the first ciba

image – Brian Griffin

I was a studio assistant at South Bank Studio centre, a huge studio complex, that created scenes for advertising and fashion, from album covers to car advertising in mammoth infinity coves. And I got into the industry as a studio assistant, the floor sweeper and painter the ‘apprentice’ or dogs body to the proper assistants who assisted the photographers and film crews. The studio assistant was forever in the snow blinding world of painting infinity coves, the size of aircraft hangars, back to white in the early hours of the morning before sunrise. Feeling like a different world now, where London’s streets on the walk home in those early hours, quiet and tranquil, just the odd night bus and street cleaners.. Bermondsey still holding the fragrance of Dickens in the London air.

And I loved being a studio assistant.. and then some unknown event, or perhaps passion and destiny, I found myself becoming an E6 processing technician for the studio’s lab, and yet again was there to dawn again, making sure the 10×8 film was ready for the photographer, for the next day’s shoot, or their client. I found myself in those early hours, this time in the pitch dark most of the time, and I realised that there was an opening.. an opportunity perhaps…

in continuing colour printing that i had taught myself when I was part of an art project in an old people’s hospital in Bethnal Green. Where we painted giant canvasses in oil of scenes from the East End of London for their wards. Bringing the East End back to life in the green victorian hospital for all the wonderful characters that resided there. It was a wonderful time, and a wonderful project, and I was truly blessed in getting accepted. The images were first captured on 35mm E6 film, and Ilford sponsored the paper for the creation of prints for colour guides.. and of course it was the ‘cibachrome’.

And I was given that freedom by the upper echelons of the studio, to create a service of colour printing there. As there was the insight of the studio and the world then, in seeing that it was a beautiful service to offer some of the great advertising photographers of that era, their portfolio’s or for their clients.. as creativity then was always a natural component to growth, in all industries. Creating the quality service.

The prints I made there were not only hand prints, but processed by hand too. In a little forgotten room lay a giant german b/w drum processing machine, that processed roll film to sheet film. And I realised it could be converted to process the cibachromes. A giant version of the little jobo machine I used in the hospital. And I discovered that by laying the prints in the tubes that once held the spirals and containers to process b/w film, it worked perfectly. A giant clock, and funnels to put the liquid into the drums. It was where I first printed for professional photographers, and this was my first ever print for a client.

I believe it is the purest form of cibachrome print I have, all by hand from the dark room to the method of processing it, without the automation of roller transport machines I was soon to use. Of course there is huge sentimentality to it, how wide eyed and proud I was to make a photographer proud of their achievement and craft, being trusted with the perfect frame.. and something that I have never lost in printing for all, from that day to now.

As with all great achievements.. I gave the first gifted print to me from a photographer, my first client, to my parents, and in all these years it hung in numerous rooms, living rooms and bedrooms…eventually in pride of place in the most important room in the house… my mothers loo in her little cottage.

And this is the scan and digital archive of the very first print I made as a service to a photographer.