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Jack Alterman’s career in photography is one of many twists and turns, ultimately leading to the establishment of an ideal studio/educational photography center in Charleston, S.C.
Like many long-time photographers, Jack Alterman battled the seeming paradox between his creative needs and the realities of making a living throughout his early career. He craved the artistic elements of photography, yet found he was torn between his artistic and commercial goals.
Lioness Conspiracy, by Jack Alterman at Masai Mara, Kenya, Africa.
“Having grown up in a world where everyone had a, quote, real job, I kept trying to define what I did by making a living at it,” says Alterman. “Many photographers start off as artists, but don't know how to make a living at it. In the process, you tend to give up art, and transition to a more commercial venue.”
Originally hailing from Charleston, Alterman’s interest in photography began in the Marine Corps.
Shortly thereafter he attended the University of South Carolina where he took a photojournalism class. The instructor recognized his talent and encouraged him to pursue photography.
Equipped with this encouragement and the GI Bill, Alterman enrolled at the Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, Calif. Throughout the ‘70s Alterman worked primarily in the commercial photography field.
The skills learned during these early years would help shape some of his later work, such as the architectural photography book he published in collaboration with painter Susan Romaine, Cornices of Charleston, as well as numerous one-man shows and gallery showcases.
Henry Wigfall, sweetgrass basket maker, Charleston, S.C., by Jack Alterman.
“In the past, my work has been about 50-60 percent commercial – including real estate, architecture, interiors, exteriors, corporate portraits, facilities and factories, annual reports, and so forth,” says Alterman. “A few years ago I started shooting for myself. I haven’t brought out a commercial portfolio in a long time, because customers see the potential for their projects in the work I shoot for myself.”
During Alterman’s transitional period in the early ‘80s, he returned to his hometown of Charleston, and opened an E-6 photo lab. Once digital photography and processing gained a foothold in the industry, Alterman was more than happy to get a forklift and haul out the chemical equipment, making room for a new streamlined digital studio.
Quanta, a Medical Doctor in Pakistan, by Jack Alterman.
“It set new goals, changed my philosophy, and cleared out everything. That's when we started doing more teaching and creative work. I didn't hear the grinding and the roar of the machines, and when I walked into my studio I found it to be an entirely different environment,” says Alterman. “Since then, inkjet has allowed me to close the whole loop and eliminate a lot of hassles. Now I'm able to produce entire exhibits of work in-house, whether it's mine or someone else's, and do it on a consistent basis in a pleasant environment. The sound of an inkjet humming along versus the sounds of fans cooling down paper and film was a revelation. It was also more difficult to maintain consistent quality because of the variables in the chemical process, like time and temperature.”
Alterman’s overall cost of ownership declined dramatically with the adoption of a fully digital workflow. He was able to simplify, gain multiple efficiencies, and pursue a more personally-rewarding business model that allowed him to pursue a comfortable living at the same time.
Alterman characterizes his printing workflow as “coming in waves. If we’re doing something for a gallery or a show, the printer will run constantly, but usually we’re printing one piece at a time. I’m not doing a lot of giclee reproduction, but the business bug is always trying to bite me because there’s plenty of printing business to be had,” he says.
Alterman does everything in-house, except for framing, and says that once he started printing, it was addicting. “I love it, and the success rate of the printer is far greater than what comes out of the darkroom. Early on with inkjet printing I wasn’t able to get the same look, but when the Epson 4000 came out with the new inkjet papers and the ImagePrint RIP, I was actually able to match a digital print shot with a digital camera to the prints I was getting with a 2 1/4 Hasselblad processed in the darkroom. In the end, I found that before digital I was settling for less. The color is so much more natural than what I was getting with a slide and the Cibachrome process,” says Alterman.
Alterman has three printers – an Epson 3800, 4000, and 9600 – driven by a new Power Mac G5. Alterman upgraded to the latest version of ImagePrint (7.0) to keep up with the new Mac OS Leopard. Leopard will not run properly with previous versions of ImagePrint, plus ImagePrint 7.0 offers additional functionality and color management and workflow tools.
“The other great thing about digital printing is that you're able to print large images and not lose any of their fidelity in the process, which makes them so thrilling in person. We often tack huge prints to our walls for display, and one of them we did last month was 44 in. x 20 ft. long in one continuous print. It was printed as a storyboard, so instead of cutting out each individual image we left it up as one long film strip, so to speak, and it had tremendous impact,” says Alterman.
Alterman’s new-look studio is essentially divided into two distinct yet collaborative halves, a photography studio and an educational facility called the Charleston Center for Photography. Each half feeds the other; while the studio benefits from the free flow of information, ideas, and feedback generated in the Center for Photography, students are immersed in the inner workings of a high-end digital studio.
Alterman's studio in Charleston, S.C.
The Charleston Center for Photography teaches and promotes the art and craft of photography with a variety of workshops and seminars featuring such photography luminaries as George DeWolfe and Sam Abell.
With an array of ongoing programs, including the Free Second Monday Lecture Series, photography workshops and courses, brilliant exhibits and special receptions and events, the Center increases awareness of the impact photographs have on us as individuals and as a community.
Last September, the Center also hosted the Great Output Seminar Tour where LexJet technical director, Tom Hauenstein, presented an in-depth presentation on making the photographic printing process more efficient and profitable.
“We have a very fluid mix of the educational, artistic, and commercial aspects of photography. It mixes together like a Smoothie,” says Alterman.
One of the more successful programs Alterman has instituted at the Charleston Center for Photography is the aforementioned Free Second Monday Lecture Series. As the name implies, it’s a free photo lecture and presentation provided each second Monday of the month.
The Eyes of War exhibition at the Charleston Center for Photography.
The program allows a professional or serious amateur photographer a venue to display their work, provides the public an opportunity to enjoy excellent photography and learn more about it, and promotes the Center to those interested in pursuing photography and honing their skills.
The Second Monday presentations are also an extension of one of Alterman’s core philosophies, a philosophy developed through his years of experience learning the balance between his personal and professional goals.
“Photography is often about conquering the fears and insecurities you have about yourself. Putting your work out in front of other people builds confidence. It's a horrible feeling when you get the shot, deliver it to the client, and you don't receive any feedback for a long time,” says Alterman.
The Center’s core values focus on feedback and a dissection of the photographic process, designed to arm the student with tools and techniques beyond what can be found in a book. Alterman believes a beneficial workshop or seminar keeps peripheral issues to the process at hand in their proper place.
For more information about Jack Alterman or the Charleston Center for Photography, visit the Center’s website, call 843-577-0647, or e-mail email@example.com