Beauty in MonochromeSunday, August 20, 2017
|John Quincy Adams
I remember that day some years ago when I first saw Harold Edgerton’s drop of milk photograph in colour. Until then since colour reproduction in periodicals was expensive I had admired it in black and white.
In 1990 I purchased a beautiful used book called Photodiscovery – Masterworks of Photography 1840-1940 by Bruce Bernard. The book was published in 1980 and it must have been a most expensive item. Why?
Because the book was printed in a method, rare at the time called “four colour”. More exact it was printed in the colours CMYK:
CMYK stands for cyan, magenta, yellow, and key or black. These are the four colors of ink used in the traditional method of printing hardcopies of images, called offset printing. ... The black is referred to as K denoting key, a shorthand for the printing term key plate.
I remember how things changed drastically for the better when design director (art director, there are many other terms!) Chris Dahl landed at Vancouver Magazine in the early 80s. Until then the magazine was published in what were called forms. Some of the forms included colour photographs but mostly colour ads. Magazines in those times were made possible (and flourished) by advertising. Dahl convinced editor Mac (Malcolm) Parry to go four colour for the whole magazine. He convinced Parry that in the long run this was a simpler task and that expenses would soon go down. And so the magazine started printing in four colour and some of my photographs (the b+w ones) were published in wonderful shades of sepia or cyan. The pictures were sharper, too.
Dahl was a pioneer in many other ways. Coming from having worked in the Maclean’s weekly he brought to Vancouver Magazine the concept of planning for at least more than one cover illustration and or cover article (just in case!).
When Dahl first came to the magazine I had recently overexposed some slides at a Westwood race assignment. I became obsessed in not overexposing. This meant that my slides were sometimes darkish. Parry would ask, “How did you do this? “ I would answer I bracketed up and down half an f-stop. I was then given the nickname (deprecatory it was) of “Halfstop”.
For an important cover I brought in slides that were dark. I was depressed. Dahl sent my slides to be copied as 4x5 transparencies and to be corrected at the same time. It worked beautifully. For those who have gotten this far consider that Photoshop did not exist nor were scanners generally available. The magazine was put together with what were called colour separations (seps) and then wax or glue was used for a process called paste-up.
Those days are gone. I have remembered them when I read (in my hard copy daily delivered paper) a recent article in the NY Times about a Daguerreotype of American president John Quincy Adams. The article was fascinating but more so was the on-line version where there was a glorious reproduction of the Daguerrotype in all its “colour” glory.
You see, most of the b+w photographs of the 19th century were not technicaly so. The accurate term would be monochrome.
What if those Frenchies?