Not Quite B&W originated as vivid color images taken in 2006 with Fuji Velvia 50 color transparency film. Each transparency was laboriously scanned at 4000 pixels per inch on a drum scanner and turned into printed color photographs (giclées). Clearly, today the project would have been done with digital capture saving the time and energy of the drum scan and the tedious chore of “cleaning up” the high-resolution files to remove dirt and scratches from the transparencies. The finished giclées were exhibited in an extended show, Velvia Flowers, in 2006 at Roche Bobois in La Jolla, California.
I recently revisited the files for Velvia Flowers and was struck by a realization: the intense, saturated color from Fuji Velvia 50 masked the form and grace of the subjects. By stripping the color from the files, the shape, nuance, and subtlety of the specimens comes alive. The original Velvia Flowers stood at attention on completely white backgrounds – in Not Quite B&W the subjects rest upon muted dark backgrounds where their forms can be appreciated more harmoniously. The new Not Quite B&W giclées resemble old-fashioned, sepia photographs; the "hard copy photos" are printed on watercolor paper at approximately 21” x 28” or 21” square.
Technical notes: The botanical subjects were photographed in front of a white, illuminated light box with a soft “fill light” provided behind the camera. Light “crept” around the subjects from the backlight (the illuminated light box behind the subjects); this effect in Velvia Flowers from 2006 was lost against the pure white background.
The tonality of the Not Quite B&W images comes from three separate layers of translucent color that have been overlaid on the images after stripping all color in a conversion to pure B&W. The result is reminiscent of sepia toning as practiced in the darkroom with bleach and sodium sulfide (a very smelly process which here I was happy to avoid!).