Bruce Jackson: Pictures from a Drawer

The cover image for Jackson's book, Pictures from a Drawer

The cover image for Jackson's book, Pictures from a Drawer

This is the book’s cover illustration. It shows, in one image, everything I did and was trying to do with these images.

Most of the image has a dulling yellow patina, which obscures detail in both light and dark areas of her face and her clothing. The clear rectangle shows the results of some work I did on that image in Photoshop CS3. Mainly, I reduced (but didn’t remove entirely) the level of yellow and applied a bit of sharpening to what was left. I also shifted the greys and blacks a bit. With some of the other images I tinkered with some other color channels as well.

It was a matter of trial and error, of working with those various color and density controls until I got a balance that seemed right to me. (This is fast and easy on the computer, but very complex, very slow and very expensive in a darkroom, which is why I couldn’t do this book until now.) As I worked with the images more, I found myself going back to images I thought I’d finished earlier and redoing them. I also found myself developing relationships with the images themselves: even though I know nothing about the lives of any of these individuals I would come to feel, after looking at them on my monitor for many hours, that they needed to be lighter or darker than I’d previously printed them, or there should be more or less yellow or magenta. I can’t explain that: it’s just a matter of feeling, like music.

The most stunning result of this process for me is what happens to the eyes when I clear away the patina and adjust the blacks. They acquire a beautiful clarity and presence, even in the images in the book that are a little blurry from careless focus or movement of the sitter. Because of that, my original intention was to call this book Restoring the Eyes, but then I realized that title is about me and this book isn’t about me, it’s about that group of very old pictures I found in a prison drawer more than thirty years ago.

I had another title I almost used: Mirrors. The first time I exhibited some of these images, people talked to me about some of images as if they were people about whom they knew things. But none of us knew anything about any of them. The thing is, when we look deeply at an image we respond, and that response is always in terms of ourselves, our own experiences and emotions. I wrote a bit about that in my introductory essary.
This image also shows something else about how I worked with the old pictures, or, rather, how I didn’t work. I didn’t try to fix any of the lines, scratches, marks or rips in them. That would have been easy enough to do with CS3, but it would have obscured half of what these images are about. One half is the faces and bodies depicted, all of which are interesting and beautiful in different ways. The other half is the fact that we’re looking at images of pictures some of which are nearly a century old, pieces of paper that have had their own trajectory in the world. Some have been handled and treated well; some have been handled and treated brutally or carelessly. So when we look at the pictures in this book we’re looking at two things at once, and I tried very hard to preserve that balance.

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