Thinking Positively about Negatives

John Loengard.jpgFresh from its geektastic visual survey of vintage computers, Tucson’s Etherton Gallery accentuates the positive with a project that celebrates the negative. The gallery has published a portfolio by photographer and Life magazine editor, John Loengard, who captured eerie yet elegant photos of iconic 19th- and 20th-century negatives. Celebrating the Negative includes a shot of gloved hands gingerly holding Alexander Gardner‘s 1863 portrait of Abraham Lincoln emulsion side up over a light box and another of the negative of Edward Weston‘s lushly contorted bell pepper of 1930 (fun fact: the pepper was originally photographed in a tin funnel).

Loengard even managed to recapture Henri Cartier-Bresson‘s decisive moment with his shot (above) of the negative of the iconic 1932 photo “Behind Saint-Lazare Station” squeezed ever so gently between a thumb and forefinger. “Actually, I asked Henri Cartier-Bresson to let me photograph another negative showing two prostitutes in Mexico City,” writes Loengard in the portfolio. “‘Oh, no! No! No! Think of their feelings! They might be grandmothers now. No, no! You can’t publish that,’ he replied with intensity that surprised me. Instead, he let me photograph the negative to his most famous photograph.” As for the the negative itself, “For safekeeping, [it] was cut from a strip of 35mm film at the start of World War II. Sprocket holes are missing on one side,” notes Loengard. “Possibly the film was manufactured without them—or possibly someone has cut them off. Asked about this, Cartier-Bresson replies, ‘I swallowed them.'”