Monthly Archive for April, 2015

Page 2 of 12

Domestic Constellation

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Domestic Constellation. Katrin Koenning @k_koenning for Burn Diary, Melbourne, Australia.

A conversation with Jim Megargee – MV Photo Labs


Conversation with Jim Megargee, MV Photo Labs

 Co-owner and co-founder Jim Megargee is the master printer and technical consultant at MV Labs. An active documentary photographer, Jim is working on a collection of his life work for exhibition and book form. In 1989 Jim became Annie Leibovitz’s in-house Master printer for four years. He went on to co-found MV Labs with Cornelia in 1993.


Save the Silver 


David Alan Harvey: How long have we known each other?

Jim Megargee: It has been close to 15 years, something like that. 

DAH: Yeah, I was going to say at least that. 

JM: Maybe 20 actually. 

DAH: Did we meet in New York or did we meet in Italy?

JM: In Tuscany at the workshops. 

DAH: So we met there not here. That’s right, because Carlo had the TPW thing going and we were at Buonconvento. Now, I know who you are but give us just a little bit of the history of your operation here in NY. 

JM: When I first moved to NY I had been teaching up at RIT in the photo department running their documentary / journalism program. I moved to New York, and becoming a printer professionally is something I didn’t expect to be doing at all. But I moved down here and got broke and received a call from a former student that said, “listen, are you looking for new work”. I said, “yeah, I’ll take whatever you got”. He said, “Annie Leibowitz is looking for a printer for two or three days”. I said, “Okay I’ll take the job”. I didn’t even know what to charge her for a day rate at the time. So I went in there and just worked on the American Ballet portfolio and the first day I produced this tremendous number of prints and she loved them. The second day I went in and did the same thing again. The third day I went in, did the same thing again. On the fourth day I went in and asked to be paid and I didn’t know what to charge them. I said “look, how about $75 a day? Would that be fine?” Jim Moffett her agent was there and she was on the 14th floor. Jim and I got on the elevator together and by the time we got to the fourth floor we had negotiated an agreement for me to be her regular printer and technical advisor. 

DAH: So you were a photographer in the beginning, and then you were teaching at RIT, and then you started printing for Annie Leibowitz. 

JM: I stumbled into that, yeah. 

DAH: How long did that relationship last?

JM: That lasted five years. 

DAH: Really? Wow! That’s amazing. Well that’s great. And then after Annie, you obviously felt pretty confident you could make good prints because Annie Leibowitz liked your prints and I think she’s a tough customer. 

JM: That’s right, she’s a tough cookie. The idea of actually moving out of there was Cornelia van der Linde’s idea. She found a space down in the meat packing district. Cornelia was my business partner. I thought we would be crazy to take it because there was nobody down there at that time. The place was just transvestites, hookers, and the meat guys. That was it.  Hogs and Heffers had just opened down the street, so we were all alone down there in this huge 30,000 square foot building that they had divided up into sections, and we took what we thought was the best space in the place, which it was. It was the corner space with our own private entrance, and we opened up MV labs down there. That was almost twenty years ago. So MV labs is actually twenty years old now. 

DAH: Kaya and I ironically have just been in the darkroom all last week. I’ve got a darkroom down in North Carolina. 

JM: That’s nice to hear actually. 

DAH: Yeah, so we are down there making silver prints, and I always considered myself to be a good black and white printer, but of course every photographer had to make their own prints back at the beginning anyway. The big question is, and I am wrestling with this too which is why it is a relevant questions, is how do you convince people to go with silver prints when the digital inkjet prints are so good these days? 

JM: I actually get asked that a lot. 

DAH: I know, it is too basic but I have to ask it anyway. 

JM: That’s okay. We say that the prints feel differently, but there is actually a physical aspect to that, where when you are looking at a silver print, you are actually looking at an etching. You are looking at light that has been etched into a layer of silver, so there is actually a physical depth to it. When you are looking at a digital print you are looking at ink on surface. 

DAH: Yeah it’s a reverse. 

JM: Exactly. And so there is a different feeling to the thing. Someone wrote me a comment the other day that if you match the numbers, things like resolution, tonal values, etc., digital black and white actually still hasn’t caught up to silver printing. So at this point it is still a superior method of visualization. 

DAH: Okay, well thats pretty clear. Still, the business has got to be harder just because of perceptions of people, and people are going to ask that question or don’t even know that there are silver commercial printers in New York. They don’t even know about that. So that would take a certain level of interest and education to know there was such a thing. 

JM: yeah we get calls from all over the country from people in Atlanta and Chicago and LA and San Francisco, saying, “my lab just closed, I’m looking for something, are you guys online, do you still do silver printing, film processing, etc…” So all over the country these places are closing down. What a lot of the black and white labs did to try and survive was emerge with other larger facilities like color and digital labs, and it became a very small aspect of those businesses, where here we are trying to maintain the sort of boutique aspect of who we are, because I don’t want to go in that direction. When we first opened twenty years ago, we were offered by two or three people, investors, to come in with them and open up a color lab as well, and a small digital lab, and we said “no, thats not who we are”, and I wouldn’t be comfortable doing it anyway. 

DAH: So now you are looking for crowd funding to help your business survive, obviously. Now is it mostly just because of the move?

JM: It’s mostly because of the move. We’re doing okay, we’re holding our own.

DAH: So you are just looking for $10,000. 

JM: We are looking for $10,000 to help with the buildout and help with the move. 

DAH: Right, and you can survive after that?

JM: We can survive after that. I have two jobs sitting waiting to be done now. One is a book and one is a large exhibition. 

DAH: You are making match prints for the book you mean? 

JM: Yes. 

DAH: And for the exhibition, how big of prints do you make? 

JM: We can actually do up to 40”x50”. 

DAH: Really? That’s a bit of an odd size though because I was thinking 40”x60”.

JM: Well 40”x60” is a digital size. If you take a 6×7 negative and you take it up that size, it basically fits a 40”x50”. We have that right now, over in Bushwick at a different location. The location we are going to move to will be able to do up to 20”x24”.

DAH: Now it would be hard to get to that size with a 35mm negative, right?

JM: Well it wouldn’t be hard to get to that size…

DAH: But it falls apart. 

JM: Right. I tell students all the time when I am doing a workshop, if you know what size you are going to be printing in the end, than you should shoot for that size. 

DAH: If you were going to talk to young photographers, what would you tell them about going to silver printing? You are obviously heavily invested in it business wise, is it just a quality thing, or is there some other thing that they should be thinking about?

JM: I had this discussion up at the Maine Media Workshops with a couple of other people. It was sort of a round table that we held up there. All three of the other guys were shooting digital, they had to because they were making their living digitally. I was the only one on the panel that was still shooting film and doing printing. The difference is, when you put a roll of film in your camera you have 36 exposures to make, and it is a different way of working and of approaching a subject than having a digital camera where you can just rapid fire, and you have hundreds of thousands of images that are possible, and it is almost like shooting a mini video, and then you go back and the real creative process is in the editing rather than the actual taking. It is a different physical, mental, and spiritual approach to image making, and when I see young photographers out there with a digital camera, doing this chimping, looking into the past as the present is taking place in front of them… 

DAH: Yeah, one step forward, two steps backward, I know it. I do it myself because I shoot digital as well. With film you always had to go forward. The only place to go was forward. You just keep exploring, exploring, exploring.. or backing yourself up, or whatever, but you are never going backwards. 

JM: The other thing I find disturbing, maybe mainly with young photographers, is when they edit they delete, rather than saving the image and saving mistakes, so they cant go back later and look at their mistakes and learn something from those. I would tell students all the time, on every roll of film you have your past, your present and your future, you have stuff you are always repeating, you have stuff you are working on now, and you have those one or two images on the roll of film you go back to 6 months later and go, how did I ever miss that shot?

DAH: Well thank you, Jim. 

JM: Thank you. 

Save the Silver

MV Photo Labs  has been serving the photographic commuity for close to 30 years. We are the last Black and White lab remaining in Manhattan. Recently our landlord sold the building where we are located. The new landlord has told us that they are going to demo the building and put up yet another hotel. We are looking to relocate in the area. Our problem is that the cost of a build out ( new darkroom(s), plumbing, electric work, etc.) is currently beyond our budget. We have just over a month to rent a new location. If we can raise the money necessary to do the build out we could find a new location within a week and begin the construction that will be necessay. We thank you in advance for your help.” – Jim Megargee

Whoever you are

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‘Whoever you are, go out into the evening, leaving your room, of which you know every bit; your house is the last before the infinite, whoever you are.’ RM Rilke. @k_koenning posting for you this wintery morning from Melbourne, Australia.

Area in recovery

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Another picture from Lake Mountain, a place I visit with every spare minute I have. The area was ravaged by severe bushfires in 2009, and it is still very much in recovery. Katrin Koenning @k_koenning for burndiary, Victoria, Australia.

Lake Mountain

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Hi, Katrin Koenning @k_koenning posting bits of life from Melbourne, Australia. One of the places I keep returning to is Lake Mountain, an area about 1.5 hrs out of Melbourne which was severely damaged in the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires. It is a landscape very much in transition.


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Good morning! Another week has begun here in Melbourne, Australia. I have a habit of photographing rubbish on my way to work; here is a piece as I walk to the train. #rubbishonmywaytowork @k_koenning for Burndiary

Attempting to assemble time…

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Attempting (but failing) to assemble time. Katrin Koenning @k_koenning for Burndiary, Melbourne, Australia. #timeisadragon

Medium movement #2

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Experiment in documenting medium movement #2. katrin Koenning @k_koenning for Burndiary, Melbourne, Australia.

Rainy weekend

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It has been raining all weekend (my favourite kind of weekend!). Katrin Koenning @k_koenning for Burndiary, Melbourne, Australia.

Inside a dead tree

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View from inside the belly of a dead tree. @k_koenning for Burndiary, Dandenong Ranges, Victoria, Australia.