For most of the last century, Kodak was photography, and Kodak defined Color in America.
They invested heavily so as to have the best scientists, technicians, and manufacturing in the world.
Kodak did a great deal of basic science so as to have the strongest possible foundation in all phases of imaging technology. They strove for accuracy in color, and within the limits of of available materials and technology, largely achieved it. Kodachrome had a different pallet than Ektachrome but the differences were subtle. You might choose one over the other for specific subjects. Or , like Jay Maisel, shoot EVERYTHING on Kodachrome with magnificent results.
For most of my life, film came in a Yellow Box.
When Fuji brought their film to America (in bright green boxes) the color it produced was different than Kodak color. Kodak saw it as “inaccurate color” and dismissed them as a competitive threat.
That was a mistake.
Fuji offered Photographers an extended choice. Their colors were designed to be more saturated and vivid. Used incorrectly it could look garish but for the right subject it could be perfect.
If Kodak was a beautiful watercolor, Fuji could be a vivid oil painting.
They both made fine film, with quite a bit of overlap in the pallet , but if you needed to capture the color of vivid subjects Fuji Velvia was a top choice.
Throughout the 1990’s I traveled to Dublin annually. I was struck by many things, but by the color I saw, most of all. Not just the Emerald green of the countryside but the colors used on buildings, storefronts, and front doors. There is a famous poster called the Doors of Dublin, that pictures rows of photographs of front doors in vivid color. It pales in comparison to the real thing (literally).
They use super rich, high pigment, oil based enamel paint in a super hard , high gloss finish.
The only thing we have of a similar nature are Marine enamels .
I’m not sure where the tradition came from, but suspect that after hundreds of years of gray stone buildings made ever darker by coal & peat soot, a splash of color was refreshing.
By the late 1990’s I always carried Fuji Velvia, and Kodak Tri-X for Black and white.
I shot it in Hasselblads and Nikons.
Looking back the procedure looks somewhat quaint , weeks of shooting in Dublin, one or two exposures of each subject, exposed rolls went into a lead foil bag for transport back to the states for processing. You had to know and trust your equipment, and how the film would react to different light. The idea of not seeing what you’ve photographed for 3 weeks seems impossibly long now, but THEN you were trained to see the photograph Before you pressed the button, and adjust your camera to make that happen.
I’ve been going through my archive of that work, and scanning some on a moderate quality scanner, which does not begin to pull out all of what is in those chromes, but it’s nice to see them again, and nice to be able to share them.
The world celebrates Bloomsday on June 16 (the day of James Joyce’s first date with his future wife, and the day in 1904 where his Ulysses unfolds)
Ulysses begins on the roof of the Sandycove Martello Tower, just south of Dublin.
This plus the fact that Joyce actually lived there for a short time combine to make it a focus of Bloomsday activity. It is now a James Joyce museum.
There are in fact Martello towers in many other places in the British Empire, two or three story round fortresses, with a flat roof, on which a canon would have a 360 degree view. They were constructed around the time of the Napoleonic Wars.
Ingeniously, the flat roof was usually designed to collect rainwater and channel it to an underground cistern. Allowing a garrison to withstand a siege (if it rained).
Later, they fell into disuse.
I photographed it twenty years ago, and had some difficulty locating the negatives from my rather free form archives.
I was drawn to the Tower first, but also to how history integrates so seamlessly into the landscape and lifestyle there.
I was photographing with a twin lens reflex camera with a fixed angle of view, so while I was able to take several views, each somewhat satisfying, I lacked the unifying picture that I had in my head at the time.
I did finally find and scan the negatives, albeit not in time for June 16, but they also got me thinking.
Negatives are a wonderful thing, both as a concept and as physical objects. They survive the changes in technology that threaten our digital formats with very little effort on our part. They just stay where you put them, waiting, and full of potential.
Freeze dried reality. Just add developer, —or a scanner.
But Technology marches on, and if used with care can lend a hand.
After I located, and scanned these negatives, I put them back safely in their ‘archive’ location with a bit more care.
While preparing to print a few, I was again struck by the lack of the unifying view, one that would juxtapose the Martello Tower against the Dalkey Rowing Club and some other bits of the town (Dun Laoghaire pronounced Dunleary)
I also noticed that two of the pictures actually overlapped slightly and had been taken while using a tripod, so I tried my rather ham fisted photoshop skills to create the picture I saw in my head some twenty years ago.
I am still amazed that such things are possible. It’s the one above this post and is comprised of the last two below.
I’m not at all sure that it is a ‘better” picture than the others as much as it is a realization of a twenty year old idea with the help of new technology.
Happy Bloomsday, a month late.
With Digital Files, you mostly only find what you are looking for. IF they are there, they are there in order. If you are diligent in adding appropriate keywords and other clues to your metadata, finding what you are looking for is faster and more convenient than ever. That’s a good thing. Mostly.
Today while looking for my accidentally misfiled negatives of the Martello tower in Dublin, I happened upon two totally random negatives, one of a dear old friend Ron,(which I promptly scanned and sent to him with a note), And one of my older brother Jay.
The one of Jay buckled my knees.
It was a poorly framed badly posed photo of him with a golf club, looking down at the ball in the high grass of the side yard of the Rockwell-esque house and street on which we grew up.
Casting a shadow into the frame, but revealed only by a shoe tip and one hand with a watch and the hint of a white short sleeved shirt is my Dad, to whom golf would have been as familiar and as attractive as curling. (He had only one game, and it was Bocce.) By any standard, it’s a poor picture, so why was it so powerful?
Jay was 8 years older than I, which is a huge gulf when you are 8 or 10, or a 15 year old with his first Twin Lens reflex camera, which he helped me buy.
Growing up, I was always enough younger to be a wet blanket for the activities of ‘The Big Guys’. He either took me along anyway, or changed the activity to one that would be appropriate for me, much to the chagrin of his friends Tom & Woody.
I’m sure he didn’t always take me, but my only recollections are happy ones. He was everything I wanted to be.
Years later after Illness forced me to leave my photography job, and after 8 weeks out of work, he got me a job (for which I needed a suit and tie that I did not own) He bought me 2 suits and a pair of wing tip shoes. Shirts & ties too,—-all for a temporary job on Wall St. so I could pay some bills.
I stayed 31years at that firm rose through the ranks and retired at 52, a job that has made my entire life possible and blessed. The skids had been greased for me by his sterling reputation.
He was a second Father. He was a confidant, a mentor, a collaborator, a willful and unreasonable optimist. He was the friend that people revere above all others.
More than anything else, HE was the person that I wanted to tell if I had a small success. He would magnify it, be happier about it than I was.
And when I failed, I went to him even faster,— there was never a lecture, only help and understanding.
I lost him almost ten years ago, and my first impulse when something good happens is STILL to call him.
I have a younger brother who I love equally, but I can’t be to him what Jay was to me. It doesn’t work that way. There is only one Big brother, and Jay was that to both of us.
I think the picture was so powerful partly because it was so unexpected, and being a physical negative, I didn’t see a file number or a reference, I saw HIM. The fact that it was so old, taken with a camera he helped me buy, set in the backyard of our youth did the rest.
If my unremarkable picture of him had been digital, I never would have found it.
I would not have been looking for it because I still don’t remember taking it. Or it might have been ‘Deleted’ as the poor picture it was. But negatives mostly come in rolls with good pictures interspersed with bad. We don’t excise the weak pictures because the strong pictures provide ‘cover’ for the weak ones, —just like Brothers.
The tangible nature of the negative is something we have lost. An object and artifact in and of itself, It has been replaced by wonderful new stuff, but that stuff is different and, if we are not careful, Fleeting.
So if you have old negatives, look at them, and take care of them,pass them along like the treasures they are, and, if you have a Big Brother, (or sister) ring ‘em up.
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