Out of Darkness by John O Friend; Developing Colour Printing
Color Offset, Colour Separation and Colour Press Printing; Working at Argus
I saw an ad for a photographer's job at the Argus Metropolitan Newspaper and applied for it. I considered myself very lucky when I was given the job. I had to join the Australian Journalists Association, with the title of Press Photographer. My wages improved so that Eva could stay home. And this was important, as we had become very proud parents of a baby daughter. Of course I took lots of pictures of my daughter - one of which appeared in the Argus Home Brew, the papers own social sheet.
Although I was never sent out to do a press assignment, my work involved plenty of darkroom work, copying and reproducing exact size and colour separation for colour offset printing. However, I very nearly walked out during my interview when the Department Manager showed me the equipment I was to work with. It was an old wooden camera with a Ross portrait lens that stood on a rickety studio stand with castor wheels that ran over a wooden floor. This was the colour separation room that also housed a frame for storing artwork, two are lights, and a large sink. There was also a small filing office, three darkrooms that were shared by those in the main adjoining darkroom. The camera used for photographing the artwork for advertising or to reproduce mounted wall framed photos was lit by arc lights and only glass negatives were used. Since the building housed a three-storey press, it shook violently making the studio camera jump in one direction, while the copy on the wall would dance in the other.
I knew that to successfully separate colours for colour printing it is imperative that each image on the plate is identically sized to within one thousand's of an inch. The camera and lens must be precision instruments. To achieve correct plate matching, "register marks," or small crosses at the edge of the work have to overlap precisely. If they did not, the print would show the double printing effect with blurred colour, sometimes giving people double lips or eyes. If you look at any current newspaper, you may be able to see these "register" marks at the corners of each page.
The Manager asked me if he could do anything for me, to make the job more attractive. I asked if I could have certain measuring instruments, without which I could not work.
"Wait a minute; I think I've got something for you. I don't think they've ever been used, but you could have them, if you want."
We proceeded to his office, where under 21 glass-covered cupboard were a densitometer, a colour temperature meter and a spot photometer. I was also promised free reign in designing a proper camera and support for colour separation, provided it was not too expensive. In 1952, skilled professionals were hard to the Department Manager became almost obsequious when he realised I initially did not want the job. Unbeknown to me, I was one of only three people in Australia who knew how to correctly do colour separation and colour correction masking. It was a job that required expertise in colour, photographic imaging and processing. Today I could probably demand consultancy fees and a considerably better salary and working conditions to those offered then. My salary was a couple of pounds above the basic wage and I was made a Grade C press photographer, the lowest grade. Nevertheless, I was glad to be employed in my chosen profession. I am still proud that as a new comer to this country I could design and establish a proper system, based on scientific principles. It was sad for me that none of my colleagues, not even management, understood and appreciated my endeavours.
Wikipedia on Argus, Australia
They gave me all the equipment I asked for and I designed a camera, which ran on rails and was spring loaded, as were the copying frame and lights. The camera and copy could be locked together, eliminating the problem caused by the building's vibrations. I also asked for and received a very high quality Kodak 18" process lens - a fully colour corrected lens which suited the job well.
I installed nitrogen burst agitation and timing devices in the darkroom, to ensure more accurate and consistent developing techniques. However, there were no ceramic walls, no air conditioning, or water purification systems and I had to just manage as best I could under the circumstances. I had used masking techniques in Budapest. I silently thanked the lab man from the Hungarian Picture Service who had provided me with relevant colour and colour separation experience.