Watt Seconds, A Dark Russian & Oriental SeagullsSunday, August 22, 2010
My conversations with fellow photographers are about as frequent as my conversations with Uruguayans.
It was in the early 80s that I was a member of CAPIC (Canadian Association of Photographers and Illustrators in Communication). We had monthly meetings (I went to them for only one reason and that was when the meetings were held in Rick Etkin’s studio, read below, he would have his makeup and assistant,Nicole Scriabin around. She was the dark haired wonder woman who wore tight fitted skirts, what a body!) were mostly male photographers who would drink enormous quantities of beer. We boasted about who had the most powerful studio flash system. I was mostly quiet about these things as my units could barely inch up 1000 watt/seconds while my competition paraded numbers like 3000 and 4000. The most successful of these photographers (he had a beautiful studio, good commercial accounts and a pleasant wife) was Rick Etkin. He was the first photographer in Vancouver to have a cellular phone.
Most of us (or at least this photographer) were unaware that every time we called Etkin, he had to pay for the call. He would get angry with us when we could call him up with info on the next meeting ("Will that dark Russian be there?"I would think and not dare ask). Before his pleasant wife could be his wife, he had to marry her. A few days before he did Etkin invited us to his stag party. At that time I was always ready for three excuses whenever the phone rang (in those pre-call-display dark ages). It it was MacLean’s Magazine wanting me to take a photograph that very moment for $50 an then to rush the raw film to the Air Canada counter at the airport, I would politely tell them to f… off. It someone was inviting me for a Saturday wedding (I can think of now worse way to waste a weekend!) I told them that I could not go unless they served Moët et Chandon. But it was the invitation for a stag that I was particularly ready to have an excuse not to attend. I can think of nothing worse that a situation that places many drunk men as far away as possible from the company of women (with a token stripper if you were lucky). When Etkin called I was caught off guard and I told him I was free on the Saturday in question. I told him I was free after he told me the stag was going to be on a boat. Imagine being in close proximity to many drunken men (male photographers to boot, are even worse and more boring) and in a place where one could not make an exit even if one knew how to swim.
So I reluctantly boarded the sailboat that was docked on Granville Island sure that this particular Saturday was going to be one of the darkest moments of my life. It was evening and as soon as it was dark the men began to drink. I was alerted to the sound of women. They almost sounded in my imagination like Ulsysses’ sirens luring us to our destruction. Unbeknownst to us Etkin had chartered two boats and had spent the afternoon luring (sirens! Ha!) innocent women on Granville Island to board the ship. They had and they soon boarded us. “Avast! Photographers. We are here.” The evening became one of the most pleasant in memory. I remember in particularly that three of us sat with a beautiful woman who asked us to guess at what she did. She told us that we might see her once a week and that her job was an ordinary. In spite of her hints we never did guess and she had to tell us that she was a Safeway check out clerk. Few got drunk that night and I must confess that I loved every minute of it.
My digression above has all to do that in my early years and in most of my years in Vancouver I avoided the company of photographers. And now when I want to remedy that situation I have come to find out that most have gone to become real estate agents or grow fruit trees on Salt Spring Island. And the few that I do communicate with (and I now come to the crux of today’s blog) tell me of the days when they used to shoot film. They tell me of the days when they used to process film and print in terrific darkrooms and brag of Swedish built, titanium clad Hasselblads, Swiss Alpas and $3000 day rates (for a week) in the Bahamas. They talk of the good old days and how their darkrooms are now clean desks in front of monitors.
What they tell me affects me much in the same way as when I was told at the last maintenance job on our Audi (Goodbye Sophie, this September 15) that the latest A-4s no longer have a dipstick. It’s electronic. Not only that, the emergency brake is an electric button. There is nothing to pull when all hell breaks loose. The folks at Audi should check with the folks at NASA about backups that are electrical.
All the above is an overture for today’s scanned 8x10 b+w print of Rebecca which I took in South Texas in Michael East’s Santa Fe Ranch. I took the picture with my Mamiya RB, on a tripod, with a 90mm lens. My film of choice was Kodak Plus-X Pan. I printed the photograph Friday night using, my first time ever, Oriental Seagull VC-FBII Warmtone paper. I had run out of paper on Friday and it was too late to go to either Leo's or Beau Photo as they close at 5. My place of last resort was Lens& Shutter. I called and Mike their darkroom guy told me all they had was this Oriental Seagull. My silence was broken with Mike's, "Hey it was Ansel Adamas' favourite paper." If the results I got last night are any proof I can concur with Adams that the paper is excellent.
No scan can show you the marvelous heft and sheen of the picture. While my scan I fairly accurate, there are subtleties that somehow the scanner leaves out. It could be that tactile part of it. Lifting the photograph and shifting it back and forth near a light reveals depths that are not transported to the screen of my cathode ray tube monitor.
Best of all I project the negative on to the paper in my easel. After an initial 40 seconds at f-16 I opened the lens wide open and vignetted the corners with my homemade cardboard vignetting tool. I then eased it into my developing bath and timed it for exactly 60 seconds at 20 Celsius. I sloshed it in stop bath (Heinz -57 white vinegar and water) and then watched it darken a tad in my two fixer baths.
While I may concur with any photographer who states that a good ink jet print from a good digital file is a wonder, this old man will simply not accept that anything sitting on my desk (and which whirs) can match what I can do in my darkroom.
Perhaps the reason I avoid the few photographers that I know is that most of them tell me of what they used to do and I can only match this with the fact that what they used to do I still do. And it sometimes does feel lonely.