Paul Lane is an image-maker. He concerns himself, though, not with public figures out to burnish their reputations but with artists who value the special skills and equipment with which he can generate faithful reproductions of their artwork and photographs.
As the sole proprietor of Photo Source, 1234 Sherman Ave., he specializes in creating high-quality, archival digital prints.
The company grew out of Mr. Lane’s lifelong passion for picture taking, which he traces to the Brownie Hawkeye camera his father gave him when he was in sixth grade.
He keeps that box camera in his office, a symbol of the trajectory of a decades-long career that reflects the sea change in the realm of photography. Propelled from corporation to self-employment, from analog to digital technology, from darkroom to desktop, from commerce to the arts, Mr. Lane chose to go with the tide.
He has no complaints with the results.
The year after he received his camera, Mr. Lane’s family moved from Chicago to Evanston. By the time he entered Evanston Township High School, he was a photo enthusiast. “I won an [photography] award my freshman year and was a member of Photography Club all four years,” he says.
He majored in photography at Rochester Institute of Technology. “I wanted to become a photographer,” he says – perhaps a photojournalist. Yet he realized what he enjoyed most was “the technical side of photography” – the darkroom and printmaking.
After graduation Mr. Lane returned to his hometown, working from 1971 till 1985 as the corporate photographer for Evanston developer and land planner Barton-Aschman Associates. He says he “ran the darkroom, and did ‘graphic arts’” as they are no longer practiced.
A number of Barton-Aschman employees left to start their own companies while he was there, Mr. Lane says. When he launched Photo Source in 1985, these former colleagues brought their work his way. “I was up and running immediately,” he says. For the first five years he dealt mostly with large businesses, especially commercial real estate firms.
From the beginning, he says, he valued working directly with clients and “was never interested in [forming] a larger company.” But with a new wave crashing on the beach, there was no time to bask in his personal sun. “Digital was coming in,” he says – a force he not only did not ignore but embraced.
By 1989 he says he had begun to invest “a large amount of my profits in [digital equipment].” The technology was changing so fast, he says, that for four or five years he would buy new equipment, learn how to use it, sell it, and start the cycle again.
Jobs such as the Power Point slides he had been making for Northwestern University disappeared; NU and others could now do the work themselves, on their own computers. Mr. Lane did some retouching of images using the computer program Photoshop, picking up a few other digital jobs along the way. In 1990 he bought his first large-format digital printer; sometime between 1995 and 1998 all his film work was gone.
“I stopped my darkroom work and sold all I had,” he says. Left with just a computer and printer, he began getting calls for fine art prints from a new clientele comprised mostly of artists.
Reflecting on the changes, Mr. Lane says, “I went with the flow. Some people miss the hands-on, tactile [aspect] of darkroom work.” With digital, he says, “You still have the vision but not the touch.”
He was quick to grasp the advantages of his new situation. He liked working with artists, who, he says, “aren’t making a product. They are making a statement.” He says he “knew when Photoshop came out that eventually you could do the same things [as in the darkroom].” And he saw that he could now spend the time he had formerly spent mixing darkroom chemicals “doing things” on the computer. “The number of hours I work has dropped continuously” over the years, he says, with no fluctuation in income.
These days Mr. Lane works mostly with photographers or with artists wanting giclée prints – very high-quality ink-jet prints on archival paper – or images for publication or for the web. “I love working with people on images,” he says – “helping people get the images they expect. That’s my art. They are the creators.”
The process of making a print has what Mr. Lane calls a “flow.” He prides himself on teaching his clients how the process works – and how to ask for what they want.
It begins with a camera. Mr. Lane shoots the artwork with a 4×5 camera and Better Light digital scanning back. This very sophisticated equipment produces a high-resolution digital file.
He says it takes his “eye and technical knowledge” to manipulate the file on the computer. “I can control the tools I use, can make them respond to what the client and I want,” he says. The goal is to match the original in color, texture, etc. He makes a small print, then meets again with the artist, who signs off when satisfied. “There’s no room for interpretation,” he says. “It’s very personal to the artist how it looks. I am trying to satisfy their visual requirements, not mine.”
Photographic images, on the other hand, can be interpreted. Mr. Lane and a photographer/client often sit side by side at the computer while he adjusts the images and they evaluate possible variations.
The final step is for Mr. Lane to print the piece on his fourth-generation 40-inch printer. A digital reproduction, he says, “can capture delicate nuances of highlights and shadows and midtones…[resulting in] vibrancy and detail much superior to a photographic reproduction.”
Digital technology also allows for repeatability. With it, he can generate “exactly the same print over and over without having to go back in the darkroom,” he says. At perhaps $300, as opposed to $3,000 for an original work, a fine art print is affordable for a wider public, and lets an artist sell more.
Though he would prefer a lighter schedule, this image-maker is not quite ready to step out of the picture. “I’ve been in business 32 years,” Paul Lane says, and in that time “it has gotten better and more interesting.”