The grass was always greener.

I’m a bit of a collectoholic, much to the annoyance of my wife. Usually of things that contain photographs, especially books and vinyl records. But on Saturday I found some old postcards in an antique shop in Shrewsbury. I wouldn’t normally buy these, but one in particular caught my eye. It’s just odd – a hand-tinted photo montage, with a touch of Terry Gilliam thrown in. It is almost sinister. There’s no reference as to what it represents – maybe The Water Babies – or perhaps it’s religious…….or both. Any suggestions?

Colour Postcard, unknown date

Colour Postcard, unknown date

Flicking through the the large box I also found some seaside cards, many retouched to within an inch of their lives. Was the grass always greener in the 1930’s? Not sure if they were ever considered reality, but I can remember seeing all the card carousels outside shops on my holidays to Swanage in the 1960’s. I bought a couple out of curiosity. And you couldn’t have a card without the classic line, “The weather is glorious here.” Maybe it was always sunny in Westcliff-on-Sea.

New Shelter and Rock Gardens, Westcliffe-on-Sea - colour postcard

New Shelter and Rock Gardens, Westcliff-on-Sea - colour postcard from 1931

New Shelter and Rock Gardens, Westcliffe-on-Sea - colour postcard from 1931

New Shelter and Rock Gardens, Westcliff-on-Sea - reverse of colour postcard from 1931

The Promenade, Pawthcawl - colour postcard

The Promenade, Pawthcawl - colour postcard

The last is a classic birthday card. You could probably find something with a similar feel in your local shop today, though not with the same class. I’d like to find more flower studies, especially the really brash, less tasteful ones. My wife doesn’t know this yet!

Colour Postcard from approximately 1910

Colour Postcard from approximately 1910

One step forward, one step back

It’s a long time since I played with a video camera. Apart from the occasional school nativity play or pantomime, it must be 10 years since I videoed my daughters as toddlers. After my trusty old Sony camera started to play up I reverted to taking stills of the family. So it was with some hesitation that I read the instruction manual for my Canon 5D MKII, to investigate the DSLR’s moving image capabilities. After two years of ownership, I’m not sure the manual had even been opened! I also fired up iMovie on my Mac Book Pro for the first time, to edit the test shots. So……..the results of about 15 minutes shooting and a couple of hours on the computer:

Obviously a bit rough around the edges, but it was interesting to try out!

Having learnt something new, I couldn’t resist buying a piece of older technology – namely a Nikon FM2. I used to have one of these in the mid to late 1980’s, but I sold it, along with all my other Nikon equipment in 1991, and jumped ship to Canon and their EOS 1. They were a long way ahead of Nikon with autofocus systems. From memory,  Nikon needed four years to catch up. As the EOS cameras were revolutionary, they became a must for anyone shooting sport, and I never regretted moving to Canon.  But I did regret not holding on to the FM2. So a couple of days before Christmas, after seeing an immaculate example on Ebay , I became an owner for the second time.

My new Nikon FM2

My new Nikon FM2, taken with my iphone

Both my daughters were used as more or less willing models while I put around half a dozen rolls through the camera to test the functions. I think it will have more use for portraits, so I guessed this would be a good starting point. The results:

Katie - Nikon FM2 with Kodak Color Plus 200

Nikon FM2 with Kodak Color Plus 200

Katie - Nikon FM2 with Kodak Color Plus 200

Nikon FM2 with Kodak Color Plus 200

Katie - Nikon FM2 with Kodak Ektar 100

Nikon FM2 with Kodak Ektar 100

Beth - Nikon FM2 with Kodak 400 colour negative

Nikon FM2 with Kodak Ultramax 400 colour negative, converted to B/W in Photoshop

It’s interesting to see how your approach to taking photographs changes when using film, as each frame has a value. Greater consideration is given to a scene before the shutter is pressed. I tried an experiment two years ago where I allowed myself only one frame to capture an image. Using a Contax G1 35mm camera with colour negative film, it was strange relying on pretty much your first impression. And refreshing too. There was no preview, and no histogram to distract, no matter how hard I looked at the back of the camera. It took me back to how I was working 10 years ago, and in some ways led to more spontaneity. It’s worth trying every now and again. Even though I love using digital and doubt if I’d could go back to shooting much film commercially, it does help you think differently.

bin in La Linea, Spain

bin in La Linea, Spain - Contax G1 with Kodak Ultramax 400 colour negative film.

Worth a look…….Vivian Maier, nanny and street photographer……and The British Council film collection

Just a quick note on a couple of things worth looking at. The first is a clip from a WTTW broadcast on American TV called Chicago Tonight. It details the discovery of a collection of street photographs taken by a nanny named Vivian Maier, who worked in New York from the 1950’s through to the early 1990’s. The collection amounts to an estimated 100,000 negatives, and could be one of the most important photographic discoveries for many years. The work is largely unknown – even her employers through the years didn’t really appreciate what she was doing. But it is a fascinating document of street scenes and people in New York during the middle of the twentieth century.

The photographs were discovered by John Maloof at an auction in Chicago 2007, who bought just one of the lots offered for sale. When he discovered the quality of the work, he traced the other auction buyers, and bought their collections too. There are even boxes of unprocessed film, which is slowly being developed. He is currently working through the negatives, a monumental scanning task that could take many years. Ultimately the collection could prove to be worth a significant amount of money, and there are plans for exhibitions at the moment in the USA.

It brings up the oft quoted discussion of film versus digital – will it be possible in 50 years time to discover a box full of hard drives in an attic and still find that the technology works well enough to fire up and retrieve the data? In reality, it is probable with the absolute mass of material being produced digitally now, that discoveries will be made in the dusty corners of networking sites like Flickr or their successors – these organizations are less likely to delete data now that storage has become so cheap. With ‘Digital Clouds’ too, offsite storage will replace the general use of hard-drives. So will ‘discoveries’ become more common? And then what happens to copyright? Another argument!

The programme has been posted on YouTube, and gives a good account of something many photographers and collectors would dream about!

You can see some of the stills in this video:

The other thing worth a view is probably less significant, but nevertheless, still fascinating. The British Council is making 13 archive films from its collection publicly available for the first time. Some can be seen on Vimeo and one in particular comes to mind. The World Garden (1941) is a Technicolor film of Kew Gardens made during World War Two. Largely a morale boosting film, it takes you round the gardens and looks at the work of the people and it has a beautiful colour, reminiscent of the slightly saturated botanical books printed in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Thanks to my colleague, Sally Nex, for pointing this out on her BBC blog.

Also, have a look at The Life of the Rabbit – a wildlife film from simpler times!

Should one squirt, spurt or spray?

I sold my first limited edition photographs as a student in 1982. They were C-type prints, in the days when a C-type was still a C-type. At that time, it was a very much a pariah process, as the archival stability was suspect. Probably with good reason, as about 20 to 30 years was the estimated life span.

Polaroid SX-70 - Palm leaf at Kew from 1982. My first print sale. The original was copied onto colour negative film and then printed on agfa paper, producing an image approximately 15 inches square.

Polaroid SX-70 - Palm leaf at Kew from 1982. My first print sale. The original was copied onto colour negative film and then printed on agfa paper, producing an image approximately 15 inches square.

OK. What is a C-type? Remember the faded prints you used to see in the window of your local chemist, showing happy, smiling people on holiday? A C-type. Slightly faded is probably being generous – they were more than likely faded to the point where only the darkest elements of the prints remained, probably with a horrid blue cast – in my memory at least. They were prints made from colour negatives. They still are. Only now, with improved papers and chemistry, they have a much longer life span – maybe 150 years or more.

According to Wikipedia, the name was introduced by Kodak – as a Type-C in the 1950’s. Perhaps a slight variance depending on which side of the pond you are on, but nevertheless, an understandable term.  Essentially, in common parlance,  C-type prints are from colour negatives – and latterly from digital files. (The only difference with digital C-types is that the images will be scanned first, before being printed onto traditional style paper and developed.)  In the UK, any professional lab would use this terminology – and they have done since I entered the profession in 1979.

So why the rant? I go to quite a few exhibitions, and I’ve noticed that the terms Chromogenic print or Colour Coupler print becoming more common. Not strictly incorrect, but it is a re-invention of the wheel. What’s wrong with plain English? I suppose it adds a bit of fluff to the description for customers in upmarket galleries who   pay a lot of money for photographic images. In reality, it leads to confusion and something that ends up being meaningless. So if you see either of these terms…….it’s a bloody C-type!

Then came digital. And inkjet printers. And inkjet prints. And the end of civilization. Only the term Giclée could rescue us from the abyss.

Wikipedia’s definition:  The word “giclée” is derived from the French language word “le gicleur” meaning “nozzle”, or more specifically “gicler” meaning “to squirt, spurt, or spray”.

I made my first inkjet prints in 1999, and I remember the term ‘Giclée’ being popular on photographic forums. It seemed to quickly fall out of use, and now most professional photographers in the UK refer to prints that come out of a digital printer, rather surprisingly, as an inkjet print. If it is printed on archivally stable paper, with archival inks, the term ‘archival inkjet print’ or ‘archival pigment print’ will probably be used.

Giclée is meaningless. Why the fluff? I went to a gallery two weeks ago, where some prints were listed as archival inkjet prints and others still referred to as Giclée’s. You need consistency and clarity. It’s like calling an oil painting a linseed and colour particulate image.  A spade is a spade, a C-type is a C-type and an inkjet print is not a Giclée. Let’s leave the term for the high street and be done with it.

OK. End of rant!

For further reading, have a look at Jack Lowe’s website and blog. Originally a photographer, he is now one of the most respected printers in the UK, producing work for many photographers and artists. He sniggered at the term giclee, telling me that one of his assistants was French – and the term was  a source of great amusement to him!

Kodachrome retrospective exhibition

As noted in the post on 30th August, Kodachrome processing finally ceases on 30th December 2010. To celebrate the end of an era, the Association of Photographers are staging an exhibition of work by AOP members taken on this classic film. I heard this week that two of my images have been selected.

BMW 5 Series, shot on Kodachrome 64 for Car Magazine in 1990

BMW 5 Series, shot on Kodachrome 64 for Car Magazine in 1990

Austin Healey rear badge

One of my last Kodachrome images from 1990 - Austin Healey badge taken for the book, The Original Austin Healey, by Bay View Books.

The exhibition runs from 18th January to 10th February 2011. More information, along with travel details, will be available on the AOP website, though as I write, the announcement has not been published.

Kodachrome – no more!

Austin Healey rear badge

One of my last Kodachrome images - taken in 1990

I’ve recently been reading postings on forums regarding the demise of Kodachrome, a film which has been used by generations of photographers, amateurs and pros alike.  Introduced in 1935, it was available in various forms until 2009, when Kodak announced it would cease production due to a fall in demand. If you are one of the few who have any rolls left, remember you have until 30th December 2010 to get it to Dwayne’s Photos in Parsons, Kansas, the last place still processing this film, when even they will stop.

I shot my first rolls of Kodachrome in 1979 and was amazed at the saturated colour which could be achieved compared to contemporary offerings, such as Ektachrome 64, also from the Kodak stable. At that time, most of my professional work was in black and white and I don’t remember using it for commercial photography until 1988, when I started to contribute to Car Magazine.

Car was the leading automotive magazine of the period, and under the art direction of Adam Stinson, it produced some of the most innovative car photography in Europe and the USA, influencing many magazines worldwide. Adam favoured Kodachrome, so when I was invited to start shooting for Car, I spent many an hour negotiating the Fulham Palace Road during the London rush hour, trying to get to the Kodachrome collection/delivery point in time to meet the evening deadline. At that time, barmy as it may seem, film shot in the UK could only be processed in Paris. I think it was a 24 hour turnaround, and it was always an event opening each of the returned boxes and spreading the frames, in their classic card mounts, over the lightbox.

Ultimately, for me and I suspect for many others, this impractical method of processing was the beginning of Kodachrome’s downfall. As a new generation of films emerged around 1990 which provided equally great colour rendition and saturation, practical alternatives were established. For many Fuji Velvia, still in production today, became the alternative of choice. It was possible get this, and other E6 slide films, processed quickly and easily and in front of an art director in under two hours. Commercially it made sense to move away from Kodachrome – sadly, it no longer fitted into a lot of photographers’ workflows. Then digital came of age!

The last time I used Kodachrome was around 1990, when  I was asked to shoot a series of car books. After the first book, I made several calls to the publisher asking to switch from Kodachrome. He saw the quality of the Velvia test rolls I had sent, and (reluctantly at first) agreed to let me shoot the remaining books on Fuji stock. To this day, I still think this was the right decision!

Despite it being something that I currently wouldn’t have much use for, I’d love to see Kodachrome survive in some form, as it adds to the flavour and mix of the photographic world. Unfortunately the process is so complicated, I doubt it will be viable for anyone to try to take it over.

As a footnote, Polaroid pretty much finished instant film production a couple of years ago – but with the Impossible Project taking over what remained of the production plant, the concept of Polaroid instant film is still with us. (Fuji instant film has been in constant production for many years, but doesn’t have the same following). Polaroid themselves have taken an about-turn and have produced a new camera and instant film, the Polaroid 300 – and have appointed Lady Gaga as their Creative Director, so there may well be hope for analogue devotees!