MARJORIE DOGGETT’S PHOTOGRAPHS
This is a short version of the photo technical information in the book Marjorie Doggett’s Singapore. The full text is in the book’s section PHOTOGRAPHS: SELECTION AND REPRODUCTION
Marjorie Doggett’s cameras and film
In Singapore, from 1952 Marjorie Doggett began using a Rolleicord III. The Rolleicord III had a twin-lens design: one lens being the viewing lens (which transmitted light to the top viewfinder), the other being the taking lens (through which light passed to the film). The critical taking lens was a Xenar f3.5 75mm Schneider – a medium-format lens that gives an angle of view slightly wider than a 35mm camera’s 50mm “standard” lens.
There is no indication of the film Marjorie Doggett used in England or Singapore, as she trimmed her negatives, removing the maker’s name and film type. However, examination of her negatives shows the film was all fine-grain, slow black-and-white film. Fine-grain film produces the sharpest negatives.
Editing the negatives and prints
The editing aim was to approach Doggett’s photos afresh, with only secondary reference to her book Characters of Light. As with any photo editing, repeated negative viewings, to study the images closely – precisely – with a light box and viewing “loupe” (photographic magnifying glass) is critical. This allows familiarity with the photos’ subjects, and with their range of aesthetic and technical qualities.
Only thus can one assess the small, critical gradations between negatives (or prints) with extremely sharp, sharp, soft yet acceptable “definition” (or sharpness) – and those which are too poor. Meanwhile, through studying each negative, one can see its contrast range and density, the primary indicators (with sharpness) of reproduction quality. Experience, visual judgement, and a sensibility for photo aesthetics guide the process.
The decisions concerning what negatives or prints to include, and those to exclude, rely mainly on photographic qualities: subject and content; angle of view and composition; lighting; exposure, density and contrast; and sharpness.
Selecting the book photos
As the editing proceeded, the work moved into the higher levels of selecting the book photos. By then, there was a view of which photos must be included, which hopefully could be included, the borderline photos, and those to be rejected. Book budget issues also affected the photo editing.
Finally, based on the optimum selected photos, a soft copy page grid was made. This showed the virtually certain photos as double-page spreads, to be seen in the book. But there was still some selection leeway as, despite the rigour of the editing process, the photo quality had still to be confirmed in the scanned, digital images.
Scanned images, working up and wet proofing
The negatives and prints were scanned for the maximum tonal detail in the “shadow” and “highlight” areas (each image’s low and high key areas). The image work up adjusted each image’s “curve” (the graphical representation of a digital image’s tonal range) for the best final effect. As for all of the Foundation’s books, the reproduction process assumed that, were the original photographer alive, she or he would use the best contemporary photo technical options – to achieve the optimum tonal reproduction.
Initially 12 scans, with varying image characteristics, were worked up and wet proofed, using the Pantone grey colour duotone and the varnish the book would have. Comparing the proofs to Doggett’s negatives, the proofs were slightly too high contrast (especially in the clouds, which are good indicators). This showed the need for further adjustment of the 12 scans, followed by another round of wet proofing. That yielded excellent results. The cumulative adjustments were then carried over, with refinements for every photo.
One of the underlying reasons for completing this book was to remedy the very severe “cropping” (or trimming) of Marjorie Doggett’s photos in Characters of Light. Still, for this book there was some cropping – to remove some photos’ empty foregrounds. Doggett’s negatives – 6cm x 6cm squares – are reproduced in the book as squarish rectangles. This is because she often moved back from buildings, to minimize the leaning distortion that verticals present when viewed off the horizontal. This optical illusion can be remedied with a “perspective control lens”, which optically brings “as seen” leaning lines back to the vertical. But Doggett had only a normal lens. For her, moving back, which slightly diminishes “as seen” leaning verticals, was the solution. However, moving back also creates empty foregrounds. In this book, by cropping out her resulting rather empty foregrounds, the designer brought her buildings closer and more fully to life.
Book printing and press checking
Nothing in the book publication process can match the excitement of seeing the long-worked aim come to fruition during the book printing. Press checking is crucial to the final printing. It aims to ensure that the book’s printed sheets exactly replicate, or better still marginally improve on, the wet proofs. It is the ultimate fine tuning: to the amounts of each ink and varnish; and for adjusting the multiple printing plates, by fractions of a millimetre, to enhance the “registration” (the precise matching of the printing plates) for optimum sharpness. Judgements on the trial “formes” (printing sheets) pass rapidly to and fro, between the book publisher and the leading pressman.
They reflect the pressman’s technical options, and the publisher’s aesthetic and visual wishes. Tonal and other trade-offs are sometimes essential. They can be stressful. Press machine time, paper wastage and so the printing costs hover in the press room. After each trial forme has been optimized, the actual printing of its sheets begins. Printed sheets fly through the press at three to four sheets per second!
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