Friday, November 13, 2020

Photographs — Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

For years my mother told me how my sister Vicky had been born dead. She told me that she had red hair. I have been interested to the point of obsession in red-haired women since.

It was sometime in the late 70s when we were living in Burnaby that a red-haired stewardess contacted me and wanted me to take her portraits. I do not remember anything (including her name). I photographed her at the Museum of Anthropology at UBC.

I was an amateur colour printer and I have conflicting memories of going up from my basement darkroom to the outside to check on prints that I was making of her. To me none of the photographs managed to accurately show the colour of her skin and that of her hair. I was frustrated and came to the conclusion that either colour film could not cope with redheads or I was a terrible printer. Shortly after my Rosemary signed me up for a colour printing course at Ampro Photo Workshops on Broadway (now gone and until recently replaced by a store that sold Roman Catholic paraphernalia.

In my many years of having a studio and shooting for magazines I never did get a red-haired subject. But I noticed that when I used Ektachrome or any colour negative film, somehow none of my photographs showed my gray wall as being a neutral gray. The gray had tones of blue, green or cyan or of all three. I felt it was a failure of film. I may have been right.

As soon as digital cameras came into the mix I noticed that photographers who were aware of colour and how different light, daylight (morning, noon, late afternoon), incandescent lights, fluorescent, TV studio lighting ,etc could be properly corrected to show people’s faces with accuracy (including gray walls!).

But I have noticed that this whole idea of accuracy in digital photography colour has been superseded by an interest in bright colours (over-saturated in a photographer’s parlance) and in sharpness.

It was a few months ago where I photographed my friend and model Olena in my piano room. I fiddled with the colour temperature setting of my Fuji X-E3 and low and behold her skin was reproduced on my monitor (calibrated) and on prints exactly as it is, a pristine whiteness. I believe that a red-haired person can now be photographed to show that slight blue cast of their skin as a contrast to the brilliant red of their hair.

Now until today my story of the red-haired stewardess was just a story. But today I found a contact sheet with colour negatives under a file called Model in Red. This was a woman I photographed at about that same time who lived in Burnaby. She was blonde but because I had forgotten her name I filed her under that name because she wore a brilliant red dress.

And what was in that other negative file?

As they say in Vancouver restaurants, “Enjoy”

I must, still point out that the negatives are at least 40 years old and colour negative has always been unstable. I believe I have managed to colour correct to my satisfaction two of these photographs of this remarkable woman. And to finish it seems I was just getting started in asking women to pose on their beds. There was only one and it is below.

Link to: Colorin Colorado

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