Accidental Masterpiece?Monday, July 25, 2011
|Rebecca Anne Stewart, July 2011, La Parra Chapel, Nikon FM 35mm lens|
I am certain that in not to far in the future people will wonder how anybody read anything before the advent of electronic books. These electronic books will no longer be called such in the same way that automobiles have not been horseless carriages for at least 110 years.
The same will apply to digital cameras. After all while we still have film cameras we no longer ever differentiate them from wet plate or Daguerreotype cameras. The terms SLR (single lens reflex) a staple of photographic nomenclature since the late 50s until perhaps 12 years ago has been vanquished and replaced by DSLR or digital single lens reflex camera. The term reflex comes from the fact that the light that penetrates the lens is directed upwards, 90 degrees to a pentaprism that rights up the image so that when you look through the viewfinder you see exactly what you will get (although most cameras will thwart you to prevent that). There have been a couple of innovations that will make the hump of the pentaprism almost obsolete or at least you will not be listening to that mirror swing up (to allow the light to go in a straight line and hit the sensor). One is the semi transparent mirror that diverts part of the light upwards and the other part straight (the mirror is now stationary and this innovation was borrowed from the Canon Pellix of the mid 60s). The second is that the live view of digital point and shoots has been incorporated into the more expensive DSLRs so that the pentaprism viewfinder might go the way of Buick Dynaflow.
Many an avid photographer must wonder what we photographers did before the advent of Photoshop. Our possibilities were indeed limited and some of our special effects like posterization were onerously difficult.
|Underexposed 800 ISO negative with|
American photographer Paul Outerbridge pioneered a colour system in the late 30s called color carbro. His color cabro prints (very time consuming and difficult) resulted in nudes where the skin tones looked like the real thing. No other colour process ever got close. Kodachrome enhanced the colour of skin, Ektachromes tended to add a bit of blue or cyan and by the late 70s Kodak, Agfa and other colour film companies were launching film that added a sun tan to make people in portraits look healthier!
And now even an amateur photographer with a mid quality DSLR can take portraits and nudes in which intelligent use of custom white balance will result in skin as real as it is. Outerbridge would be dazzled. I have seen my students photograph red haired people and achieve in a few minutes pictures that for the first time (in my opinion) the sublety of red haired skin shines without diminishing the brilliant hair colour.
Unfortunately these photographers rarely bother to calibrate their camera screens, their computer monitors and might even use cheap (and further uncalibrated) desktop inkjet printers.
I have taken some of my best 6x7cm Ektachromes to my friend Grant Simmons at DISC and he has printed the most beautiful and realistic giclées where skin leaps from the paper. Finally skin looks like skin and is at the reach of most and yet…
|Alexandra Elizabeth, 1976 age 9|
In 1976 I learned to print colour negatives in my home darkroom. Soon enough I was looking for special effects. One of those came in a package manufactured by an English company called Paterson (they also made darkroom trays, thermometers, etc). These were texture negatives that could be sandwiched with negative (either in colour or b+w) and then printed for the effect you see here.
All the above came to mind when I sent my San Antonio classmate friend Lee Lytton a picture of Rebecca that was a greatly enlarged section of an already grainy and badly exposed colour negative. In the last couple of days I had been working on a blog dealing with his beautiful and instructional tour of his childhood haunt of La Parra Ranch and Sarita, Texas. The picture of Rebecca had taken in the ancillary chapel to La Parra, indeed the place that had been central to many of the religious activities of the ranch and even the place where Lytton’s father’s funeral had been held. His father’s grave is a few feet away.
|Hilary Anne, 1976, age 6|
Of Rebecca's picture Lee Lytton wrote:
You really should put the underexposed photo of Rebecca in there. It is an accidental masterpiece.
When I balked and sent him the texture pictures of my daughters he further wrote:
I see the resemblance, but believe me, the photo of Rebecca is one of a kind, and whether it is part of the story or not, it should be a treasured photo.
And yet this blog with the date July 25 was inspired by the events of today (as I write this) August 3d so it must then be a real web log diary.
I must add that in spite of the fact that Rebecca's enlarged photograph involved using a very good Epson scanner the result, while far quicker, produced an image no different had I gone the route of printing the negative with my enlarger.