Saturday, May 1, 2010

Photo Archeaology - Anatomy of an Image

Rue Foyatier, this oft-photographed stairs, climbs up the Butte Montmartre in Paris, ending near Sacre Couer basillica, the highest point in the city. On a stopover following a business trip in December 1977, I had walked here from a Metro stop a few blocks to the south, and found myself at the bottom of the staircase. I liked the disappering-into-infinity pattern of the steps, railings, and trees, but by itself, the scene looked to static.

So I did what I now realize is a frequent trick of mine - I anchored myself and waited for someone to walk into the scene. The strip of exposures above is the sequence of photos as I took them (click on the image to see a larger view).

Back home on East 83rd Street, I developed the film and checked the contact sheet with my trusty 8x Agfa Loupe, the 20th-century equivalent of the "magnify" button on the back of our digital cameras.

The first three images didn't do anything for me at all. The fourth was a "maybe"... the woman caught ducking behind the fence seemed to lend a tiny bit of mystery. But the fifth photo gave me an aha! feeling.

The position of the woman within this frame, as well as her relative size, works well compositionally. Also, her slightly bent-over and schleppy look at this moment suggeted a tired struggle up the long staircase that matched the somber, lonely look of that soggy, gloomy December day.

Here's the "new" version of that fifth photo, newly scanned from the negative after more than 32 years, slightly cropped, straightened, and lightly adjusted for blacks in Photoshop.

I think it's a great marriage of new and old technology: Epson V500 scanner combined with 1970's Tri-X film and D-76 developer, a 1940 Leica iiiC body, and a 1952 50mm f/2 Collapsible Summicron lens.

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