If you read this site or listen to the On Taking Pictures podcast, you'll know that I'm a big proponent of printing your photographs. I try to print out a master set of prints for each of my projects. It is expensive to do this and you need some storage space, but it is worth it. There's something about viewing an image as a physical object which is entirely differentfrom seeing it backlit on a screen. For one, your perception of the print differs just by looking at it without all the light noise of your monitor (or iphone or ipad). Not to mention that the print will still be there when your power goes out for a week during a hurricane (as long as your house didn't flood). You may also remember that I'm a big fan of Red River Paper. I've been using their paper for years now, long before we had them as a friend of the show. In fact, the only paper on my shelf is from their shop. They make excellent products at great prices. Recently, they released a new paper called San Gabriel Semigloss Fiber. Just from the name I knew it would be interesting, because fiber papers were always under the purview of the darkroom. Traditional fiber paper is an old technology. Basically, a heavy paper with a natural mineral coating (as opposed to a plastic one), though it tends to be little harder to work with. It's more fragile and picks up dirt easily. It also tends to curl like the dickens when wet. However, it is very archival. High-end darkroom prints, especially black and white, are typically made on fiber-based papers. I typically use more heavily-coated luster papers because I like the saturation of colors and the depth of the blacks that normal matte papers can't match, but those coated papers don't 'feel' like a traditional darkroom print.
So when I saw that RR announced this San Gabriel stuff, I wrote our friend Drew and asked him to send me a small box to try out. He kindly agreed, and after much anticipation, my paper finally arrived in storm-tossed NYC a couple of days ago.
It's a thick and somewhat heavy paper, acid-free with no optical brighteners and coated with bartya; just like the old school papers were. It basically looks like a dark room paper without the photosensitive coating, which is just delightful.
Since I'm most interested in using the paper for B&W printing, I pulled out a photograph I took a couple of years ago of the ancient bristle cone pines in the Methuselah Grove (Inyo National Forest, CA).
It's a scraggly bit of tree in a pile of the rocky stuff they call soil out there. Huge tonal range and perfect for testing purposes. Printed on a sheet of 11x14 from my Epson R3000 printer with no profile (Printer Managed Colors) and the results were amazing. This is the B&W paper I've been searching for. Looks just like prints I've made in a traditional darkroom.
Here's a straight macro shot of the printed surface so you can how the ink falls on it. I will say that you can see none of the dots and mottling with your naked eye.
And here's an edge on macro shot to show the texture of the paper. I'm focused on the tip of the corner of the image.
Finally, a backlit shot to show reflectivity. As you can see it has a little glare, but that's because it's coated and not a raw paper. I will say that in person the quality of reflection is really nice and organic if that makes any sense at all. Sort of a waxy sheen.
I'm going to do some more tests, but so far this looks to be my new fine art paper of choice. Well done guys. Be sure to go over to RedRiverPaper.com and get a sample pack or a box to try out. Use the coupon code OTP and you'll get 10% off your order.