LEE FOOK CHEE’S PHOTOGRAPHS
This is a short version of the photo technical information in the book Lee Fook Che’s Hong Kong. The full text is in the book’s section PHOTOGRAPHS: SELECTION AND REPRODUCTION
Lee Fook Chee’s Cameras and Film
Lee Fook Chee’s 1950s photos were taken with a Zeiss Ikonta camera, which in 2012 he still had. The Zeiss Ikonta was Zeiss’ top-line folding (or bellows) camera, launched in 1929. Ikontas used 120 rollfilm. In his early years, Lee used Kodak black-and-white film. Later, when his business was only average, to economize he used cheaper Ilford film. In both cases, he used low-speed, fine grain film. Lee’s negatives are 61mm x 90mm, with their actual image areas 56mm x 87mm.
The excellent optics of Zeiss lenses assured sharp negatives, enhanced in the postwar Ikontas through lens coatings that reduced internal reflections and minimized lens flare. Lee’s camera had a Tessar f3.5 lens, with a Synchro Compur shutter. It could “stop down” its aperture to f32. Its shutter speed ranged from “bulb” down to 1 second, through the usual speed intervals to 1/500 second. The camera had no built-in light meter. Lee, like many photographers then, did not use a hand meter. With the exposure latitude of black-and-white film, he judged the light and his exposures by experience and eye.
Editing the Negatives
From people’s clothing, cars and especially buildings, it was clear that almost all Lee Fook Chee’s photos were taken in the 1950s. From an initial viewing they fell into the main topics now in the book, with small groups of photos covering other subjects including film stars, Cantonese operas, weddings, funerals, Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation and squatter fires. As described in the book, there was the later important discovery of many negatives portraying Lee’s personal life.
From a total of about 600 negatives, the collection was edited down to some 240 photos, about twice the number intended for book publication. These were closely examined, using light boxes and “loupes” (photographic magnifying glasses). Negatives that were poor, because of weak content, or due to technical issues, especially poor definition or flat contrast, were rejected.
Selecting the Final Negatives
The likely book negatives were all then scanned at low resolution, to begin to visualize page layouts. This brought the selection down to about 150 photos. These were worked into possible book layouts, to assess how the images could be sequenced to build a visual interplay between, and within, the groupings. By now with a likely book chapter layout in mind, and after some final close examination by light box and loupe, a few more negatives were rejected.
Scanning the Selected Negatives
In scanning the finally selected negatives, we had reference guides for how Lee Fook Chee printed his images. These were the three excellent prints he had given to Edward Stokes at their first meeting. Glossy gelatin prints, each 8 x 11 inches, these prints had strong density, high “midday” contrast and sharp detail. Compared to their negatives, all had some slight edge cropping. Reflecting Lee Fook Chee’s printing style, these image characteristics were what we aimed to reproduce in the book – with one key reservation. If we could enhance the image definition and contrast range, and fine tune the density, we would – with modest use of digital imaging. Given modern technology, no doubt Lee (or any earlier film photographer) would have done the same. Indeed, film photographers always did so. In darkroom printing, “dodging” and “burning” were the equivalent to today’s digital imaging, used to adjust a print’s contrast and density.
The selected negatives were scanned at high resolution. Before scanning, each negative was referenced with later proofing instructions to replicate it precisely “as is”. Or, as for most of the negatives, to slightly adjust the contrast; to retain shadow and/or highlight detail; to shift the exposure slightly up or down; or to slightly sharpen the definition.
Wet Proofing the Images
To be sure of the final book reproduction, since the brightest areas can be no “whiter” than the colour of unprinted paper, the image scans were then wet proofed on the actual book printing paper. These proofs were made in duotone, with black ink and a Pantone (pure colour) ink. Used in all books by The Photographic Heritage Foundation, this deep grey Pantone adds a rich lustre to the images, especially in their darker or “shadow” areas.
Extremely accurate scanning and later imaging meant that, even at the first proofing, one third of the wet proofs were “true”, precisely reflecting each negative’s density, tones and contrast – or delivering the image adjustments requested. The remaining two thirds of the negatives, based on specific area comments, were then re-proofed. These second wet proofs were all “true” to their negatives – or to the revised imaging instructions. Thus, Lee Fook Chee’s photographs were readied for book printing.
Buy the book