About a week and a half back, I posted (here) a photo of Nettie R. Harris wearing one of the masks that I bought in Venice. Here, as promised, is the follow-up.
That photo was a straightforward image of Nettie with the mask. I’m posting another one like that today but with a wider view. (See below.) The image at the top was made the same day. She’s also wearing a mask. Like the other image, this mask is white on the right side (left side as seen by the viewer), but the left side appears to be mostly transparent. Is it transparent? Is it a different mask?
The answer to both questions is ‘no.’ Nettie was wearing the same mask. I just tried to do something a little more creative – in this case, by employing the double exposure technique.
For those unfortunate digiheads out there who know absolutely nothing about using film, here’s a little primer. When using black and white negative film, objects on film will appear the opposite way that they do in reality. (That’s why they’re called ‘negatives.’)
Therefore, something which is very bright to our eyes will appear very dark on the negative film. Something which is moderately bright will appear moderately dark. These differences in gradations of light , composed of silver halide particles, are the source of different tones in an image.
So, if something that’s bright white (like the white side of the mask) will appear very dark and black on the negative, then the black side of the mask will appear very white on the film. Right???
Wrong! The only thing that appears on a negative are different grades of black. The brighter the object, the denser the black will be. If there is no brightness at all, as in dark black (which is not a color, but represents the absence of any color), that part of the negative will have no silver halide particles formed on it. As the film base is clear, so too will that part of the negative be clear.
I knew from this that the white side of the mask would appear dark on the film, while the black side would be clear. As the white side would be dark, I knew that nothing would be added to it by exposing the negative a second time. It would be so dark that it really couldn’t get any darker.
The black side of the mask, on the other hand, would be clear on the negative. Anything on that part of the negative during a second exposure would be recorded and seen, as there’d be nothing there previously to block it.
With a photo like this, everything in both exposures must be exactly the same with the exception of the mask being there. I made sure the camera was securely locked in position on the tripod. I asked Nettie to lie down on the floor, as it would be impossible for anyone to keep perfercty still while standing. The first exposure was made with her wearing the mask. Then I re-set the shutter without advancing the film, removed the mask and made the second exposure. I used half of the normal exposure time for each exposure, as the two together would add up to one normal exposure.
Of course, even though I knew the photographic theory that I’ve just related, I really had no idea how the picture would look until I developed the film and saw the actual image. I think it looks pretty good. Everything in the theory seems to have proven true.
Still, I have to give a lot of credit to Nettie. While it may be fairly simple to remain motionless while lying on the ground, keeping one’s eyes from moving is not so easy – and I think she did a great job of it.
Speaking of black & white negative film, I recently bought a print from a benefit auction that was raising money for Doctors Without Borders’ relief effort in Haiti. Of the approximately 145 mostly contemporary photographs in the auction, only about half a dozen were silver gelatin prints. Granted, most of the photos were color images. Stil, to me, this shows a pretty sad state of affairs for photography, as we’ve entered an era when the idea of a photograph being a hand crafted fine art object is a thing of the past.
As I have said before and will state again, as a collector, I will never buy a digital print, no matter how much I may like the image. The print that I bought is one of those half dozen silver prints – but the image does date from a dozen years ago when film was still dominant.