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The Hidden World of the Nearby

Making A Dye Transfer Print

Images from a slide show made for me in my own lab.


Dye transfer printing was invented in the 1930s and was used in the Technicolor motion picture process and for making very high quality photographic prints. Until the mid 1990s it was the only way to print brilliant color and to control contrast and color saturation. It was, however, a very tricky process. Eleven black and white films had to be made in register before a print could be made.

I spent one year building a lab specifically for the process knowing that any glich would through everything off. I, and my dedicated associate Michael Conrad printed from 1978 until 1993 when Kodak disontinued the process.

Among other accomplishments we succeeded in making 32" x 40" prints, I think something unheard of outside of professional labs. I had to have a quarry in Vermont make the print rolling board. The pictures here were taken by Marlene Nelson in my lab for a slide show.

32" x 40" Dye Transfer

Unheard Of

Unheard of, at least outside of at least outside of a major professional lab. My agent: “why would you do that.” After all, Eliot Porter was happy with 16" x 20" and considered large prints to be “wall paper.”

Well mother nature’s beauty extends to the very small, and I love the texture that adds to an image, and you see that best in a large print. Yet most of the best scenes are large. So 32" x 40" is a wonderful size. And a source of many large problems.

If you look closely at the picture above, you will see the roller and paper are on a piece of granite, about one inch think. That granite I can purchase from a supplier. But about 36" x 40" is not in inventory. What to do? Visit a toumbstone supplier who directs me to a granite quarry in Vermont. This should be interesting. And it was.

Can you make this? Of course. Smooth and flat? Sure?

Returning in two weeks with a machinists long straight edge. Place it on the granite corner to corner. It is a dish. 1/8 inch dip in the middle. Can’t toll on that. O.K. Will regrind.

Two weeks later another visit. This time it is flat.

Is that the end of problems? Just beginning. An enlarger. Luck, a supply has a large one. A vacuum easel to hold the matrix film during exposure. Make my own. Having one made would cost much. Enlarger high enough. Well we put the vacuum easel on the floor and the enlarger is within a whisker of the ceiling.

The Trays for the matrix film deveopment. Find a plastics shop. A darkroom sink to hols three trays? Well I built the first but my neighbor, a craftsman for sure and so Kip makes the sink. Plumbing? That’s me again. Heavy curtins to darken? A skilled seamstress. Keep the sink low so you can hold the matrix film high enough. My goodness, can all this work?

Being an engineer surely helps and the pieces go together, and wonder-tech Michael Conrad? Up to the challenge. And so, 32" x 40" dye transfer prints. When labs were closing down after Kodak cancelled the process, a dealer comes to us to finish a project of 32" x 40" dye transfer prints, to match those already made and it turned out made poorly but look wonderful. And finally we complete the order.

And so there is (or was, that’s a long time ago), $9,000 for a Dreamed Brook to hang in a penthouse on Central Park South in New York. And quite a few shipped around the country. Not too big afterall, but as large as possible for Kodak did not make matrix film any larger.

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