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Wednesday, 06 June 2012


As a 49 year old, it is nice to hear that it is possible to make one's mark in the photographic world later in life - thanks Ctein

Hmmm - are you 100% sure about that British postage stamp?

It makes one wonder how you managed to squeeze in making over 600 prints and mailing them all recently (got it, looks great by the way). I enjoyed this story, and the foundation website is extensive and fun to explore. I especially like the "arts and letters" section. He used an interesting blend of what seemed like naturalistic, mid-conversation shots and more classically posed ones.

Bravo Ctein!

If anyone is visiting the UK and London then a visit to the National Portrait Gallery is well worth the time. It has portraits (painted and photographic) from several hundred years of British History. It's easy to compare styles and techniques between the centuries and it's a great introduction to figures in british and world history. Most of the photographs are in the 20th & 21st century rooms as you might expect, and they vary the portraits on display here more regularly. It's free and just off Trafalger square behind the National Gallery.

Dear Richard,

Nope. I know there was a first day cover. Thought a stamp went with it. I'm no philatelist. I'll leave that to some stamp expert here to sort out.

pax / Ctein

@Ken Tenaka: Just out of curiousity, what do you mean by "rather exceptional instruction"? I'd love to know how he progressed so quickly.

"courtesy of and copyright by the National Portrait Gallery"

I'd be interested to know how the NPG came to own copyright in the image? It seems odd, usually it's either the photographer, or especially in a pre-1988 image, whoever commissioned the image.

First day cover:

More on the photographer:




Dear Mr. C (don't know you well enough to use your total name - yet.)

I too have started a new career at (forced) retirement age - been shooting for pleasure 30 or so years, now will try to combine some profit with the pleasure. Your column gave me a bit of extra "zetz" to get on with it - just as your bridge picture prominently displayed at my home (thank you) reminded me that it's the shooter not just the instrument.

Thank You for your skill and all the great writing.
GLT Bandy

Sounds like you and Ronny are both lucky that you found each other. It's a lovely story. I'm sure you've thanked Frank more than once.

"I'm no philatelist."

Philatelist -- not a word you often see in the wild. Reminds me of the story of the southern politician who charged that his opponent was a long-time philatelist and that his daughter had gone to New York and become a thespian.

A story of a terrific match between a client and a provider of expert services — I love it when that happens!

@ JD Elliott: Philippe Halsman was his teacher/

Dear Simon,

It's true that in 1978-79, the US rewrote its copyright law to establish that copyright inherently resided with the creator and that one didn't have to take exceptional measures to establish it or hold it (these rights were vastly strengthened when the US signed on to the Berne Convention in 1988-89). But a copyright is nothing more than a kind of property; the revisions to the law establish that the creator owns that property from the get go, but they're still entirely free to transfer it to someone else.

That's what the BLS Foundation did: they gave prints, the original negatives, and the copyrights to those photographs to the NPG.


Dear GLT,

I presume as you get to know me better you'll work your way up to addressing me as "Ct?" Then “Cte ...?"

Who knows where that might lead? Will there be no end to the madness?

Yeah, in round numbers, both Bern and Bob were 60 years old when they embarked on their ultimately highly successful photographic careers. Bob's lasted for almost 40 years. Bern, not so lucky. It's a crapshoot, you know.

But you might as well assume the best. It's a lot more fun that way. As the James Taylor lyrics go, “Never give up, never slow down, never grow old, never ever die young.”

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

I agree, what an interesting article! And what a great illustration of what digital technology has done for us.

When looking at that first portrait, I didn't know who it was but was struck by the radiance of the personality, the patrician look, whatever it is.

I know you can't publish something like this, but I can't help wondering if another copy of that were made without the uniform, in some ordinary blue collar shirt, without visual clues and without the name. Would it still project the power and magnetism? What is it about a face that makes us look twice?

Incredibly enjoyable article, thank you for sharing it!

Great story! Also great to know what might be able to be accomplished with my poor professional color negs from the 1970's...we were told they were an unstable media at the time, but a decent priced and decent looking print from transparency just was not available in the era (believe me, Cibachrome, was "something", but not an easy or accurate media)...so we shot color neg film when the primary usage was going to be a display print...always wondered if something could be done with the images 40 years later...

...so different today with Ektar 100 in 120!

This is the best and most pleasing article I have read for ages - mostly because Ctein's a good guy and it is great to hear about quality winning through.

A wonderful story and a mind blowing comparsion print example.

So Ctein, at that link to the NPG, I presume when one clicks on the "Buy a Print" link, one cannot expect to get an actual print by Ctein (at least, not for 35 pounds). But do you know, are they made from the digital files you scanned?

Also, what was the film format?

Echo everyone above, a great story.

Dear Crabby and Peter,

The before-and-after illustrations here understate the improvements digital made. Keep in mind that the before illustration is the very best dye transfer I could make from that negative and included a considerable amount of individual color curves correction in the darkroom (dye transfer lets you do that). The original negative was far worse.

Bern's negatives all went into cold storage at -20 Celsius shortly after they were made. The Schwartz's well understood the importance of archival storage. The vast majority of his negatives are in excellent shape. The ones that aren't appear to be the result of faulty processing of the film in the first place.

The negative of Jenner is by far the worst I've seen in their collection. It isn't even normal color crossover or deterioration, like you'd see with incorrect bleaching, washing, or stabilization. The curves are just completely screwed up relative to each other. My suspicion is a bad batch of developer at the lab. That can make for some crazy curves because the different color layers in the film emulsion are competing with each other for development. So, if something throws the activity wildly off, you don't get simple contrast changes or color shifts, you get all sorts of weird interactive effects depending on the relative exposure each layer of the emulsion received at a given point.

I don't keep notes on this sort of thing, but my recollection is that most of the color restoration was pretty straightforward. I picked an appropriate black point for the curves adjustment layer and an appropriate white point, and then used the middle gray eyedropper to find something that brought the overall color balance into some semblance of normality. The resulting curves look pretty nuts, graphically, but the image looked pretty good.

Lots and lots of fiddling after that, of course, but I was already in the ballpark.

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

Dear John,

Nope, I'm not making the prints for the NPG. I don't even know if they're being made from my final printing files. I don't even know if they have copies of my final printing files. Come to think of it, I don't even know if I've made final prints of all the negatives they were given; I'd have to go back and look at all my records.

The high-quality scans in question are kind of like digital negatives. I'm scanning to capture the entire density range of the original negative, doing spotting and dust removal to clean up the scans, and doing a VERY approximate color balance on them. They're not close to final print.

They might be printing from my scans (I don't remember if the Foundation sent them discs of those or not) but they would look substantially different from the prints I made; it would be like handing the same negative to two different custom printers.

Sorry I can't give you more definitive information on the quality of their prints.

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

Behind every great photographer is a ...*

Fwiw, I like the ballerina's skin tone and the "antique" look of the dye transfer print. It's probably more valuable(?)

Great personal tribute all around.


Yes, on the topic of scanning, I started out with a Nikon LS30 back in 2001 or so, then an LS4000 a few years later. I scanned about 1000 Fuji Reala negs and about 3000 Kodachrome 25s, 64s, Fujichromes, Ektachromes and sundry others in the next few years.

If only I'd understood what NEF RAW was all about! I didn't understand it, so I scanned to TIFF with steadily improving results as I got more experienced at it, but if I had the NEFs now, I could go back and rework them to modern standards.

I've still got the scanner and all the film, but have I got the stamina to do it again? Of course, if I chose only the very best to redo, ...

Lesson: use RAW, both in shooting and scanning.

PS: the Kodachromes were beasts to scan, especially the K64s, even with the LS4000's Kodachrome setting. They were processed here in Australia in the 1980s/90s and I strongly suspect now that Kodak Melbourne's processing was always a bit off. I just assumed blueish/cyan slides were the norm, much to my regret. Too late then and now. If only RAW had been available in film days.

" I presume as you get to know me better you'll work your way up to addressing me as "Ct?" Then “Cte ...?"

Dear Ct
As an unabashed fan of your work and writing, the opportunity to correspond with you, and the joy of having a Ctein print in me 'umble abode have considerably brightened the last few months. I just wanted to echo so many of the writers in complimenting the marvelous Bern Schwartz story, and a personal thanks for all the reading pleasure. Oh yeah - and the gentle (but persistent) prodding to make me think before pressing the shutter like back in the sixties when every frame of TX was a story. 
Gabe (still lookin' for a classy signature like Ctein) Bandy

The picture of Ann Jenner is a totally convincing argument in favor of the "digital darkroom" workflow for color printing. The frustration level in attempting that dye transfer print must have been considerable.

What's also fascinating is that the final result still has the C-22 Kodacolor/Ektacolor "look" to it. The palette is quite recognizable, and quite pleasing. Nothing exaggerated about the colors.

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