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Scanning The Past

2016-03-02 Morgan Fisher is an acclaimed British musician who played with Mott the Hoople and Queen (on their 1982 tour of Europe).

But he is also an accomplished abstract photographer who developed a unique ‘light painting’ technique inspired by the non-figurative work of pioneers such as Man Ray and Moholy-Nagy. Morgan has lived in Japan since 1985 and has himself been featured in VICTOR Magazine. Here he reveals his absorbing story about a seventy year old series of pictures originally captured by Derrick Woollacott, a 22 year old Royal Air Force photographer in 1946. With help from a friend and a Hasselblad Flextight X5 scanner Morgan brought these images back to life.

Derrick35_1000He says: “It was just like discovering buried treasure. A Facebook friend introduced me to another Facebook friend who had just uploaded some photographs her father had taken while on duty in Japan in early 1946. Derrick Woollacott was a young RAF photographer, and as some of his photographs were shot in Hiroshima mere months after the bomb, I steeled myself to see some tragic images. However, when I saw them, my jaw dropped at the poignancy and stark beauty of these photographs of the Japanese people rebuilding their lives as farmers, fishermen, teachers, musicians, and parents. This talented young man, working under still-dire conditions, with little free time and even less film stock, managed, usually with only the chance of a single attempt at each shot, to beautifully compose and meticulously expose numerous photographs that for me are up there with those of the best war photographers – perhaps even the best outdoor photographers – of his era.”

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Derrick40_1000He adds; “It was obvious to me that these photographs – which had never been seen publicly, apart from three images that won 1st, 2nd and 3rd prize in a national Japanese newspaper’s photo contest while he was stationed here – deserved to be seen as widely as possible. I started at once to share, with anyone who could help make this happen, a 100-page pdf file his daughter Valerie Neale had prepared to provide the context for these photographs. It included about 50 of Woollacott’s best images together with her account of her late father’s two year posting in South-East Asia.”

“Almost everyone I showed the collection to – top photo agencies, gallery curators, photographers, etc. – had the same reaction as I to the strong emotional content and photographic excellence of this work.”

“My friends at Hasselblad Japan were among the most enthusiastic, and immediately offered me the use of their world-beating Flextight X5 scanner to scan the almost 70-year old 6 x 6cm negatives to the best possible standard currently available.”

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Derrick01_1000Morgan enlisted his American photojournalist and photo-historian friend Torin Boyd to help and the duo worked tirelessly for a full month to complete the project. “We were scanning the past” he enthuses. “The individual negatives were still in remarkably good condition in spite of some scratching, peeling and fading.

Derrick in UniformEach resulting digital file – about 7500 x 7500 pixels, was almost 200Mb in size. After meticulous digital cleaning – 1 to 2 hours’ work per image – Boyd made very subtle tonal adjustments, dodging and burning, adjusting overall contrast and intensity, to bring the medium format black and white images to the optimum quality required for inkjet printing on fine art archival paper. Says Morgan: “We were both astonished at the amount of detail that the X5 made visible; on zooming right into these files, one could even see the individual film grains before being able to see individual pixels. Quite extraordinary.” Torin continues: “Over the years I’ve used a number of film scanners, and none of them even come close to Hasselblad’s Flextight X5. The speed, ease of use and quality of this scanner is unsurpassed. The grain, highlight and shadow details were amazing; these nearly seventy-year-old images really sprang to life.”

Printing went smoothly and quickly, with very few further adjustments needed, and no cropping done, due to the excellent compositions Woollacott had already created in the field, using the hard-to-see inverted viewfinder of his ordinary twin lens reflex camera.

Concludes Morgan: “Undoubtedly, the Flextight X5 scanner, the most significant link in this chain of events, breathed new life into these rare, classic images in more ways than one.”

 

derrickwoollacott.com

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