When I was in the 8th grade, I became interested in photography. I learned from books and the Montgomery Ward catalog about cameras and other tools of the trade. I set up a darkroom in the basement using my mother’s soup bowls for “trays”. Using an old Voigtlander found in the attic, I was able to photograph, develop film (using a “starter” kit from the mail order catalog) and make contact prints. Some friends of the family donated an old enlarger from their attic and I was on my way.
Our next door neighbor was a photographer and took note of my interest. His name was Adolph Studly and had a studio located at 407 Park Avenue South (at that time, people still called it 4th Avenue) in New York City. The studio was located above the famous Belmore Cafeteria, a favorite spot for NYC cab drivers and featured many years later in the movie “Taxi Driver”. His specialty was architectural and art photography. Mr. Studly was kind enough to donate some of his cast-off equipment to my nascent basement operation.
At some point there must have been a discussion between Mr. Studly and my father because I suddenly was informed that I would be working during the summer at Mr. Studly’s studio in New York City. I was excited about the prospect of working in the big city at a real job. The deal was that I would not be paid by Mr. Studly, but I would receive my regular allowance from my dad.
My first day on the job I was handed a pile of 8×10 negatives (almost all of Studly’s negatives were 8×10) and told to make contact prints of each one. I found only one large box of Kodak AZO printing paper in the darkroom — contrast grade #2. I asked him where the other grades were (like #1, #3 and #4). He informed me that I would not need them. I thought that was crazy. I knew enough about photography at that point that to get quality work, you needed all the various grades. I set about making the first batch of prints from the first negative. They were perfect. Then the second batch… also perfect. And so on until I was done. I was mystified. I later learned how he did it. The one thing he never let me do was develop film. That is because he developed every sheet of film by inspection. He had a dim green safelight over the developing tank in the film darkroom. As he developed, he would pull up each frame and look at it briefly in the safelight. He would transfer the frames to the stop bath only after they reached the proper gamma. This saved him having to buy and stock all the different grades of paper. It probably also got him a discount since he bought so much #2 paper.
Speaking of saving money, Mr. Studly taught me how to mix up all the photographic chemicals from raw ingredients. There were big brown paper sacks of Sodium Carbonate, Sodium Thiosulphate, etc. and I learned how to weigh out the various formulas to make the necessary batches we used for paper and film developing. I learned so much those two summers that I worked for him. He would send me out in the late afternoon to do deliveries, after which I could go home on the bus. I learned my way around the NYC subway system since he would only give me enough tokens to do the deliveries using the “free transfer” points whenever it was possible. He would also send me out with a heavy stand and 8×10 Deardorff camera to shoot “progress shots” of skyscrapers under construction. Sometimes I would have to set up on a street corner and other times on the roof of an adjacent skyscraper. Exposures were easy. None of Studly’s lenses had shutters. To expose, simply stop down the lens to f/80, uncover the lens for about a second then cover it back up. On a cloudy day, uncover the lens, count to three, then cover it back up. No light meter needed. I think the film he used was made by Agfa and had a speed of 10 or 20. He loved his Goerz Artar lenses! Another thing I learned was spotting (retouching). One of the times I went out to shoot a building, a spider that was living in the bellows decided to crawl up on the film after I had pulled up the slide. The result was a monster white spider crawling up the side of the building. Rather than re-shoot, Mr. Studly patiently taught me how to spot using a 000 brush and some SpotTone to eliminate the pesky spider by re-creating the grain clump by clump. This whole thing was quite an experience for a 15 year old kid.
Many years later, after graduating from Rochester Institute of Technology, I co-founded a company called Intergraphics, Inc. In the late 1970′s, I invented a method of capturing data from word processing machines and feeding it directly into typesetting equipment. This saved the re-typing that was necessary up until that point in the graphic arts industry. Shortly after the introduction of the IBM PC, I expanded the concept to allow people to transmit information directly from their PC via modem to our facility in Alexandria, VA. Keep in mind, this was before the widespread availability of the Internet and before inkjet and laser printers. The only printer you could get at that point was a dot matrix or typewriter (daisy-wheel) printer. This allowed anyone with a PC to produce professional typography from their home. Our policy was in by 2:00pm, out the same day. In the years that we did this service with about 1000 customers at one point, we never sent a job out late. I was able to automate the entire process so that we never had to hire anyone and the company that started with two employees ran the entire duration with the same two employees.
Getting back to Studly. Intergraphics bought a large amount of Kodak photographic paper to support the needs of our 1000 customers. Every day we would use several 100 foot rolls. I believe the only larger user of Kodak Phototypesetting paper in the Washington area was the Washington Post newspaper. About twice a year, we would have to order a batch of paper from Kodak. It was usually about $20,000 worth at around $15.00 per 100′ roll. I would call the local Kodak reps for a price quote. They all got to know me and I think they would take turns giving me the lowest price to spread the business around to each other. One of the reps kept bugging me for an order for chemicals. He informed me that all the other typesetting companies ordered chemicals with their paper. He further informed me that for every dollar of paper there was a dollar of chemicals that went along with it. He was very adamant that he wanted my chemical business. Little did he know that once a year I rented a minivan and drove to Baltimore to visit a wholesale chemical company there. I would fill the van with brown paper sacks of all the chemicals I would need for the year. This would cost about $600. (plus van rental). That Kodak salesman wouldn’t let me alone and kept calling. I explained that we mixed our own chemicals. He was speechless. Later that week he called back. He had spoken with his contacts at Kodak and they had informed him that what I was doing was “impossible” and again, asked for the order.
I estimate that mixing the chemicals from raw materials saved us at least $100,000.00, maybe more.
Thank you Mr. Studly!