Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Speedotron 4.5 Fresnel Lighthead

This article was originally published on my Typepad blog on January 25, 2009

I picked up at B&H today a Speedotron 4.5 fresnel spotlight.  I got it because I'm interested in recreating the lighting for early b&w Hollywood glamor portraiture, especially that of Hurrell.  I thought that the 4.5 would be a good choice for me because my shooting space is rather small.  Also, the 4.5 has a 2400w cable rather than a 4800w.  I think the 4800w, even with the "isolate" switch thrown, would be too overpowering in such a small space.

When I had called Speedotron, at B&H's suggestion, to check availability, I found out that the 4.5 is being discontinued.  It seems the 4.5 is built on a Lowel 650 chassis which Lowel has already stopped making.  Speedotron only has a few left in stock.

Finally, great customer service by both B&H and Speedotron.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Slavich Enlarging Papers

Slavich Unibrom 160

I started printing today for the first time since summer began.  I tried Slavich Unibrom, which is available with a dead matte surface, and got great results printing infrared film.  Today, I printed Bergger 200 negatives.  Tomorrow, I will try the same paper, but with a silk surface, to print the nudes I did with Angela; those photos were also shot on Bergger 200.  Then I want to experiment with split toning both papers sepia/blue.  These papers are available from Freestyle in LA. 

Toning Slavich Papers

This past week, I experimented with split toning Slavich paper sepia/blue.  I found that the Bromportrait 80 glossy embossed "silk" surface (above) sepia tones beautifully but does not hold enough of the blue to make use of that color practical.  On the other hand, Unibrom 160 matte surface split tones very well, often more subtly than in the example shown below.

Using a soft focus filter under enlarger lens

The most important thing to remember about using a soft focus filter under enlarger lens is that it has the opposite effect of a soft focus filter over a camera lens.  When the filter is over the camera lens and exposing the negative, the highlights bleed into the shadows .  When the filter is over the enlarger lens and exposing the postive, the shadows bleed into the highlights, visually more pleasing, to me at least.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Using Accessories as Props

One of the advantages of using a wardrobe stylist is, or should be, access to outfits and accessories that can help a photographer put together a successful fashion shoot.  In this sense, the stylist can be even more important than the MUA in helping the photographer realize his vision.  Neither of the two photos shown here would have been visually interesting without the inclusion of the hat.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Decayed Daguerreotypes: Part II

Last month, I posted an article about "Decayed Daguerreotypes." The piece dealt with the fate of decomposing daguerreotypes that had originally been produced by the Matthew Brady studio in NYC in the nineteenth century. At the time, I had considered these pieces anomalies, photos that had decomposed because they had not been properly curated.

A recent article in PetaPixel corrects my mistake. Even under the professional care provided by the George Eastman House, which contains one of the world's largest collections of rare photography, the integrity of its extant daguerreotypes is compromised by biological agents.

"Looking closely (and by closely, we mean scanning electron microscope closely) at the daguerreotypes, researchers discovered that these pictures were actually biologically active surfaces. Every photo they looked at was colonized by fungi that were damaging the surface."

The article goes on to say that no permanent fix has yet been discovered, and that a temporary solution has been to use an airtight housing filled with argon gas, an inert gas that undergoes almost no chemical reactions.

Curiously, the Eastman House itself does not have on its site any information regarding this problem, or at least none I was able to find through a search. The search did locate, however, a 2006 article regarding the permanence of the daguerreotypes produced by Southworth & Hawes, an early photographic firm in Boston that produced some of the finest daguerreotypes ever made. It is apparent that, even at the time daguerreotypes were first produced, photographers were concerned with the issue of their permanence:

"Southworth & Hawes were concerned with the permanency of their work, which they addressed in their studio advertisement: 'We coat all of our pictures with a perfect leaf of pure California Gold and so seldom is it that our Miniatures have ever shown any defect, that we warrant them all. We never know any daguerreotype properly freed from the chemicals and kept so, to change or fade.'"

Although Southworth & Hawes must have thought their precautions, which at the time were as thorough as possible, sufficient to preserve their work, they cannot have imagined the problems now encountered by the curators of the Eastman collection. Instead they looked forward with confidence:

"'Will daguerreotypes fade?' is a question asked constantly by visitors to the exhibition gallery, and our answer is, 'they will not.' Our reason for such an answer is, first, that the material of the picture when finished is purely metallic, and not liable or subject to evaporation. It is not affected by heat, unless artificial and sufficient to destroy any painting...'"

Although it now seems their confidence was severely missplaced, it would have been impossible for them to forsee what would occur so long after they and their clients had passed. How could they when even the author of the Eastman House article in which they are quoted failed to see the dangers as recently as 2006?

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Decayed Daguerreotypes

Traditional photographers constantly fret over outdated materials, films or papers long past their expiration dates, and fill their freezers with film in an attempt to retard the effects of time. But outdated materials often contain defects that result in "happy accidents" when they produce images that possess a weird beauty precisely because they are flawed. Since the entire thrust of photography is to snatch a moment of time and preserve it forever, there is also something deeply unsettling in viewing an image that is as much subject to the forces of decay as was its subject.

The Public Domain Review recently published a series of "decayed daguerreotypyes" that had originally been put on the web by Ptak Science Books.  These images have decomposed to the extent that their original subjects are sometimes difficult to make out.  All the photographs are from the studio of Matthew Brady, the celebrated Civil War photographer, and so are most likely of long dead New Yorkers.

Daguerreotypes have today a forlorn air about them.  Difficult to view unless held at the right angle and in the right light, these images convey the passage of time much more vividly than do traditional negative/print photographs.  Perhaps this is because the arcane and dangerous process involved in their manufacture has been so long abandoned that examples, even if in pristine condition, seem ancient artifacts.  Although the daguerreotype and the calotype, the forerunner of the modern darkroom print, both date from the invention of photography in 1839, the daguerreotype process was largely discontinued within twenty years.  This may have been due to the early deaths of its original practitioners from mercury poisoning as much as to the difficulty of the process and the impossiblity of making copies.  Consequently, daguerreotypes are now rarely seen outside museum walls.  They are not part of the continuing photographic tradition and are to art historians a dead end, albeit one with a gorgeous tonal range and a strange beauty all its own.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Effects: Cross Processing in Lightroom 4

Achieving a "cross processed" look in Lightroom 4 is fairly easy, but there is more than one way to get there.  In the photo of Roxy above, I simply went to Lightroom Color Presets and applied the Cross Process 1 preset.  The result has an sfx appearance.  While it may work for this particular shot, which had been radically overexposed to begin with, the effect is too garish to be used often, all the more so since Lightroom lacks Photoshop's "fade" capability. 

Another way of obtaining a cross processed appearance, and the one I prefer, is to instead use Lightroom's Split Toning feature.  In the photo at bottom, I combined the two processes by first applying the preset and then split toning the image.  I used the split tone controls to give the highlights to a yellowish tint but made no adjustments to the shadows.  I think this results in a moodier interpretation and one that is closer to the effect achieved when actually cross processing certain color films. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

First Attempts at Digital

Roughly twenty years ago, when I first began using Photoshop - perhaps version 3.0 - I really had no intention of working with digital photography or of editing photos in the sense now known.  Instead, I used the program only to create special effects.  I started by scanning in traditional black & white prints and then manipulating them at random to see what could be achieved.  The results are shown below.