Photography and printing in focus: Paul Kowalski
Printing may have been replaced with digital formats in some industries but photography still requires a tactile and visual aesthetic a screen can’t always provide.
What’s the purpose of expertly capturing a moment of time and place that cannot be displayed on a large print, which truly does it justice?
Professional landscape photographer Paul Kowalski reveals how he has made a successful career for himself and why printing is still important for him.
When did you start taking photos and what inspired you to make a career out of photography?
“I was young when I first had an interest in photography, probably when I was about nine on my grandparent’s farm. It wasn’t really until I started to photograph the south coast of New South Wales in 2003 that things became a bit more serious for me and I started to really invest time into learning and taking photographs.”
“The key memory from this period was a couple of longer trips that I did just to take photographs. I focussed on nothing else. I was drawn to the fulfilment of the process of assessing an area, taking my time and creating a photograph.
“I became extremely meticulous over those couple of years and in 2006 I made a big decision – I wanted to take landscape photographs full time. I invested in a panoramic film camera and a real journey began, one that I am still on now.
“I was drawn to being able to create and, for me, being outdoors and in nature was where I wanted to do that; experiencing amazing locations and really having a driver to get me out there. Being a landscape photographer has allowed me to travel through a lot of Australia. I have seen places I never thought I would get to at this stage in my life.
“When I became more serious, my own gallery space was always the dream. A place of my own to create an experience for others to view really high quality photographic work of Australia. I wanted to set up a gallery due to the remarkable diminishing nature of printing photographs and that way of sharing the craft. Our own gallery now does this and we are very proud of the space we have created, to showcase printed photographs at their very best.”
How has the demand for printing changed over the course of your career?
“Offering my work printed to customers is a very big part of my photography business and it is very important to me. I like to print big, up to 3 meters wide, to make the viewer feel as though they could walk right in to the photograph. There is nothing like showing a photograph that has been printed and framed using the best methods on the market.”
“The demand for my own printed work has increased dramatically over the last five years, since opening our own gallery. The gallery creates a tangible and consuming experience for all who enter. Our customers are simply drawn to really high quality printed photographs that are exceptionally well framed. Often people are taken back by simply looking at printed photographs rather than images on screen, they love it.”
Do you think there’s still a future for printing in photography, despite the advancements in digital technology?
“I feel that digital technology has seen major changes in the printing side of the industry. It simply had to. Things are faster and cheaper to view on devices. In saying that, I think now is a major time to embrace the printed form of photography. We see so little of it these days because we don’t have to print our photographs to see or share them.”
“A seamless relationship between digital camera set ups (cameras on our phones and tablets, etc.) and devices has been established and it makes sense for the most part because it is quick and matches our general lifestyle.
“I think there is a future there for printing photographs but it has to be done well. People still love to see printed work, even if it is in a book. Seeing a photograph that is printed and tangible is a different experience for all of us. It is more emotional and sticks with us for longer than seeing something on screen. Printed work seems to hold more craft, more value and potentially better qualities and it slows us down a bit, at least in the time to take something in.
“I think printed photographs have to be printed extremely well to be appreciated, the premise of producing substandard, pixelated prints is not acceptable these days. The viewer sees right through it and really there is nothing worse than a really noisy, pixelated printed photograph. But presentation is also very important, framing has to be spot on.”
What do you use to print your work?
“Printing reproduction is very important in what I do, it has to be perfect and very high end. I print the majority of my work on Fujiflex Crystal Archive, this is an amazing and quite specialised medium. The quality of the finish, if it is printed and framed properly, is outstanding. I want to create incredible printed pieces that have a depth to them. Fujiflex helps in that process.”
“Fujiflex is not an inkjet printing process, rather an LED exposure system where a red, green and blue LED globe embed the photographic data into the silver halide base of the Fujiflex material. Once this process has been completed, the material is subject to photographic chemistry where the photographic material is dunked into a chemical emulsion and the photograph appears on the media.
“We also do a lot of printing to metallic inkjet mediums. We use this material for all of our facemount pieces and for all of the smaller work that we print ourselves for gallery stock and custom orders. Inkjet printing has come a long way in the last five to seven years. We really enjoy the look and feel of a metallic print. It has depth and character.”
As impressive as it is, not everyone has access to metallic inkjet and LED printing. Canon, however have a decent range of ink cartridge printers that can print high resolution photos in a non-commercial application.
How do you select your subjects?
“I am always drawn to places that hold a special feeling or look but for me it is very heavily based around composition and what I can portray through my camera. I will often research locations in great detail before visiting and then once I am there it is a case of understanding the area, the light and what I would like to portray.”
“For my landscapes I look for impact and to be able to tell a story, I want the viewer to feel the scene, to be able to think they are standing there. Achieving this takes time and care; waiting for the weather, the light and the opportune moment.”
What kind of camera equipment do you use?
“I exclusively use a Fotoman 617 panoramic film camera for all of my landscape photography work. This large and bulky camera captures a transparency that is six centimetres high by seventeen centimetres wide. The reproduction quality of this set up is extremely high and I wouldn’t want to be standing behind anything else when I have an amazing scene in front of me. This camera is fitted with a fixed 90mm Schneider lens, it is very sharp and I know it very well these days.”
“I also use a 5d mark II with a 17-40mm pro series lens for other circumstances, like promotional photography but this is only for general day to day photography that I don’t print. I use Cokin lens filters and a Manfrotto carbon fibre tripod.”
What advice would you give to a photographer wanting to make a career out of it?
“First and foremost I would say that I am still finding my own way but I would tell anyone to stay extremely true to themselves in the process. Identify with what you are really passionate about in your own photography and chase it. And keep chasing it.”
“Create beautiful work no matter the field of photography. People see photographs, thousands of them, every day. You have to create beautiful photography work that really stands out and demands attention. It has to be clear, sharp and tell a story.
“Keep your quality extremely high. This is as important now as it ever will be. From the point of capture on, use the best gear you can get.
“Keep learning and embracing the remarkable advancements in technology, this makes our lives easier.”
Images courtesy of Paul Kowalski.