Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Eco-Expression: Art for Sustainability - Northeastern University


We were honored to print approximately fifty prints for this two-year traveling exhibition of original international art with an environmental theme. From the Website of the exhibition (with thanks to Kalman Gacs, Curator):

These artworks have been chosen to represent a variety of approaches to thinking about our relationship to the environment and its preservation. Bill McKibben, founder of an international environmentalist movement called 350.org, wrote an essay entitled “What the warming world needs now is art, sweet art.” As McKibben has acknowledged, visual artists are now approaching environmental issues in a variety of powerful ways.  Some of their works are disturbing, while others are comedic or awe inspiring.  Some work to persuade the audience through reason, while some are wild expressions of passion and exploration, more the stuff of dreams and madness.  Both approaches have resulted in artworks that scream out of their frames.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Shipping Dilemma

Shipping artwork is fraught with perils... damaged work, crushed packages, dog-eared corners, weather effects and packages that just seem to disappear into thin air. Green shipping options are hard to come by and the very nature of shipping itself is energy intensive. 747s, for example, burn about a gallon of fuel for every second in flight and slightly less when sitting on the runway.

There’s a lot of “virgin” packaging used in shipping and most of it is made from tree-based paper products such as corrugate. Recycled containers are available including mailing tubes and boxes but they often carry a premium over virgin materials that most people don’t seem willing to pay. The result is that more than 40 percent of landfill content nationwide is paper.

I just had a client call to tell me that the 30x40 print we made for him was ruined by a crushed “cheap” mailing tube he used to send it to his brother. This isn’t an unusual story. Preserving art in shipment is an art in and of itself. Larger pieces are particularly vulnerable and often require specialized packaging including custom-made crates and reinforced or structurally sound tubes. Sometimes you just have to use something like this in order to protect the contents.

These are a dozen the things we do to ensure safe and green shipping:

  1. Use recycled packaging content whenever possible.
  2. Reuse, reuse, reuse. Send out durable packaging with a prepaid return label and use it again and again. Even “virgin” materials can be more green if they’re reused.
  3. Make everything in your packaging recyclable and accept it back for recycling if the recipient doesn’t know where or how to get it safely recycled.
  4. Avoid potentially toxic packaging materials that might wind up in the waste stream.
  5. Use what you have on hand. For instance, we often ship using the recycled cores from paper rolls, which are stronger and more durable than virgin tubes.
  6. We have a set of PVC tubes with end caps that we use when absolutely necessary in sending rolled prints. PVC? “You have to be kidding,” you’re probably saying. Could there be a worse material? Well, every time we send one of these we include a return, prepaid label and we insist on getting the tubes back for use again. We have yet to have a client refuse. You can do the same with other durable materials.
  7. While we’re happy to provide green mounting and framing we often suggest that clients do this locally. Shipping framed art almost always requires extensive packaging including custom-made crates tailored to the content. It also requires plexi rather than glass (which is almost impossible to ship safely).
  8. Take a look at your carrier’s environmental record and choose the one you think is most environmentally responsible. (http://www.sustainability.ups.com/environment/index.html is UPS’s green information site.)
  9. Just say “no” to shipping. When you can use email instead of printed communications do so. Don’t buy prints unless you need them.
  10.  Learn to softproof so you can minimize printing and shipping of proofs and still know what your images will look like.
  11. Calibrate your monitor - the first step in a reliable soft proofing workflow.
  12. It may sound counterintuitive, but having your shipped goods picked up can actually save fuel if you’re in a well served area with UPS/FedEx/USPS trucks around anyway. If not, driving to the nearest shipping location or drop box is probably the best bet.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

What the heck is a "Giclee" anyway?

The term "giclee" was coined by Jack Duganne, a California printmaker, and it is an affectation. He literally looked for a french word for its marketing value. In colloquial French it actually has a sexual meaning, that is "to ejaculate," derived from the literal translation "to spray or spurt." Say it in the wrong company in France and you'll get some strange looks! IMHO, pretty silly except for one fact- it has (unfortunately) become a key buzzword. There is NO real definition of giclee! There are people claiming to produce giclee prints from CMYK presses, consumer inkjets, solvent inkjets, UV inkjets, dye sublimation processes and, I am sure, a dozen others. The key attributes should be exceptional image quality, archival (100+years) qualities, fidelity to the originals or an accurate reproduction of the original digital files. True giclee should be acid free, chlorine free, totally tree free and free of additional toxins. Sorry to get promotional at this point but we print on 100% cotton substrates manufactured from the post industrial reclaimed fibers from cottonseed oil manufacturers with 100% VOC-free inks. Our prints are archival, museum quality and sustainable/healthy - in fact, far healthier than ANY solvent ink or UV ink prints or conventional silver images for that matter.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Boston Society of Architects and CommonBoston




Greenphotoprint.com has been privileged to print the more than forty exhibition visuals for CommonBoston. These images have been displayed throughout the Boston subway system and are now on exhibit at the Boston Society of Architects (the Boston chapter of the AIA). They will soon travel to numerous other exhibition venues in the greater Boston area.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Art, Health and Irony

Few will argue about the inspirational, educational, social, cultural and other life-enriching aspects of art. However, it's ironic that there's something about the nature of both art and artists that seems to inhibit people from taking a managed, common-sense approach to protecting themselves from the all-too-real toxins found in many artist materials.

I just received a note from a young woman who was diagnosed with heavy metal toxicity from exposure to colorants in oil colors. I am getting more and more of these communications as word about EcoVisual Communications and greenphotoprint.com spreads. Please use these materials responsibly, and store them safely away from children. Review the relevant Materials Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) information available from manufacturers and suppliers. If you work with powders of ANY kind, wear a respirator and use an appropriately scaled ventilation hood. The constituents of ceramic glazes often contain heavy metals and other respiratory irritants and carcinogens. Many inks contain volatile organic compounds that are known respiratory- and neuro-toxins. Few artists take the necessary precautions to ensure their own health. Denial is a powerful defense and lord knows we cannot afford to lose either more artists or the work they could have produced if they were healthier. Please spread the word.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The language of green...

Green is everywhere… so much so that I fear it’s losing its meaning. Greenwashing is abundant. We need something new, something more accurate that will discourage hyperbole, exaggeration and false claims. Is there any such word?

“Sustainable” is the latest buzzword but what does it really mean? Boccilism is sustainable, as are poison ivy and mosquitos. Does that make them healthy or desirable? “Renewable” is another. Dioxins are easily renewable but we don’t want them. “Healthy?” There’s nothing unhealthy about natural wood products from rainforests but are they abundant and sustainable? “Environmentally sound?” Removing people from the equation would be environmentally sound but, personally speaking, I’d find that difficult. All of this suggests the need for some new labels that encompass all of the aspects of green – healthy, sustainable, renewable, environmentally responsible and more. Got ideas? If so, please send me an email at rick@ecovisualcom.com.

Revelations

I just had a brain MRI. (Nothing wrong - just an experiment.) It had me wondering if they can tell more about the inside of my head from the pictures they take or from the pictures I take.

Images, meaning and time...













Like most of us involved in photography, art and imaging I sometimes think about what it is that drives me to make images. By far, the vast majority of my original image making is for personal, not commercial purposes. With all of life’s other demands, why do I make images?

On a recent Vermont mini-vacation I shot the image above of a porch at a country inn. My own personal sensibilities run toward the ironic and my own preference is to shoot people in formal vignettes in their own environments, images of strange objects and places, and artifacts of the modern world. I tend to shy away from more traditional, scenic imagery (though I print a lot of it in my commercial life) but found myself really drawn to this image. Why? Is there a hidden story that it tells? Despite the absence of people in the image there is a “presence” here that I find compelling. Who created this scene? Was it spontaneous or staged? Who are the children and adults whose presence I feel?

If you have a story about this image, impression, fiction or fact, I’d love to know what it is. Please post a comment or email me at rick@ecovisualcom.com. Thanks.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

If you can’t print it well, print it big, or The Fool’s Guide to Success

Years ago, when I was a photo student at RIT, there was a sort of underground dictum that went something like, “if you can’t make it good, make it big.” This was typically a sort of misguided approach to trying to salvage a bad print or image. You can’t argue with the idea that big prints are impressive when done well, however a big print of an image that lacks power, drama, interest or insight is just a big print. On the other hand, a big print of a powerful image can be all that much more powerful, captivating and interesting. Size does matter but not nearly as much as content or quality. Smaller prints used to be much more common in galleries, museums and other venues. The emergence of inkjet has allowed us to create high quality small and big images at reasonable prices on both “desktop” and large format professional printers.

While many audiences have responded to greenphotoprint.com’s green approach, the artists and photographers we work with remind us every day that while “green is nice, quality is paramount.” That’s why I strive every day to be the best printer I can be. Quality, whether small or large, in ideas and prints, is paramount. Green is growing in importance every day. And as more images get bigger and bigger, the green aspect grows in importance. However, we will never sacrifice quality to be green in fine art, photographic or commercial applications, small or large. Fact is, museum, gallery, photographer, artist or business, you can have both.

Does goodwill make for good business?

Since beginning EcoVisual Communications and greenphotoprint.com I have received countless emails and phone calls from people who don’t even know me wishing me well, some from distant shores. The outpouring of responses to our story has been completely inspiring. We’ve been fortunate in this economic climate to have some great projects, not only on the printing side, but in the sale and exhibition of some of my original work too. This is always gratifying.
The real test for us will be whether or not we can convert this outpouring of goodwill to actual ongoing sales of prints, consulting on green communications or other services. So far things are encouraging but we’re still a ways from anything that could be considered to be a business success. Time will tell…

In the meantime, we were just notified that EcoVisual Communications and, specifically, greenphotoprint.com have been awarded semifinalist status in Idea Cafe's 2009 Entrepreneurial Spirit grant awards. Humbled and honored to get this far…

Saturday, May 23, 2009

More Older Sevens - Images 7-inches or Less




Older Sevens - Images 7-inches or Less






Sevens

A few years ago, I decided to bring a small digital camera along whenever I could do so without too much inconvenience. Those of us involved in professional imaging are typically pretty demanding when it comes to what we produce. However lugging a high resolution DSLR around, plus lenses, isn't usually either convenient or fun.

One of my favorite quotes about photography is "The picture you take with the camera you have is always better than the one you miss with the camera you don't have." With this idea in mind, I decided to create a small, ongoing portfolio of images of less than seven inches in any dimension. Given that I print large images, some 44-inches wide, for a living, the idea of small images has its appeal for a personal project. I will be posting these images from time to time and I hope you enjoy them. As I've said about being green, even the small steps can make a difference.

Here's the first of, hopefully, many "sevens" to come, taken in a town that has become an American icon.

Friday, April 10, 2009

A Note About "Greenwashing"

One thing about "green" that makes me see red is the tendency many marketers have to label their products as "green" when they really are not green at all... or, in more instances, only a "little bit green," (more like a pale shade of ochre). Let's set the record straight. No manufactured product is absolutely, purely green. The acts of sourcing, packaging and transporting products use resources, energy and "chemicals." Driving a delivery to the post office uses fuel. The 100% recycled packaging we use contains papers that may have been printed on before with solvent inks. Even though we have an ultra-efficient radiant heating system it still requires fuel.

What we do though is constantly strive to find the most green solution available. Pure, post-industrial cotton based papers, for instance. The absolute smallest, most fuel-efficient delivery truck we can afford. Inks with no VOCs.

The fact is that in today's world, 10% recycled, 20% recycled, 30% recycled papers are not good enough when 100% recycled products are available - especially when their quality is equal or better and their cost is comparable. Inks that contain solvents are not acceptable when aqueous VOC-free inks can do as good a job with better gamut, color and saturation. Petroleum based "foamcore" doesn't cut it when bio-based materials are available.

The reason you see the word "virtually" in our 100% green description is that even though we have worked hard to find the absolute most green solutions, we still need to do a better job. That's why we welcome your comments, suggestions and advice. Please let us know what you think!

Our Story, Inspiration and Our Muse

As someone who loves to create images, one long-ago picture now stands out clearly in my mind. A little girl sits at an outside table with her friends at school lunch time as officials spray the children with DDT. They thought it was harmless and that it killed influenza. True. How foolish we can be!

That girl of so long ago is now my wife of 25 years and her recent critical illness (environmentally related cancer) and the time spent as a caregiver got me thinking a lot more about the environmental implications of many of the things I am passionate about – especially photography, print making and other forms of imaging I learned from RIT and more than 25 years of image making. A dream soon emerged along with my own small quest to make it reality. I asked myself, “When my wife is well enough that I can get back to work, what would I really love to do?” Life is indeed too short to do otherwise.

The answer was ecovisualcom.com (EcoVisual Communications), the nation’s first company to offer exclusively green, healthy prints, graphics, interior d├ęcor art and photography reproduction plus personalized advice to corporate marketers and printers on improving the environmental impact of their marketing efforts. Greenphotoprint.com emerged just five months later as ecovisualcom.com's sister company and the nation's first 100% green photo "lab." All images are printed on 100% sustainable, tree-free media made of pure cotton, which is totally chlorine free, recycled and recyclable. Our paper is sourced right here in Massachusetts to reduce the carbon emissions associated with transportation. (A typical cargo ship carrying imported papers uses one gallon of fuel for every 37 feet it travels, and air shipping consumes a gallon of fuel per second.)

About 40% of landfill content is paper made from trees. What do you get when you mix wood pulp with elemental chlorine also in papers? The answer is dioxins, the single most carcinogenic class of chemicals known to man. To help alleviate this problem in our own small way, the primary papers we use are made from the pure recycled post-industrial recovered cotton! The inks that we use are water based, carbon pigmented and free of all volatile organic compounds. Our prints are so pure that I wouldn’t hesitate to hang one over a baby’s crib just seconds after it was printed. I now work with some of the world's best image makers, among the creative thinkers that others look to for inspiration. Surely, being green and helping others to be more ecologically minded is not only a worthy goal, it’s a privilege. Even small steps can make a difference.