Thursday, July 5, 2012

So THAT's What It's Supposed to Look Like!

I've had this laying around the house for awhile now.  It came from an online auction, and I was surprised no one else went for it:

It's a glass plate with a negative image of Hutcheon pencils, which would be used to make "contact prints" in a darkroom.  This plate would have been laid directly onto a sheet of photographic paper; when light would be shot through it onto the paper, the lighter areas would allow light to pass through and expose the paper (which would turn dark).  It was probably used for the company's catalogs in house, since a glass plate would have been far too fragile to send off to newspapers for advertising:

Neat as it is, I'd always wanted to see the picture itself, because looking at the negative, even a full sized one, just isn't the same.  Unfortunately, as the digital age has quietly consumed the photography industry over the last few years, wet darkrooms these days are nearly extinct -- sure, there's a few places that will develop your Disney World disposable camera, but it's hard to find the kind of darkroom that can make a contact print from a full-sized glass negative.

But I knew just the man for the job.  There's a fellow here in Newark by the name of Rich Pound, who runs an outfit down on our sleepy town square called Don Pound Studio.  He's been doing photography at least as long as I've been in town, which has been twenty years, and he took the business over from his father some time before that.  Their studio, like my office, is in one of those 1870s storefronts that's three stories tall and about a hundred feet deep, but only about fifteen feet wide.  We downtown merchants get all the exercise we need just going up and down to the office, to the bathroom, or to go back and get whatever we forgot on the other floor.

So I went in to talk to Rich.  Since with Rich there are no short conversations, I did it on an afternoon when I wasn't expecting clients for the rest of the day.  I showed him the plate and asked if he still had a wet darkroom, and Rich looked at me like I had three heads.  They haven't had one of those for years, he explained.  But, he said, he had an idea . . .

Rich explained how he could construct a light table using concrete blocks and a piece of opaque white plexiglas.  He explained how he would light it from underneath and showed me the different kinds of lights he was thinking would work best.  Then he demonstrated how he would use polarizing filters to reduce glare, by tacking an old tintype picture to the wall and taking a few shots adjusting the filters to show me how it would work.   He even gave me a filter to try at home. 

After that, he explained, the rest would be easy.  He'd take a high-resolution digital photograph of the plate, then use photoshop to reverse the image, and there you'd have it.  Wow, I was thinking to myself.  This is going to be expensive.  But, after a half-hour brainstorming/photography instruction class, I wasn't going to say "thanks, but no thanks" to him. 

A couple days later, he brought the plate back by my office when I wasn't there.  He told my assistant he didn't want it getting lost or broken or both, and if you saw Rich's studio you'd understand what a reasonable precaution that is.  So when I stopped by a couple days later to pick up the finished product, you'd also understand how reasonable it was that he had it there . . . somewhere . . . but couldn't lay his hands on it just then.    No worries, I told him.  Let me know when you find it.

Weeks passed, and my wife and I in a weak moment found ourselves at the Draft House, a great little bar and greasy spoon next door to Rich's studio.  Just like Rich's studio and my office, the Draft House is a long, narrow place, with an impressive oak bar running all the way down the left side and a row of booths running down the right, with a little kitchen in the back.  It has its share of characters in there, particularly at the beginning of the month, when everyone gets their government checks -- "Dinner and a show," an acquaintance of mine used to call it.  

Donna and Eula make the best cheeseburger in town at the Draft House, so Janet and I have to limit our visits there (if we didn't, we'd weigh significantly more than we already do).   But even though we don't go often, we've been going for years.   Donna always brings me a cold mug of Miller Lite without asking, and she's always right.  Then she'll ask if we're having our usual, and we say yes.  We'll catch up a bit, drink a few drafts, and head on our way.

As we left that day, I heard a voice from above call out my name.  No, it wasn't the Almighty begrudging me a few extra calories and a couple of pints -- it was Rich Pound, who had opened up one of his upper-story windows to call down that he'd found my picture.  Even though it was pushing nine in the evening, he hustled downstairs to unlock the door and let me in.  Here's the finished product:

Mission accomplished.  I cringed a bit when I asked him how much I owed him.

His answer:  $13.40.

Sometimes I really love life in a small town.


anonimo said...

Funny (and accurate as well...) description of what a contact-print is. The same goes for the wet darkroom (I still have my b&w enlarger at home, and my wife is threatening me with the usual "either the enlarger or you have to leave" ;-)
Anyways: Great image you've got!

Joe said...

Just outstanding!

Mike Kirk said...

This image is just breathtaking. Not just the image but the glass as well! The results have a 3-D effect. Unique find! I love it.

Anonymous said...

I'm a great great grandaughter of one of the hutcheon brothers and it's great to see family memories on your site. we still have the 3rd one from the right at my dad's house. thanks for your enthusiasm

Jon Veley said...

Hey there anonymous, I'd love to hear more from you. Hutcheon is one on those shadowy, high quality brands that we pencilphiles don't know much about. I have a lot of questions for you -- like what were the brothers' names, and what was their relationship with Mabie Todd?

Drop me an email if you get the chance at

Andrew said...

Fascinating story. What year would you put on the plate Jonathan?