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More than 50 years in the making, Dee Ross mixes and matches darkroom and digital in artistic and surprising ways.
Digital photography and printing has given Dee Ross "the creative latitude to cross over," as she puts it, and her artwork is probably best described as a crossover form of photography.
Though an ardent believer in and admirer of pure photography, Ross has chosen a route that blends history and scenery with digital and darkroom techniques.
The bulk of her photography involves taking black-and-white images and giving them subtle color that brings out the whimsy in a scene, or highlights it in such a way that draws the viewer to see it in a different light, or color, as the case may be.
Before and after: The original photo of this historical log cabin in Kentucky was given subtle color using an acrylic painting process on LexJet Sunset Textured Fine Art Paper.
Ross has been shooting digital since about 2003, and has been printing in-house since about 1999. In 2004, coinciding with her husband's retirement from the insurance business, Ross decided to phase out her studio work, which ranged from portraits to commercial work.
Ross had also been in the insurance business until 1993, when she opened her own photography studio in Hermitage, Tenn., and decided to pursue her enthusiasm for photography full-time.
This hand-colored scene from the Cortez Fishing Village in Cortez, Fla., merges two digital photos.
Now, Ross and her husband spend a lot of time on the open road in a motor home. Though photography is no longer a full-time business, per se, it is still a full-time pursuit. It's just that Ross has devoted herself to her own style of colorized photography, plus a unique brand of sunlight-developed fibre-based, silver gelatin prints called Weathery, and a new photo-stressing technique she's experimenting with to give photos a time-weathered feel.
"I'm about 99 percent digital now, excepting the Weathery prints, and I've sold quite a few of them through a gallery in Taos. The process is a variation on Fox Talbot's methods," explains Ross. "I use digital negatives, leaves, sticks, rocks, or whatever strikes me, lay it on top of the fibre-based paper out in the sun, and let it bake. By placing objects and/or digital negatives directly on the paper one creates, in essence, a solar photogram. The image is quite dark when it's finished baking and I take it into my darkroom to wash the print anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour. Then I'll use a very light mixture of water and bleach on the image to help the image begin to appear. After another wash, the print goes into the fixer, which continues to lighten the image and bring it to life. Toning and final wash steps render the print archival. I enjoy it because there's an element of surprise. I have a pretty good idea of what's going to come up on the paper, but until it actually appears it's like the first print you made in the darkroom."
This is an example of the Weathery series, utilizing the process detailed in this article, and hand-colored with oils.
Coloring the World
For her hand-colored photography, Ross says each image takes three to four days to complete. Ross says that acrylics work best when applied to LexJet Sunset Textured Fine Art Paper, though you have to know exactly where you're going since acrylics dry quickly.
Ross prints out the photo on Sunset Textured Fine Art Paper, and mounts it to 11 x 14 Ampersand gessoboard. First, she applies Yes Glue with a brush onto the board, puts the print on the board, then lays a sheet of wax paper over the print, and using a regular fluffy paint roller, she rolls over the print to affix it to the board. The wax paper protects the print while it’s being rolled onto the board. She uses the 11x14 format so that it's easy to scan and reproduce.
Ross uses an acrylic extender to make the paint transparent and fluid. She paints both dark-to-light and light-to-dark, depending on the piece.
She usually uses three to four layers of acrylics, adding two layers of GOLDEN Clear Soft Gel Gloss, which is brushed in random, criss-cross strokes. She finishes the print with a GOLDEN acrylic varnish spray so that it can be dusted or cleaned, and adds a layer of Clear Soft Gel Gloss on the back and frames it.
"You see the texture of the paper and the acrylics, and the way the light reflects off the gloss with the criss-cross strokes gives it a real three-dimensional look. It's no longer a photo on digital paper; there's an actual dimension to it, and you feel as if you can walk into that scene," says Ross. "That's what I love about LexJet's Sunset paper; the detail it's able to bring out is outstanding. When I reproduce something from digital, the nice thing is that I can burn and dodge in areas I could never do in a darkroom, but I don't want it to look so perfect that it looks like an ad campaign. I think digital has been great, because it unleashes so much creativity. If your mind is at all creative, there's no limit to what you can do."
Is it a painting, or a photo? It's a digital photo taken at Pioneer Days at Gamblin Plantation, Fla., and hand-colored.
Ross is currently working on a project utilizing her hand-coloring techniques she stumbled upon in her travels that involves some of the oldest log cabins in Kentucky. The historical site will feature a gift shop selling note cards and prints of the cabins, and if the commission works out, Ross plans on buying a new printer and using a wider range of papers, including LexJet Sunset Air Dried Fibre Gloss.
"I love printing photos and reproducing my artwork on the Sunset Air Dried Fibre Gloss. It brings me closer to traditional silver gelatin, fibre-based prints. I can see using the natural version for the Weathery line; they will be gorgeous on that paper," says Ross.
The log cabin project fits perfectly into her love of history. In her photography, Ross enjoys providing a sense of what America was like before the hyper-driven digital era.
"I try to mix travel with history. Because of my age, I want to preserve a lot of things that I feel are disappearing in small towns," explains Ross. "With my photography, the coloring adds personality. It's not supposed to be representational, but it helps evoke feelings about that time period, or that scene."
Along those lines, Ross has been experimenting with creating antique-looking photos. Using an inexpensive luster paper printed with matte black inks, Ross scrubs the ink with Winsor & Newton Liquin (an artist's medium) to distress the print and make it look antiquated.
"I don't want to use a great paper like LexJet's; I use the cheapest paper I can find because I end up destroying it. In destroying it, you arrive at a different look. Then I archive the image digitally, and reproduce it. I could not reproduce the antiqued image in Photoshop; you have to destroy it at the beginning," explains Ross.
This barber pole is an experimental, distressed print from a film negative that Ross hand-colored.
This tasteful blend of traditional and high-tech has been a common thread through the journey Ross has taken through photography over the years, beginning with her first experimentation in a darkroom when she was nine years old.
Ross printed this close-up of a horse photographed in Savannah, Ga., on LexJet Sunset Air Dried Fibre Gloss. The paper helps bring out the fine detail and replicates the beauty of a traditional silver gelatin, fibre-based print.