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Almost Impossible

I remember the day, shortly I had started carrying a view camera around when I realized how competitive landscape photography would be, and that I needed every possible advantage. Clearly one was to make my own prints.

I already knew the limitations of Ektacolor (usually called “C-prints”) and Cibachrome and other processes and they all felt inadequate because none let you inside the chemistry so you could mess with what was happening. Printing color is difficult so most processes essentially locked you out. The contrast and color saturation were built in. You could control brightness and color balance, but this was like telling a painter there would be no pastels or brilliant reds.

I had seen a couple of examples of dye transfer prints and knew that spectacular prints were possible. However, the process needed to be disassembled to get at the chemical and optical controls. Oddly enough, a process that could do this was invented in the 1930s and used to make movies with the trade-name Technicolor.

Technicolor was a dye transfer process that Kodak, with the help of outside technicians converted for use with still images. The process has the advantage that red, green and blue are processed separately and contrast and saturation can be controlled. However...

There is no such thing as a “dye transfer printer” that you can by for any price nor is there an instruction manual. The nearest at the time was a Kodak publication E-80 that gave you a few ideas.

So I found someone making dye transfer prints, watched one being made (this was supposed to be one of a series of lessons) and said goodby. Learning to do this had to be at my own pace and I had to build a lab and equipment myself and would made working as reliable and simple as possible. I spent 1978 building my lab and made my first prints.

It was very easy to overdo color which I often did, but the best of the prints are beyond the color range of the best digital.

For further explanation the Wikipedia article “Dye Transfer Printing” is a good reference or just click below and watch me make a print in my own lab.

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