I was “free associating” online, searching for whatever sprang to mind. I thought to search for my grandmother’s maiden name (Mary Dickson). And I found it included in a list of photographs in the Jane Reece Photographic Collection. Her older sister, Sarah’s name was also there.
This was my first introduction to Jane Reece. Although best known as a photographer in the “pictorial” style, Reece had also “made many commercial portraits of Dayton’s prominent families.” See: Wikipedia’s entry on Jane Reece (photographer).
Say what you will about me, my 9 and 16 year old ancestors were once prominent. And photogenic, I think.
Photoshopping, circa 1911
I contacted the Wright State University Libraries Special Collections & Archives about the glass plate negatives that Reece made of Mary and Sarah Dickson. Toni Vanden Bos (Archivist for the collection) helped me obtain high res scans of the images and permission to publish them here.
Look at these images close up, and you’ll see how much hand retouching Reece had done on these photos.
Here at BEACH, I do most of the Photoshop work. Sometimes I work in “channel” mode where highlights and shadows can be reversed like a negative. But it must have been tricky and painstaking work for Reece to retouch her negatives by hand.
Handwork on Negatives
Using a special pencil, as they did in those days (107 years ago) she added these fine scribbly lines to the negative in areas that would become the highlights in the final photographic print.
Seeing the way Reece used her pencil to lighten the whites of my grandmother’s eyes, reminded me of how often I had to do the same thing in my early Photoshop retouching jobs. But, like a dentist, I also used to have to whiten a lot of teeth.
Granted, when you look at this scribbly retouching up close, it looks sort of crude. But photography has always been a pointillist exercise in building images from particulate elements. These particles used to be silver; now they’re pixels. Reece’s clients were no more likely to notice these squiggles of retouching than to notice the grain of the film itself.
Above is the first page of a how-to article about exactly this type of “handwork on negatives” published in a 1911 issue of Photo-Miniature — the same year that Reece took the portraits of the Dickson sisters.
More about Jane Reece and my Dayton relatives, after the fold…. [Read more…]