It’s one thing to view an image, whether that be a painted representation or a photographically-produced image. It’s another to know the story behind the scenes. In this post series we’re going to go behind the scenes of a few of my most favorite, and most liked Instagram portrait images. It’s personal, and as you might know, there is always a story.
Sometimes it takes a miracle!
For the first image (“Intimate Portrait 1976”, left) to go behind the scenes we will venture down memory lane. The picture was taken around 1972, with my Bell & Howell Auto Reflex 35 camera. I had positioned Patricia on a leather chair in front of a window with antique glass panes framed with wood sections. It was late afternoon and the sun was very bright.
I took a couple of rolls of the scene, which I processed in my darkroom. Several of the initial images were pretty good, so I went ahead and printed them up as 8x10s.
A few years went by and I found one of the prints in a box in my print closet. By that time I had worked on my darkroom skills and thought I could do more with a couple of the other negatives. It took a bit of time to locate the negatives as my filing system was still in its infant stages. Once found, however, I sat down and looked at each one through a loupe. I discovered the image pictured and pulled it out of its sleeve. Once out in the open and again under the magnifying glass I saw the challenge immediately! There were very harsh lines across Patricia’s face caused by the framed window panes that all but negated any further work.
Now, the work begins…
For whatever reason I thought I could eliminate them, or at the very least lessen them to some sort of acceptability. If I only knew what it would take I may have casually slipped the strip back in its sleeve and called it a night. But no! I really liked the pose, the basic lighting, etc. There was too much I liked about the image to enabled me to proceed. Then there was also the challenge!
It was about 8pm when I told my wife I was going to do some work in the darkroom, which was (at that time) in the bathroom in our bedroom. After I had made a couple of regular prints, I knew I could do more. The lines were become less pronounced, but there was still more work to do.
I went back to work. I must have made a dozen more prints under various settings and conditions. With each print I was attaining a bit of success, but was running out of options. Then the “bright idea” light went on in my mind. I needed something to go over the lens of the enlarger that would let some light through, but not enough to darken the face. I knew where to find such a solution. In the drawer of my wife’s dresser. She had a section where she kept her panty-hose. This was in the early 1970s, after all!
I knew I couldn’t eliminate the lines completely, but I had hoped I could “dissolve” them enough to be kind of artsy and compelling in their own way. I thought I could add some mystery to an otherwise bad image.
To the dresser I went. My wife was a very sound sleeper. It was my good fortune that she had several different shades from a dark tan-like color to one that was called, “Blonde.” I went with Blonde first, but it was too light. It took two more pairs before I found the degree of success I had hoped for. Now, you should know that each step of this process took almost a half-hour each. As many of you who know the challenges and the successes of the old darkrooms realize, once you get into any kind of zone in the process, time evaporates.
By the time I had finished processing my last print, the result is mostly what you see above. The whole process, from start to finish took about 10-hours. When I had finished the last printed there a knock on the door. It was my wife asking if I wanted breakfast. Once I cleaned everything up and put it all away, I went in to breakfast. Once I sat down at the table, I said, “Have I got a story for you!”