Monday, December 14, 2009

Ode To Otto Litzel's "Darkroom Magic"

Early on in my exploration of photography I sat through a lecture by a blind photographer. Sort of sounds like an oxymoron doesn't it. The thing is he wasn't always blind. Blindness struck him fairly late in life. If I had to guess I'd say it was probably a result of diabetes. Otto Litzel was pushing seventy by the time I went to a daylong seminar on different aspects of photography. He was one of the featured speakers and had a couple of books out at the time. His friend, who served as his chauffeur for the day, sold the books in the lobby between speakers. Book sales were Otto's primary income source by then. He occasionally sold a print, but with no new work coming out sales were pretty rare. He was a gifted speaker, creating images with his stories as well as he had with a camera. It was obvious he had given this lectures many times. The sequence memorized and he didn't skip a beat with each slide transition. Otto's anecdotal stories of the how, where and why of each shot had the audience members laughing for his entire time. The modern equivalent would be Joe McNally. Book sales were brisk and I found myself in line to buy one called "Darkroom Magic". At some point I lost my signed copy, but a couple years ago I saw it on EBay for a couple of bucks and bought it. Why did I buy a book about wet darkroom techniques in the age of the digital darkroom? There's a couple of reasons. Nostalgia for one. The fact that the techniques demonstrated in the book are now considered to be manipulation only available due to the invention of Photoshop. Many people I run into feel any sort of "tampering" with the reality of "the negative" is cheating somehow. The second thing invented for photography, right after the camera, was some method of changing what the image looked like when it was shot. To find out about today's image (what it is for one thing) and how it would have been done in the wet darkroom, hit the "read more".

Kodak used to have a graphics film out called Kodalith. It's main attribute was that it was a black and white film. What's so big about that? After all, Kodak put out many types of B&W films. Trick is that Kodalith was black and white, only. No gray scale. It was either exposed or not exposed, there was zero gradation from the black to the white. It typically came as sheet film. I used it as 4" x5" sheets. It was such a slow film that it could be handled under the dim, red light found in all wet darkrooms. That made it ideal for positioning multiple negatives (or slides) on one sheet. Exposure was made under the light of your enlarger. Just put the Kodalith down, place the negatives on top and cover it with a piece of glass. Hit it with a couple second exposure and develop it "normally".

Once you had your Kodalith where was a couple things you could do. One would be to print it as it stood and end up with something that looks like today's image. Another use would be to sandwich it with the original slide and create something like the image discussed in the May 18th, 2009 posting on this blog. A third thing would be to use it to go one step further and create a diazochrome slide to sandwich with the original slide.

Manipulations of images is a historic reality in the world of artistic photography. There's an old saying, "everything old is new again". Photographers playing with the reality of images comes from the days of the first prints being made from negatives. Making a fuss about it today shows a lack of knowledge about the history of photography.