The Mercedes Portfolio:
This is an early portfolio of images of my daughter Mercedes. At the time, I was married to my ex-wife Cheryl Younger, and together we had a collection of photographs of our daughter called “Visions of a Child.” These photos are from that collection, made somewhere between 1977 and 1982.
I worried about one aspect of photographing my daughter. It was early in my career and I took being an artist and having the responsibility to make art that are “gallery oriented” images seriously. Those photographs had to talk to people who don’t know me or my daughter. It was easy to make “grandparent” pictures for distribution to our families, but that wasn’t what I thought I needed to be doing all the time.
I discovered it was not easy to control a two or three-year old to hold still for photographs. She was constantly moving. That energy was a factor of being her age and highly active. So it came to be that these pictures were blurry by necessity and she was oddly positioned inside the frame because it was hard to get her to stand still to compose an image. So I began to accept that the resulting pictures, blurry and oddly positioned, removed them from the “ just for grandparents” status and put them into a more “universal” image.
These are scans from vintage images from the time “Visions of a Child” was being exhibited.
I’m not sure I would want to reproduce them again in the original analog (darkroom) manner. Technically, they are 35 mm negatives printed on Kodak G surface paper with a “Kodalith” developing technique.
The prints were overexposed in the darkroom, and then developed in a Kodalith developer (a high contrast film developer). The technique was to develop the print to a point where the ‘brown’ tones were showing, but get them into a stop bath as they were just about to turn black. If you did it just right, you could pull the print out of developer and stop the development so both brown with small amounts of black were there. (If you waited too long, the print would quickly turn solid black.) That process resulted in Kodalith’s unusual grain and the brown and white image. In a way this was something more like “developing by inspection,” since “when to pull them out of the developer” was a highly subjective decision. Unfortunately, in most cases you could not make the same print twice. Because it was so subjective, it sometimes it wasn’t really possible to make images just like the last one. So editioning was impossible.
These images are from a time and a process that has long passed. Kodak does not make G surface paper anymore, which had a matte surface and an off-white (almost yellow) base color. While “Kodalith printing” is still available as an “alternative process” it is really not similar to what I was doing in the early 80’s. I’m happy I have so many vintage prints from this series left. They remind me of a time back when my daughter was young and I was just beginning to think of myself as an artist.