Interview / Short Bio for Pomegranate - a now closed online e-zine
Although Hungarian by birth, I grew up in a small town on the Atlantic coast of Argentina during the period after WWII. It was there that just upon entering high school I was introduced to photography by a biology teacher who emphasized its application as a recording device for use along with a microscope.
Soon enough I simple 127 size reflex camera and made a darkroom in a closet at home, developed orthochromatic film by a red safelight and started to combine negatives to create, to the consternation of friends and relatives,unlikely scenes of flying saucers over the town square by combining a negative of a flashlight beam reflected off a wall with a real scene of the square and contact printing the combination.
Later that year, while looking for a summer job an opportunity presented itself to be a delivery boy for a local beach photographer and I took it. With the savings from this job I bought a camera that I though was more suitable to someone with "advanced" knowledge (it was an 828 Coronet Cub that looked like a Leica!) camera and began to frequent a local tourist stop where no photographers went, and offered to take pictures for tourists with their cameras and if they did not have one I'd offer to do it with mine and negotiated to deliver the prints to them in a few days (since I could not do enlargements and high quality finishing yet so relied on the local pharmacist to make my prints).
Early on I realized the opportunities that photography opened up as both an entertainment and a commercial medium. These early lessons have stayed with me over the years and even today I approach photography from many angles and I enjoy each and every one of them.
In 1957 my family moved to the States and we ended up in Boston. By this time I had "graduated" to an Agfa Silette 35mm camera and I was given an old folding camera by a family friend. I was quite happy with my Silette so decided to make an enlarger out of the camera. I had made improvised enlarger earlier using shoeboxes and similar nesting boxes but they all suffered from light leaks and were very unwieldy to use. I fitted a juice can over the back of the camera, a lamp inside it and the camera was mounted on a support whose position could be adjusted on a square wooden vertical post.
Something fortuitous happened at this time and that is that a sister was born and I photographer her in all kinds of situations and activities. I blew these negatives up with my improvised enlarger and entered the Boston Globe Newspaper Photo Contest. My sister was the subject of many winning photographs. At school, the Boston High School, I became the "official" school photographer and in my last year there even managed to get a "universal" pass that allowed me to leave _any_ class if there was an official school function that needed to be photographed. It was great.
I photographed sports, of course, but also all kinds of school activities and even got to travel with the band to places such as Washington for the inaguration of President Kennedy. I learned that photography opened up travel opportunities!
Anyway, later on, in 1961, when having to make a decision about college, it was a toss up between Princeton and RIT. The former offered a sports scholarship (I played soccer of course). The latter offered a Photographic Science program. I had by that time heard of Dr. Harold Edgerton of MIT and electronic flash fame. I visited his "Strobe Alley" and was impressed by the photographs and the man although I only spoke with him briefly about some concern I had with making pictures of fast moving subjects. I saw the connection between science and photography and it interested me.
Ultimately my brief encounter with "Doc" was probably responsible for me choosing photography. I have been with the Rochester Institute of technology in one capacity or another ever since. And I was very fortunate that over the years I eventually managed to be recognized by "Doc" who once called me on the phone and upon hearing the name of the person who answered, namely mine, said: "Oh, I have the wrong number!" and hung up!
The undergraduate years passed by uneventfully enough although I repeatedly failed to pass General Chemistry which eventually put me further and further behind in terms of finishing my intended degree program. Another fortunate "accident" happened at that time. I happened to answer an ad posted by a chemical engineer at the Institute who was looking for a technician, or better yet, a _photographic_ technician, to help out with photographic and illustration services around the lab. When I went to inquire about it I was hardly dressed for an interview having just finished a soccer match. The head of the lab, Dr. Kenneth C.D. Hickman, insisted on seeing who it was that was inquiring and asked that I come in to the lab from the secretarial area where I was speaking with the secretary. We had a nice chat and I thought I really blew it and put the possibility of a job there out of my mind. Two weeks later there appeared a note in my mail asking if I would be returning to the lab!
Dr. Hickman was a wonderful man. He was full of energy, enthusiasm, curiosity and generosity. He gave me interesting projects to work on and guided me in their successful completion. He encouraged me to publish and to present at professional society meetings and conferences. I have been doing that ever since!
I addition, he made it possible for me to finish first the BFA in Professional Photographic Illustration and next an MFA in Graphic Design. The arrangement we had was that as long as the required work was done I could go to school. Being employed full-time also meant the Institute waived my tuition. What a stroke of luck!
During the last year of the BFA program, while doing a senior thesis, I ran across an instructor (Eugene Tulchin of Cooper Union who was visiting RIT that year) who was not much impressed with my interest in sports photography and threatened to expel me from the program unless I demonstrated some "creativity". I happened to catch sight of some photographs by George Silk that appeared in Life magazine. Olympic sports done with a "modified camera where the film moves past a slit, like in a photofinish camera". It did not take long for me to roughly figure out what was going on and in a couple of days I was starting to experiment with a Minolta camera I had modified and was able to almost duplicate Silk's images. Fortunately that instructor of mine was so impressed by my "newly found creativity" he enthusiastically supported my work afterwards although to this day I don't think he realizes that the origin of my creativity was George Silk!
Later on, I built an improvised camera based on the same concept and applied it im my technical work in the chemistry laboratory. Eventually that work earned a 1st prize in a photo contest organized by Industrial Photography magazine. The first prize was a brand new 1967 Cougar and 10,000 picture per second high speed Wollensak Fastax camera. The car has long since rusted away but I still use the camera in a course on high speed photography that I have taught now for almost 20 years!
These particular photographs are a result of my long standing interest in this fairly specialized application of photography known generically as "strip" photography. There are several variations on the basic theme. What all of these have in common is that they move the film past a narrow slit located just in front of the film plane. Racetrack photofinish cameras use this method of photography to generate images that indisputable depict the order of finish of race participants, panoramic cameras capable of 360 degree horizontal coverage also accomplish this feat by "scanning the scene" through a narrow slit. Certain types of aerial mapping cameras, military ballistic cameras, and other cameras associated with unique applications, all use the same principle.
In the mid 1960's, I made a personal discovery (it turns out that what I "discovered" had already been extensively applied by archeological photography specialists since the late 1890's!) and this was that one could apply "strip" cameras for _peripheral_ photography. This implies that the process is one associated with images that depict the full outside surface of an object. Early applications of the technique included the reproduction of designs drawn on ancient Greek vases and Mayan pottery to records of wear patterns of pistons in the automotive industry.
I don't exactly remember how I became involved with peripheral photography but it seems to me it was a natural extension of the early "linear" strip work that concentrated on sports themes. I have been on a personal quest ever since to popularize not only this application but several other derivatives of the initial process.
As part of my MFA thesis I produced a small body of work based primarily on peripheral portraits. To recap and at the same time elaborate a bit, in peripheral photography the film in the camera is continually in motion past a narrow slit while the object in front rotates and thus the slit effectively "scans" the periphery of an object over time.
While all my early work was done with 35 mm materials, later on I developed a camera capable of using Polaroid "pack" type film and used it to conduct workshops and demonstrations at lectures and conferences nationwide. I also used it as a tool to draw attention to our School's booth at major trade shows by making instant, on the spot, peripheral portraits of anyone who requested a slightly distorted but always unique image of themselves. After being spun around on a small turntable and, hopefully, learning what peripheral photography was all about (in less than 5 minutes!) they would get their portrait, usually laugh or smile at the unusual photograph and disappear with it. After having taken thousands of these photographs I was left with nothing to show for it.
I decided to do something about this and finally refined a procedure that allowed me to "rescue" the paper negatives that one normally would discard in the trash. These paper negatives are opaque and thus normally are not useable to make further prints or enlargements from them.
The basic process (in a light hearted mood dubbed the "Phoenix" process) consists of saving the Polaroid Type 667 paper negative and as soon as practical, rephotographing it with Polaroid's Polagraph 35mm film. This film, being transparent and high contrast partially corrects for the fact that the original paper negative is opaque and low contrast. The fact that the film is positive working means that the originals tonal distribution is maintained so the Polagraph copy is a negative. This can then be placed in a standard enlarger and normal paper enlargements can be made. I finally had a record of the work that I was producing.
It turns out that the paper negative undergoes some changes as it is exposed to light. The major change is that it often exhibits a great deal of what photographers call the "Sabattier" effect, sometimes also referred to as solarization. This often made the enlargement visually more interesting that the original print.
I have made these photographs now for over 10 years and have amassed quite a collection of "alternative" portraits of a large number of individuals. Here are a few to pique your interest. If you ask me why I make these photographs my answer would be that it is a fantastic way to meet a lot of people, make unusual photographs of willing models and provide food for thought and conversation wherever I make them.
If you want to read more about the technique, several articles about the peripheral technique as well as the Phoenix process are available off my website if you look under _articles_. You'll find my home page at: http://www.rit.edu/~andpph
The article above can also be seen in the Web Archive at: Web Archive unfortunately minus the pictures shown above which were part of the original interview - the captions for the above photographs are, however, listed and match the list shown above.