By Lisa Guerriero
In fine art printing, quality and longevity are equally important. For photographer Jim LaSala, handling the printing himself ensures control over these two essential elements of the process.
“The one and only reason that I was drawn into large format printing was the ability to control how my prints would be seen by others. I did not want to leave that process to another person, such as a lab,” he explains.
LaSala focuses on documentary-style photography, though he has done everything from fine art to wedding photos over the years. As a photographer who also prints, he enjoys being in the driver’s seat when it comes to the final product. He also believes wide format contributes to the aesthetic value of the image, engendering a deep reaction in the person viewing the art. “For me, it’s all about the detail,” he says of wide format printing. “It is an amazing tool.”
LaSala co-owns Xact Studios in NJ with partner Jim Roselli, where they create prints for their customers as well as themselves. LaSala relies on an Epson Stylus Pro 9900 for most of his larger prints, paired with Epson UltraChrome HDR ink. For media he favors Moab by Legion Paper.
This combination of printer, ink, and media provides prints with rich highlights and shadows ideal for artistic output, especially since they are also designed for image permanence. “Using these archival inks along with the Moab products allows for a great tonal range. Rich blacks to bright highlights, as well as knowing that the lasting quality is proven,” he explains.
Durability is critical because, like most artists, LaSala is looking to make a lasting impression. His documentary style bears a photojournalism influence—he creates photo essays to convey people’s stories. However, like all art, his work still must inspire viewers even when the story is no longer current. To ensure that his message endures and his output retains its value, LaSala takes control of the process, from the capture to the color profile.
Honing His Craft
LaSala came to professional photography and wide format printing as a second career. He spent most of his life in Brooklyn and Staten Island, NY, and retired early, at age 45. He moved to Flemington, NJ in 1988 and joined a few photography organizations.
At a camera club, a professional wedding photographer invited LaSala to assist him, “and that’s where it all began,” he recalls. LaSala worked with the photographer for two years before opening his own business, Strike a Pose Photography, where he focused on portraits and weddings. As the digital era dawned, he decided to move on to different kinds of photography and began focusing on fine art.
His skill set expanded even further when he met Roselli, a fellow fine art photographer. Roselli taught him about wide format printing and color management. “A technical genius is the best way I can describe him,” says LaSala.
A key part of this training was how to make the most of ImagePrint, a RIP software program from ColorByte Software. “Most people have problems with color management. We try to get it down to a science, so what we see is what we get,” explains LaSala, noting Xact Studios has custom color profiles for each type of paper they use.
As a photographer, LaSala considers himself an observer who studies and captures “faces and places, actions, reactions, moods, and expressions.” He uses natural light for most of his photography because it allows him to work quickly but deliberately, achieving his documentary style. “I accentuate highlights in post processing like you would in the dark room. I work mostly in B&W because it’s timeless, less distracting, and I can focus more on the subject, especially the eyes,” he explains.
LaSala shoots almost entirely in color and converts the images to B&W later. This is the only way to attain the greatest level of detail and tonal nuance, he explains.
Documenting After a Tragedy
LaSala’s photography took him to Haiti to document conditions just after the 2010 earthquake. He describes his role as a collector of visual information, on behalf of a nonprofit that supports a school there. “My basic challenge was to come up with a collection of work that told the story I wanted to share. A story that made sense through my eyes,” he says.
Around the same time, he began a partnership with Moab by Legion Paper. The company provided him with the media he needed to get the Haiti project up and running. “Moab is a crucial part of this journey—they supported me by providing all the materials needed to make this happen,” notes LaSala.
LaSala went to Haiti with two cameras from Nikon Corporation, a Nikon D3S and Nikon D4S. He used several Nikon lenses over the course of the project. There were two other items in his arsenal, which LaSala considers critical to his success as a documentary-style photographer—a Spider Camera Holster that allows him to carry two cameras at all times, and a Kata Bags camera backpack that fits underneath an airplane seat.
LaSala returned five more times to post-earthquake Haiti, and shot about 30,000 photos during the course of the six visits. It was fairly easy to choose which photos to print, he recalls, noting that a photographer usually gets a feeling about “an image you know is going to make an impact.”
He brought his images to life using a variety of Moab media including Entrada Rag Bright 300, Somerset Enhanced Velvet 225, and Moenkopi Washi Unryu 55. The Entrada paper is a favorite of LaSala’s—he feels it suits his aesthetic—and he favored it for most of the Haiti prints. He printed over a hundred of the images on his Epson Stylus Pro 9900 using UltraChrome HDR ink.
LaSala tends to keep his post-processing work fairly simple. He processes raw files using Adobe Systems Incorporated Lightroom for color balance, exposure corrections, and lens correction. “From there it is off to Adobe Photoshop, where the work really begins,” he says.
LaSala believes wide format is ideal for the Haiti images. “When you walk into a gallery and see someone’s face larger than life size, the impact is incredible,” he explains. “The scale impacts it when you’re trying to give a message of hardship and suffering.” In addition to sharing his work with the nonprofit, many of his prints are displayed at galleries, exhibitions, and private homes.
Empowering the Artist
Photography allows LaSala to share stories with the world, but his job doesn’t stop there. By taking an active role in wide format printing and photo processing, he ensures the final print lives up to what he envisioned behind the camera.
Feb2015, Digital Output