what is analogue

nick kamen by mark lebon

I was asked just yesterday… what actually is ‘analogue’..

I was one of the first to print from ‘polapan’. A film so delicate, so extraordinary at that point in time.. an instant 35mm transparency in black and white and colour, developed in a little black plastic clockwork type of thing with a little handle, that had to be turned at just the right constant speed.. laboratory.. half the size of a toaster.  Photographers and their assistants would come to me with their precious rolls.. I guess because they thought vas I had a giant expensive cibachrome processing machine I was an expert.. making it up as I went along as I just turned the handle carefully and made out it was a really really precise procedure… then hopefully they would order some prints.

As the prints were vital, the diligent photographers, or most pertinently their assistants would preserve their fragility in ‘glass’ 35mm mounts on my lightbox.. always aware that in reproduction these ‘peculiar and alien’ transparencies would invariably get scratched, or their lenticular-esque cyan hue that accompanied these little moments in time retained and perhaps should be preserved in print form. Hence, the hand printer then had the task of delicately removing the film from the 35mm glass holder, in a way that an archaeologist handled the dead sea scrolls or the turin shroud. And creating the print that was couriered to the invisible reproduction posse from the little anonymous cave of the photographic printer… with or without that delicate cyan hue.  Heralding a time when the art directors of that era, started accepting ‘colour’ prints for reproduction as well as transparencies.. about a decade before C41 exploded on the fashion scene and colour prints became the norm for reproduction.

Yet, of course… that unknown alchemical process of handle turned machines, and that instant transparency with that delicacy of a butterfly wing… sometimes produced something quite unanticipated, even quite extraordinary…. the very first or last frame embodied with  that very particular polaroid roller mark, impossible to replicate.. and it too was carefully fossilised in those glass mounts, and then subsequently preserved in the cibachrome print.

Just half a decade later, feeling like a magician, I took the whole minute processing laboratory with a huge amount of this precious film, happily donated by the echelons of polaroid to an underwater archaeological expedition in Greece that I was part of, my true passion and desired vocation of that time. To be able to process and see the underwater grids and treasure under the sea, and even make polaroid prints with another clockwork machine of images just taken underwater, was a mind blowing technological feat of that time… as quaint as that may seem now. And in that time that diver disentangled from all the equipment and dried off, the film had been processed, cut and mounted, and was then ‘present and relating’ on the boat to what had been discovered and shown to all as the images appeared.

As always, with my many tangents I think of my boyhood romantic vision of canisters of film being smuggled across borders up donkeys bums to Fleet Street…The romance of photography, stealing the moment, encasing it in a roll of film, the person who develops the film with their heart in their mouths until they see that it has been processed correctly, to the photographer scrutinising the contact sheet or transparency over a light box with their hearts in their mouths for composition and focus, to the printer with their hearts in their mouths to be able to portray the density and balance of the print, to the front page to be seen for a day and then revisited twenty years later….In prints and books… that precious film and their custodians.

All amalgamating to the more romantic definition of analogue.. in my mind.. and what we all appear to be wittering on about… and why we believe in the treasured archive of film or prints to be so very very important. And reminding me of Egyptian mythology where there is the boatman for the Pharaoh.. who takes him to the next world for that very important journey.

The journey of the image to film… its capture the subsequent journey of the processing of the film and the negative or transparency to print and its preservation… is a journey… the journey of analogue photography.

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at a hundred percent

photograph Tim Page

As I work on one of Tim’s files at a hundred percent.. the only size proficient enough to carefully heal the grain and to restore the ‘damage of time’ of the dust and marks to the now ‘ancient’ film. And only by doing so…  to maintain the image captured.. by restoring the ‘film’.. not the ‘image’.

I always create the file large to maintain 600dpi to print at one and half meters by three, or for reproduction to whatever size required.

And I find myself again in front of the ‘last supper’, or beneath the Sistine chapel, yet this image is the documentary photograph… that perfectly composed image, taken in that split second of perfectly composed ‘story telling’ time. And as my eye wanders over the grain that I am restoring.. I see all the stories within that story. Felt yet not noticed by the documentary photographer.

The world of photography was taken on the technological wave of digital that in all forms had swept through the world, an event of liberating cosmic disturbance, as it was a technology that was capable of unveiling infinite quantities of information. And whilst I worked on the files today I thought about all the giant prints of nothing, that flooded the galleries in the nineties, when art was ‘born’ in photography, and where ‘size’ meant everything in those voluminous galleries all over the world.

And then I thought about the hand print, and how finite it always was, yet at the same time holding that enigmatic moment in time, that innate feel and emotion of composition, the eye of the photographer, and they are as beautiful now as they were then. And as my mind wandered back to the stories I was seeing within the image at a hundred percent, details that I could print at the same resolution at any size I wished, I thought how digital allows one to get all the information from a 35 mm piece of film, and print at any size we wish, at whatever dpi we desire and something that digitally captured images will not allow us to do as yet..

And I thought how truly beautiful giant prints from film are.. from within the Sistine chapel of documentary photography.

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a language older than words

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Photography can have the magical ability to capture and preserve an emotion or a strong feeling.. and sometimes it’s an unknown feeling or emotion at that time.  And the image that is captured can then radiate what was that unknown feeling of respect and quiet that the photographer had had, almost as if there is something that is guiding the photographers mind and eyes subconsciously… An unknown story to be told or later revealed to them.

And that is sometimes the power of photography, illustrating that at times there is a common feeling of having glimpsed something beautiful, and yet not captured it.. as so successful has been the camera’s role in beautifying the world that photographs rather than the world have become the standard of beautiful… yet photography in being the ‘ethics of seeing’ teaches us a visual code. Even if unknown at the time of capturing it, as there can be as strong a feeling of reverence akin to that a cathedral or mosque may have… even within landscape photography. As in this image, of what was once an aboriginal women’s birthing place, and a sacred place for women.

And photography not only records the present, but also the unknown past, even when bereft of people and their mark.  And in doing so, can then become a fountain of knowledge and understanding, leaving us with a personal judgement to enter places with a certain reverence and respect.

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the print

image – Andrew Catlin

‘I will not be just a tourist in the world of images, just watching images passing by which I cannot live in, make love to, possess as permanent sources of joy and ecstasy.’

Anais Nin.

ink on hahnemuhle paper 2005

captured on film

the operation of grace

wiska – danny pope

just the place to bury a crock of gold

I should like to bury something precious in every place I have been happy

and then when I am old and ugly and miserable

come back and dig it up 

and remember

Evelyn Waugh

Berlin balcony

matrix – Andrew Catlin

The picture was shot in Kreuzberg in Berlin.

The Appartment block was being renovated by developers, but one old lady insisted on staying in her home. The whole building was covered in plastic, but it meant they had to leave her balcony uncovered.

The balcony became like a stage draped with huge curtains.

Each day they would grind away at the building, covering her balcony with dirt, and each day she would sweep it clean with her orange gloves on.

Her movements show quiet resilience, determination and dignity.

People who see the picture spend a long time looking at it. A lot of them say that it reminds them of their own grandmother.

Usually they smile; occasionally they cry.

Perhaps this describes something of a quality that many old people have. They know they will die all too soon, and that they have nothing left to prove and little left to lose. It gives them a certain courage and grace and sadness, and a satisfaction in small things.

AC September 2016

” The greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something and tell what he saw in a plain way. Hundreds of people can talk for one who can think, but thousands can think for one who can see. To see clearly is poetry, prophecy, and religion all as one”

John Ruskin.

an image revisited, from words of today after an inquiry for the provenance and story of the mono print that was bought for a collection.

the words illustrate that photography, documentary photography is never a matter of chance nor design.

the matrix editions, were and are hugely important. Andrew is the most important photographer of the eighties. His love, respect and understanding of all people, his desire to share his perception of them through portraiture has left us with some of the most gentle and powerful images through the photographic medium.

yet what the matrix show, and all of his work, is that portraiture is of the moment with the wisest of eyes.

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linda

image – Linda McCartney

I was recommended to Linda McCartney by Eve Arnold and with Pete Trew a black and white printer, a highly talented and gifted man who I introduced to Linda started working on her archive at the time her 60’s show started to ‘become’. It was all word of mouth, perhaps a simpler time where printed images flowed through London’s photographic veins.

Myself and Pete started working on the exhibition that was to launch her forthcoming book ‘Sixties’. All of her colour work was on 35mm and 2 1/4 transparency, and all the prints I made were cibachromes.

When I went to see her the first time, she was crossed legged on the rug in her and Paul’s apartment in Soho, with a tooth brush in one hand, a small bowl of warm salty water before her, with a filthy, forlorn pigeon with an injured foot held delicately in the other. She was full of love for everything that walked the planet, which fuelled her passion for photography.

I loved working with her as her colour printer, she was always kind and full of life, passionate about her photography and creativity, and loved the perfection of the hand print. Never tiring of exploring the creation of prints from sun prints to analogue, 35mm to 10 x 8..and explored every medium at her disposal from immersing herself in ancient books and her connections. She always carried a camera, and her book was the window to her world through the sixties, intimate images of family and friends, and all the humour she saw and felt all her life.

Her photography spoke volumes of her passion for her family, animals, friends and the world. The fact that she was privileged within the world of the sixties does nothing to belittle her ability as a great documentary photographer and artist.

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JFK

image – Tim Page

“If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him. We must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda; it is a form of truth…”

-jfk

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. 

terence

portrait – Terence Donovan

I found myself sort of squatting in Focalpoint in The Oval. Brian’s dye transfer studio. Using his equipment to print for my own clients and his. At that time he was looking to sell off all his Cibrachrome processing equipment and enlargers, alongside the rest of the paraphernalia, and he was busy with his dye transfers, so it was a perfect arrangement. The artisan production of the dye transfers intrigued me, the Rolls Royce of the colour print. Cibachrome seemed so amateur..

I delivered some prints to Terence one day, helmet, box and bungee’s and sat down opposite at his big desk. He always told me that riding a bike in town would give me spots, and perhaps I shouldn’t ride a bike..

He was always an inquisitive man, I always remember how huge and daunting he was, and kinda scary but in a very unique and comforting way.. a very ‘London’ way, he had a great presence. And I sat there explaining my present working environment. He just listened, always very still, it was very easy to talk.. his elbows on the desk and his finger tips touching the others in that pyramid shape he always made leaning back in his chair, his head never seemed to move. Then suddenly he barked at his secretary outside the door to get his bank manager on the line. I wish I could remember her name.. she always reminded me of moneypenny, in the way they worked together.. And without saying anything to me in reflection of what I had been talking about made the decision to set me up a meeting with his bank manager. Explaining that this biker would turn up ‘his’ bloody good colour printer, who wanted to set up on his own. And basically in that moment he set me up, and set up Matchless Prints.

I was soon in Finsbury Square sat in a burgundy leather arm chair on a creaking wooden floored very posh office.. Within an hour the bank manager gave me the overdraft required to take on the 2500 square foot space in Clerkenwell, and back the not insignificant lease for all the equipment I needed to buy…a very different age.

The portrait was a gift, I had to print it for myself of course, the gift in choosing the frame I liked of a very personal portrait of Hendrix that he took in his London flat where he stayed when in London, a stone throw from Terence’s studio in central London. And it has traveled with me wherever I have lived and worked thereafter. And now at the top of my small staircase in my little cottage in Numana.

And in all the time before and all the years I printed for him thereafter, not once did he ask for a discount, nor use his fame and standing in the photographic world, always wanting his invoice.

This quote befits the memory of Terence Donovan, who I owe everything to.

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‘To see a human being reveal really exceptional qualities one must be able to observe his activities over many years. If these activities are completely unselfish; if the idea motivating them is unique in its magnanimity; if it is quite certain they have never looked for any reward; and if in addition they have left visible traces on the world – then one may say, without fear of error, that one is in the presence of an unforgettable character.’

from ‘the man who planted trees’.