Colorized Black and White
I had seen many very old hand coloured black and white pictures from before color film became popular. For a long time it was the only way to get color photographs. My first encounter with modern hand colorized or tinted prints was an article in Photo Life in 1985 or ‘86 by Mary Ellen McQuay. I was quite taken by Mary Ellen’s technique and simple images that were visually stunning. I looked into doing prints like hers and found the work would be quite demanding and detailed. Naturally that idea was shelved.
Imagine my surprise when less than a year later, Mary Ellen showed up on the last day of Courtney Milne’s Cypress Summer ‘86 workshop in the Cypress Hills. After the workshop ended, I was invited to accompany Courtney and friends on an extra trip to the Great Sandhills. That time we went in through private land east of Fox Valley. Courtney checked in at the farmhouse and we drove out the back of the yard on a dirt trail out to the live dunes. I had been shooting Agfachrome (Woodward’s house label) film in the Cypress Hills where we had our E-6 film processed over night by Michael Brauer. I had a few rolls of my old standard Kodachrome left over. The Great Sandhills are so photogenic they just sucked up all of the Kodachrome in my camera bag and suddenly I was out of film. So there I was, with my camera on the tripod in the sand, my camera bag hanging from it, and me wandering around in the hot sand in my bare feet. Mary Ellen asked why I had stopped taking pictures and I admitted that I ran out of film. She very graciously gave me two rolls of, I think it was, Ilford slow speed B&W of some sort. I used those frames very sparingly to make them last. It was a very nice gesture from a photographer who was a newly working professional. The days I spent with Courtney and the other workshop participants and the few hours I shared with Mary Ellen were to make a lasting impression.
Fast forward and I’m back in the Great Sandhills area for the first time in twenty four years. This time I’ve got plenty of memory cards and digital post processing has replaced hand painted prints for me. 1986, 2-4 rolls a day (72-144 frames), this year, on the Extreme Saskatchewan Photo Tour, I averaged over 700 shots per day. Getting out of the “film is expensive” mindset has been really challenging for me, But now I’m measuring my shooting in Gigs instead of Rolls. I’ve been venturing outside of the realm of the spectacular landscape, and it’s interesting out here. My little nod to Mary Ellen McQuay, I’ve done three colorized black and white images from the XSK trip.
The top image of the tiny house beside the water is due to Graham Budd of Edmonton. We were headed back to the motel, and for a change, we were out in front, when Graham yelled “stop the truck!”. I pulled over beside this flooded field. Graham had seen the reflections in the water and had to get a picture. I made my compositions and grabbed my captures. I was hoping some of the blue of the sky would come out in the muddy water. No such luck. I still liked the lines and angles, so I converted it to B&W, but it still lacked something. So I put back the color into the roof and quickly decided to recolor the reflection of the roof as well.
In the middle image, the antelope and babies started out in the ditch next to the road. There, the green grass made a really nice contrast to the brown coat. As soon as we pulled up, she hustled her little ones out into the field away from the traffic. The stubble matched her coat and made it easy to see how the whole little family could easily disappear into the background. Following the legs and separating them from the field was one of the bigger jobs I’ve done post processing wise, but it made the subject stand out nicely.
The last image shows the old schoolhouse, but it doesn’t show the rain coming down at the time. We had just finished some light painting on this and some other buildings. My LCD was showing a well exposed building with these dark windows. Darwin has a gigantic flashlight that he uses for light painting. So I asked him (hopefully nicely) to light paint the interior of the room while I shot the exterior. So I got all set up and he gave me the thumbs up and I started exposing the image while Darwin panned the light around the walls, lighting up the interior. I thought the warm light spilling out the windows was beckoning to people in the cold dreary, and wet outdoors.
I’d like to dedicate this post to Lorraine Worbey and Eugene Rittich both Cypress Summer ‘86 participants and excellent photographers, now passed on.