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Creative Accounting: Two Photographs

Creative Accounting: Two Photographs

Chris Benz
20 Snaps

Film photography is a delicate combination of preparation and serendipity. Film speed, aperture dilation, exposure time, and the intensity of light burning into the film must all be in balance. Add in film developers and printers, and the process of making a single photo relies on a series of trained assistants and specialized equipment.

The following are the complete budgets for two photographs by Laura Letinsky, an artist and photographer based in Chicago. The budgets are divided into three sections: preparation, shooting, and processing. Preparation is the cost of traveling to and preparing a scene. Shooting costs cover the equipment that the photographer uses to take the actual photograph. We have listed the cost of buying new equipment, which has a long professional life—too long for us to accurately estimate one photo’s toll. Processing is the cost of transforming 4″ x 5″ negatives into an image on a gallery wall.

In the first case, Letinsky’s Italian gallery, Brancolini Grimaldi, sent her on a three-and-a-half-week tour: she visited fifteen Italian patrons over three weeks, ate lunch with them, and then took photographs of each meal’s leftovers, which she carefully arranged as a way to explore the tension between planning and spontaneity. She ended the trip with seven gallery-quality images.

To contrast with Letinsky’s $10,488.91 commissioned photograph, the second budget is for a photo she took in her own home. She used the same painstaking process, which uses expensive film and processing, but without traveling farther than the supermarket for her shot.

This is an installment of Creative Accounting, an ongoing series that shows where the money goes in the major creative industries. Future issues will cover dance, fine art, television, and more. Eventually, the series will be collected into a single, indispensable volume, published by Believer Books.

-Chris Benz

PHOTO 1:

Laura Letinsky, Untitled #1, Italy Series, 2009

Preparation $3,669.95

Transportation $2,757.66

Flight to Italy (x2) $1859.60

The gallery flew Letinksy’s mother, as well, so that she could watch Letinsky’s sixteen-month-old son.

Shipping equipment $300

Extra flights/fees $598.06

Baby fee $150

Flight from Winnipeg $448.06

Letinsky’s mother paid to connect to the longer flight.

Room & board/week $410.00

Letinsky stayed at her gallerist’s apartment, while the gallerist stayed up the street with her father. This room-and-board figure is the share for a single shoot out of a rate of $2,050 a week.

Shoot setup $502.29

Lunch (for 5) $200

Letinsky’s series subject is meal leftovers, so Italian families served extravagant meals in their homes. She insisted on lunches, to preserve natural light. This cost is estimated based on a description of the meal.

Staging $302.29

An assistant from the gallery helped with setup.

FIMO $2.29

Reusable putty that holds objects in place. (Traditionally used for children’s sculptures.)

Seamless backdrop $300

Special muslin canvass to cover distracting background items. Because the walls were white, this only covered the floor.

Shooting $6,080.50

Cameras and lenses $4,379

Cambo 4×5 Camera $1,500

35 mm Digitar XL lens $1,000

This lens provides a “normal” perspective.

90 mm Super-Angulon lens $1,879

This wide-angle lens widens the range of vision.

Film $48.60

4×5 Kodak VPH film (x15) $33.60

Sheets of film, 4 inches by 5 inches, provide a very detailed photo. Letinsky takes ten to twenty exposures per shoot.

4×5 Fuji instant film (x15) $15

Instant film test shoots show approximately what the color film will look like.

Accessories $1,652.90

4×5 Fuji Film Holder $209.95

Necessary for using the Fuji Instant film.

4×5 Film HolderS (x20) $239

Holds the 4×5 film in a light-tight environment.

Film-loading bag $39.95

A light-tight bag for loading the film into the holders.

Tripod $650

Shots with natural light require very long exposures. A tripod holds the camera steady.

4×5 Glass viewing screen $175

Makes it easier to review the instant photo with the loupe.

Loupe $160

A type of magnifying glass

Light meter $179

Measures incidental light—the light falling on subjects.

Processing $738.46

Developing film (x15) $37.50

A service develops film for $2.50 a sheet.

Scanning $22.50

A paid research assistant scans the prints to make a digital contact sheet of potential images.

Software $169

Photoshop $169

Used to digitally erase the seam between the wall and the backdrop.

Home printing (x10) $9.40

Letinsky prints her favorites for closer inspection. She chooses the best one for a professional print.

Matte paper $8

Ink $1.40

Professional printing $500.06

Scanning $100

High-end scans use a drum scanner. The image is wetmounted to prevent dust and hairs from marring the photo. This means the image is coated in a layer of liquid before the drum spins it perfectly flat. Scans turn the analog image into 8,000 dpi digital images. A drum scanner can cost more than $65,000.

Printing $400

Pushpins $0.06

TOTAL

Preparation $3,669.95

Equipment $6,080.50

Processing $738.46

[ Just film & processing $618.06 ]

The cost of one finished photo, excluding equipment or setup. The gallery’s original budget estimated $800 per photo after travel and equipment investment.

Grand Total $10,488.91

Photo 2:

Laura Letinsky, Untitled #10, The Dog and the Wolf Series, 2009.

Preparation $17.32

Transportation $ 0.32

Gas for drive to supermarket $0.32

Shoot setup $17.00

Fish (x2) $6.00

Staging $11

Backdrop paper $11

Four feet of a $100 roll of backdrop paper hides the color of the floor.

 

Shooting $6,080.50

Cameras and Lenses $4,379

Cambo 4×5 Camera $1,500

35 mm Digitar XL lens $1,000

90 mm Super-Angulon lens $1,879

Film $48.60

4×5 Kodak VPH film (x15) $33.60

4×5 Fuji Instant film (x15) $15

Fuji instant film has become the replacement for large format Polaroids, which the industry used until Polaroid stopped making them.

Accessories $1,652.90

4×5 Fuji Film holder $209.95

4×5 Film holders (x20) $239

Film-loading bag $39.95

Tripod $650

Loupe $160

4×5 Glass viewing screen $175

Light meter $179

Processing $569.46

Developing film (x15) $37.50

Color film chemicals must stay at a temperature one quarter of a degree above or below 100 degrees.

Scanning $22.5

Letinsky’s research assistant uses the scanner at her university, so the only cost is 75 minutes of his time.

Home printing (x10) $9.40

Matte paper $8

Ink (x10 prints) $1.40

Professional printing $500.06

Scanning $100

Printing $400

Pushpins $0.06

TOTAL

Preparation $17.32

Shooting $6,080.50

Processing $569.46

[Just film & processing $618.06]

The cost of the photo, not counting equipment or setup.

Grand Total $6,667.28

 

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