Dye Transfer – avoidance

Learn by doing — but what if you’re too afraid, too uncertain, or now, just too late — all the stuff is gone. Everything is gone, except the high posters of the internet forums. They continue to chatter about a process that few of them engaged. It is used as a merit badge. Most of these posters are imposters; much like Post Exchange warriors — GIs who served by serving in the mess hall.

standardized: my dog ate it

I don’t mean to be unkind. I do mean to caution you about the internet guides who are lost, yet continue shouting follow me to paradise. The above quote is from a dye transfer group saved from the Yahoo groups changes of the past winter. The quote (in blue) is a response from a poster found on both the film-chemistry photography forums. He has more than 20,000 combined posts; using the forums as though a twitter+message system.

His response was to an established printer who is giving ‘Poser’ the benefit of the doubt, and has asked for details about Poser’s process specifics. The response is a standard: “my dog ate it.” My notes are in my other pocket.

The picture shows the car length distance to Poser’s ‘Lab.’ Although, by the miracle of no-one-cares he is never outed. Oddly, he is easy to locate — each of his postings has an eponymous website which is dutifully crawled by internet archive. Poser took his site offline a few weeks after making an appointment to show his work. Apparently he wanted to limit the prior knowledge of the person coming to see his work.

Two Places / Ways

Dye Transfer tried and died. Several times. It is not a viable commercial product. Nevertheless it continues to be held up as an elegant standard. A marker of qualitative superiority. As such, it is also said to be difficult to learn; so difficult that few have ever mastered it. Of course, that is uttered by those who stress a reprographic approach; those who made meager livings by selling tickets to a weekend workshop; most importantly, by those failures of courage.

The people who find reason after reason not to make a print; to just pick up a guide and follow it. These latter day delayers are the most common person on the forums, even the groups.io listserv. Poser will ask questions on a forum, repackage it for presentation on another, thereby, gaining ‘process’ credit. This alleviates, or it has for several years, his need to show. Poser prefers to tell, never show.

The danger to you is the same as getting a map from someone who has never travelled the area. Don’t expect that you will get further than they, before becoming lost like them.

Why hasn’t Poser learned dye transfer? For a decade he has bragged that he had. Over the past year, he has modified that stance. He was confronted, partially, on a forum, by someone who does make dyes. They didn’t call him out — she just asked him questions. Elementary ones. Ones like he can’t answer on the listserv…

He can’t learn because he is a show-off who has found it easier to splash around in the kiddie pools of the internet instead of learning to swim.

A sad thing: if this were 1980, in one week anyone who was going to learn dye transfer would have had the foundation down. Currently, the same immersive method is stretched into longer time.

First, find the guide. Don’t worry about the shoes; that comes later.

Open Registration

Much of darkroom work is hand waving. Aligning images to build a print is part of the world of assembly processes.

Projecting a beam of light through a modulator, such as a piece of film, is the way of the darkroom. The enlarger is light and lens. We increase our control by being able to change the color and intensity of the light. These are the little pieces we build a world with.

Many Added

Here, we see a color print, made from separate BW negatives, using filters, manual registration, and RA-4 color paper.

tricolor type C printing

Notice how casual the assembly is. No film punch; no micro calipered, glass carriers; none of the carping crap posted on the Film Forum by slow moving Flim Flammers.

Many Divided

Next, Jerry Uelsman shows his method of making combination prints. He uses several enlargers, each with a negative of one element of the finished image.

Uelsmann in darkroom

There are people who use the computer to write their essays and there are people who still use a yellow pad and a pencil. They both can write excellent essays, stories or whatever. The process is the means by which you complete the image, but you don’t want it to be the end. There was a point at which the emphasis was on the Zone System that was all so technical. So you had this precise full tonal scale image, but what was the subject matter? It’s a cat or a sunset. So what? I’m committed to the darkroom, but I believe that if I had been 20 years younger when Photoshop came out with its visual options, I might be sitting in front of a computer rather than standing in front of an enlarger.

Jerry Uelsmann