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Relocation Completed – Now the real work begins

By July 30, 2007November 4th, 2015Photography, Printmaking, Research

Epiphany (feeling), a realization or comprehension of the essence or meaning of something or someone. An inspired understanding arising from connecting with profound insight, awareness, or enlightened truth.

Aardenburg Imaging & Archives was not deliberately conceived. It came about by a series of circumstances beyond my control… the death of a beloved family member, the inheritance of a wonderful but run-down 200 year old home in Lee, Massachusetts, the ending of a major research contract, the loss of special needs services for my handicapped son in our home state of Maryland when he turned 21 years of age. The list doesn’t end there, and thus, the founding of AaI&A has been shaped by almost everything else except the purpose for the company itself! My son’s special needs became the deciding factor in our decision to move to Massachusetts, and now with the move behind me, it does feel like I’m finally making some progress on the business plan of Aardenburg Imaging & Archives. Although the relocation seriously disrupted my web posting activities it did allow me some in-between time to contemplate what direction I really want to take with Aardenburg Imaging.

From the beginning, I have had four hazy notions of what AaI &A could do but no real plan for creating a synergism between the four elements. First, my new venture would exploit my core skill set which is imaging science with special emphasis on image quality and image permanence of modern photographic materials (notably inkjet technologies). Second, it would collect and document this new era of digital imaging with the emphasis on digital prints and their conservation rather than digital images and their electronic archiving requirements. Third, it would return me to my roots in photography where “the print is the performance” to paraphrase Ansel Adams. Fourth, it would allow me to share my knowledge of photography and printmaking with others. I have been printing my own photographs for over 40 years, and I made my complete digital printing transition in 1996 by co-founding Old Town Editions, Inc. with my friend and colleague, Chris Foley.

The Iris 3047 was capable of producing a 35×47 inch print by wrapping a large sheet of paper around a drum at which 4 million droplets of ink were sprayed every second for a total print time of about 45 minutes.  We moved the 3047s into Old Town Editions via mechanical lifts through our third floor window with the window casing removed.  Unlike modern inkjet photo printers, the Iris 3047 printer used continuous flow inkjet technology.  Although some Iris 3047s are still in use, for example at Old Town Editions, most have now been retired from service. In my opinion, the beauty of Iris prints has not been exceeded by more modern inkjet systems.

Mark McCormick-Goodhart holding an Iris print from a digital image taken with his Fuji MX2700 2.3 megapixel camera in 1999.  As a scientist I just didn’t expect that the image could be satisfactorily enlarged to this degree.  As a photographer and printmaker, I said to myself “What the hell, let’s give it a try”.  The print was surprisingly rich and detailed for such a “primitive” digital camera by today’s standards.

Evidence of my 40 year printmaking obsession can also be seen in this recent photo of my Saltzman enlarger being loaded onto a rental truck for its move from Maryland to Massachusetts.

My Saltzman Enlarger was built during World War II for use as an aerial reconnaissance map projector and enlarger. It was later converted to a color enlarger holding an 8×10 Chromega light source for color printing.

Minus its enlarger light source and the massive restitutional easel that perches on top of the pedestal base, I slipped the Saltzman enlarger just under the weight limit of the rental truck’s loading ramp. It was a bit nerve racking but I made it! Anyway, the professional moving company wanted too much money to move it with our other household furnishings, and as it turned out, had no room on its truck after emptying our house in Maryland. It was my good luck that I had decided to handle it on my own, but frankly, most sane people would have sent this twin-steel column Saltzman enlarger to a scrap metal yard a long time ago. I just keep promising myself I’m going to pull a few silver gelatin prints off of it again someday. I had originally purchased the Saltzman from a Photo lab in Jackson, Missisippi to adapt it to a pin registered enlarger for enlarging separation negatives onto Kodak matrix films used in making Kodak Dye Transfer prints. But commercial availability of the Dye Transfer materials ceased a couple of years after I purchased it, and I then moved on to making my color prints digitally on the Iris 3047 printer. Those were interesting times, but today’s world of photography and printmaking is just as exciting.

Teaching digital imaging and printmaking may very well get a leg up from this old house in Lee, Massachusetts. It was, after all, the Hyde Park Family Boarding School for Boys in the 19th Century, so it would be fitting for this proud but tired old home to serve an educational purpose once again.

A plaque advertising the Hyde School for Boys that hangs on the wall of our “new” home and corporate headquarters for Aardenburg Imaging and Archives here in Lee, Massachusetts.  The plaque was recently given to me by John Hyde, a Professor Emeritus at Williams College, and also a member of the fifth generation of Hyde family that owned the Hyde House from 1792 up until the late 1970s.

Aardenburg Imaging & Archives will also initially use some of the home’s approximately 7800 square feet of floor space to house the growing collection of digital print materials.  Getting the Hyde House reconditioned and restored to former glory will be a long process in part due to funding constraints and in part because the restoration projects must co-exist with my daily life and work.  Nevertheless, for colleagues and students who can be tolerant of the constant commotion here at the Hyde house, it should serve well as a collaborative studio and teaching facility for digital imaging and printmaking.

The restoration work begins.  The house was white during most of the 19th century, then brown near the turn of the century, and then back to white, and finally, various shades of red for the last 60 years or so.  It now gets a “new” 19th century historic color, “Hawthorne Yellow”.  Our summer painting crew is comprised of my third son, Mark, and two of his buddies, Nick and Tony.

Returning now to the issue at hand, a sound business plan should never be based on what the small business owner wants to do with his time. It should be based on identifying a customer base and fulfilling a need of that customer base. How do I leverage my skills in printmaking, imaging research, and collections management to create an innovative approach to AaI’s business that appeals to a broad segment of photographers and artists working with the new digital printing technologies? Can I help those artists who collaborate with me to connect with a larger audience? Can I interact with my customers to collectively help gather and report real world image quality and image permanence statistics? It has taken a while, but I think I may finally have had my epiphany. It is the realization that Aardenburg’s digital print archiving mission must serve as the platform for a real world research program. The digital print quality and image permanence research should come from the field not just the laboratory. The tested printer/ink/paper combinations must be very diverse and well sampled in order to present a comprehensive result. To achieve this ambitious goal, there needs to be a major collaboration between Aardenburg and the photographic and digital fine art printmaking community. It is only through this global approach that AaI will ever be able to assemble an extensive body of knowledge concerning the identification, printmaking methods, and preservation of digital fine art prints.

I am now beginning a pilot program to test my business model. Are you a photographer, digital artist, digital fine art printmaker, imaging scientist, engineer, museum specialist, or market analyst who would like to take part in this pilot program? It is going to cost approximately $500 per person to participate in the study. The cost covers the preparation and shipment to each participant (USA and Canada) of an approximately 17×22 inch framed print with on-board data logger. The data logger will collect temperature, humidity, and light level data to be retrieved along with the print at a later point in the pilot study. The print will then be analyzed for changes in color and tone reproduction quality and the overall results correlated with the environmental data. The field “incubation” time will be approximately one year. The prints should not change dramatically in that amount of time, but we will be looking for very small but measurable changes. If the pilot study works well, we will then go to a full scale print sharing program where the pilot prints get returned to circulation, the program participation is greatly expanded, many new print offerings are added, and the annual participation costs are lowered dramatically. Pilot study participants will receive a special report on the test results and overall findings. Specific locations and the identity of the participants will remain strictly confidential. If you’d like to participate, contact me by email at using the subject heading “Pilot Program”. Tell me a little about your background and interests in printmaking, image quality, and image permanence, or simply your reason for participation. I look forward to hearing from you.