I shot this image back in the 1980's for a theater group. The photo shoot was not some afterthought engineered to fit into a couple of minutes after a dress rehearsal or during a rehearsal break. It was scheduled and the "look" of the shoot was well discussed before anything started. The play was set in a Texas town in the 1940s. We all decided that the look that most appealed to us as collaborative group was both a hand colored look and the look of portraits that were lit by tungsten spotlights. A look that was an amalgam of current, contrasty shadows and the kind of wonderful tonality inherent in images of the time.
We selected a film that would emulate the look of film from that time. It was called Ektapan and was ISO 100 or 125 panchromatic black and white. We carefully posed and photographed all six major actors in their costumes, paying attention to the fall of the light under hat brims and chins. Each subject lit from scratch to match the feel of their character.
Once the shoot was over I took the six rolls of 12 exposure film back to my studio. I'd shot an additional roll of film in a separate A12 Hasselblad film back; one or two frames of each person we photographed. This roll of film was my test roll. I would hand develop it in a single roll tank and evaluate it after the film dried. In this way I'd be able to see if certain frames were too thin (needed more development) or too thick (needed less development) and I could adjust. I ended up custom developing each roll to get exactly the density I thought would print best on one of the two grades of paper I had chosen for the project. The development took the better part of a day!
Once developed and dried I made contact sheets for each roll. One contact sheet for me and one for the marketing people at the theater. I didn't take chances with the people at the theater misreading the edge numbering so I wrote out the numbers with a red China marker. If we talked on the phone I wanted to make sure we were all discussing the same frame....
Once the frames were selected I went back into the dark room with two boxes of 11x14 inch black and white print paper. Not just any print paper but Kodak Ektalure G surface paper. It was the perfect choice for both a long range of tones and also a perfect surface on which to hand color. Why two boxes? One was grade two and the other grade three. The numbers related to their fixed contrasts. Two was softer, three contrastier.
I made three or four identical prints of each selected negative, selenium toned the prints for just the right look and then washed them archivally. I air dried the prints on screens, face down. The prints had to dry overnight before we could start working on them.
My next step was to carefully hand color each print with Marshall's Transparent Oil Paints. I won't bore you here with all the techniques and steps but it took about three hours per print. The extra prints were made so that I could start over on the painting if I messed up. Which I did. A lot. Figure at least 18 hours for print coloring...
Once painted the oils had to dry completely before I could spray the surface of the prints with a fixative to prevent abrasions. After all these steps the images were delivered in a print box with neutral paper sheets in between each photograph.
The theater had to send them to a color separator to get the scans done for advertising and the programs but I also made a set of black and white prints for newspaper and magazine to use.
Once the color separators did their work each print was matted and framed and hung in the lobby of the theater for the run of the show. It added to the feel of the period piece for people to be able to see the prints in the lobby during intermissions.
Today no one seems to ask for anything harder than putting this better head of our CEO, Chipper, onto this better image of his body in Photoshop. I find it sad that the schedules dictate the creativity and that there is a self-reinforcing expectation among clients that no one is up to do something extraordinary so why even bother to ask? Is it any wonder we like to show prints from a different time?