In 1943 Horst created a series of images themed “Odalisque”. (Per definition “a female slave or concubine” or “an exotic, sexually attractive woman”, Wikipedia).
The Horst Estate, Miami, decided to re-visit the interpretation of the original shot. One reason was to be able to create substantially larger exhibition prints then the usual 50x60cm (20×25″). The most known and most prestigious prints were made using the platinum palladium technique. Looking at these pieces of art, created by printer Sal Lopes, we realised that we were facing a real challenge. Would it be possible to match the tonal quality, porcelain-like skin tones and nearly physical presence with todays pigment ink printing techniques? How would the condition of the nearly 70 year old negatives hold up? How would the image “work” at a size planned for a maximum possible 144x192cm (56×72″)?
We received a couple of negatives from the Horst Archives for our first round of tests. Shot on 8×10 inch black and white negative film in studio the photographic quality of the negative seemed to be spot on both in terms of focus and development. Horst used a very dramatic lighting set up following his signature style of strongest contrast possible with near to black tones in greater parts of the picture and very crisp highlights on the models neck and shoulder.
Checking with the loupe we could hardly recognise detail in the most dense part of the highlight, but it should be fine to be captured with a drum scanner. Our partners from Officina Fotografica in Munich went to a great length to offer us a variety of scans with different gradations which laid a solid foundation for the work to come. Inherit to working with drum scanners is the achievement of an unmatched tonal range, highest resolution and “sharpness”. The results are closer to an enlargement with a condenser equipped photographic enlarger. Therefore film grain but also stains, tiny marks or damages are rather pronounced then suppressed.
Looking first time at a digital representation of the image in very high resolution we had to accept that the amount of retouching work was quite substantial. On the left you can inspect a fraction of the scan (click on image to check the full size). Obviously we wouldn’t want to loose what we just gained with a fantastic drum scan. Using filters or any other automated tool was a no-go for this kind of work. We needed to maintain the original film grain structure and don’t add any kind of retouching artefact. Unfortunately this is impossible with the set of modern retouching tools from Photoshop. We got to go back to basics and this was a long way to go….
(…to be continued)