The year was 1962. I was a young photographer, sharing a studio on West 23rd Street in New York City. I had already done a lot of location shooting for NBC, but the whole studio thing was new to me. Fortunately, there were a lot of aspiring models, willing to post for free, in exchange for photographs.
Donna Mitchell was such a young model, a friend of a friend, just starting out. The picture above was the result of our one studio session. I was working on a new lighting idea. Behind Donna's head was a 1000 watt second strobe, with no reflector. The bare bulb lit up the air behind her like it was on fire. On either side of her was a white reflector to catch some of the light and bounce it in from the front. It was a combination of backlighting and side lighting that I christened "Back/Side" lighting.
To make things even more interesting, I printed the resulting image on #5 paper, the highest contrast available. The result was to drop out all of the middle tones, resulting in a stark, black and white image that just emphasized Donna's features.
What happened to Donna is also interesting. I was friends with a photographer who specialized in shooting fashion, and who was doing work for Harper's Bazaar. I tried to introduce Donna to him. At first he was reluctant, but finally agreed to give her a try. And the rest, as they say, is history. Donna morphed into a supermodel, featured in dozens of fashion shoots, and finally appearing on the cover of the 50th anniversary of Vogue magazine. From there, she went on to roles in movies and on TV.
Shortly after this studio session, I was drafted into the army and finally returned home after spending my final year on the DMZ in Korea. While I was gone, my family moved and a lot of my things were lost in the transitions. One of the things that was lost was my collection of negatives from my previous years as a photographer. All that remained were the black and white prints that I had made.
But thanks to the magic of digital photography and the miracle of computers, I was able to recreate these old photographs and extend them in new directions as well. All without the use of a darkroom or the smell of messy chemicals.
I started by photographing the original print with a digital camera, then touching it up a bit, which yielded the picture above. One nice thing about working in digital rather than in a real darkroom is that you have much more control. Retouching minor defects is trivial, and things like getting the precise tonal values, such as a good solid black and a transparent white were quickly accomplished. In the darkroom, it would have been slow and expensive, requiring burning in and then bleaching to achieve the whites.
But the best thing about the new world of digital photography is that you can begin with an original version of an old photograph, then bring it into worlds that didn't exist way back in 1962. The pictures below show some of the possibilities.
Some technical notes: The original picture was shot with my Canonflex R, 100mm F/2 lens, Tri-X film, and printed on Agfa #5 paper to remove the middle tones. The illumination was provided by a 1000 ws flash that I built from surplus parts. The black and white print was photographed with a Sony DSC-R1, with illumination provided by a large LED flood lamp. The software used was Adobe Streamline 4, Adobe Illustrator 9, and LightZone 3.
Copyright 1958-2018 Tony & Marilyn Karp