Old Style Printing Methods

(Thread: I'm currently very interested in old style printing methods and their effects on the content. So I really appreciate you taking the time to put all that in writing. I think one of Doug's neighbours was a certain Herr Gutenberg. :-) )



I majored in Photography at the University of Houston, when they still taught the basic basics ... including theory, chemistry, optics as well as methods and materials, and even photographic history. Summer of 1950, I apprenticed at Gittings lab in Houston, at the time when Gittings was the President of the PP of A, and a Fellow in the Royal Photographic Society ... and a leading innovator in the development of professional photographic color printing. Gittings was a big opinion leader in the industry. Kodak was using his lab for their real world testing ground. They had a Kodak technical guy camped there, experimenting with methods and working along with the employees, perfecting Dye Transfer printing methods. They were experimenting. It wasn't cut and dried.

We had a Bermpohl One Shot camera in the studio that shot direct separation negatives ... built in beam splitter and RGB filters ... you had to load it with three sheets of pancromatic film in film holders for each shot. Those were super-duper negatives. They often needed no masking or other corrections.

A fellow who later became a good friend of mine, who worked for the Chicago Tribune, took one of them to the White House when Harry Truman was sworn in as President, and because he had it, he got to set up his camera and lights and all the other news photographers put their film holders in it and shot their own portrait of the new President.

But shooting color film and then making separations from them was a totally different prospect. We were getting very expensive 16 x 20 dye transfer prints that it took two days to make ... I mean, that from the time you made the separation negatives, did the masking and all, and then exposed the three dye transfer matrices and dyed and transferred them to the paper ... that turned out green in the shadows and magenta in the highlights, so no matter which way you tried to color balance them, they looked hideous. Gittings was one of the meanest human beings I ever met. He would come through the lab every morning , like he thought he was Napoleon, wouldn't even look at us, as we stood respectfully and silently by and he slowly walked down the line of prints we had made the day before, picked up each one, ripped it in half and dumped it on the floor. All he needed was a blue military jacket with gold trim, and one hand in the lapel, to complete the picture. We had sweated blood over those prints, but the technology just wasn't up to it and he blamed it on us.

Obviously, Eastman knew the score ... it was their film, after all .... Kodachrome was the only color film in the world that could even come close to what a professional needed, and their Dye Transfer was the best quality printing method of the time. But from Kodachrome separations, I'll bet nobody was getting good results. So, "Direct Color" was a real buzzword. It meant separations taken directly from nature, without ANY color film ... just direct separations, like with that Bermpohl One-shot ... and that didn't do Kodak much good, so they were willing to invest in something that looked like it might produce results.

I have always suspected that was where the money came from for that large, state of the art for 1950, color lab. I never could see how the one studio in Houston could have generated the money to support it.

Well, there I went rambling again.

Lynne is calling me to dinner, so I'll quit, even though I have already thought of some more stories.