From Paper to Papers

From my first day on the job as a news photographer in May 1982 until The Ada News bought a scanner in September 1998, I made prints like this, using Kodak Ektamatic SC paper and an Kodak Ektamatic processor.
From my first day on the job as a news photographer in May 1982 until The Ada News bought a scanner in September 1998, I made prints like this, using Kodak Ektamatic SC paper and an Kodak Ektamatic processor.
While working an Ada High baseball game I shot a frame of this airplane landing at the Ada airport. The next day I took my pilot check ride in this very aircraft and became a licensed private pilot.
While working an Ada High baseball game I shot a frame of this airplane landing at the Ada airport. The next day I took my pilot check ride in this very aircraft and became a licensed private pilot.

For the first 16 years of my career as a photojournalist, starting with my first newspaper internship in Lawton, Oklahoma, in 1982, my craft was entirely mechanical and analog. I made pictures exclusively on photographic film, and printed them on photographic paper using a darkroom, an enlarger, and processing chemistry of various kinds.

A dominant part of this process for the newspaper industry was the Kodak Ektamatic print processor. Designed to be a very quick way to make prints, the Ektamatic processor used activator and stabilizer instead of developer and fixer. Instead of a properly fixed and washed black-and-white print, it produced a damp, ready to use, supposedly temporary print in just eight seconds.

Toughman contest fans react to the action at the Pontotoc Country Fairgrounds in April 1998. Because sticky labels wouldn't adhere to the damp surface of a fresh Ektamatic print, we often just wrote names and places on the prints with felt tip pens or paper-clipped a note with caption information to the print.
Toughman contest fans react to the action at the Pontotoc Country Fairgrounds in April 1998. Because sticky labels wouldn’t adhere to the damp surface of a fresh Ektamatic print, we often just wrote names and places on the prints with felt tip pens or paper-clipped a note with caption information to the print.

Anyone who used one of these, and most of us did, remembers one thing about these prints more than anything else: the smell. The stabilizer used a potent mixture of acetic and boric acids to rapidly neutralize the developer and make the image temporarily light safe. It was a vinegar-like smell, only somehow sharper.

A young women reacts with dismay at the scene of a quadruple-fatality accident involving a funeral procession west of Ada Friday, May 29, 1992.
A young women reacts with dismay at the scene of a quadruple-fatality accident involving a funeral procession west of Ada Friday, May 29, 1992.
It wasn't all "good old days," particularly when you consider the thousands of head shots I had to print over the years for products like our football special.
It wasn’t all “good old days,” particularly when you consider the thousands of head shots I had to print over the years for products like our football special.

Cleaning this processor involved taking it apart and scrubbing the rollers, then adding fresh chemicals using bottles that sat upside down on top of the machine so they could refill the trays using valves that screwed onto the bottles. It needed to be cleaned a couple of times a week, but I can tell from my prints when I waited five or six days because there are streaks on the prints.

Vanoss fans Norman Hurley and Randi Jean Hurley cheer for the Wolves during state championship action at the Oklahoma State Fair Arena in Oklahoma City March 6, 1998.
Vanoss fans Norman Hurley and Randi Jean Hurley cheer for the Wolves during state championship action at the Oklahoma State Fair Arena in Oklahoma City March 6, 1998.
I worked with four Ektamatic print processors over the years, like this one, in the lower center part of the frame in the darkroom in Shawnee, Oklahoma in the late 1980s.
I worked with four Ektamatic print processors over the years, like this one, in the lower center part of the frame in the darkroom in Shawnee, Oklahoma in the late 1980s.
For most of my career, I received my photo assignments on cards like this. Each newspaper had a slightly different iteration, but they all conveyed the same information. Only in the last few years have I switched us to an application-based photo assignment system.
For most of my career, I received my photo assignments on cards like this. Each newspaper had a slightly different iteration, but they all conveyed the same information. Only in the last few years have I switched us to an application-based photo assignment system.

My analog craft tapered off somewhat after September 1998, when my company bought a Nikon LS-2000 film scanner and an Apple PowerMac G3 computer to run it. I still processed film, but instead of printing it with an enlarger, I scanned the negatives and saved the files on a server for the newsroom to use.

I cite this transition as part of the impetus for one of my earliest photographic trips to the desert, Villanueva.

Reviewing these images started late last year when my coworker LeaAnn Wells was looking for an old newspaper in the storage area called the “morgue.” It’s a smallish room, and had filled with so much clutter that when LeaAnn tried to stand on something to reach papers on a high shelf, she almost came crashing down. She and I vowed to clean up the place, which was filled with, for example, 300 copies of the 2006 football preview section, where we really only need about five copies.

This whole project started when a coworker nearly fell while trying to find an old newspaper in the "morgue," the storage room where we keep old printed copies of our newspaper.
This whole project started when a coworker nearly fell while trying to find an old newspaper in the “morgue,” the storage room where we keep old printed copies of our newspaper.
When a reporter shot some film, he or she would attach this little slip of paper to it, which I would paperclip to the print.
When a reporter shot some film, he or she would attach this little slip of paper to it, which I would paperclip to the print.

Knowing that if everyone is in charge, no one is in charge, I took point in this cleanup effort, and have thrown away maybe a ton of worthless duplicates of newspapers, dust mites, rat turds, and even 50 bags of cooking show coupons and free chicken broth.

In the midst of all this, I found, near the bottom of the piles, a huge box full of my own Ektamatic prints from many years ago, and decided to try to get them in some order and preserve them.

Making Me Look Bad...
One thing I despised was being caught between management urging me to use less material and editorial demanding I use more. Publishers and accountants would tell me something like, “We used too much film and paper last month. Try to use less.” Which I would. Then editors would say something like, “Why can’t I get more shots from this?” or “Why are you printing this so small?”
For a while at The Ada News in the late 1980s we published a picture page of my sports images every Monday. The public loved them, but we never have that kind of space in the daily any more.
For a while at The Ada News in the late 1980s we published a picture page of my sports images every Monday. The public loved them, but we never have that kind of space in the daily any more.

One thing I was able to affirm by looking through these thousands of images is that I was good. It’s easy for me to forget that I have done solid work for my entire career, particularly during periods when I wasn’t appreciated by management. But I look through these slicks and see that I shot well year after year after year.

Colby Jackson and Johnny Jackson play sword fight in their yard in Ada on Feb. 14, 1998.
Colby Jackson and Johnny Jackson play sword fight in their yard in Ada on Feb. 14, 1998.
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4 Comments

  1. Nicole, the chicken broth was from Taste of Home in November 2015, included in the gift bags for attendees.

    Also, for anyone keeping score, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, we used Kodak chemicals in the Ektamatic, and those prints have held up pretty well. In the mid 1990s we switched to Anitec chemicals because they were cheaper, and prints from later on had more banding and yellowing.

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