Upside Down, Left To Right, Right To Left In The DarkroomMonday, April 22, 2013
|Nina in Lith|
In the early 90s, until about 7 years ago, I shared a floor on Robson and Granville with two artists, Rodney Graham and Neil Wedman. For as long as I was there (Graham left first, then Wedman and I well before the building was demolished last year). As far as I was concerned I was the hack and I enjoyed just being near these guys.
One day, in those early 90s, a very serious Graham asked if he could talk to me. Most think that Graham is very serious but I know better. Behind those studious glasses you will find an “aw shuck” funny guy. He told me, “I have a problem, I have been taking pictures of trees with my 4x5 camera and the image is upside down." This has always been a standard state of affairs with those who use 4x5, 5x7, 8x10, and 11x14, particularly rare if the photographer uses a an all-wood Deardorff.
Early in my photographic career I made the decision that I never wanted to see the world upside down so I eschewed the 4x5 inch format. I told Graham, “If you have the money there are expensive devices that will right side up the image for you.” He looked at me, barely smiled and that was it. His upside down trees are now a Vancouver, Canadian and worldwide history of success.
I have had a particular reason for not wanting to see the world upside down.
When we came from Mexico in 1975 I enjoyed watching TV in English. One day I saw a medical ad and called my Rosemary, “Guess what, I just find out that all these years I have been plagued by something called dyslexia.” It was my dyslexia, not that I knew, that made me fail typing in high school.
Now while I do not shoot with those ungainly 4x5s I have owned since 1977 a Mamiya RB-67 medium format camera. The first few years that I had it I could not afford to purchase the accessory pentaprism that corrected one of the “defects” of medium format cameras without the pentaprism. And this is the left is right and right is left. I remember going to a drag racing competition in Langley for Vancouver Magazine in the late 70s and I positioned myself just a few feet from a dragster about to bolt out. The idea here is to use a slow shutter and to smoothly move your camera in tandem with the moving camera. I had no problem doing this even though in the viewfinder that car was moving in the opposite direction of where the noise was headed. I had no problem because of my dyslexia!
Now at age 70 when I routinely use my scanner to scan negatives I have to remember to scan them with the emulsion (the duller side) up. To make sure I have to make sure that the Kodak or the Ilford on the edge of the negative is backwards (or is that a mirror image? Don’t ask me.). In the darkroom to project a b+w negative from your negative carrier the emulsion has to be facing down.
Now when I print a negative I know that anything that is white in my negative will be black on the print and anything black on the negative will be white on the print. If I want texture and detail in the shadows (beyond controlling the contrast by using variable contrast paper) I have to dodge it with a little device to prevent light from getting to the spot. If, on the other hand I want texture in the white (perhaps a white shirt or the bright side of a person’s face by a window) I have to burn or give that area more light. This is standard and I have known how to do this since I was 20.
Of late for my show at the Duthie Gallery this Saturday, May 4, I have been scanning negatives and leaving them as negatives by reversing them in Photoshop. In itself this is a problem for me and more so when upon modifying the reversed negative I unreverse it.
The dyslexia issue became one last week when I printed a negative onto photographic paper and during the processing in the developer I turned on the lights a tat, on purpose. This produced a Man Ray-ish solarized print. The print had parts that were positive and parts that were negative and even parts that were in between. I scanned the dried print. It looked pretty good. I then reversed the image and what had originally been reversed to a negative was back to being positive. I need not go on, do I?
Tonight I finally faced my bête noire. My obsession in finding negatives that look good as negatives has led me to scan them and then send the digital files to Grant Simmons at DISC. This is easy and gives me much pleasure. But there is another way, the problematic one where I do the reversing in the darkroom. How is this done?
1. Project negative of choice onto 8x10 Kodalith (lith film). The lith film has to be emulsion side up. This product has been discontinued (Kodak uses the word discontinuance) for at last 10 years. I happen to have two boxes of 100 sheets. One of the little wrinkles is that normal amber safelights are not safe with Kodalith. It is orthochromatic and only safe with a red light. I have to then really be in a very black room in which I carefully screw in a little red bulb in my ceiling light (being carful not to slip my finger into the socket which just could be hot, did I turn on the switch or off?)
2. You process the Kodalith in regular photographic paper developer. The result is a continuous tone large (8x10) b+w slide.
3. Once the slide has been properly washed and dried you place it (emulsion side down on photographic paper. It is important to remember to take out the negative from the negative carrier as you want a nice uniform white light so that the lith film will contact onto the photographic paper.
And that’s it. Except if you want textures in the black and detail in the whites you have to do the opposite of what you normally do with negatives. To make the black less black (in my case in the printing of a nude to get texture in pubic hair, ha! Ha!) You have to burn it.
All in all I had a troubling, difficult day in the darkroom in which at long last I had some very nice results, in spite of my dyslexia. If I ever come back in some weird Buddhist reincarnation as a human being, again, I will become a lawyer and sue the folks at ToysRus. For years I did not notice that reversed R.
The picture here is a combination of the many test strips (not the woman but little bits of photogaphic paper that one tests for the correct exposure before using a much more expensive full sheet of 8x10 paper) which I placed on my scanner along with a lith film test piece (in centre).