The following link to The Empire That Was Russia website was sent to me by a friend earlier today. It is pretty amazing to see real color photographs of Russia and its people from 110 years ago! Check out the link on the home page on Making Color Images in particlular. It describes the process of how the photographer Prokudin-Gorskii used to make them. That process gave birth many years later to the Kodak Dye Transfer Process that is described by one of my mentors, Charles Cramer, on his website. These old techniques were revolutionary in the imaging world.
The color separation method of course is still used in the offset CMKY printing press industry that I described in the 2009 Calendar Goes to Press article. Each of the four plates that go into the press are color separations like in the dye transfer process – Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and blacK – CMYK. When people today balk about a photograph being “photoshopped” I think they really need to look at the history of image making in general to understand that what the camera captures, and what gets printed to paper and what our eye originally saw are very different.
As photographic artists we know that what the camera gives us is such a pale comparison to what we actually saw that it is at times disheartening. Sometimes we can compensate for the shortcomings of the camera in the field. Sometimes it is in the wet darkroom or in the digital darkroom using software like Photoshop. And then sometimes there is nothing we can do to salvage an image to represent what we saw. There are manipulations every step of the way. In the end however, if we can convey to our audience even a sliver of the experience we had at the time we photographed the scene then we have been sucessful. So go out and bring back some experiences.
These old processes make me feel like experimenting. Now where is my old black and white filter set….