“My objective in the darkroom is to make the most beautiful prints I can and that showcases all the detail that is represented from the original film exposure. A great effort goes into this transferring of visual information from film to print. By building an image recipe and with special techniques, you can generally arrive there. So, I always say, get it on film first! “ -Fatali, The Light Hunter
Why should you own a Fatali, aka “Light Hunter” Cibachrome Photograph? Because many will agree that it’s simply the very best of the best, increases in value, and can be handed down from generation to generation as a legacy for sharing the spirit of nature. This process has become extremely rare. It’s a lost art in a world that has sacrificed for the appeal of speed and ease of digital!
Cibachrome, formally known since the last couple decades as Ilfochrome, is considered by many as being the most beautiful hand color printing process in the world of fine art photography. In our galleries we have gained over 60,000 patrons over the years that have expressed their love for our Cibachrome Original Photographs and are as proud to own them as we are with sharing them.
There are many unique visual characteristics and advantages of a Cibachrome. One of which is the archival property that makes them extremely stable. This stabilization comes from using precious raw silver metals within the paper's photographic emulsion. This also allows for the image to last for many generations without any noticeable loss of color or image quality. They say Cibachromes will last indefinitely in a light tight environment.
There are not many printing papers that are long lasting and certainly not to this extent. Many of today's digital ink spray processes do not retain their color for long periods. The main difference being a Cibachrome, is the material consists of many layers of silver halide emulsion that are carefully mapped out with exposures to light that later become chemically stabilized to create the latten image.
The two main things that create risk for longevity of artwork are UV Light and atmosphere. By printing on Cibachrome, you would not have to worry about your image fading. Not even with a great deal of sunlight that may come into your home and bake your image. Though we do not recommend displaying your image in sunlight, for our own amusement and to test the possibility of premature fading a Cibachrome image, we placed one of our framed Photographs out in the elements of sun, rain, and snow. Yes, we really did this. I found that after three years of subjecting the artwork to a high intensity of sunlight and weather conditions, the outcome remained picture perfect!
Within the unique Cibachrome emulsions are thirteen layers of Azo-Dyes containing silver that transcend delightful senses of depth and luminosity throughout the entire image. The paper's silver halide emulsion represents a high resolution of detail, color saturation, with an expanding tonal range of values. The unique qualities of a Cibachrome are distinctive and set them apart from any other photographic image. It really helps to engage with the viewer for an emotional connection that can get them lost within the imagery and beauty. This makes them very appealing to the eye and the soul.
“I printed my first Cibachrome back in 1984 and converted my living space of a single bedroom apartment into a darkroom by day and bedroom by night. Ever since I have printed my very first successful Cibachrome image, I knew then, I was hooked for a lifetime! It quickly became my commitment for improving image quality through the darkroom and to raise the bar with perfection in each and every image I would ever make. It has always been important to me, to not only use creative mastery with the camera, but to equally gain the creative advantages for making a fine photograph from within the darkroom.”
This quest of perfection became Fatali’s painstaking task of his learning, the hard way, with self-instruction of trial and error. Internet searches were not available back in those days. Remember that? Few have ever mastered this unique process and he was intrigued to explore every possibility of its advantages for his image making.
No matter what process is used in the darkroom, there is something magical when gazing into a finely printed image and to witness the details that can be seen and felt in the print.
“I remember my first encounter standing in awe of an Ansel Adams exhibition. I was convinced that in order to create such exquisite photographic work, I would need to really learn my art, both in the field, and in the darkroom. I am often asked if my images are manipulated with computers or digital devices. I have chosen only photographic tools that capture light onto a photosensitive film emulsion and that have to be chemically processed. I simply love the look and feel of film, camera, and darkroom. My objective in the darkroom is to represent all the information captured on my original large film plate. When making a fine print, it is a challenge and the biggest part of the art goes into making sure that that language of the image’s information would not be lost when going from negative to a print. To showcase all the quality of details, color, and density of what was captured on film. This is the art!”
The Cibachrome process is extremely difficult and tedious to work with. One of the most challenging obstacles is to control the image contrast. Fatali has found a way to control this by making additionally exposed films that are sandwiched with the original film plate, using pin registration. This reduces the image contrast and controls density in the highlights or shadow areas. He will often expose several soft focus B&W masking negatives to create the perfect density and image contrast. This allows him to pull out any and all the details found in the original film plate he captured in a scene from nature.
“When I make the first image in my darkroom, it is not uncommon for me to spend a month or two in the creating process. I build a recipe first for each image representing how I created it, with logged details. I will use some techniques referred to as burning or dodging during the exposures. Sometimes it may take me thirty working prints before I have the perfect one of a final recipe image. Each image is created one at a time and is considered an original for how they are created. There is no digital file, Photoshop used or a button to simply hit 'print'."
When printing Cibachrome, you are not able to use any kind of safelight when in the darkroom. In B&W printing you can work under a red safelight, like the legendary Ansel Adams used to. Fatali is printing under complete darkness for the making of Cibachrome images. Many of the exposures within his darkroom can be for very long intervals, ranging from seconds to even hours to properly expose the desired areas in the image. Fatali will admit, “I have a coping mechanism for spending these long periods in the dark and that has become a tradition by putting on my headphones under the influence of Pink Floyd.”
All these images after exposure are carefully mapped out in Fatali’s darkroom. He then will go to chemically process them using precise temperatures in several baths of chemistry. He then will finalize by making an artist proof version that he can visually match up when printing the limited numbers we will release, which generally average only one to twenty five image titles created in Cibachrome.
Fatali uses a silver trapping recovery system that collects all the unused and unexposed silver wasted. “It is amazing how much silver I can recover after a darkroom-printing season, enough to make beautiful jewelry out of it”. He also makes sure that any chemicals that are drained are fully naturalized and safe for disposal. “When working with the chemistry for the processing, I usually wear a special mask to prevent breathing in the harsh fumes.”
“Although I can appreciate the darkroom, I would prefer more time in the field capturing the image and being surrounded by nature’s beauty. The most rewarding part of making images in the darkroom is to relive the experience of what I witnessed in front of my camera. The inspiration starts all over again and the fact that it becomes an archived image through plates of light, is a wonderful way for me to showcase them and to have others witness what blessings I have experienced by light and through nature.”
In 2011, we were notified directly from the lab that made Cibachrome, in Switzerland, with them sharing the big news that their specialty of coating of the paper is no longer obtainable. This was due to lack of the raw materials needed and because of the reduction of orders for exchange of the popular use of digital. They had been left with no other choice but to discontinue the materials for Cibachrome in their productions.
“I was extremely taken with disappointment as would be expected; yet, I knew that day would eventually come”. Fatali immediately purchased as much of the paper and chemistry that was available. The material he obtained have been stored in a walk-in freezer to slow down the paper's expiration date, and help prolong the use of material for a few more years before it would change the characteristics of the sensitive emulsion. Once the paper is exposed to light in the darkroom, and chemically processed, it will last forever. Until then, Fatali will be very selective to which new images he will print in Cibachrome. “I have enough Cibachrome material to last me about five to seven years and that is it. After that time, I will see what is on the horizon for options of making hand-made images without digital. I may have to go back and coat my own film plates and paper like the photographic pioneers once did over a hundred years ago. Who knows...We will see then.”
Fatali does not go back and print existing image titles. People ask us all the time, why doesn’t he go back and print some of the classic images in Cibachrome and we say a classic is a classic and that is what makes it vintage. Whatever we have in our inventory is it! Once we sell out the image title in a Cibachrome that will be the very last. The only way you can obtain an image that was previously sold out is by being lucky when we have a patron who owns one and is willing to consign it for sale in our gallery or in the resale marketplace.
Manufacturers like Switzerland’s Cibachrome, and even our very own Kodak, have resulted in past and recent filings of bankruptcy or have been forced to discontinue some products. This has been because of the need of lowering the production costs and supports the instant gratification tendencies through the workflow of the digital mediums.
“I believe that in general, the standard of image quality has been lowered and acceptable for the commercial mainstream. A price we are all paying for true original and beautiful art that has lost art forms. It is my hope that the beauty and rarity of my Cibachrome Original Photographic collection, printed within a forty year span, will make a difference for future generations to marvel and be inspired by them.”
All Photos & Text Copyright © 1984 - 2023 Fatali, The Light Hunter - All Rights Reserved.
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