Émile Zola, Bob Mercer & the Day Glo Abortions

Left Émile Zola — Self Portrait— Right Bob Mercer — December 14–2017 — Photographs -Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

While I have known many photographers in my career as a magazine photographer in Vancouver I cannot generalize about “our” habits. I can only assert about myself and those reading this can take it from there and decide if other photographers have the same habits.

As a photographer I believe I have mostly been set in my ways for periods of time. I have been through the print in high contrast, print in split contrast, shoot only with Kodak b+w Infrared Film, use one light, use many lights, use available light and so on.

I think that as a photographer I am a paradox of being conservative while also taking chances.

Laziness or an inability to go further in my methods of shooting made me early one to say I did not want to shoot with a 4x5 camera (I did once) as I did not want to see the world upside down. Laziness made me loose total interest in a pre-digital technique (very complicated it was) called posterization.

I was never interested in true techniques of the 19thcentury. I did not want to lose my hair (lots of mercury vapour) with Daguerreotypes nor was I interested in glass plates or Talbot Types (paper negatives sandwiched further to make paper positives).

I was curious enough to use primitive box cameras (never the lousy modern Holga) or swivel-lens panoramics. I have all three that were the most popular, the Widelux, the Horizont and the huge Noblex.

If anything, any diversity I ever showed was in lighting. I even shot the strangely named Day-Glo Abortions with black lighting.

Day Glo Abortions

Because I am aware of those ancient 10thcentury photographic methods I have a memory to what they looked like. I can imitate some of them and purists can scoff all they want.

The reason that I don’t care is that all the time that I have been taking photographs with whatever lights and equipment I had at my disposal I was also attempting to achieve the better portrait. I am not interested in a still life or in landscapes.

This past two weeks showed me a couple of items that told me I have been on the right track. In a brand new book Avedon-Something Personal by Norma Stevens [Avedon’s studio manager] and Steven M.L. Aronson I read this:

…until the end Avedon was pavonine and recessive, autocratic and inhibited, everyone’s best friend and utterly inscrutable. It doesn’t add up. It can’t. It’s a portrait, and as Avedon’s most famous saying goes, “All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth.”

When I pursue a portrait I am looking for what I consider (most subjective this is) the essence of the person my camera is pointed at. I am aware that the person posing is only showing what I am allowed to see and only in rare occasions will my subject remove all veils and walls. I attempt to portray in a portrait (a single one) the essence in Platonic terms.

This portrait of Bob Mercer that I took today (with my iPhone3G is my take on what makes him be Bob Mercer. He would probably laugh at this.

The second interesting revelation was finding this article in the Guardian where I found out that Émile Zola was a prolific photographer. One of the portraits, a self-portrait that caught my eye was one called a cyanotype. This method of printing photographs extended well into the 20thcentury and there may be still some artistes who do it.

Cyanotype is a photographic printing process that produces a cyan-blue print. Engineers used the process well into the 20th century as a simple and low-cost process to produce copies of drawings, referred to as blueprints. The process uses two chemicals: ferric ammonium citrate and potassium ferricyanide.


I wrote about the process here.

Now with a little bit of useful Photoshop knowledge and the use of my $50 Corel Paint Shop Pro X2 photo program I can make and prints (inkjets) that are close copies.

And why not? After although I am a conservative on this stuff I am not a purist.

Link to: Émile Zola, Bob Mercer & the Day Glo Abortions

Originally published at blog.alexwaterhousehayward.com.



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Into Bunny Watson. I am a Vancouver-based magazine photographer/writer. I have a popular daily blog which can be found at:http://t.co/yf6BbOIQ alexwh@telus.net