Shedding light on the dark art of printing: An interview with Valda Bailey

Shedding light on the dark art of printing: An interview with Valda Bailey

We recently caught up with Valda Bailey, Valda is a professional photographer who first became passionate about photography when she was 14. She grew up in Jersey and retains an affinity for the coastal/seascape views which often translates to her work. We chatted to her about the ins and outs of the creative photography workshops she runs with Doug Chinnery.

On how workshops can help inspire a journey into print...

“We run these workshops as often as possible and each time we do, it dawns on me that more and more photographers are now realising the limitations of having their work imprisoned on their hard drive.

While efficient and readily accessible, they still find their work to be soullessly represented as a series of ones and zeroes. It’s just not a rewarding end for an image we care about. Of course, it would be easy to outsource the printing process to any number of companies offering a first-class online service but they are purists and cannot bear not being in control of the final output, the last step in their creative process.

Doug Chinnery and I decided to run print workshops, in an attempt to simply make a difficult process understandable. The impenetrable dark art of the printing process can often seem so murkily incomprehensible that we just wanted to create a sanctum where photographers could gain some knowledge.”

On parts of the workshops that spur her on...

“The striking thing for me is the look of delight on people’s faces, as technical ideologies and doctrines are untangled and they begin to realise that the mechanism behind fine art printing really isn’t as cryptic as they had feared. One client likened the slow delivery of his print as being akin to the birth of his first child. Obviously said in jest, but it perhaps demonstrates that the sense of wonder we felt in time past when producing prints in a darkroom is not entirely absent now the process has become computerised.”

On photographers sometimes missing the old method...

“As digital photographers, we spend our time pressing buttons, twiddling dials and scrolling around our computer screen. The tactile element of loading film, agitating chemicals and generally being very hands-on with the mechanism of making images is almost completely absent in digital photography. Therefore to engage in a process whereby the physical object takes center stage can be extremely rewarding.”

On her additional art skills constantly adding a new perspective to her learning processes...

“I have spent many years making my own prints, and, as with most worthwhile endeavours, one never stops learning. In my case, that learning is generally directed towards ways of hand finishing the print. Although I am now reasonably confident that my printer will produce what I see on my monitor, the painter in me is slightly troubled by the fact that it can then be replicated absolutely identically a thousand times or more…”

On implementing elements of her travel into her work…

“The more I research the ways and means to personalise each print, the more I realise how far these ideas can take me. I have already written quite extensively about my foray into the world of Verre Eglomise (the application of gold leaf). Other impulses continue to bubble up, seemingly from nowhere. I returned from a recent tour of Morocco with a box of powdered dyes and a half-formed idea about incorporating the pigments into prints of the vibrantly coloured artefacts that caught my eye while I was there. A trip to Tokyo recently also threw up a headful of ideas and I found myself spending more money than I care to admit to on beautiful Japanese paper. And so it goes on…”

On finding workshops truly rewarding and motivating...

“As we wave goodbye to the clients on the workshops, I often sense the excitement for the journey ahead. The eagerness to see where their new-found skills will take them. Once the hard graft of understanding the basic principles is committed to memory, the fun can really begin. And then it now becomes an exercise on how they can interpret these new skills into something spectacular…”

Find out more about Valda and Doug’s workshops at 

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Tags: valda bailey, printing workshops, printing, photography workshops, photo paper, doug chinnery