Wednesday, November 15, 2017


Sally Lee, film test, Parkdale, April 1991. Kodak VPS rated at ISO 20, pushed 1 stop, 30R filter

MY RECENT POST OF OLD FASHION PHOTOS featured some shots of Sally Lee, my onetime roommate in the Parkdale loft and sometime model for my studio experiments. When I was scanning those shots, I remembered that one of the thankless favours I asked of Sally was being the model for my attempts to calibrate the results of cross processing colour negative film through E-6 chemistry.

While it's true that Sally was a convenient model, living as she did in the next room, I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I knew that scrutinizing rolls of slide film for contrast and tonal shifts would be generally more pleasant with an attractive model. She was agreeable enough to stand in front of one of my strobe lights for two sessions in the spring of 1991, holding up my homemade colour chart while I changed filters and made notes on f-stops as I worked.

Sally Lee, film test, Parkdale, April 1991. Kodak VHC rated at ISO 20, pushed 1 stop, 40M filter
Sally Lee, film test, Parkdale, April 1991. Fujicolor 400 rated at ISO 50, pushed 1 stop, 40M filter open 1 stop

I'd first seen cross-processed photos in American music magazines, in work by people like Michael Lavine. Not long after my predecessor at NOW magazine, photographer Chris Nicholls, had done some early work with cross-processed slide film, and he was kind enough to sit down with Chris Buck and I in an east end diner and give us some basic tips on how it was done.

He said that you could cross-process both ways, but that you needed to do a lot of testing to see how pushing and filters and exposure would effect the results, especially when working with colour negative film. After some early success with slide film-turned-negative, I picked up a variety of negative films and tried to find something workable. I carefully recorded my results and offered them to anyone who wanted to try it out, figuring that it was better to share information than hoard it.

In the end, negative-through-slide cross-processing turned out to be too unpredictable to work with, though I'd keep going back to slide-through-negative cross-processing on and off for the next decade, looking for a way to get punchier colours and interesting historical effects. Nowadays almost all of this can be approximated roughly in Photoshop, though to my eye there's always something specific and unique to film chemistry - some peculiarity in the tonal shifts - that no one has ever been able to recreate digitally.

Sally Lee, film test, Parkdale, April 1991. Fuji Reala rated at ISO 12, 85 filter
Sally Lee, film test, Parkdale, April 1991. Kodak Ektar 25 rated at ISO 3, pushed 1 stop, no filter, closed 1 stop
Sally Lee, film test, Parkdale, April 1991. Agfa Portrait 160 rated at ISO 20, 85 filter closed 1 stop

How I ended up living with Sally is another story. She was, by the time I took these shots, my ex-girlfriend's sister, or very nearly. The three of us had moved into the Parkdale loft together, subletting the space against the wishes of a rogue landlord who tried to force all the tenants out with intimidation and threats. Sally's sister broke up with me after moving to New York City to study, leaving us in a somewhat awkward living situation.

We lasted a year after the breakup as roommates before it got all too much for Sally and she moved out. I was so desperate to have a shooting space that I was apparently willing to endure thug superintendents shoving toothpicks in my door lock, writing threats on our door and blaring country radio in the empty unit next door, along with the emotional awkwardness of living with the sister of my ex, as nice as she could be. I'd end up living in that loft for the rest of the decade, though the landlord and his thugs were gone not long after I took these photos.

Sally's essential likability has always made her popular in Toronto's overlapping worlds of art, music and film, where she's worked since we were roommates. I've always felt that I must have tested her amiability with my own basically grouchy temperament, not to mention my increasingly fragile emotional state during and after the break-up with her sister, but we've somehow managed to stay friendly in spite of it all. She took up the bass while we were living together, and she's till at it today, playing with our old upstairs neighbour Don Pyle in a new band. I'd like to post these old photos as a belated thank you, both for helping me out and for enduring.

No comments:

Post a Comment