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Behind the lens: 100-year-old photos of modern Olympians


With a smartphone and the right app, any of us can take retro-looking photos.

But Times photojournalist Jay L. Clendenin took retro to a new level with his photographs of U.S. Olympians. And, he said, it was a "creatively rejuvenating experience."

Clendenin took black-and-white images on film to juxtapose with his digital color portraits. But that wasn't all. As he explains in a post on The Times' Framework blog, he used a 4-by-5-inch field camera outfitted with a 100-year-old lens. He then developed the black-and-white images in a makeshift darkroom in his bathroom.

The darkroom setup wasn't ideal; Clendenin noted that some of the photos ended up with fingerprints on them, while others had fixer stains. But, "it was a fun process."

Times photojournalist Jay L. Clendenin took retro to a new level with his photographs of U.S. Olympians.Some of the images, such as those of fencer Alexander Massialas or the Men's Four rowing team (at right), look as though they could be from another era. In others, corporate swooshes on the athletes' clothing give away the modern time element. 

Clendenin said the process forced him to slow down and think about each frame. He wrote on Framework:

"The process was cumbersome and filled with experimentation. ... But shooting the large-format film was a relaxing and, most important, creatively rejuvenating experience."

"I was reminded of the creative serendipity that comes with shooting film: I couldn't look at the back of the camera and see what had just happened when I took that picture! ... Though there are obvious downsides to not seeing if your timing and composition were precise, I enjoyed the challenge and reveled in the 'mistakes' that happened along the way."

The black-and-white photos were published in the center spread of the initial London 2012 section, on July 27. The images with their corresponding color shots are on Framework.

-- Deirdre Edgar

Photo: Scott Gault, left, Charlie Cole, Henrik Rummel and Glenn Ochal make up the U.S. Men's Four rowing team. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times

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Comments (1)

As someone who occasionally shoots 4x5, I can tell you what you did takes a lot of work - especially in the heat and sun of S. California.

Personally, given the once in a lifetime nature of shooting Olympians before the biggest moment of their lives, I would have shot actual black and white film (rather than trendy paper negatives) and passed the processing and printing off to one of the handful of pro labs who still work in black in white here in Los Angeles such as Shulman Photo, Icon, or A&I.

Nevertheless, the processing errors are quaint in our digital era - but would have been considered sloppy darkroom work in the past.

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