ARTICLE

12 years and 100 prints: the printing of a major exhibition

A man and woman look at exhibition prints and text at Ilvy Njiokiktjien’s Born Free exhibition.
For her major solo exhibition, Canon Ambassador Ilvy Njiokiktjien wanted large prints that would draw people to engage with the subjects of her photos, with accurate colours and a finish that stayed true to the topic. © Rick Mandoeng Fotografie 2019

The opportunity to exhibit her major project, Born Free: Mandela's Generation of Hope, fulfilled a long-held ambition for Ilvy Njiokiktjien. After developing as several self-contained projects over a number of years, the work would finally get widespread exposure. It was also an exciting prospect for the Canon Ambassador to see her images, previously only seen on screen, as large prints.

Ilvy's exhibition has been around 12 years in the making, and although some of the images had been taken several years earlier and previously published, Ilvy says seeing them as prints encouraged visitors to look at them afresh. "People react differently to an image when it's printed," she says. "At the exhibition opening, a magazine editor walked up to me and said, 'Wow, you've really grown as a photographer in the past years'. But a lot of it was older work that he'd seen before. I was thinking, no, it's not because my work has changed, it's because it's been printed well and is hanging on the wall."

Here, Ilvy talks about how the images were prepared for printing and why she chose to print them on the Canon Océ Arizona 480 XT.

A print of a boy with grass tucked into his khaki clothes, beside a video of another boy.
"Some of the images are printed so big that it almost seems like the people in them are looking at you," says Ilvy. She enlisted esteemed image editor Paolo Lecca to retouch and prepare her images for exhibition printing. © Rick Mandoeng Fotografie 2019

Preparing the image files

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Ilvy doesn't print her own images, so when she does have images professionally printed, she invests in high-quality prints. The first thing she did for the Born Free exhibition was look at the images on a screen that had been calibrated for accurate colour display.

"I'm such a news journalist. Most of us use laptops because we work in the field and don't have the luxury of a calibrated screen. But this time I borrowed a friend's new screen for a few months, just to see what the images really look like. I wanted to make sure that when they were printed they would look the same."

Because Ilvy wanted them to look their absolute best as prints, she asked someone else to prepare her images for the first time in her career. She chose one of the best image editors in the business, Rome-based Paolo Lecca, who does post-production work for fellow Canon Ambassador Paolo Pellegrin, among others. "He did all the retouching and made sure the prints would look great on the walls and in publications," says Ilvy. They had to go back and forth quite a few times to find the right colour space.

"I wanted to achieve a kind of 3D appearance in the images. When that effect is overdone it looks fake, but when it's done well it looks lovely in large prints because it feels like you're staring into someone's eyes and they're looking back at you. Paolo really did a great job."

A wide shot of Ilvy Njiokiktjien’s Born Free exhibition.
Ilvy's Born Free exhibition brought prints – in many different sizes – side by side with video projections. © Rick Mandoeng Fotografie 2019

Choosing the printing material

A printed portrait emerges from a Canon printer.

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Canon Ambassador Clive Booth and Canon printing expert Suhaib Hussain reveal how to make your own pro-quality photo prints.

To get the three-dimensional effect she wanted, Ilvy chose 3mm Forex – a lightweight foam PVC sheet with a brilliant white, smooth surface. "The surface is not too shiny or too matt," she says.

"I didn’t want a super-shiny coated paper; I wanted it to have more of a tough look, because [South Africa's post-apartheid journey, the subject of the exhibition images] is not a shiny subject. Choosing the right kind of printing material was important because I wanted to make it look as real as possible."

Forex is particularly good for the accurate reproduction of colour – inks adhere well to its surface and it's very colour-fast.

Ilvy Njiokiktjien lifts an exhibition print with a man at Eyes on Media printers.
The images were printed at Eyes on Media in Amsterdam, one of the Netherlands' foremost exhibition printing labs.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien examines prints with a man at Eyes on Media printers.
Ilvy's images were printed onto 3mm Forex using a Canon Océ Arizona 480 XT flatbed printer.

Flatbed printer

The perfect flatbed printers for printing images on Forex are those in the Canon Océ Arizona series, which also print on other media including Dibond (an aluminium and foam composite board), acrylic, wood and cardboard.

They print with UV inks and Océ VariaDot imaging technology, which uses variable-sized droplets for precise, fine details in highlights and rich density in shadows. The Canon Océ Arizona 480 XT prints images up to 2.5 x 3.05m in size.

Photos on the wall at Ilvy Njiokiktjien’s Born Free exhibition.
"People react differently to an image when it's printed," points out Ilvy. "There's such a big difference between holding a print and seeing it on your laptop." © Rick Mandoeng Fotografie 2019
Ilvy Njiokiktjien speaks into a microphone at the opening of her Born Free exhibition.
Ilvy opened her Born Free: Mandela's Generation of Hope exhibition at Museum Hilversum in the Netherlands. "It's a luxury to have a solo exhibition – there are about 100 pictures printed so it's bigger than I could have dreamed," she says. © Rick Mandoeng Fotografie 2019

As well as the printed images, the Born Free exhibition includes six of Ilvy's videos, edited by expert multimedia makers at Metropolisfilm in Utrecht, the Netherlands. They are projected at large size using Canon's flagship installation projector, the Canon XEED WUX6000. "It makes the wall look like a moving picture," says Ilvy. "It's really cool to have the videos in between like that."

Ilvy feels the exhibition does justice to what has become the project of a lifetime. "I'm really happy with the way it looks," she continues. "It's just amazing to have a project come to life after years of seeing the pictures on my laptop and Instagram. There's such a big difference between holding a print and seeing it on your laptop. Some of the images are printed so big that it almost seems like the people in them are looking at you.

"It's a luxury to have a solo exhibition – there are about 100 pictures printed so it's bigger than I could have dreamed. It's great being published in newspapers and it's still the thing I really live for: to get published, to get stories out there. But to see it on the wall like that is quite something."

"It's so nice to be able to see your work hanging in an exhibition or on someone's wall. To see your images printed is such a reward."

Ilvy's Born Free: Mandela's Generation of Hope exhibition was first shown at Museum Hilversum in Hilversum, the Netherlands. The work will additionally travel as a projection to Malaysia, India and Italy. Ilvy is also hoping to take the exhibition to venues in South Africa and the USA.

Skrivet av David Clark


Ilvy Njiokiktjien's kitbag

The key kit pros use to take their photographs

Kitbag

Camera

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

This full-frame 30.4MP DSLR captures incredible detail, even in extreme contrast. Continuous 7fps shooting helps when chasing the perfect moment. "The pictures with the Mark IV are so crisp – it's just really my camera," says Ilvy.

Lens

Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM

This professional-quality standard zoom lens offers outstanding image sharpness and a robust L-series build. Ilvy says: "The quality of that lens is so good, it's been mounted on my camera ever since I got it."

Printer

Canon Océ Arizona 480 XT

The extra large Océ Arizona 480 XT UV flatbed printer produces near-photographic image quality for printing on rigid or flexible media, to produce a wide range of display graphics applications.

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