Sometimes things take a while. A long while. Let your mind drift back in time to the year 1999. That’s when I first started this project. Fifteen years ago. Or at least I think so. That’s the creation date I have on some scans but sometimes those dates get mixed up. I’m pretty sure this one is right. It all started because, on rare occasion, I like to work with someone else’s images rather than my own. That lead me to discover that I could buy old photo negatives on Ebay. So sometime back in 1999 I discovered and bought some black and white medium format (2-1/4) negatives of nude dancers in Paris from 1964. There were eleven negative in total all of behind the scenes type stuff. A woman showing off and dancing for the camera not on stage but backstage near the dressing room. But what to do with them?

First of all, back in 1999, I had no scanner that could handle scanning in medium format negatives. Such scanners were rare and expensive then. But at work, back in my good ol’ Marvel Comics days, I had access to a scanner that at least had a transparency adapter on it. That meant I could scan them in but the scans might not be very good since it really wasn’t meant for photo negatives. And so I scanned them in. Just as predicted the scans weren’t very good. I had eleven substandard scans of photos that I didn’t know what I wanted to do with. So they sat. The scans on my computer and the negatives in sleeves. I’d occasionally pull them out and look at them but nothing got done. No ideas leaped to the front.

Dancers in Paris 1964

Dancers in Paris 1964

Cut to nine years later in 2008. I had just gotten a bunch of old medium format negatives from my mother of family pictures. I needed something to scan them in with so I started looking at scanners again. Turns out that not only had scanners gotten cheaper but they’d also gotten much better at scanning medium format negatives. I ended up buying one for just a couple of hundred dollars that could do the job well. It took a couple of thousand dollars to buy a scanner in 1999 that could do that. So I rescanned the Paris nude dancer negatives. And then nothing. They sat.

Usually when I do one of my large photo collages I have an idea in mind before hand. And a lot of photos. For example I have made large photos of the weddings of friends of mine. I take pictures during the whole wedding and then arrange them into one large photo in such a way as to try and capture the event. In these days of digital photography I can easily take a thousand pictures at a wedding to choose from. Eleven pictures is a lot less.

The lack of color was also daunting. Often my ideas in my photos have to do with color. I’m forever using color to draw the eye around the photo and always use small bits of photos just for their color. I have all sorts of photos of odds and ends that I use for their color and texture in any given composition. A bit of blue sky here, a bit of green grass there, and some leaves of a red maple can really help pull a photo together. But none of that would be of any use with old black and white photos.

Now we’ll change time-frames again to this past summer. Once again I was looking at Ebay for stuff and found a photographer selling his negatives. They were medium format black and white negatives of alt-model Nettie Harris who I am familiar with through following her Tumblr blog. I figured I’d bid on a couple of them and ended up with two single image negatives. I decided I wasn’t going to make one of my large 20×28 inch photos out of it and would try to make one of my smaller 10×15 inch photos with the Nettie Harris negative as the main image. I would use a bunch of my own street photography to build the rest of the composition. The problem was how to integrate color and black and white photography. I’ve found that to be troublesome.

The obvious answer is to add color to the black and white photo. But that’s not as easy as it seems. With a computer and Photoshop there are lots of ways to add color to a photo but most of them are unsuitable for all sorts of esthetic reasons. I must have tried a dozen different ways until I found one I liked. And it’s simple. I used Photoshop’s “Monochrome” image mode to turn pieces of the black and white photo to black and whatever color I choose. This kept the values of the photo mostly the same for visual continuity but allowed me to drop in blocks of color. In other words it doesn’t interrupt the image as much as other ways I tried to add color. So I finished the Nettie Harris photo.

Nettie Harris Photo 1

Nettie Harris Photo 1

Then my mind drifted back to those Paris dancer negatives I bought almost fifteen years ago now. I knew I wanted to use just the eleven photos and not any of my street photos and thought the monochrome blocks of color would work to tie the whole thing together. This time I used a transparent border around the color bits though. I think the small border added a cohesiveness to the whole thing. I even went back and added those borders to the first Nettie Harris photo.

The funny thing is that I scanned in the Paris negatives yet again but then after a day or two of figuring out the layout and composition of the whole thing I discovered I didn’t like the scans I just made. So I had to change some settings and scan the negative for a fourth time and then rebuild all that I had just done. The final image size is 20×28 inches on a 22×30 inch piece of paper. Yes, I really did make an actual one of a kind physical photograph out of this. I print the large photo out in pieces, cut the pieces out along their white borders, and then paste the pieces down onto a large piece of drawing paper. So the white borders are actually the paper showing through in-between the photos. I like the physical nature such a finished piece provides.

So here it is, fifteen years later, finally finished. Things don’t usually take me that long so I find it a little hard to believe that I actually finished it. It’ll sink in though.

Nettie Harris Photo 2

Nettie Harris Photo 2


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