Lauri Stallings - A Swan Song - PerhapsMonday, June 09, 2008
When we arrived to Vancouver so long ago I told Rosemary I was going to teach myself to print colour negatives. I procrastinated for so long a time that one day Rosemary said, "Alex I have taken the libery of enrolling you at Ampro Photo Workshops for a course in colour printing. You begin this Monday." And so I learned to print colour negatives, sort of. I thought I was pretty good until I photographed a red haired stewardess (in 1976 this was the only accepted term for the profession) who wanted pleasant portraits of herself. I photographed her in her garden. That's when the problem began. The grass and the nearby trees reflected green on her face.
When I tried to remove green from her face in my darkroom the resulting prints were too magenta. If I removed magenta (by adding magenta, colour printing can be confusing!) the resulting prints were too green. After four days and lots of wasted paper I gave up. I made the best prints I could. She was happy.
I was too "green" in the profession of colour photography to understand what few perhaps even understand today. The skin of a redhaired person reflects UV light differently from the skin of most other people. That whiteness (which I find so appealing) of their skin can really only be "captured" (to use the modern parlance of digital photography) with a good digital camera. The photographer, a competent one, is able to achieve through something called a custom white or proper white balance a skin tone that is as accurate as one's memory of what a person's skin should look like. And this specially applies to redheads.
I have been most jealous of the skin colour that my students achive in my classes (in the studio sessions) of our models. It looks accurate. It has the look of skin that only one photographer of the past was able to secure. It was, Paul Outerbridge, an American photographer of the 30s (through the 50s) who using an elaborate process called the colour carbro achieved prints of nude women in which their skin looked real.
I had a further opportunity to excercise my futility with redheads. The resulting problem was an Ekatchrome transparency problem. When I photograph people in my studio I usually do it with my middle gray painted wall. Ektachrome has always rendered the gray wall with anything from a slightly blue to a very blue tone of gray. When I scan these transparencies and remove the blueness it adds yellow. Yellow makes the skin of a red head innacurate. Only a digital camera will properly render that gray background gray and the skin as it is.
While I may have failed at achieving the true skin colour of the readhead (perhaps one of the Holy Grails of photography!) I did take some photographs of Lauri Stallings that I think are stunning. Not stunning because of any special talent that I might have. Stunning because Stallings truly delivered when I asked her to pose for me and give me her take on the dancer with an edge. The scans you see here are from Ektachromes. I also shot them with colour negative but I don't think I will ever go into my darkroom to print those. That stewardess would come back to haunt me.
But then when I scanned these yesterday I was haunted again by the formidable presence of Lauri Stallings. Will I ever meet anybody like her again? And if I did would she pose for me?