Dye transfer matrices are the full-size sheet-film printing plates that
are soaked in dyes and squeegeed against receiving paper to make dye
transfer prints. Here's a set of matrices and the work print that goes
They're unique; are they useless?
This is another one of those columns where I ask all of you for advice, because I have no answer to this question whatsoever. Here's the situation:
When I close down my darkroom sometime within the next year, I'm going to have some 300+ sets of dye transfer matrices and reference prints with my notes (see above) that will be of absolutely no use to me. What should I do with them?
Please don't suggest that I throw them out. That's simply not the way I'm wired. They only take up about five cu. ft. of space, and if I can't figure out anything useful to do with them, they'll just go in the back of the closet and stay there until I die, and then my heirs will deal with them...probably by throwing them out.
But I'm not going to be the one to toss them. They are a unique, albeit entirely intermediate, work product. The problem is that their uniqueness and intermediateness (is that even a word?) [yes —Ed.] makes them good for nothing else. It's not like Ansel Adams's collection of negatives that he passed on with the proviso that students be able to print from them as a learning experience. (Does anybody know if the beneficiaries of his generosity actually followed through on that?)
You can't strike prints from these unless you're doing dye transfer printing, and it's pretty damn certain that the handful of dye transfer printers who still exist will not have any interest in printing unsigned knockoffs of Ctein photographs, even with my blessing. It's not like my work is that much in demand. It also turns out to be surprisingly difficult for two dye transfer printers to produce similar prints, even when they work from the same sets of matrices.
You could scan the matrices on a flatbed scanner, assemble them into full-color images and print those. And, again, why? Who would care? Especially since high quality scans already exist of most of the negatives that those matrices were made from, and those scans are much better suited for making good prints.
I can imagine there would be institutions here and there that would like to have one set of matrices and a reference print as part of their photographic collections, to represent the craft. Are there 300–400 such institutions? I doubt it. Certainly, I am not so notable nor famous that I would think that any institution would want to acquire the entire set.
This isn't about making money. I'm not concerned about selling these; I'm more likely to make money selling clippings of my hair. I just can't imagine where they would even find a home.
What I am definitely not interested in doing is putting in a lot of effort on this. I'm not going to send out umpteen dozen cold inquiries in the vague hopes that I might get a nibble from someone who says that they're interested. If somebody is interested, they can reach out to me. If you know somebody who might be interested in this stuff for whatever reason, imaginable or un-, pass this column on to them and have them e-mail me (firstname.lastname@example.org). I will definitely respond to inquiries of interest. I'm just not putting myself out to solicit them.
Now, let's hear the brainstorms!
Ctein ponders from within the Matrix on Wednesdays, not always in virtual 1999.
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Original contents copyright 2012 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Hudson: "Would they work as replacement glass for a greenhouse?"
Mike replies: Wonderful comment, subtle. But who was that? My brain isn't coming up with it...and now it'll drive me crazy if you don't tell me.... :-)
Ah, got it from James Rhem's comment. Of course....
Featured Comment by Tom: "I remember seeing framed cels from Walt Disney animated films for sale. It seems you could do something similar: the matrices and proof mounted in a frame might be of interest to photo collectors."
Featured Comment by Ed Kirkpatrick: "Donate them to the Library of Congress in Washington. That kills all your birds with one stone. They will be kept safe, available to any who might wish to look at them and possibly available for use in the future after you are gone. Oh and it saves your heirs the pain of tossing out all your work."
Featured Comment by Geoff Wittig: "I have to think that George Eastman House might be interested in your matrices and work prints, given the vast size and eclectic nature of their collection. That and Kodak's long involvement in the dye-transfer process. Given their current financial straits, they might even want to (inexpensively) mount an exhibition based on their extensive holdings of beautiful dye transfer prints."
Featured Comment by David Paterson: "Isn't this essentially the same problem which every photographer eventually has to face—getting older, wondering what to do with a lifetime's collection of material which has served its purpose and which the future will have no interest in? I am 67 and not getting noticeably younger, with a remaining collection of some 60,000 transparencies and negs in every size from 35mm to 10x8", plus a plan-chest full of prints. I can't see any way out of this except maybe drinking some good beer around a large bonfire some fine afternoon quite soon."
Featured Comment by ault: "Why not offer them to owner(s) of the print(s)? If they value the prints enough to have bought them, they may appreciate and care for the intermediate states...."