Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Pop goes the picture

I was browsing some photo websites as I tend to do, when I came upon an interesting body of work by the photographer Phil Borges. He specializes in the "people of indigenous cultures" and has photos from Kenya to Thailand to North America. What makes his photos so interesting, besides that stunning clarity he gets by using a Hassleblad, is that the foreground really pops out at the viewer with a slight bit of color. It is quite a sight to behold, so I emailed the site and inquired about the technique. Here was the response from one of Phil's assistants:

"The process that makes the foreground subject pop with color is done through a process called selective toning. I have included the instructions for the process below.

Selective Toning
These black and white silver gelatin prints are selectively toned in sepia toner. They are not hand colored with oils or dyes. I print on Ilford Multigrade IV paper and tone the prints with Kodak sepia toner. The sepia toner changes each silver halide crystal in the print from black to sepia color. I prefer this method to hand coloring because, unlike oils or dyes sepia toning is very archival. Also. this method allows the white areas, where there are no silver crystals, to remain white. I protect the areas of the print that I don't want to sepia tone with a sheet of frisket. (Low Tac Frisket can be found at any art supply store) and a liquid product call Maskoid (used by airbrush artists). After making the black and white print, I cover the part of the print I don't want to tone with the frisket and Maskoid leaving the areas I want to tone exposed. I then immerse the print in the toner and the chemical transformation that produces the sepia color takes place--just in the areas of the print not covered by the frisket."

It turns out the selective toning technique is not some computer trick, but an actual photographic toning process. I think it makes the foreground look incredible, but in contrast with the background the image looks a little fake, almost like the subject was pasted in. This process seems like it could be used to do some amazing things and Phil's photos really do catch one's attention, but I'm still undecided as to whether I really enjoy the images as whole pieces, foreground and background. I guess I'll have to really wait until I see one of his pieces in real life. Check out the website and decide for yourself if Phil Borges' images are solid candidates for appreciation.

Phil Borges' Website

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