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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

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.


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?


Blogger Jason said...

Brooks Jensen tipped me to a great idea along the same lines. He uses steel rails and attaches the prints with magnets just to "live with them" for a while. I've adapted the same method around the house as a display/evaluation method. When I have people over they usually give feedback. It's worked well for me.

9:33 AM  
Blogger hywel said...

I use the fridge door. Or, more precisely, the freezer compartment door, as it's at eye level.

Especially useful for rough prints: if I'm still fascinated by it weeks later then it definitely deserves a more extensive trip into the darkroom.

I do, however, need to buy myself some less garishly coloured magnets: the ones I have at the moment don't go well with my black and white prints. Or I suppose I could buy an easel?


9:33 AM  
Blogger thechrisproject said...

I've been using my flickr page as a sort of staging area like this for a while, but I'm realizing its flaws. For one, my viewing is on a monitor. It's good for examining pictures that I'll use online, but I'm growing more and more concerned with printmaking.

I've wanted to get a good light and have an area for prints to examine. I like the idea of a long shelf to put them on. The fridge is a great idea, too.

If you're looking for better, small magnets, check out some tiny neodymium magnets like these or these. They can easily hold up 8x10 pictures, they're small, and the silver doesn't really clash with many photos.

10:55 AM  
Blogger soboyle said...

My wife bought me a couple large cork boards that work well for viewing prints. The real challenge now is lighting them so I can see them properly. I picked up a solux clip-on lamp a couple years ago, but I need something that lights more area. More clip-ons maybe. So I would say, the board is the single most important tool for viewing your prints, and some decent lighting is second.

11:01 AM  
Blogger Scott Jones said...

The long side of my ex-darkroom now sports a long white print rail made from nice white ready-made print rails from Exposures framing catalog ( They look great and along with some insanely affordable Home Depot halogen track lighting, I have a gallery for living with work prints. Recently I had a whole show of twenty prints (in mini 4x5 print size) up for evaluation, editing and sequencing. Extremely useful (and fun).

11:11 AM  
Blogger Ernest Theisen said...

My office/computer room is a bedroom with a door that leads to the laundry room /darkroom. I put matted prints on rails on two walls lighted with small spots from the center of the room.I get to see them with natural light from the windows and and with the room lights on. Lots of folks pass through this room and I get comments on the prints. After a while it is clear which ones need more work, which ones are keepers and which ones go to the round file.

11:24 AM  
Blogger Player said...

Terrific idea!

2:28 PM  
Blogger Interface said...

I bought a few blank artist's canvasses and painted them a neutral grey.

I pin a print to a canvas, then hang it on a wall so I can live with it for a while.

It is a great way to get to know your prints and evaluate them properly.

I also find it spurs me on to take better ones.

Good post, thanks.

5:19 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

I use the post it board above my desk. It started as a way to test Inkjet paper for longevity (years ago) and evolved into a spot to decide if I liked a given affect or boarder treatment. I must say it works quite well!


7:21 PM  
Blogger Ken Tanaka said...

Two words: Magnetic Paint!

I, too, tried ledges for transient displays. Problem: the prints must be mounted on something stiff, like foam board. Not as casual as I'd like.

I really didn't want to create a wall-sized tack board. Although flexible it requires that the prints be punctured with...tacks. Naw, too tacky.

Magnamagic's magnetic paint provided the ideal solution for me.

10:52 PM  
Blogger Dave New said...


Aw, I just finished completely re-painting my dimroom with a specially-mixed neutral gray.

Oh well, I suppose I didn't want a screen-room affect anyway. How's your radio reception inside that Faraday cage? I suppose the floor was left out, leaving a large hole in the cage? Hmm, you didn't paint the ceiling too, did you, so you could stick photos up there?

3:08 PM  
Blogger Ken Tanaka said...

Dave: Actually, the paint itself is not magnetized. It's basically iron dust in a paint-like suspension. Also, you only need to paint an area equivalent to where you'd want to tack prints. In my case it's a strip approximately 30" tall, 36" from the floor, and extending along 70% of one wall. Another strip extends across some closet doors.

I had some concerns that the paint would interfere with our 802.11 reception and our wireless phones. But no. It's slick.

11:16 AM  

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