Monday, September 12, 2011

The Ghosts of Jobs Past: Part 5

Obsolete skills

After I stalled as long as I could in Lansing, I finally ran out of money and had to move back home and find a job.  I had managed to get an associates degree in photography, and eventually ended up landing a job at a local commercial lab.  Its name was Kibby lab.  It was a small place that worked exclusively with commercial clients and ad agencies.  They did a lot of large format printing and finishing, but what they really did best was dye transfer printing.  Dye transfer was an extremely exacting and precise process that was popular because it tolerated a lot of manipulation and allowed for retouching.  For more information you can read about it here: Dye Transfer Process.  It could also, with the help of hand cut rubylith masks, be used to create elaborate composites. 
I worked here for almost two years, and while I was there, dye transfer was the only game in town for glossy commercial images.  During the run up to car catalog season, it was not unheard of to work 12 or 14 hours a day for 6 or 7 days a week.  It was tedious, time consuming, and exacting work, but of all the complaints I had about that job, the worst was the smell.  This process used gallon upon gallon of acetic acid (vinegar basically), so every night I’d come home smelling like a pickle.  You would forget how badly you reeked most of the time, but if you stopped anywhere between work and home, you were reminded of it. 
After photo school, working in a production environment really forced me to up my game and taught me a whole skill set I’d have never learned in any school.  Every morning we’d start the machines, clean them, run tests on the exposing lights and processors and then calibrate everything so we were producing our separation negatives as consistently as possible.  We had to clean small chromes meticulously and make sure every surface was dust and fingerprint free.  Everything needed to be in perfect registration.  Even a little deviation in one of these steps meant that someone was going to have to adjust their exposures and times, or someone else would have to touch up your dust spot, or someone would have to try to manipulate the way the mats went down to correct for your registration inconsistencies.  It was important to take the time to prepare well to save time further down the process. 
I also learned a wealth of information about color correction, building composite images, and the art of cutting out one image to drop into another.  What I didn’t realize was that I was participating in the end of an era.  Digital photography, personal computers, and photo editing software were all just around the corner.  I was down in the trenches and didn’t notice that the photographic world was changing.  What I did realize was that I really didn’t want to smell like a pickle for the rest of my life (or work crazy long hours either for that matter).  I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but I was pretty sure I would need a bachelor’s degree to do it. 
After I’d been working in the lab for about 2 ½ years, I quit and went back to school at Wayne State University.  Unfortunately, the real and practical world of commercial photography had no place in the art world.  Craftsmanship, technique, consistency, and quality were given a back seat to concepts and vision and far less tangible things.  When I asked an advisor about my employment options after graduation, he looked at me like I’d pooped on his desk and informed me that a degree was not for getting a job but to explore and fulfill my artistic impulse.  I knew that I really had no business in art school, but played the game as well as I could and earned my Bachelors of Fine Arts in Photography in about two years.  
During my first year, I ended up getting married to the guy I’d met way back before I went to school in Lansing, and at the time of my graduation I was five months pregnant with my first daughter.  All the skills I’d learned both in the lab and in college were about to take a back seat to a much more daunting task.  Luckily, they stuck around just waiting for the day that Photoshop and I were destined to meet…
The Butcher


  1. but when did you acquire you more marketable PowerPoint skills?

  2. Those skills will show up in three or four jobs! At this point I still didn't own a computer.

  3. I worked at Kibby one summer in the separations darkroom with a guy named Bob. Any chance you have a last name on him? I have someone trying to track down details of the process and it would be a big help. I have tuned him onto you Blog and you may hear as well. His name is Michael.. Thank you.

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  5. Bill, How cool to hear from a Kibby alum. When did you work there? A sister of mine worked there for far longer than I did so between the two of us, we might be able to help. Sorry it took so long to get back to you, but Christmas got away from me!