Yes. An Easel.
by Barry F. Margolius
An easel? I'm writing about an easel?
I'm the ultimate techie. I love gadgets; I love electronics; I love anything that makes the daily grind easier...even if it takes a lot of work to learn how to make that grind easier. My friends would call you a liar if you were to tell them that I'm writing a posting about a gadget that's not electric and was probably invented over a million years ago. Well, here's my easel story.
I'm not a "serious" photographer. I love it as a hobby, and I've been at it for forty years, and I've even been "serious" for brief periods of time, but I never stuck to it. I always lapsed into disinterest only to get re-excited at some later time. With the advent of digital photography, I've been on an interest-high for quite a few years now. A few years ago, digital printing really began to get interesting for the hobbyist. For well under $1,000 one could purchase a very nice Epson 1280 printer that printed really good quality 13x19-inch prints. I was hooked. I remember, when I was a kid, how I scrimped and saved for the $10 (in 1965 dollars) to get an 8x10 commercial lab print made. Now, for a couple of 2002 dollars, I can print a gorgeous 13x19 myself. Wow! Cheap instant gratification; who could ask for anything more?
However, it became clear that it was very hard to evaluate/enjoy these prints. One day they looked great, the next day they looked very flawed. In a moment of inspiration, I walked down the block to the art store and bought an artist's easel: black aluminum, not ugly but not particularly attractive. I just stood it up in the corner of my living room. Now I can easily (no pun intended) display my latest print du jour. Then I could live with it for a few days and decide if I liked it—and sometimes even why I liked it. The time allows me to decide if I like a print enough to frame it, and how I want to frame it, and even where I might want to hang it.
Recently I've purchased a couple of prints on this site from Mike. Once again, the easel is my friend. I put Wisconsin #7 on the easel for several days before deciding that I wanted to see it framed. I put it in a simple black frame I had lying around, and lived with it for a few more days. I'm liking the print more and more. I still haven't decided where to hang it, but I have the luxury of being able to live with the print for as long as I want to without actually driving a nail into the wall. I may even go out and buy a nicer frame for the print, although that plain black frame does seem to emphasize the wintry feeling of Wisconsin #7.
Anyway, all this is essentially a long-winded posting advising you to buy an easel. I think you'll be surprised at how much it will improve the "viewing" side of your hobby.
Posted by: BARRY F. MARGOLIUS
Mike Comments: Barry has hit on one of the great secrets of improving your photography: a secret that's hidden in plain view, and will continue to be no matter what we say. My teacher Mark Power told me once that the single most crucial piece of photographic equipment is a "viewing board," which in his case meant a 4x8' sheet of homosote, painted white, leaned against the wall with a bunch of push-pins in it. Some people—including Ansel Adams, for one—use a viewing rail: a narrow shelf running the length of a wall to prop prints up on. You can use a cork board. You can even use tape or Blu-tak, I suppose. An art-supply-store easel is a new twist on the old theme for me, but it's a good idea too.
Whatever you use, the critical thing is to look at the work. Your eyes have an intelligence that absolutely no amount of thinking and imagining can replace. It's incredible to me—literally unbelivable—how powerful a tool this is, and how few people know about it, and, of the people who do know about it, how few people actually take advantage of it. Do you?