Letting Go

During my career I served as Photo Editor and Production Manager for two weekly newspapers:  The Long Beach News and The Huntington Beach News. One day my editor told me he needed a photograph to accompany a story titled “Alzheimer’s Disease: Loved Ones Suffer the Most”. This first photo below was the result of that effort, and I shot it using friends for models.

This is a story of the evolution of an image using digital technology, over a span of 15 years.  The original photograph was made on a 4×5 view camera, and exposed onto a sheet of Polaroid film which yielded both a negative and a print (photographers used this method to obtain a preview in the old school days before digital).  The only surviving original was the Polaroid paper print pictured below.  Faded and only about 4″ long, this print was discovered 15 years later in a desk drawer.  And this is where the interesting evolution of this image really begins, as it evolved from something discarded in a desk drawer into an award winning image at Western States Print Competition (PPC).

Polaroid Type 55

At the time I found this print, I had been scanning my film archives in order to create a digital library of my “analog” work. Sadly, there was no surviving original negative, so I photographed this small print with transparency film and created a new slide original.

Vivitar used to make a portable Instant Slide Printer, which would allow you to insert your slide, and magically copy it onto Polaroid Type 669 film. In this manner, I was able to obtain a new Polaroid image.

Vivitar Slide Printer

My newest “original” was the Polaroid Type 669 image shown below.

Polaroid Type 669 image

Now came the really fun part.  The whole purpose of using Polaroid Type 669 film for most enthusiasts was to remove the paper emulsion from the print, and carefully apply it to watercolor paper, where it could be molded and shaped into some interesting shapes before drying.  Try getting an image to look like THIS using liquify in Photoshop – it just isn’t the same. I intentionally tore part of the image to further emphasize separation of the Alzheimer’s subject from his family members.

Polaroid Emulsion Transfer

The latest “original” was now a Polaroid emulsion transfer on watercolor paper, and although I thought the image was a vast improvement over the original found in the drawer, it only measured about 3″ across.

I then made a flatbed scan of the watercolor image, enlarging it to 16″ x 20″ at 300dpi, and cleaning it up in Photoshop. A 16×20 enlargement was then made from the digital file, shown below.  This image was submitted to Western States Regional Print Competition in Pasadena, CA where it scored a perfect 100 (reportedly with some of the judges in tears), and was published in several magazines.

Letting Go

Technically, Creating “Letting Go” was a breakthrough for me during a period I was transitioning from film to digital.  In the film world I knew so well, images only degraded when they were copied and manipulated.  But converting to a digital workflow I was able to vastly improve the final image (even 15 years later), and for me it was the dawn of understanding the power of post production and post visualization.

On a more personal note, I have lost a number of people dear to me, including my parents to this terrible disease. Alzheimer’s Disease is indeed a ripping of the familiar fabric of life, and also leaves a devastating impact on survivors and caregivers. This photograph means even more to me as the years pass.


  1. Bonnie Berger says

    However it was produced/re-produced it is a powerful statement. The first image in the series could be about anything disheartening that separates a family. The last image really does say, “we are a world apart.” Good work, Larry.

  2. Jana Medema Van Dyck says

    My husbands family has this horrible thing Alzheimers running through their lives-and my aunt just died after living with it for 20 some years! The rest of the family is hardest hit. This picture does put it in words in my mind. Beautiful work and process.

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