What is a C-Type today?

When we hung our first shows in 2005 I was unclear about how I should label my prints, and still today, it is unclear how contemporary colour prints should be labeled. I have read and talked, and come to my conclusions. By posting this in as many places as possible, I hope that some continuity of nomenclature may be obtained.

Going back ten years, things were simple: a black and white print was called “Silver Gelatine” or “Bromide”, a colour print from negative was called a “C-Type”, and a print from a transparency was called “Cibachrome”, as that was the most common process for making positive-to-positive prints. Silver/Bromide were terms which described the basic chemical composition of the print, and since silver nitrate/bromide are the two chemical states of silver in the photographic process, these terms were correct. Colour film and paper is also based on silver nitrate/bromide chemical process, thus colour prints were called C-Types, meaning a Chromogenic silver bromide print. Cibachrome was a mixture of the manufacturer Ciba-Geigy and Chrome, the suffix Kodak uses to denote reversal film.

When I started fooling around in my first darkroom, these processes were all that was, and digital meant a watch that had digits on its face.

When I started to work with colour photography in 2003, however, things were already different. Now colour prints are made equally from negative or transparency, by scanning at 16bit (per channel), and printing at 8bit. The technical degradation of this is significant, as a colour transparency may hold information that is greater than 64bit, but this is what we have to live with. And most of the time you can obtain good results. I cross-process most of my work, which does not help with knowing what is right and what is wrong. The digital stage also confuses the ethics of what is acceptable wilst preserving the “real” aspect of the photograph’s origin. But this is a different topic. The fundamental issue, is that a print is made, and none of us know how to call it. I have seen many prints labeled as “Lambda Print”, which really only tells you what printer it was printed with. This would be like calling it an “Epson 2400 Print”, or going back to my darkroom, a “Laborator 138 Print”. No, that is silly. There are better solutions. Better names. And then you have many people calling their prints Giclée, which is an insult to those who have not looked it up. The name was invented in the early 1990s when digital layout for offset printing started to exist, and it was a fancy name applied to and inkjet print when the print was seen as the end product, rather than a proof. Giclée is simply a fancy word for inkjet. It means nothing more. I would not be caught dead trying to sell a print made at home on my inkjet as something special, no matter how long they claim the Chromalife 100 inks will last. A photograph should be treated in a more respectful manner than my bargain airline booking.

The process of making an image by using a lens and a chemical process to record it is an Opto-Chemical process. Thus I would assume that it would be fair to say that a digital camera produces an image by means of an Opto-Digital process. A printer like the Durst Lambda or Epsilon, which prints to RE-4 photochemical paper, thus, must be Digi-Chemical printers… An inkjet? Maybe something like Digi-Ink.

In the film industry (as in Motion Pictures), it is now widely accepted that 35mm stock goes through a Digital Intermediate (DI) process, where it is scanned, graded, edited and then printed back to film. Is this not much the same thing that we are doing when scanning a negative on a Hasselblad/Imacon scanner, and print it back to photochemical paper?

My conclusion, thus far, has been to call a colour print made from a negative or transparency, by means of a digital intermediate stage, and printed back to photochemical paper, a C-DIP, standing for Cromogenic Digital Intermediate Print. It is clean. It fits into the classic nomenclature, and it leaves little area for misinterpretation.

So what do you do if the image originates from a digital camera? A single lens reflex camera (SLR) became a dSLR when it was armed with a digital sensor, thus it would seem fit that a print from a digital source should be called a dC-Type, and if you want to specify how it was made, then add D-Chem or D-Ink as a suffix. But how much manipulation of a digital source image is allowed in its intermediate stage before it requires yet another initial to denote its pedigree? Or is that not a concern, since Playboy models have been airbrushed for decades, Victorian nudes often had genital regions blended, and I have a couple of early ‘30s 8×10” negatives of my grandmother that are so heavily manipulated by pencil and scalpel, that I wonder how much of our world has ever been truly representational.

Tobias Feltus: