How did they remove skin blemishes from film in the 40's

Discussion in 'Film and Processing' started by robert_wong, Jul 19, 2015.

  1. I hope this is the right category, and not too obvious...
    For the longest time I have been intrigued by the headshots of major film stars from the 30's and 40's regarding how they were manipulated. Though I have shot film, I never did any manipulations of the negative. Also, a recent Google, didn't give me any info either. Now that digital makes it so easy, the question haunts me.
    So, what did they do back then to correct skin defects?
  2. You just used the wrong keywords.
  3. Google airbrushing and pencil retouching too.
  4. That's why they used big negatives
  5. James G. Dainis

    James G. Dainis Moderator

    Studio head shots were taken with a 8x10 cameras. With that size negative it was no problem to retouch.
  6. We studied retouching. Black & white films were retouched using ordinary pencils. Professional sheet films such as 4x5 inch or larger were available with a “tooth”. This was as coat on the back of films favored for portraiture. This “tooth” allowed you to mark with lead pencil on the back of the film. We mounted the film in a light-box. This was a viewing lamp not unlike what doctors use to view X-ray films. The light-box had a magnifying mounted above the viewing area. We examined the black and white negative. Most pimples and wrinkles were easily identified as were scars and birth marks. We mark with penciled and blend the blemishes making them the same shade as the surrounding flesh tone. Some blemishes required bleaching. We would apply potassium ferricyanide (a harmless compound). We mixed with sodium thiosulfate (fixer). The solution was called “Farmers Reducer”.
    This solution allowed us to lighten the black & white negative. We applied the reducer with an artist paint blush. After the negative was printed on paper, we could work on the print with dye. We had a kit with different shades and tins of black and gray dye. We got good after 5 or 10 years of practice. Roll film and most sheet film did not have the needed “tooth”. We brushed on clear lacquer that dried down with the needed “tooth”.

    Some color negatives also had the “tooth”. If not we applied the clear lacquer. We retouched the negatives mainly with the same lead pencils used for black & white films. However, we had colored pencils and colored dye. It took more practice and more years to learn because we needed to apply negative colors to mediate a blemish. It the blemish was red, we retouched with red pencil or dye or we used red’s complement which is cyan (blue + green). One darkened, one lightened on the finished print. On slides we used colored dye to diminish the blemish. We could also work on the color print with dye and colored pencil. We also worked with an air-blush (a miniature spray paint system using dye not paint.
  7. A lot of photos were also taken using "low pass" diffraction filters - silk stockings and vasoline-smeared glass. However the time-honored technique of pencil, red ink (easily seen and altered, but opaque to photo paper) persisted well into the 1990's or later. Prints themselves were often colorized by hand in to the 80's and possibly beyond. How else would others see you as you see yourself in a mirror?
  8. Some are still done that way. Marshall must have some folks as they still sell the oils and water colors.
    I had an Aunt who did this for a living in the 60s. Both Color and B&W.
  9. I would also remember her doing a print and then rephotographing it. Part of what got me into Photography. Now mind you she rephotographed them with an aligned 4x5 camera.
  10. When I worked in a portrait studio that shot mostly 4x5, there was a woman there - almost a nun, really, in her bearing and strict dedication to a single purpose - who spent 8 to 10 hours a day hunched over a light table practicing the dark magic of retouching with pencils, dye, and bleaches. The particulars depended on case-by-base analysis of the shot, and of how large the prints would be. Some were indeed re-shot from further retouched positive prints, using another view camera on a dedicated copy stand rig.

    When I met her, she'd been doing it since she was a teenage girl in Poland "before the war," and after 50 years and untold tens of thousands of retouching jobs, she said she thought she was just getting good at it. Having seen the results of her all-day work on single images, I can tell you that if she'd lived to see Photoshop, she'd have died on the spot.
  11. Playboy shot the centerfolds on 8x10 Ektachrome for years. They scraped, bleached, and dyed them to retouch. You still see sets of the Ektachrome retouching dyes for sale.
  12. James G. Dainis

    James G. Dainis Moderator

    8x10 used to be the camera for serious work. The famous nude photo of Marilyn Monroe on red velvet was done on 8x10 Kodachrome. That was almost a throw away The photographer felt sorry for a destitute Marilyn and took the photos just so he could pay her some money. Later when asked for some photos for a calendar he remembered the shot and submitted it. I believe he took six different poses. Imagine a time when Kodachrome came in 8x10 sheets and one could shoot it off the same as one later shot 35mm film.

    A 1950s TV show "Love that Bob" had Bob Cummings playing the part of a professional photographer. Any time the script called for it he would be in his studio with a pretty model and using an 8x10 camera.
  13. Also, didn't some use a diffusion enlarger instead of a condenser enlarger? We had a couple at school that only a very few used. The diffuser may not solve the total problem, but as I recall it mitigated against dust spots and small blemishes.
  14. Thank You, All. I never thought this would be a 'Most Active Thread', but I have enjoyed all the replies and have learned quite a bit.
    Yes, Mr. Laur, I think anyone who did that work would have a heart attack if they could see how easily we can manipulate a photo nowadays. Though I am old enough to be pre- autofocus, this question has bugged me for the longest time.
  15. My dad copied old black & white photos from the early 1960's until the early 1980's and would retouch the first generation copy and then make a second copy for the customer. Eventually demand fell off and he did unretouched copies until the family camera shop closed in 1993. I recently copied a wallet sized group photo from the 1940's for a customer. Used Rolleipan 25 and made 8x10s. If I needed to retouch I'd scan and use Photoshop.
  16. Another very popular method was to use pencils and abrasive tools on an Adams Retouching Machine. The Adams held the negative on a light stage. The machine would vibrate the neg at a high frequency so instead of having to move the pencil/abrasive around, you could just touch it to the area you wanted to darken/lighten/
  17. No relation to Ansel Adams.
  18. I would have thought it would be easier to touch up the model. ;)
  19. "I would have thought it would be easier to touch up the model. ;)"​
    Most histories of George Hurrell say he preferred subjects wear little or no makeup. Assistants would do the retouching on the negatives and/or interim prints.
    Having seen more bad glamour shots than good, I'd be more inclined to trust a photographer who employs a professional retoucher than one who claims to have hired a professional cosmetician. Although I've seen some pretty awful retouching too.
  20. Bill... Not even that works with Ugly.

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