Abstraction through Post Production

Posted on November 28, 2012


Absinthe Cosmos

How time flies. A few years ago, well, several years ago now, I took a couple of rolls of film of a subject (and some digital too!). At the time I working on the film development phase of the Zone System, and the original subject matter only had about 1.5-2 zones of contrast. So, I did a little research, cranked up my courage and increased development something like 50%, from 6 min. to 9 min. to increase the contrast. Well, as you can see that it did, but at the cost of a negative that is so dense you can view eclipses through it. Parts of it come in at 30s and other parts require 30 minutes to print. If you were to hold this print up, unmounted, and shine a light through it you would see that even in the darkest parts there is detail in the shadows. There is a little triangular section just west of George (the monkey-like face in the middle) almost at the margin that only gets 30 seconds of light, but if you look very closely, you can see all kinds of detail in it. It takes a lot of work to print a dream.

Clipping photo from Ellen’s page made it a little blurry, oops.

It took me a full month working every night in the darkroom to get two prints that I found acceptable. To print this I have to use the darkroom clock and do a continuous dance of dodging and burning. You wouldn’t think it, but holding a couple of pieces of cardboard out at chest level for 30 min at a time actually is a little hard on the back. I could only do two prints a night and it took a month to get two acceptable prints, one “perfect” and one just one step shy. (The difference is one has 27 min. of burning on the upper right corner and one has 30, and yeah, I really care that much.)

Part of the difficulty is that the first time I printed it was in July and the darkroom chemicals were at a steamy 100F. This lead to a dark and smoky print of which I was much enamored but could never replicate. I worked on that for a couple of weeks before I dialed it back to this more contrasty version. However, it did set the tone from one of realism to one of abstraction.

The black and white print, with its expanded tonal range, extensive post processing, and re-orientation has become an abstract representation of a very concrete object. I call it “Absinthe Cosmos.” I also took quite a few shots in color which make the original object relatively easier to identify, but I had this image hanging in my bar for two years with the standing bet that if you could guess what it was you would win a free beer. I think I gave away three, and every person who got it got it on the first try. And no, it’s not mussels.

I gave the second copy to my good friends Ellen and Loren Goodman, and she posted an image on Facebook with the same bet. Well, she is giving away chewing gum or something. Talk about demotivational… Anyway, it engendered a lot of comment and when she recently reposted it as her image, the thread started back up. I wrote so much there I figured I might as well paste it here and make it a blog entry.

Once it got up and posted, people started seeing faces in it, so counting faces becomes a second game once you give up trying to guess what it is. Because the negative was so outstandingly difficult to work with, I never have developed the second roll. I have a couple of challenging rolls like that. Before I started thinking about these things I just would’ve developed them and dealt with it in printin. Once I got into all of that N, N+, N++, N-, N– —stuff things got complex and scary. Seems that TMAX has such latitude that actually adjusting for this stuff may not be that important, and that if you do adjust for it the corrections are more extreme than intended. That launched me into film testing, shooting and developing a box of film (50) images, before finding out my camera was broken.  Took the better part of a year to replace the camera and lens, so now I’m back to that if I want to develop those rolls without losing those images. Well, if I want to develop them and risk not getting the best possible negatives.

 Finding Faces

How many faces have you found in it? Here are some from Ellen’s friends:

  • St. Bernard smoking a cigarette
  • A scared or rather shocked monkey (George)
  • A bird eyeballin a fish
  • Les Mis girl

Me, I always saw it as a path through the Wild Wood, from the darkest depths up to the hopeful clearing in the upper right. Now I want to go into the darkroom…

November 14 at 8:52pm · Edited · Like