October 29, 2013

Velvet Hand and a Hawk's Eye

Elizabeth Reimer, the woman who birthed my mother's father. Here she stands in what I presume to be a Southern Manitoba field for a portrait beside a seated man my Grandpa Syd couldn't name when asked. Was the photographer my Great-Grandfather? Most likely. Who is the seated man in his work clothes? Was she ill then? Was the photographer shooting with a collapsible waistview camera? Was it a snappy new Kodak of the early 19th century? Or was it a Voigtlander from the old country? Lord knows. I love the mystery of history. The negative format from which the photograph above was printed is smaller than 4X5 sheet film but larger than 220 roll film. With this said, those in the know will curse my cropped butchery above! I was simply too impatient for the rare and beautiful glimpse at family history to wait for an affordable 4X5 enlarger to do it justice! In good time. For now, a look nonetheless.

Turning negatives into positives is the calling, no turning back now. There is much to learn and improve upon within my personal darkroom practice. When I observe Craig or Chris print their own work, my own areas of weakness jump out as I rifle through stacks of recently printed photo work. Not good enough. I know both men will read this and note that there is no printed sky detail in the photograph above. The home scan does no favors to print work. Where are the clouds? They are there, layers of tones deep within those silver grains just waiting to be given a little more attention than the heavy-handed exposure of those furrowed brows. Too dark, there is so much detail waiting to shine under there. What could be improved Margot? Dogde, burn, balance.

Looking at my Great-Grandmother for the first time through the lupe in the darkroom was extraordinary. Goosebumps in an instant. I have seen photos of her in the past but never in such an intimate way. Nice to meet you Great-Grandma. That brow. She was very fashionable in her day. Or perhaps people had more time to be thoughtful in their dress then. Slow style.

One hundred and some year old grain finding! Tricky as hell. Very fine grain, nothing like the grain of modern roll film I am used to in this day and age. When my Grandpa slid that box collection of his father's personal negatives across the table, I was overcome with gratitude and understanding. It was as if he handed over my life's work in a single gesture. I said it, now it must be. Preservation of photographic history is an age old trade I am proud to commit to. A beautiful series of photographs to spell out the story of my ancestors to come.

Dear Universe, I am now on the hunt for a 4X5 enlarger. Whatever I need to do to get there, I will happily comply. 

UPDATE: I am terribly pleased to report that the Universe delivered and I am now the proud owner of a Beseler 45 MX motorized enlarger. It's snappy and in a hell of a lot better shape than my antique Omega operation! Bottom line, I can move forward with this personal Ode to PJB project with a vengeance! Life is neat.


  1. woah!! good. you are so good.
    also, i like "slow style"

  2. Ooooooh, love this project. Lockstep with my mom's work here in Summerland, transcribing and collecting and editing PJB's writings.

  3. This is awesome. Keep the faith, you're doing something incredible!