Thursday, March 1, 2018

That's A Negative

More than six years ago, I wrote a post about rediscovering old photos that I had shot with my old 35mm SLR and had recently digitized. I talked about how, back then, I was more careful with how I captured an image because I didn't have the luxury of immediately reviewing a shot and deleting it if it didn't turn out the way I wanted.

In that Brown Knowser blog post, I shared sunset-silhouette photos that I had taken along the Ottawa River, in the city's west end, in 1989. One photo was taken without any filter; the second, with an orange filter; the third, with a red filter (shown here). They were originally developed as slides and I had used my new digital scanner (new, back then) to re-capture and store them.

At the time that I had shot and developed those images, I was working in a camera store that had a print lab and, once and a while, out of curiosity, I would ask one of our technicians to run one of my slides through the C-41 machine, which was designed to print negative film only. What would my red-filtered, sunset-silhouette tree look like, printed as a negative?

The 4x6 photo came out of the printer, and I loved the pastel-blue sky, contrasting with the white tree. The remnants of the sunset, super-saturated in red, was a dark blue. At that moment, I liked this print better than the original slide. I was tempted to order an enlargement, 8x12, mounted on a plaque, but our lab technician correctly advised against it: while she was willing to experiment with a slide in her machine, she doubted that another technician in our company's Toronto lab, where the enlargements and plaque's were produced, would be willing to experiment the same way. She wasn't sure that the slide would come back in one piece.

I would have to make do with the small 4x6 print.

Decades later, as I feared back in 1989, I lost that print. It could be stashed away in one of the dozens of photo albums that I have stored in my basement, though, the last time I remember seeing it, it was a loose image in the photo envelope that I had carefully placed it in, after it had been printed. I don't remember where I had moved the print since then, almost 30 years later.

Today, it doesn't matter. I don't need that print: I have technology.

Because I had already digitized and cleaned up the original slide, it was easy enough to produce another negative image. Today, I can even make the contrast more dramatic, bring out more of the blue. If I want, I can take the updated file to any print shop and make whatever size of print I want.

But the magic's gone.

Sure, this image looked cool in 1989. But over time, the curiosity in seeing what could happen to an E-6 slide in a C-41 processor, the vividness in the reversed colours, and that life experience has faded. Looking at the re-imagined, digitized image in 2018, I think to myself, yeah, that's what I remember, that looked cool. I don't think, I'm going to enlarge that and mount that on a plaque.

I'm not even going to reprint it.

In 2011, I shared the digitized version of the original slide. I remember that after the slide had been scanned, I had to perform some minor tweaks to remove tiny bits of dust, which had been captured with the image. But I didn't have to manipulate the image any further.

And that was cool.

In 1989, for a day—maybe longer—I preferred the negative image to the original. In 2011, I loved the original but was curious about the negative print. In 2018, I say "Wow" to the original and "Meh" to the negative.

Life's all about perspective, isn't it?

What do you think?

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