A strange assignment that, in retrospect, is analogous to modern over processing...

An art director who had seen some of my hand colored portraits called me and got a bid for making a number of still life constructions, photographing them using 4x5 Polaroid Positive Negative film (Type 55), printing large prints from the resulting negatives and then lightly coloring them with Marshall's Transparent Oil Paints.

Each of the construction was used as a facing page or illustration in a four color brochure for a financial services company. We shot 12 set ups over the course of three days, in the studio.

At the time I was using a Linhof TechniKarden 4x5 inch view camera with an older set of Zeiss lenses. Most of the images were done with shorter lenses, in the range of 150mm to 210mm. To get different lighting effects we were spraying light through glass bricks, clear marbles and odd screens. It was the early 1990's and torn paper was chic.

The process was fun. We'd work on the constructions and keep photographing them with the Polaroid film. If the art director liked a construction we'd take the resulting negative and soak it in a sulfite bath to fix it. My darkroom was adjacent to the studio and at the end of the third day we had clotheslines full of curly, thin negatives hanging in neat rows.

My assistant and I contact printed all the "keeper" negatives and shared them with the art director. She made final selections and I headed back into the darkroom to make black and white prints on matte surface photographic paper. Once the images were printed (I made multiple copies as hand coloring is anything but an exact science) I sat down at a big table in the middle of my big studio and started coloring with little brushes, balls of cotton and cotton wrapped around little wooden sticks.

Once the prints were finished and presented we grappled with the fact that the color separator wasn't too thrilled about wrapping still malleable oil painted surfaces around their very expensive drum scanner. We ended up using an Apo lens on the Linhof and shooting copy shots of the large prints. The color separator did their work from the resulting 4x5 inch transparencies.

The process, from bid to final copy transparencies took, cumulatively, about ten days. We shot at least 150 sheets of Polaroid black and white, positive/negative film. The images worked well in the brochure and the brochure won some awards. everyone was happy.

When I look back at jobs like this I wonder where planning and patience has fled to in the world of advertising and the graphic arts.

The image above is a snap shot of a copy transparency of a work print from that time. The final image, presented above was taken with a Sony a77 and a 30mm macro lens with the transparency precariously balanced on the frosted plexiglass top of an old light box.

Just mellowing out to a bit of nostalgia this morning.


ODL Designs said...

Interesting read Kirk, sounds very relaxing just working through an image with some paints!

You know one of the problems with the advertising world today is how fast paced it is, either marketing professionals cannot time manage appropriately or simply dont have the time themselves... Or a mix of both.

There are times we produce an ad on a dime as the client must have it for the end of the day, we stay late at the studio waiting for final approval to get the advert to the magazine or place of production and hear nothing. We may hear nothing for a week when they get back to us with changes. The one day job becomes a two week job and we wonder why they had to put us under the guillotine to start with.

Companies are very reactionary these days, the react to the email form the magazine letting them know the deadline for the ad, they react to up coming events etc. So communication pieces are squeezed, at every step of the process from the content to the layout to the production, everyone is having to rush and it becomes the modus opperandi.

Can they slow down? I dont know, I have offered clients an additional free service of reminding them early for pieces we need to go out. Let us know which mags you intend to advertise in and we will warn you well in advance and ask for content. They dont take us up on the offer. Of course all this impacts the working relationship, one that is constantly under the gun can forge two kinds of working relationship, one of closeness, or one of irritation (you can guess which one crops up more).

Now another issues crops up, big companies have big budgets but expect their marketing teams to squeeze more work out of that budget either for the increase in marketing opportunities or an increase in products (for example the number of point and shoots a camera company has on its product line at any one time have to all have their respective communication pieces, but dont necessarily mean more income for the manufacturer).

It is a mess, and I wonder when it will come crashing down... Not to be pessimistic, but how long can they keep this up, how fast can they work without every step of the process becoming compromised. Ahhhh, a it of a rant there, but I feel better.

Libby said...

For those interested in "old school" retouch, this video may be of interest. It is Rene Fonteboa who used to do work for Dean Collins.


I tried to track down Rene for an interview but the trail grew cold after 2009.

Marshall oils, tooth lacquer - I remember them well.

Charles "Rain" Black said...

I think there has been a continuous "dumbing down" of advertising professionals over the years (how else do we explain ad copy in major magazines with third grade grammar and spelling errors). Perhaps it's the faster pace mentioned above. Or perhaps it's simply that people are more focused on the buck than on what it really takes to get it. When I worked for a commercial printer, it was a constant struggle dealing with people who would send tiny, artifact filled files and expect us to use them as 4 color half page ads or even magazine covers. People seem to have intentionally laid aside the truism that anything worth producing takes time effort and experience to get the best results.

I recently started shooting concerts for a local promoter. In discussing the job with one of the directors, we talked about both the aesthetic and technical quality I could produce photographing live performances. I told him to review my online gallery for the answer. We both conceded that too often, "a friend with a good camera" ends up shooting things that really should be left to a pro, but at the same time, a lot of people can't really tell the difference in the final image anyway.

I think we are deep into a time when "good enough" is dictated by the bottom line. I think this reflects society, where people are rushed and seldom have time to examine what they are looking at. It has to catch their attention within 3 seconds (what I was told by an advertising director) or it doesn't work. As such, the creativity behind the image is less important because it's assumed it will only be given a cursory look by the prospective customer.

So, why pay a good pro thousands of dollars for a unique set of images achieved through concerted, creative effort, when a microstock agency can provide a "good enough" image for a fraction of the cost?

Anonymous said...

"It has to catch their attention within 3 seconds (what I was told by an advertising director) or it doesn't work."

Nothing new here, if you don't grab-them-by-the-throat immediately, the person is gone. Doesn't matter if it's Flickr, Advertising, Novels, TV Series or Movies. It has always been this way, and it is getting even harder because in the digital world is is so easy to switch channels. This is why Creativity Is So Important, if the customer switches channels, they are lost forever,

What grabs an audience's throat isn't Technical Proficiency, it's Creativity. For Novels it isn't a good looking typeface and good paper that wins over the reader, it's the authors words.

Iust my $.02 worth.


Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

I would ad that there's still an awful lot of print advertising and that's digested at a different rate than web. Maybe it's because the process offers more detail and nuance.

ODL Designs said...

I think what many marketing people miss is that while grabbing someones attention may be achieved with big starbursts or partial nudity, loud noise etc. The quality infused with their product or message is built in at every step, from the imagery, to the typeface to the overall appearance. All of it distills into a sense of worth.

Apple didnt turn itself around with weak advertising, from the quality of the product to the advertising messaging... all the way to how it felt opening the box the infused quality.

Marketing professionals often cant see the difference between good communication and design and bad... The young ones often cant see the difference between a good picture and a bad one... believe me when I say that. Just the other day we did an advert for a giant appliance manufacturer and a even bigger media company... the marketing rep didnt even have the budget for stock images and decided to use pictures form other people on the office, including cellphone pictures which we had to upres for print. We had to remove a hand partially covering a face... I mean c'mon.

But what can you do? We always try to get clients to produce original quality content... we often fail.

Bold Photography said...

The "good enough" mentality does get companies to move forward, some. However, they become 'me too' rather rapidly as everyone can source the same images. There is a sometimes subtle, sometimes not, discontinuity between what they're trying to promote and what the image is. Some of the worst of these are online ads, where the image has NOTHING to do with what they're talking about, or trying to sell. Does that make me want to click through? Nope. Will I buy from them? Nope. Was that (little bit of) money well spent? Nope.

Bold Photography said...

ODL - it's not YOU who's failing - it's the client. They just don't want to admit it.