A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


Lisa Upside Down
Saturday, January 22, 2011

Dealing with grandchildren can be a chore when both of them are girls and more so when one of them is 13. So all I can really say now is that Saturday was an up day with a severe down by the evening. This, in retrospect from my vantage point of writing this now, a Saturday blog on a Sunday evening,  doesn’t feel so down.

And yet I will have to write about Saturday (which includes Friday night) at some length. I think I need to digest it in my head and these pictures you see here give me ample opportunity to harp on a serious subject that has a happy side to it.

The serious side of taking pictures of women (and if possible it is even better if they happen to be beautiful) upside down is that it is not easy.

I first saw a photograph of a woman upside down (that I can distinctly remember) in the mid 80s when I purchased a book about the classic Hollywood photographer George Hurrell. In the book there are two photographs of a woman on her back and upside down. One is Jean Harlow on a bear rug (his eyes are open and he is snarling) and the other is one of the most beautiful photographs of one of the most beautiful women in the world, Dolores del Río.

I decided then and there to give this upside-down-woman-on-her-back-on-a-divan/bed a try. I have since taken hundreds of these and this one is one of my favourites.

There is one thing I want to clearly point out here and this is the happy side I was mentioning above. This is a happy side for me as with some perversity on my part I am going to place here all the pictures as I took them. Lisa Prentiss (aka Alexandria) was upside down. Beginners who are given a photograph such as any of these will instantly turn them around to see what the woman really looks like. This is verboten, “low class”. If any of you reading this blog right now are turning their heads, or standing on it to see the image right side up, don’t! It simply is not done.

In most cases (and a few here are the exception) a person upside down looks strange when seen right side up. Gravity plays tricks (nasty ones, at that!) on the body and tends to pull down on skin and the underneath framework of muscles and, meat, yes meat! A woman on her back on a carpet when seen from a ladder that straddles her, will not look good. You need to place your subject on the curve of a divan or place (but hide it) a small pillow to make your subject’s head angle back while making the neck and shoulders go up.

The exception to all the above is to photograph someone in a tub full of water. I have much experience in these matters and I can attest that Sir Isaac Newton was absolutely correct to affirm that for every force there is an opposite force of equal strength. Water compensates for gravity and gently pushes up everything that tends to go down when one is on one’s back in a tub of water.

In the last few months as my age and the situation of photography combine to pull me into retirement I am looking back at my career through the pictures (negatives, slides, and many 8x10s, 11x14s and 16x20s in my files. I like to see how I improved or did so to the contrary. In any case I can see a progression into ever more complicated or bigger equipment. I can see a progression into more complex lighting. Yet I find that some of my earlier pictures, taken with 35mm cameras have a quality that I was never able to match the moment I put a medium format camera on a tripod. This meant that I had to plan my photograph precisely and then commit myself to a particular angle. In most of the pictures here I used not only lights but in some cases I used a spotlight attached to a gobo (go-between) which is a round piece of stamped metal that in some of the pictures here projected venetian blind shadows on Lisa’s face and body. There are a couple where the lighting is simply window lighting.

In this day and age of escalating pornography I find these pictures of Lisa refreshingly (to me) erotic and sexy without being coarse. In fact I find them rather classy!

But best of all for me, I now have the project of finding new Lisas (I lost contact with her years ago) and try to see if I can repeat these pictures with the same sense of excitement that I had the first time I took these. And would I be able to bring something new to these pictures? It is a challenge that I want to pursue.

And again, remember if you have any class you will admire (I hope) these pictures just as they are and you will not be tempted to turn your head around. This last sentence has made me consider that the whole idea that a blog is a personal diary on line is not quite an accurate definition. If that were the case why would I, in the least, be concerned about some poor folk straining a neck muscle or worse in not taking my to advisory seriously?

More Lisa:
Ekachrome Blues
No Link Sharing

That Inscrutable Owl - Jack Davis
Friday, January 21, 2011

It is strange how for no reason at all, and if there is one, I do not know of it, I thought about Jack Davis today. I know littlea bout him. He was both a Federal and Provincial politician. It was as the latter role that I photographed him in the early 80s (when he was a minister for Bill Bennett) and then around 1990 when he was the Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources for Bill Vander Zaalm.

Jack Davis was one of the smartest politicians in Canada who somehow, before he died in 1992 had a ruined reputation. The two b+w pictures look like I photographed him somewhere in a very early false creek, near Gastown, before it was developed. The colour picture, 1990 I took in Canada Place. I remember that at the time I liked to use the Dutch tilt which involved twisting my camera in one direction, I also used a grid spot.

In both cases I remember that Davis was direct and brief with me. I felt like I was taking the picture of a remote man who resembled an inscrutable owl. When I photographed his boss, Premier Bill Bennett who was famous for being an introvert in the presence of the media or crowds, I found Bennett charming and talkative. I would have never suspected that.

There is some interesting information in Rex Weyler’s book Greenpeace – How a group of ecologists, journalists, and visionaries changed the world, 2004 that features an exchange between Jack Davis and Vancouver author and Greenpeace founder Ben Metcalfe. It has all to do with the fact that Jack Davis, as a Rhodes Scholar and engineer was an expert on nuclear energy.

Rex Weyler's Book

.25 caliber War And Peace & The Mask Of Demetrios Was No Coffin
Thursday, January 20, 2011

Eric Ambler

A Frenchman named Chamfort, who should have known better, once said that chance was a nickname for Providence.

It is one of those convenient, question-begging aphorisms coined to discredit the unpleasant truth that chance plays an important, if not predominant, part in human affairs. Yet it was not entirely inexcusable. Inevitably chance does occasionally operate with a sort of fumbling coherence readily mistakable for the workings of a self-concious Providence.

The story of Dimitrios Makropoulos is an example of this.
The Mask of Dimitrios, Eric Ambler, 1937

There was a pause as the chief pilot gunned up the four turbo jets[a turbo prop Vickers Viscount] into a banshee scream and then, with a jerk of released brakes, the 10.30 BEA Fllight 130 to Rome, Athens and Istanbul gathered speed and hurtled down the runway and up into a quick, easy climb.

In ten minutes they had reached 20,000 feet and were heading south along the wide air-channel that takes the Mediterranean traffic from England. The scream of the jets died to a low drowsy whistle. Bond unfastened his seat belt and lit a cigarette. He reached for the slim, expensive-looking attaché case on the floor beside him and took out The Mask of Demetrios by Eric Ambler and put the case, which was very heavy in spite of its size on the seat beside him.
From Russia with Love, Ian Fleming, 1957.


"The Appointment in Samarra" (as retold by W. Somerset Maugham [1933])

The speaker is Death

There was a merchant in Bagdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture, now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me. The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went. Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning? That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Bagdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.


‘That is good.’


‘Because I cannot sleep until I have killed that man. I do not know if what happened tonight has any connection with you and your assignment. I do not care. For some reason, war has been declared on me. If I do not kill Krilencu, at the third attempt he will certainly kill me. So we are now on our way to keep an appointment with him in Samarra.
From Russia with Love, Ian Fleming , 1957


So much had passed, the years were heavy-laden. I was a different man. Not least, I was an American now, and in the very prime of middle age at thirty four. And married I was to my lovely, peerless sweetheart, who had waited all those years. We had a son, our John. And a good home back in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, where I hoped to sit again at my desk in the counting house.
Honor’s Kingdom, Owen Parry, 2002


Appointment in Samarra, published in 1934, is the first novel by John O'Hara. It concerns the self-destruction of Julian English, once a member of the social elite of Gibbsville, which is O’Hara’s fictionalized version of Pottsville, Pennsylvania.

In his foreword to the 1952 reprint, O'Hara says that the working title for the novel was The Infernal Grove. He got the idea for the title Appointment in Samarra when Dorothy Parker showed him the story in Maugham's play, Sheppey. He says "Dorothy didn't like the title, [publisher] Alfred Harcourt didn't like the title, his editors didn't like it, nobody liked it but me." O'Hara describes it as a reference to "the inevitability of Julian English's death."


Nash looked at Bond with empty eyes. ‘Well, I suppose we’d better settle for the night, I’ve got my book.’ He held it up. ‘War and Peace. Been trying to plough through it for years. You take the first sleep old man.
From Russia with Love, Ian Fleming 1957


Bond took off his coat and tie and laid them on the bunk besied him. He leant back against the pillows and propped up his feet on the bag with the Spektor that stood on the floor beside his attaché case. He picked up his Ambler and found his place and tried to read. After two pages he found that his concentration was going. He was too tired. He laid the book down on his lap and closed his eyes. Could he afford to sleep? Was there any other precaution they could take?...The train gave a moan and crashed into the tunnel.
From Russia with Love, In Fleming 1957

Eric Ambler

The train ran into a tunnel.
The Mask of Demetrios, Eric Ambler, 1937


The book [War and Peace] was still open on Nash’s lap, but now a thin wisp of smoke was coming out of the hole a the top of he spine and there was the faint smell of fireworks in the room…'Too bad that book of yours is only for reading, old man.’
From Russia with Love, Ian Fleming, 1957


Suddenly Bond’s scrabbling fingers felt something hard. The book! How did one work the thing? Which way up was it? Would it shoot him or Nash? Desperately Bond held it out towards the great sweating face. He pressed at the bas of the cloth spine.
From Russia with Love, Ian Fleming, 1957


It struck me as funny that Bond's copy of The Mask of Demetrios somehow saved his life on board the Orient Express and that in the end he was able to rid himself of the Russian (but English born) assassin with the Russian's own book, a copy of War and Peace!

It might be, he mused as he rode along the lake on a dappled horse with a great rump and a short neck, like one of those prancing steeds that you see in those old pictures, but this horse never pranced and he needed a firm jab with the spur to break even into a smart trot, it might be, he mused, that the great chiefs of the secret service in their London offices, their hands on the throttle of this great machine, led a life full of exciadvetement; they moved their pieces here and there, they saw the pattern woven by the multitudinous threads (Ashenden was lavish with his metaphors) they made a picture out of the various pieces of the jigsaw puzzle; but it must be confessed that for the small fry like himself to be a member of the secret service was not as an adventurous an affair as the public thought.
Giulia Lazzari, W. Sommerset Maugham, 1928


And after finishing From Russia with Love and having read The Mask for Demetrios, too many times to want to read it again, and re-read some of the stories featuring, really, the first literature and literate spy, Ashenden, by W. Sommerset Maugham I think I will not read John O'Hara's An Appointment in Samarra and I will also give Tolstoy a temporary skip. I will  go to bed. Oh, I forgot James Bond and Tatiana Romanova's traveling name on the Orient Express was Mr. and Mrs. Somerset with one m. But I wonder if this is not just curious coincidence? On the other hand the other M...

Geoff Massey & Abraham Rogatnick -Two Architects For Christmas
Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Geoff Massey

I have written here before how my favourite day of the year is Christmas Eve. Since I am from Latin America I celebrate Nochebuena as we call Christmas Eve in Spanish. This means that the family comes to the house for dinner and we then open the presents. For a couple of years in the past we had the presence of a non family member for dinner. This was my friend architect and teacher Abraham Rogatnick. Unfortunately he died in 2009. We missed him this last Christmas Eve. It was always a challenge to cook something without onions as Rogatnick was allergic. He told me that in a trip to India he found himself deathly ill in a second class bus because of onions he had for lunch. Before he died he gave me a Leica and he put it and some accessories in a beautiful cloth laundry bag from a hotel very close to the Taj Mahal. Whenever I see the bag I remember Rogatnick and his aversion to onions.

Rogatnick was the delight of my two granddaughters. One Christmas eve he made some origami birds for our Christmas tree.

Whatever sadness we might have felt in not having Rogatnick for dinner this last Christmas was somehow softened by the presence, that day, at noon of his friend and fellow architect Geoff Massy. He had come to pick up a couple 8x10s that I had taken of him a few months back when he and few others went to spread Rogatnick’s ashes up Indian Arm. I snapped a couple of pictures (I could not resist those eyebrows!). Massey liked the pictures well enough to ask me for some copies. But when he arrived I had already warned him that he was going to sit proper for me and this time there would be no little camera with Tri-X but my Mamiya with a couple of lights. I took 8 pictures and this one is my favourite.

While I may have told the story before I will tell it again here since I am placing the two friend together.

It seems that Massey and some fellow roommates had a vacancy in their pad near Harvard’s School of Architecture where Massey was studying. They put an ad on a bulletin board seeking a potential roommate to complete the foursome. Rogatnick applied. But he was grilled until Massey and friends were satisfied that Rogatnick passed muster. Rogatnick and Massey became friends. A few years later when Rogatnick indicated he would be making a tour of the Pacific Northwest with his partner Alvin Balkind in their VW beetle, Massey told Rogatnick that if they passed by Vancouver to look him up. In Vancouver Massey was settling down to the business of architecture with partner Arthur Erickson.

Abraham Rogatnick

Rogatnick and Balkind did get to Vancouver and immediately knocked on a door in the West End expecting Massey to open the door. That was not the case. Erickson opened the door and explained that Massey was gone on his honeymoon. This is how the trio of architects became best of friends. The fact is that Rogatnick and Balkind never left Vancouver. Balkind and Rogatnick started in 1954 the first really serious private art gallery called the New Art Gallery.

And Massey and Erickson joined forces to build one of our areas education landmarks, Simon Fraser University.

Taking pictures of Massey at Christmas Eve (noon) was a singular pleasure. Massey’s voice (had he not been an architect) he could have made good money as a CBC announcer) had that curious quality of making me feel comfortable with the knowledge that if men like Massey are around our world cannot be all that bad.

Circumstances and some January malaise prevented me from processing Massey's b+w negative until today.

Abraham Rogatnick Switches off

Playback From Vancouver With Love
Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Sentinel (1948) is a short story by Arthur C. Clarke, which he modified with the help of Stanley Kubrick to make 2001 A Space Odyssey and which Clarke then converted into the novel.. Clarke expressed impatience with the common description of it as "the story on which 2001 is based." He said, "It is like comparing an acorn to the resulting oak-tree."

I have two Arthur C. Clarke books (custom leather bound together) at home. One is Rendezvous With Rama and the other is Childhood’s End. I consider them to be just about the two finest science fiction books ever written.

I do have the sequel to Rendezvous with Rama, Rama II co-written by Clarke and one Gentree Lee (who has an impressive curriculum vitae as a Project Galileo engineer). By then Clarke was having a ball snorkling in his adopted island of Sri-Lanka. I can see him looking at a manuscript by Lee and saying, “That’s fine.” Perhaps I am being unkind but I disliked Rama II and I never did like 2001: A Space Odyssey (the novel, let me be clear about his) or its two sequels creatively called (with no blockbuster-sequel-film-type Roman numerals) 2010 Odyssey Two and 2061 Odyssey Three.

I did not give the above much thought until a week ago when I went to the central branch of the Vancouver Public Library. I was there to look for Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale. I wanted to give the novel a second reading after my first sometime around 1960. During the Christmas holidays I had seen (one by accident the other by choice) two of the last James Bonds with Daniel Craig and I rather liked them. I wanted to know if my excitement in reading one Ian Fleming after an other in the 60s could be experienced again. Casino Royale was out but I did find From Russia with Love, the Fleming novel that most think is his best ever. Fleming’s fortunes were not doing too well with his four previous Bond novels, Casino Royale, Live and Let Die, Moonraker and Diamonds are Forever. So Fleming put extra work in the writing (curiously having Bond appear only in the second half of the novel) and with some subsequent luck President Kennedy upon being asked what his best 10 books list was by life put From Russia with Love, 9th on his list. The rest is Ian Fleming/James Bond history.

While on my way to the fiction section of the library I saw on a tall shelf a largish and very bold covered book called Playback. Since I consider Playback one of my favourite Raymond Chandler novels, even though most critics state that because Playback was his last (finished as there was his later and unfinished Poodle Springs) Marlowe novel it was not his best.

Technically, I was to find out Playback (a form of it) had been written in 1944 before Little Sister, 1949, and The Long Goodbye, 1953.

I found this out in the introduction by Philippe Garnier to Playback – A Graphic Novel by Ted Benoit and Francois Ayroles. The latter is the illustrator and the former the man who adapted the original film treatment by Chandler who had tinkered with it until 1947 when he tried to sell it, unsuccessfully, to Universal Pictures.

What is interesting about this original screenplay was that it was set in Vancouver. Chandler wanted to explore the ramifications of Canadian liquor laws, justice system and wanted to play with the idea of crossing borders with necessary documents. When Chandler was unable to sell his screenplay he moved the action La Jolla, California, and renamed Esmeralda.

Playback – The Graphic Novel is an adaptation of that original film treatment. I enjoyed the illustrations that showed the artist’s rendition of the Hotel Vancouver (called Royal Vancouver), English Bay and what appears to be the boat house in Stanley Park. But my pleasure stopped there.

How is it possible to convert Chandler’s wonderful treatment of the English language into stuff like:

Is there something I can do for you?
There are a lot of things you could do for me.
Well, there’s something you can do for me. You can move to one side so my husband can get in.

It might sound Chandleresque but it simply does not cut it for me. As I see it is a so-so film treatment (that would make perhaps a wonderful film if somebody with guts and money took the chance). Imagine it Playback, the film, set in Vancouver! Luckily it all ended up as a good novel and for me a very good one. The process of treatment to novel, while it took many years, produced something good.

Which takes me to Clarke’s original Sentinel. It is a nice speculative short story that I rather liked. But that was that. The film 2001 The Space Odyssey was a magnificent film with fantastic views and subtle stuff that grew on me every time I saw the film again. The novel that came from this film (after the film!) lost all the subtlety and elegance brought to the film courtesy of Stanley Kubrick. The two film sequels and sequel novels were at best mediocre.

Who knows what Stanley Kubrick could have done with Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama or with honest to goodness Lucifers with tails and wings haunting as quiet and meek overlords in Childhood’s End. Perhaps it is best that these two novels have remained as novels.

As for From Russia with Love, I can see how the dialogue with a level of detail that could never be brought to a film had attracted me in the first place. And the fast cars, etc in the film version had yet to boast of the special (over) effects to come.

A moment later the ADC opened the big door and stood in the entrance. ‘Comrade Colonel Klebb,’ he announced.

A toad-like figure in an olive green uniform which bore the single red ribbon of the Order of Lenin came into the room and walked with quick short steps over to the desk.

General G. looked up and waved to the nearest chair at the conference table. ‘Good evening Comrade.’

The squat face split into a sugary smile. ‘Good evening Comrade General.’

The Head of Otdyel II, the department of SMERSH in charge of Operations and Executions, hitched up her skirts and sat down.
From Russia with Love, Ian Fleming, 1957

The Ramans do everything in threes

Ektachrome Blues
Monday, January 17, 2011

It would seem that I have been in a didactic mood of late. I find it almost imperative to write explanations here on how I perceive colour. These perceptions, I have come to learn have been changing back and forth through the years.

In most situations I use Kodak Ektachrome 100G which is a professional colour transparency (slide) film. The professional denomination means that this film is manufactured to rigid standards for colour accuracy. Since heat or a long time on a the photography store shelf will age and deteriorate (modify) this accuracy, professional colour film is sold by photography stores that have special refrigerated storage for the film. This film is also manufactured to be relatively low in contrast. Most amateurs and the general photographic public like contrasty pictures (they sometimes use that horrible word, punchy) with colours that burst out of computer monitors and sock you in the face.

I like low contrast so that I can see the detail in the shadows. I also like colour with little of it. I would call it monochrome colour.

So I keep my Ektachrome 100G refrigerated and take it out only a few hours before I am going to use it. I then have it promptly process at The Lab. They, The Lab have standards which to me mean that my Ektachromes always look the same. I never bracket (several exposures at different apertures “to make sure”) and I never push (double or triple, etc the ISO speed rating of the film) or pull (half or lessen the ISO speed rating).

But sometimes I like to go out of the mold. Of late this has not been happening so I have plans to remove myself from a predictable pattern of uniformity.

As an example (and a good excuse as any) I show you here more pictures of  Lisa Prentiss (aka Alexandria) that I took some years ago. I purchased a special professional 35mm Ektachrome rated at 800 ISO and purposely exposed it to 1600 ISO. This means that the film was under-exposed by one stop. I then had the film pushed one stop (to compensate for the underexposure). This resulted in slides that had increased contrast, more grain and an odd (but to me) attractive blue cast.

It is not always necessary nor intelligent to produce pictures where colour is accurate. One can modify the colour to set a mood or illicit some sort of emotion. To me the blue cast (which I did correct somewhat when I scanned these with my Epson V-700) is attractive, moody, sensual in an icy blue way.

This blog and the previous one might help some readers understand my interest in using the iPhone as a camera. Because the phone reacts to my using a 3200 Kelvin light by making portraits over warmish, when I correct that to more or less an accurate (but never quite) skin colour the background goes cyan/green. I like this. Here are two examples of that phenomenon.

Parnelli Parnes

Arts & Opinion - iPhone Nudes

Newton, Scriabin , Leopold & God, But Shirley Wasn't Always Blonde
Sunday, January 16, 2011

Synesthesia, a condition wherein one experiences sensation in one sense in response to stimulus in another.

Alexander Scriabin's Colour Keyboard

In his autobiographical Recollections, Sergei Rachmaninoff recorded a conversation he had had with Scriabin and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov about Scriabin's association of colour and music. Rachmaninoff was surprised to find that Rimsky-Korsakov agreed with Scriabin on associations of musical keys with colors; himself skeptical, Rachmaninoff made the obvious objection that the two composers did not always agree on the colours involved. Both maintained that the key of D major was golden-brown; but Scriabin linked E-flat major with red-purple, while Rimsky-Korsakov favored blue. However, Rimsky-Korsakov protested that a passage in Rachmaninoff's opera The Miserly Knight supported their view: the scene in which the Old Baron opens treasure chests to reveal gold and jewels glittering in torchlight is written in D major. Scriabin told Rachmaninoff that "your intuition has unconsciously followed the laws whose very existence you have tried to deny."

The single most significant product developed in the Eastman Kodak laboratories was the result of an equally serendipitous set of circumstances. Sometime in 1921 or 1922 George Eastman received a letter from Frank Damrosch, the brother of musician and conductor Walter Damrosch. Would Eastman be interested in meeting two young musicians, Leopold Mannes and Leopold Godowsky, who in their spare time were experimenting with color photography? Eastman, who over the years had been shown dozens of color technologies, agreed to the request. He was impressed with their work – not enthusiastic, however, to make any sort of commitment to Mannes and Godowsky.
The History of Kodak by Douglas Collins, 1990 Harry N. Abrams Inc. New York

As some who read this might know, Kodak and the Leopolds did, in the end, work together and as Douglas Collins writes:

Mannes and Godowsky alternated between careers in music and science. As schoolboys they had collaborated in hundreds of color photography experiments, none of which were completely successful until after the 1030 decision to join the staff of the Kodak Research Laboratories. Sometime whistling classical music to time darkroom operations, “Man and God,” as one Kodak staffer called them, succeeded in 1934 in developing full-color Kodachrome film.

Leopold Mannes & Leopold Godowsky

I am sure that both of the Leopolds might have known of Scriabin’s odd foray into the idea that music had colour. I would doubt that Scriabin would have served as inspiration in their research. But I place Scriabin here simply to assert how we photographers (and this writer is one) and many musicians have a keen and lasting association with our perception of colour in every day life.

It was in grade school that I first learned of Newton’s experiment with light. And it was only in the last few years that I learned that had Newton not written Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica he would have still been revered for his Opticks – Or, A Treatise Of The Reflexions, Refractions, Inflexions and Colours of Light (1704).

Most will remember the prism bending a ray of sunlight into the colours red, orange, yellow, green blue, indigo and violet.

What they did not teach me back in grade school was how we humans view those colours. But most of us know that as children we choose red as our favourite colour. The reason for this is that while we can discern those colours from red to violet we can see the reds, oranges and yellows better than the greens, blues and violets. Most might remember having arguments about turquoise. Depending on your personal sight you will argue that this colour is more blue than green or vice versa. Few ever agree o turquoise but will see red as red. With the exception of Surrey,BC (they are limegreen or parrot shit) most fire engines are red for visibility. Stop lights are red for that reason. And in the Arctic and the Antarctic airplanes and rescue equipment all have some orange markings.

What they did not teach me back in grade school was that Newton’s spectrum was the visible human one. They may nave mentioned the invisible infrared to the left of red and the equally invisible ultra violet to the right of violet. They did not mention that animals see these colours with shifts towards one end or the other. And now I know and have known for a while that b+w film, colour film, video tape, and digital sensors while being sensitive to our human spectrum of colours they “see” it with a shift to the right, towards the ultra violet or UV. Film, video tape and digital sensors can see UV and particularly when the objects seen are lit with light sources that produce UV lighting. These sources include TV lighting. One who found out too late was the Republican candidate for the presidency of the US, Richarn Nixon. His complexion was not a good one and unlike Kennedy who sailed and had a “healthy” (healthy in the perception of his age) skin colour, the TV lights produced lots of UV light which penetrated into Nixon’s skin making him look more awful than he did. Kennedy himself had Max Factor pancake makeup. Max Factor (a real man!) had noticed the problem with TV lights so he had simply modified sunblock (a UV block) with lanolin, pink colour and some perfume and then helped make Kennedy president and then made millions with his product.

With that in mind I remember how in school, in high school they taught us about what happens when you stick a long rod of metal into a fire. We found out that the rod will go from red to orange, to yellow, to white, and if the metal does not melt and the fire is hot enough the metal will turn blue. From here we learned that this very colour shift from red to blue marked the very classification that astronomers use for stars. The hottest stars are blue or white stars. The coolest are read while our own sun is uninspiring in comparison orange.

My 6x7 format Shirley
From here we photographers understand that we must not confuse that as humans we perceive reds, oranges and yellows as warm colours while blues and greens are cool or cold colours. It was Lord Kelvin who gave these stars a measurement that related their internal heat to their colour. The measurement came to be known as Degrees Kelvin.

Using this method to classify the colour of our light sources (but not their radiating heat) we see that incandescent light bulbs, which we photographers call tungsten lighting (some of these bulbs use tungsten filaments that can burn bright without melting) produce a light that we all perceive as warm (as in reddish) and that indeed will photograph as red by most colour film or digital cameras where prior correction for that lighting (custom white balance) has not been indicated.

We photographers and painters all instinctively know that light has colour. People who dislike florescent lighting (I hat it!) don’t like it because of the sickly greenish cast of its light. That green is perceived as a cool colour.

When Leopold and God perfected Kodachrome, the order of the day was to calibrate film to light. Since by the early 30s the United States of America was in ascendancy Kodak chose Washington DC as the location for the calibration. In the early 30s black people and other people of colour were not “seen” by the establishment. The same could be said for women. So a white man, wearing a white shirt was photographed on a midsummer noon day (free of pollution as there were not that many cars in that nation’s capital). Tests were made, with some tweaking of the film emulsion, until a reasonably accurate skin colour was achieved while still managing to get a white shirt. Kodak then established 5400 Degrees Kelvin as the calibrating colour temperature (remember Washington DC at noon, midsummer) for all its colour films henceforth.

Those readers who ski must know that up in Whistler snow is not white but has a blue cast. This is because light at higher altitudes (humanly cool) is blue and it is “star” hot. In fact the colour of light if seen as white at the equator gradually becomes blues as you go up in latitude. So if you shoot your Washington DC balance colour film in Vancouver your pictures will have that slight blue cast.


Color Temperature for Various Light Sources

Artificial Light

Match Flame 1,700K
Candle Flame 1,850K
40-Watt Incandescent Tungsten Lamp 2,650K
75-Watt Incandescent Tungsten Lamp 2,820K
100-Watt Incandescent Tungsten Lamp 2,900K
3200 K Tungsten Lamp 3,200K (movie sets and TV studio lighting)
Photoflood and Reflector Flood Lamp 3,400K
Daylight Blue Photoflood Lamp 4,800K
Xenon Arc Lamp 6,420K

Incandescent (tungsten) 60 watt bulbs


Sunlight: Sunrise or Sunset 2,000K
Sunlight: One Hour After Sunrise 3,500K
Sunlight: EarlyMorning 4,300K
Sunlight: Late Afternoon 4,300K
Average Summer Sunlight at Noon (Washington, DC) 5,400K
DirectMidsummer Sunlight 5,800K
Overcast Sky 6,000K
Average Summer Sunlight (plus blue skylight) 6,500K
Light Summer Shade 7,100K
Average Summer Shade 8,000K
Summer Skylight will vary from 9,500 to 30,000K

Note: Do not confuse sunlight with daylight. Sunlight is only the light of the sun. Daylight is a combination of sunlight plus skylight

My 35mm format Shirley

How do Canon and Nikon calibrate their digital cameras? To Washington, DC? Tokyo? I leave you with that doubt.

What this all means is that if you had a roll of Kodachrome (scratch that as nobody processes it anymore) Ektachrome and took pictures in different cities of the world at different latitudes, degrees of pollution, and time of day you would never get your white Uncle Billy’s shirt to ever really be white. This is because light has colour.

What this all means is that if you point your Ektachrome film camera or Digital camera (without tungsten white balance correction) at Uncle Billy by a 60 watt light bulb you will get a red face. It means that if you use a relatively good flash with Ektachrome that is rated at daylight (5400 Degrees Kelvin) or point your Digital SLR or digital point and shoot, set on flash (5400 degrees Kelvin perhaps?) and your flash is rated at around 5400 Uncle Billy’s shirt will be white.

What that means is that if you sneak into a TV set or film set and take some pictures with your Ektachrome film camera or your Digital SLR not set to Tungsten White Balance, you will get warmish, yellowish cast pictures.

Those who know and shoot film will use Tungsten Ektachrome balance to 3200 Degrees Kelvin which is the universal standard for movies and TV. Most digital cameras will convert, if you tell them to, to what is called Tungsten White Balance. And your famous Uncle Billy in the TV studio will be wearing a truly white shirt.

The “problem” with our perception of colour does not stop there. If you happen to want to print those old Kodachromes, new Ektachromes, colour negatives, or your digital portrait files you have to know under what lighting you will view those pictures. Lighting will affect how those images will look. Also the printing of a white shirt on to colour print film, or inkjet paper will not guarantee a white shirt or acceptable skin colour.

You first have to calibrate your printer. If you are viewing your digital files on your computer monitor, you have to calibrate your monitor! And if you happen to trust the colour of the little screen in the back of your digital camera you are in trouble! If you are a purist you would have to calibrate that, too!

Before the advent of digital photography Kodak invented the Shirley. The white man with a white shirt was much too boring. So the folks at Rochester picked a beautiful blond woman and they repeated their Washington DC calibration in a studio using a professional flash set at 54000 Kelvin. They had this woman (might the first one have indeed been called Shirley?) pose holding a gray card (a card that absorbed 82% of light hitting it and reflecting 18%) and some colour bars. They would then create many negatives and slides, all the same and ship them to laboratories all over the world that would use these Shirleys to calibrate their equipment. As labs got more advanced the calibration became more complicated but machine colour prints would look pretty good thanks to Shirley.

But picture jazz pianist Oscar Peterson (a fabulous amateur photographer) taking a roll of colour negative film into London Drugs in Toronto. He would have pictures of his grandchildren. The Shirley calibrated London Drugs processor would convert Peterson’s black relatives into something close to purple. A similar problem would have occurred in Mexico, India and anywhere else where there was a dearth of Shirleys.

Of the picture above taken from Color - Life Library of Photography, page 14, had me stumped for about a year until I finally figured out that the colour (with a u!) blue was a colour I had no idea existed. And this is photographic blue which tends to be purplish!

Those photographers who shoot with digital cameras and then have to colour correct (or balance) the colour of their pictures since so many variations are at play with light, or those photographers who shoot colour film but then scan them, have to deal with the fact that in photography colours are not always what they seem.

In most colour correction programs in Photoshop  or in the also popular Lightroom the usual one is commonly called RGB. This is a process called additive in which red, green and blue, depending on how they are used, will produce all the colours of the human-visible spectrum.

These three colours interplay with three others that are called subtractive colours. These are cyan, magenta and yellow (CMYK). For the first time calibrator there is the perception that few of us really know what cyan looks like or the fact that the photographic blue is quite purplish. So if a person’s face is warmish it could be that it is too red (so you must add cyan) or it could be that it is too magenta so you must add green) or it could be a tad yellow (so you must subtract yellow and add blue). Pictures that look too yellow sometimes are so because they are too cyan and green!

My Kodak Color Print Viewing Kit

I laugh at all the above because I learned to print colour negatives and slides in my darkroom in the late 70s using several generations of Kodak Shirleys. Above you see the kit I used to view my test prints. But memory was terrible and after a while a picture hat was too yellow would look good. I would put the picture away and have a cup o tea. I would return to look at the picture while flicking the above filters until I knew how to correct the filtration of my enlarger colour head to produce an acceptable print. But I had to decide then and there where the picture would be viewed and under what lighting as that would affect those who looked at it. The Holy Grail of the colour print has always been the portrait of a lovely redhaired woman. I never achieved it. It was and I believe still is the limitation of film. I have seen many of my better students achieve this Holy Grail with intellingent and selective white balance control of thier digital single lens reflex cameras!

This knowledge enables me to make most of the pictures that you see here look a just about the right colour. But then when was the last time (if ever) that you calibrated your monitor? Or is you monitor in a dark room? Or is daylight seeping in from the side? Or do you have those new fangled fluorescent bulbs? Or do your eye glasses have slight UV correction with a slight pink cast? And I could go on and on!

With that above knowledge, weigh the consequences in your mind of having an opposing party, publish posters or create TV ads of Harper in which they slightly shift his face skin colour into cyan/green. You will dislike the man more if you already dislike him without knowing why.

Alexander Scriabin would have understood. Colours as we see them affect our emotions. Music has colour. Faces have colour. How me make those faces appear will affect how we will emotionally affect others.

And those who like Rosemary and I made a run on buying as many incandescent light bulbs that we could find, last week, might suspect that as much as people have discussed the pros and cons of fluorescent light bulbs few in the media have discussed how we perceive the light they produce and how it affects us in our everyday life. Scriabin might have explained it to us, but then so could have Thomas Alva Edison.

For anybody who might want to pursue this further the best source, beautifully explained and illustrated is Color - Life Library of Photography. These are out of print but readily available at good used books stores for about $15.00

Gordon Lafleur

Our Perception of Colour


Previous Posts
The Ocean is the Sky

The Golfer's Indumentum

The Real McCoy & Only Butter is Butter

Neptune Vanitas

Se me va de los dedos la caricia sin causa

Elegance Demands

On the Edge of My Seat at Edge 4

The Beetle & the Magnolia

Beauty & Elegance Up Close

Randomness & Purpose

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1/11/15 - 1/18/15

1/18/15 - 1/25/15

1/25/15 - 2/1/15

2/1/15 - 2/8/15

2/8/15 - 2/15/15

2/15/15 - 2/22/15

2/22/15 - 3/1/15

3/1/15 - 3/8/15

3/8/15 - 3/15/15

3/15/15 - 3/22/15

3/22/15 - 3/29/15

3/29/15 - 4/5/15

4/5/15 - 4/12/15

4/12/15 - 4/19/15

4/19/15 - 4/26/15

4/26/15 - 5/3/15

5/3/15 - 5/10/15

5/10/15 - 5/17/15

5/17/15 - 5/24/15

5/24/15 - 5/31/15

5/31/15 - 6/7/15

6/7/15 - 6/14/15

6/14/15 - 6/21/15

6/21/15 - 6/28/15

6/28/15 - 7/5/15

7/5/15 - 7/12/15

7/12/15 - 7/19/15

7/19/15 - 7/26/15

7/26/15 - 8/2/15

8/2/15 - 8/9/15

8/9/15 - 8/16/15

8/16/15 - 8/23/15

8/23/15 - 8/30/15

8/30/15 - 9/6/15

9/6/15 - 9/13/15

9/13/15 - 9/20/15

9/20/15 - 9/27/15

9/27/15 - 10/4/15

10/4/15 - 10/11/15

10/18/15 - 10/25/15

10/25/15 - 11/1/15

11/1/15 - 11/8/15

11/8/15 - 11/15/15

11/15/15 - 11/22/15

11/22/15 - 11/29/15

11/29/15 - 12/6/15

12/6/15 - 12/13/15

12/13/15 - 12/20/15

12/20/15 - 12/27/15

12/27/15 - 1/3/16

1/3/16 - 1/10/16

1/10/16 - 1/17/16

1/31/16 - 2/7/16

2/7/16 - 2/14/16

2/14/16 - 2/21/16

2/21/16 - 2/28/16

2/28/16 - 3/6/16

3/6/16 - 3/13/16

3/13/16 - 3/20/16

3/20/16 - 3/27/16

3/27/16 - 4/3/16

4/3/16 - 4/10/16

4/10/16 - 4/17/16

4/17/16 - 4/24/16

4/24/16 - 5/1/16

5/1/16 - 5/8/16

5/8/16 - 5/15/16

5/15/16 - 5/22/16

5/22/16 - 5/29/16

5/29/16 - 6/5/16

6/5/16 - 6/12/16

6/12/16 - 6/19/16

6/19/16 - 6/26/16

6/26/16 - 7/3/16

7/3/16 - 7/10/16

7/10/16 - 7/17/16

7/17/16 - 7/24/16

7/24/16 - 7/31/16

7/31/16 - 8/7/16

8/7/16 - 8/14/16

8/14/16 - 8/21/16

8/21/16 - 8/28/16

8/28/16 - 9/4/16

9/4/16 - 9/11/16

9/11/16 - 9/18/16

9/18/16 - 9/25/16

9/25/16 - 10/2/16

10/2/16 - 10/9/16

10/9/16 - 10/16/16

10/16/16 - 10/23/16

10/23/16 - 10/30/16

10/30/16 - 11/6/16

11/6/16 - 11/13/16

11/13/16 - 11/20/16

11/20/16 - 11/27/16

11/27/16 - 12/4/16

12/4/16 - 12/11/16

12/11/16 - 12/18/16

12/18/16 - 12/25/16

12/25/16 - 1/1/17

1/1/17 - 1/8/17

1/8/17 - 1/15/17

1/15/17 - 1/22/17

1/22/17 - 1/29/17

1/29/17 - 2/5/17

2/5/17 - 2/12/17

2/12/17 - 2/19/17

2/19/17 - 2/26/17

2/26/17 - 3/5/17

3/5/17 - 3/12/17

3/12/17 - 3/19/17

3/19/17 - 3/26/17

3/26/17 - 4/2/17

4/2/17 - 4/9/17

4/9/17 - 4/16/17

4/16/17 - 4/23/17

4/23/17 - 4/30/17

4/30/17 - 5/7/17

5/7/17 - 5/14/17

5/14/17 - 5/21/17

5/21/17 - 5/28/17

5/28/17 - 6/4/17

6/4/17 - 6/11/17

6/11/17 - 6/18/17

6/18/17 - 6/25/17

6/25/17 - 7/2/17

7/2/17 - 7/9/17

7/9/17 - 7/16/17

7/16/17 - 7/23/17