The Flash version of the Las Vegas slide show seemed to be having serious issues, and I finally had to think about updating the website. Re-formatting the slide show got me thinking back to the making of the original prints. The workflow of analogue can be quite labour intensive and time consuming compared to digital so I thought it might be of interest how this portfolio evolved.
In 1984 I found myself in Las Vegas attending the Photo Marketing Association show. Many envision Las Vegas as simply the long strip of casinos, as the city is so generally characterized. In my spare time, I decided to explore Las Vegas the town, rather than just doing the tourist thing and hanging out with the slot machines. The city is actually quite interesting with some excellent museums, and the surrounding country outside the city limits is amazing.
The equipment chosen for capturing these images was simple. A Leica M4 with a 50mm Summicron, no meter and a pocketful of Kodak Tri-x film.
Up until this point I had put together a few portfolios of prints. A couple of them were specific and shot as a group but mostly it had been random images shot over a period of time and brought together in a group. The Vegas shots got me really thinking in terms of images working together and relating to one another. This concept was something I had noticed David Heath consciously doing at Ryerson. At one point he had put a number of contact sheets up on a board with notes. He had obviously spent a great deal of time contemplating which images worked together and how the sequencing should work.
I had spent a number of years really focused on working with the view camera and the west coast zone system fine print sensibility. I had been looking at a lot of the fine work by luminaries such as Weston and Adams and Strand. Technique and the fine print for me is of major importance. We were fortunate at Ryerson to have a good representation of W. Eugene Smith’s original prints. Smith has been one of my earliest heroes of photography. Here were wonderful prints, and the sequencing of images that I had seen Heath contemplating in his own work. I had always been aware of it, but I had never explored the intellectual nature of the concept.
The Las Vegas Portfolio was where I consciously started to work some of this out, and I learned a lot from the process. This was a seemingly simple group of images that for one reason or another, became a bit of a nightmare. I put the finished prints away for about ten years before looking at them again. Recently I felt they might work as a web slide show, as some people responded well to the prints.
The film was developed in Kodak’s HC110. From the various rolls contact sheets, I made an initial selection of seventy four work-prints which were made in 1984-1985 to edit down to a selection of twenty final portfolio prints.
For the Portfolio prints, Agfa Portriga was selected with image size of twelve inches long full frame on 11×14 paper. Portriga is a rather warm paper but tests in a few developers showed that equal parts of the A and B Beers formula with Benzotriazole added as a anti-foggant and final Selenium Toner would cool the image tone nicely.
Using a Besler 45 a Cold Light and a Nikon El Nikkor 63mm enlarging lens, we were off to the races, or so I thought. The first few “finished” prints made in 1986 seemed okay but then the gremlins started to emerge. I was working towards sharp prints and had chosen to use a glass carrier. Newton rings were apparent on the dried prints, and there were areas that were not quite in focus. Anti-Setoff powder was acquired and that removed the Newton rings. Just kind of a drag having to put micro dust on your negatives!
The out of focus areas became another issue, as it did not seem to be related to the glass carrier. The Cold Light was swapped out for a Condensor Head, the differences were subtle. Lots of different testing was done. It just seemed to be these negatives. Other stuff was printing okay. Eventually I figured out that the heavy Portriga paper had a bit of a curl to it. Enough that it was actually lifting the edges of the Master Simmons Omega easel I was using. In many years of printing, it’s the only paper I have encountered that lifted this easel. Problem solved, simply put weight on the easel blades. Its early 1988 and finally we have the gremlins out of the system, or do we.
A lot of time and frustration has been expended to this point. In 1989 the head was changed again and a Besler Color Head was tested. It was odd, that other negatives were printing fine except for these. Of course sometimes things that are obvious do not necessarily appear so. These were the only negatives I was trying to print at this size! It had to be mechanical. I disassembled the Besler and after a lot of measuring found that the head assembly had been machined slightly out of alignment and it was exacerbated at the size I was making the Vegas prints. After the head was adjusted and re-aligned, all the problems finally went away. I had been experimenting with mixing the original Kodak formulation for Dektol and swapping the restrainer out for Anti-Fog#1. I was able to match the image tone I had been getting with the Beer’s, simplifying the mixing of the developer.
Gremlins behind me, seventeen of the final images were printed over about a three week period in Jan/Feb of 1989. Mattes were cut and prints dry mounted. The prints were placed in a portfolio box, and shelved. A five year period is a long time to persevere over one seemingly simple body of work. To say I had become disenchanted with the images would be an understatement. The images make the most sense as a group but the sequencing is still evolving.
Peter Gabany says
Always great to see your work. Would even be better to see you and even fish a bit. Bravo for sharing.
Karen Briggs says
I’ll volunteer to test the comment function. A thought for readers who might have less darkroom mileage than yourself … how about providing some links on some of the technical terms (Besler Colour Head etc) so we can get a definition or an image?