically simulate film grain, dust and scratches, lens defects, fading colors and print borders. The rise of digital technology has effectively torn down the boundaries that defined analog photography. Digital photography, in essence is a completely new medium with a virtually limitless aesthetic.I often hear digital photographers state that they limit themselves to post-processing techniques that are only possible in the traditional darkroom, such as contrast and burning and dodging. I personally find it quite odd that someone would choose to severely limit his or her technique based upon an arbitrary point of technological advancement. If someone wants to work within those boundaries, why not just use a darkroom?Photographer Jerry Uelsmann is a master of analog darkroom printing. He uses multiple negatives and up to a dozen enlargers to produce spectacular surrealistic composite photographs. He can do more in a darkroom than most can accomplish using Photoshop. Uelsmann is a perfect example of someone who pushes the limits of what is possible within his medium. Ansel Adams also pushed the limits of photographic sensitometry to achieve the results he is now famous for.I personally don’t subscribe to the idea of limiting oneself but believe it is important for any artist to master their medium. This means pushing the limits of what is possible to achieve their creative vision. At the same time I believe we are obligated to maintain a high level of integrity in our work. It’s not my intention to deceive viewers into thinking my images are an accurate record of reality as they certainly are not! When I am exhibiting prints and am asked about my work I am very open about the processes and techniques I used to attain the final image.
JT: What are your objectives when creating fine art, is it your objective to convey a message, a mood, or to just simply produce a thing of beauty?
JG: I would like to think I am trying for all three. First and foremost, it is important that I stay true to my own vision and create images that I am personally proud of and capture images that interest me. Fine art is very personal, the end result being a reflection of the artist’s inner self.Personally, aesthetics are paramount. The challenge of creating a physical object of beauty is what drives me to continue making photographs. This is why I enjoy working in black and white and print using the highest quality materials and processes available.All art aspires to generate an emotional response from the viewer. Trying to convey a mood is one way of doing this and I certainly strive for this in my work.Conceptually, I am intrigued by the concept of time and it’s effects on things made by man. I find it interesting to juxtapose these ‘artifakts’ with nature. Using long exposure techniques helps emphasize the passage of time and nature’s inherent power, ultimately prevailing over these ‘artifakts’ and eventually returning them to their natural state.
JT: Do you have any favorite artists or favorite photographic works and of course we also want to know why you love them!
JG: One of my earliest influences was Frederick Evans, a photographic purist whose primary subjects were European Gothic cathedrals. He exclusively printed using the platinotype process. In the early 1900’s the price of platinum skyrocketed. Over 90% of the precious metal came from Russia and with the onset of WWI platinum was reserved strictly for war efforts. Evans retired from photography because he was no longer able to get platinum paper and refused to work with any other “lesser” printing methods. Frederick Evan’s work heavily influenced my college thesis project in which I documented Detroit’s historic churches and cathedrals, making platinum contact prints from digital 8X10 negatives.Photographer and painter Charles Sheeler has been a big influence on my interest in industrial photography. In the 1920’s Sheeler was commissioned by Ford Motor Company to photograph The River Rouge Plant. His photograph ‘Criss-Crossed Conveyors’ photographed at The Rouge is one of my all time favorite photographs. Michael Kenna also photographed The Rouge in the mid 90’s and his images have also been highly inspirational. I am hoping that my recent second place in the 2011 International Photo Awards for my series “Along The Rouge” helps me gain access to the facility myself.I am also influenced by the work of Joel-Peter Witkin. On a field trip to New York City we visited the Pace/MacGill Gallery. Knowing that Witkin was represented by the gallery, a few of us requested to see his prints. When the gallery curator brought them out, my life changed forever. Witkin’s subject matter aside, the stunning quality of his large prints was something that will stick with me for the rest of my life. Witkin uses various darkroom techniques such as toning, bleaching and negative scratching. While this look is easily and often mimicked digitally today, his prints are all hand crafted with unbelievable skill and beauty.Probably my favorite artists are Mike and Doug Starn. They are identical twins that continually push photography beyond its traditional boundaries. Their work is experimental, often very large and sculptural in nature. Seeing a Starn Twins exhibit in person is quite inspirational. I am starting to ‘think outside the mat’ and am currently experimenting with various alternative printing and display techniques. This is the direction I see myself going with my own work.
JT: In all interviews I do with artists I always bring up this digital era we live in and how it influences our lives in a very drastic way and also the (photographic) art we produce. Sometimes it looks to me like the real world we live in is becoming more and more an extension of the virtual world instead of the other way around. A digital and virtual world that sometimes defines the norms. Looking at photography and photo-sharing sites and other social media the norm is starting to be that a photo should only look good on your LCD screen with many artists just creating their art for online viewing. Print it on paper, for what? Maybe they’re right about that, the same is happening to books, newspapers and magazines: you just read them on your laptop or iPad or other mobile device, no need to go the newsstands to buy a real copy. Besides being an award-winning photographer you also print photographic art using high-end techniques and you offer that as a service to others as well. Can you tell us why we should print the art we all love on paper? What are the benefits of having your art printed on museum quality Hahnemühle paper with selenium Piezography inks for instance?
JG: I fell in love with photography prior to the digital era. The chemical process intrigued me. Exposing a sheet of paper in a darkroom and then watching it come up in the developer tray was a magical experience. Making photographic prints was what you did before digital; it was the very essence of photography.I am sure it is a very different experience for people who learned photography in the digital realm. The attraction to photography is very different. It’s no longer about strange smelling chemicals and fiddling around in the dark with light sensitive materials. It’s about megapixels, memory, computers and image editing software.I have always viewed photography as having three parts: the exposure, processing and the printing. When I first got into digital imaging, I saw Photoshop as the digital replacement for the processing, but there was still the issue of input and output. Image capture devices were still very expensive so I would shoot film and then use a lab for drum scanning. The missing link was the output.I was always looking for ways of getting my digital images back into the darkroom. I used LVT film output to create digital negatives and made contact prints on platinum paper using high-resolution halftone negatives. It wasn’t until I came across Piezography that I truly felt that a digital workflow could match (and exceed) the quality of traditional darkroom printing. I now print exclusively using Piezography and have recently started offering my printing as a service to other photographers interested in the highest quality digital black and white printing available.So why would a digital photographer be interested in making museum quality prints? My answer is that it is not for everyone. I think most hobbyists are perfectly happy with sharing their photos online or using an online service for prints. Fine art printing is for discerning photographers that want the absolute best digital output available. Fine art printing is for photographs that are intended to be exhibited and/or sold and collected. Using museum quality materials also addresses issues related to archival stability, yielding prints that can last hundreds of years.Another thing to think about is the fact that every monitor out there is different and the people viewing your images online all see it slightly differently than what the photographer originally saw on his or her screen. Exhibiting prints guarantees that your work is viewed exactly as it was intended.
JT: In the days of Ansel Adams it was assumed that a photographer not only captures the photo but also did the development of film, the post-processing including creating the final print in the darkroom. Creating the final print these days is now considered a separate skill not a skill or activity needed for a photographer to call himself a photographer but an activity that can be done by any printing lab. I think that printing is an art form that requires technical but also artistic skills to get the best out of any work of art. Do you agree on that and why do you love creating prints so much and what separates you from the average printing lab?
JG: Contrary to popular belief, many photographers did not print their own work but hired darkroom technicians to handle their printing. In some ways Adams was more the exception than the norm. Adams embraced the darkroom. Henri Cartier-Bresson was famous for hating it while John Sexton believes that 51% of an images success takes place in the darkroom.Things are quite different now with a digital workflow. Photoshop, Lightroom and other software have become today’s digital darkroom and fortunately most photographers today do their own post-processing. I see this as a step forward as a digital workflow allows much more control over the creative process than ever before.The big difference is that for most photographers today this is where the creative process ends. Most digital photographs never go beyond the hard drive. The ones that do are usually printed by some high-volume lab or on a home printer with an overabundance of confusing options and dialog boxes. Even more rare is a print that looks as good or better than how the image looked on screen.I don’t think digital printing today requires creative vision as much as it demands technical knowledge and experience in understanding what makes a technically good print. A bad print can look pretty good to someone who doesn’t know what a good print looks like. All it takes is a side-by-side comparison with a technically superior print and the differences suddenly become glaringly apparent.
JT: Suppose an artist decides to contact you and wants you to create some prints of his art for an exhibition. How can the artist be sure that you create a print that matches the artist’s ideas on the photo? Can you tell us how this process looks like?
JG: Well first and foremost I am a photographer and not just a technician. I try and take a symbiotic approach to working with other photographers. I get familiar with their work as a whole and will offer suggestions as to what ink and paper combinations I believe will work best with their images. Many clients I work with are very new to printing. I provide information to them on how to best prepare their files for printing and answer their questions as best as I can. I like to think that with all my years of printing experience, traditional and digital, that I know what a good print looks like. As an artist I know that leaving this interpretation up to someone else can be unsettling and I try my best to develop a level of trust with the photographers I work with.
JT: Since I consider creating prints an art form, who or what are your major inspirations?
JG: There are the traditional photography masters such as Minor White, Edward Weston, Imogen Cunningham, Alfred Steiglitz, Ansel Adams, and John Sexton that will always be a source of inspiration for me. These early masters of photography were instrumental in defining photography as a true art form and set the stage for today’s fine art photographers.From a digital standpoint, Jon Cone has been highly inspirational. Cone is founder of the world’s first digital printmaking studio, Cone Editions Press. He is a pioneer in digital printmaking, first developing software and inks for fine art output using IRIS printers and later developing what is now known as Piezography, the first commercially available system of producing fine art black and white digital prints. Jon Cone continues to push the limits of digital fine art printing and has some very promising new innovations coming out in the very near future.
JT: Finally, any new projects you want to share with us?
JG: I plan on continuing with my ongoing ‘Artifakts’ series and industrial work. I would like to tighten each series up a bit from a conceptual standpoint so that each body of work is a bit more cohesive than it currently is. For my next exhibition I would like to show larger prints than I have in the past. I have always liked the intimacy of a smaller print but lately feel that my subject matter would be more powerful shown in a larger scale.Most importantly I want to just keep creating, moving forward and not looking back at what I have done in the past. That’s the approach I have been taking lately and it seems to be working out pretty well.

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