The Bigger Picture
From latex printing to art restoration: Markus Hoffmann of renowned Dusseldorf photo lab Grieger takes us through the company’s processes
Grieger is a photography laboratory that produces work for renowned photographic artists from all over the world. This was not the original plan, though. Grieger has its roots in the Stuttgart area where the company worked mainly with advertising and commercial photography clients. When a new advertising market emerged in Dusseldorf in the late 1960s – with trade fairs coming to the city, for example – the decision was taken to open a branch herein 1968.
The fact that Grieger gradually specialized in art photography during the 1970s was due to contact with Dusseldorf’s art academy, especially artist-photographers from Bernd and Hilla Becher’s class – the so-called ‘Becher school’. Another key factor was the Diasec process used to permanently mount images on high-quality acrylic glass without smearing or air bubbles. This process was patented in Switzerland in 1969 and at the time Grieger was the only laboratory authorized to use it, gaining us considerable attention. Even today, we are the only license holder in Germany. The first generation of Becher students – Thomas Struth, Thomas Ruff and Andreas Gursky – soon came to us asking for large-format prints of their pictures made using this process.
We still work with advertising clients, though. The technology we use to produce art works is essentially the same as that used for advertising. The only difference is that we have to devote more timeand care to operating the machinery when making art works. As well as classic c-type prints, the conventional photochemical process with photo paper, we also work with various inkjet procedures, including direct-to-plate UV printing. And latex printing. This is a relatively new processin which the colour pigments are coated in a water-latex emulsion. They are pushed out of the printer headsat a high temperature. When the water evaporates the latex causes the pigments to adhere to the printingsubstrate. This technique can be used on paper and all manner of other materials. Latex printing is becoming increasingly popular with artists because it can also be used to realize very large format prints, up to 2.5 metres across.
Ideally, when we work with artists, we like them to send us not only an image file, but to be personally present during all phases of the production process before signing offon the finished works here in our workshop. That is not always possible, of course. If an artist cannot be there, we send out test strips which the artist then sends back with instructions for corrections. Even if the job only involves five or six pictures, production can go on for weeks. Some artists give us a reference print as a colour guide. But the most important thing is to always communicate with the artist in person.
Especially in the case of a new technique like latex printing, the question of longevity naturally arises. This is a subject frequently brought up by clients: can we guarantee print life? We can’t. Suppliers of printing technology – and independent institutions – conduct weathering tests, exposing various combinations of printer, ink and materials to environmental impacts. On this basis, print lives are calculated empirically. We are happy to pass on this data, but the owners – be it private collectors or museums – have to take several factors into account themselves to make sure they can enjoy their pictures for the longest possible time. Starting with the lightingset-up. Diffuse light is always better, a light beam should never be directed at a work, even if it is sealed behind acrylic glass which makes it relatively well-protected against UV and infrared irrdiation. What most people don’t know is that ozone is also very damaging. Meaning that photographic works should never be kept near laser printers or laser fax machines. The perfect way to store photographic works would be to keep them in a cooled, dark cellar withlow humidity, which is of course impossible. A compromise must be found that is adjusted to the reallife surroundings.
When a photographic work has suffered due to improper displayor storage, we try to help as best we can. Recently, for example, the Dusseldorf Art Academy came to us with a Joseph Beuys work from the early 1970s – a photogravure, aprocess used to make high-quality photographic prints. Over the years, the work had deteriorated so much that we had to tell them it should no longer be exposed to daylight at all, otherwise it would continue to fade away. Unfortunately, there was no master copy of the work. So with permission from Beuys’ widow, we scanned the work, digitized it, slightly freshened up the colours in Adobe Photoshop, and then printed it out as a new photograph – to be used as an exhibition copy. This is a task we perform more and more often: art reproduction.
For reproductions, we normally use the Cruse scanner. Unlike conventional flatbed scanners, there is no contact with the surface of the picture. The work is scanned from a height of one metre with a lens head, creating a very high-resolution photograph. The duration and intensity of exposure to light is minimized during this process. Paintings can also be scanned using this method as well. The great thing about the Cruse scanner is that the surface properties are all accurately captured: the texture and three-dimensional profile of thickly applied oil paint; the tearsand creases in photographs that may be important and need to be visible in the photographic printout.
In terms of copyright, such reproductions are obviously a complex matter. In our terms and conditionsof business, we explicitly state that it is the client’s responsibility to clarify all copyright issues. And in most cases this does happen: permissionis granted either by the artist, or – if the artist is dead – by the estate.
In the future, 3D scanning and 3D printing may also become increasingly important. Impasto oil paintings could be scanned – and printed out – in three rather than just two dimensions. But at present 3D reproductions are not an issue for us. For the time being we plan to keep concentrating on photography. Just recently, we acquired a large developing machine – second hand, but in very good condition. Although it is clear that inkjet technology will completely replace photochemical processes sooner or later, we will try to hold on to analogue technology and photochemical developing for as long as possible. Which also means we are grateful for every single day that we can still order the large-format, 180-centimetre-wide photographic paper from Kodak.
Translated by Nicholas Grindell
First published in Issue 13