Photography Notes - Old Images

Calgary Sunrise-web

Sunrise on the City - Calgary 2008                                                                              Copyright 2017 Jack Blair, Photographer

February 19, 2017

I’ve been trolling through old images recently.  Old photographs that is—my photographs.

I’ve found chronological, yearly collections of family photos.  They range from my wife and me ‘before kids’ to all of us more recently, with life partners and grandchildren.  Also, there is the necessary collection of vacation and travel photos taken over the past fifty years.  They cover periods of my single life, married life, life with children, and on up to our current life, in retirement, with an extended family.

The media for these images range from black and white film, to colour negative film, to colour slides, to the digital records of the last decade.  I don’t have a darkroom nor a slide projector any longer, so viewing the older collection requires me to view scanned images on the computer screen.  I’ve done a lot of scanning to date and viewing the resulting images has been a fascinating journey.

I’m noticing that, every once and a while, there have been moments when my mind and vision was turned to record something artistic.  From my more mature point of view as an artist, many of these older ‘artsy’ shots or people portraits don’t make it.  I see now that many are too cliche, lacking good composition, or have technical failures such as focus or exposure.  Nevertheless, there are a few gems amongst the assortment.

I’m looking at them today through a different lens.  Of course, there is a sense of my life history in the lot.  When I recorded the images in days of yore, I was mostly focussed on documenting what I was doing, where I was, or what we, as a family, were about.  All important stuff, but now my eyes have an added filter of a moderately experienced artist and that is permitting me to see things in a new light.

Years ago I didn’t use a tripod as often as I should have and I’m paying for that carelessness now.  So many of my old images are a bit fuzzy because of camera movement or poor focus.  Regardless, I am finding artistic value in some and can now bring out more than ever before through the magic of the current photographic software.  Sometimes the strength of the image makes the technical problems irrelevant.

What about the image of Calgary at dawn shown above?  What caught my attention at the time was, of course, the incredible morning sky..  When I saw it that morning, I rushed out with my new digital camera to a ridge only a block away from our house.  Thankfully, I took my tripod.  I’d only had my digital camera for a few weeks, so my thinking was still in the film world.  I composed the photograph to show mostly sky, but found that a silhouette of the downtown part of Calgary could not be avoided.  If I had been using colour slide film, the tolerance of the film to the contrast range of this image would have rendered the buildings as solid black and that is what I expected.  I took the image and later looked at it on the screen thinking how dramatic it looked.  I was happy, but finally put it on a storage disk and took it off my computer.

When I came across this image recently, I paid more attention.  Initially, for the same reason I made the image, but then I noticed more.

I saw a faint indication of the building lights in the early morning.  The offices were prepared for the start of a new business day.   I went to work with my software and was able to bring out things in the image and hide others.  That would have been impossible back in film days.  I liked the result, not just as a record of the city on that date, but also as an interesting image that I think is artistic.  As an aside, I couldn’t help but notice how dated the downtown skyline looked.  Today, that same view of downtown has been completely transformed.

I’ve also pulled art out of old images from black and white negatives that I took when I lived in England in the 60’s.  England then was very different from today, as seen in the dress of people and the ambiance of the cities.  It was also a time when I could photograph on the street with very little interference, and I’m finding my candid images historically interesting.

I’ve got a long way to go with this and it is incredibly time consuming, but I’m going to keep at it in a methodical way.  I can’t afford to ignore today’s image possibilities in favour of this older work, but I don’t want to miss the art that may be hidden in some of my photographs from times past.

I need time and I’m working away, trusting that I have enough.