A Little Paint, A Little Pencil

Lizzie and Art Mosher in the late 1930s

Toronto. Professionals liked the larger negatives and glass plates last century before the onslaught of the minicam. The plates and cut films could be easily retouched by a skilled practitioner.  Contrast could be varied or features emphasized by careful use of pencil lead and an x-acto knife. The lead could emphasize detail or lighten highlights while the x-acto knife could carefully scrape away layers of emulsion to deepen the shadows.

Colour was a fading proposition in the mid last century. More  permanent black and white prints could be coloured with inks applied to the surface. Special dyes were sold that covered a wide gamut of colours. I remember a studio in Midland, Ontario that offered large hand coloured prints based on a monochrome portrait taken by them. They emphasized the durability and permanency of this rather expensive approach.

My grandparents had a black and white portrait taken outdoors in the mid to late 1930s at their home in Long Branch. When their daughter married my father and moved north of the city, my dad had the print coloured.

Some years ago I mentioned my grandfather had worn a suit for his photograph. My dad laughed, “The old boy never had a suit. He was in overalls for the picture.” It was then I realized the suit, shirt and even the tie were drawn. The retoucher had coloured the print and added a gold chain across the “vest”. And the apple tree shown here in blossom? It was a big Wolf River apple tree growing wild on the lot behind my grandparent’s home.

Our late editor Ev Roseborough was skilled in the art of retouching. A special light table  designed for retouching was often used. Books like those written by O R Croy and published by Focal Press gave detailed instructions on the technique.

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