David Travis (Dave) taught me how to print colour and in particular Cibachrome. I worked with him for about two years at Elmi Graphics. He taught me how to make contrast control negatives and in doing so I learned a lot about the colours in an image. We working in Magenta, Cyan and Green. As we filtered the different colours of the chrome (aka slides) I began to see how and when the colours would separate from each other. Often an image may lean towards the reds, blues, or yellows. Sometimes this is good to give a certain feel to the photograph. But often it is a cause for less than perfect colour. Dave liked to say make the print, the photograph “sing”. Perhaps that’s when you heard the choir sing the heavenly unified Aaahhhhhh.
I knew Dave had a connection to a couple notable fine art photographs of the day. I assisted him on prints for Paul Caponigro, Lucien Clergue, and Eliot Porter. Today, with the search capabilities of the Internet, I learned more about Dave. He did printing for several famous photographers. Here is a list from the Museum of Fine Arts Boston of Dave’s registered prints. I feel extra fortunate to have worked with and been taught by Dave.
I wrote a book outlining my life for my son. The idea for writing a book was that when I’m gone my son will have something to read about his “old-man”. Here is the excerpt from that book where I talk about how I first met David Travis.
Morning came, but the road noise was still buzzing in my head. I made a quick assessment of my funds. I only had $400 in cash, no credit cards. I knew absolutely no one in LA and this city was huge. I felt so lost, so worn out. What had I done now! It was a far cry from my adventurous days heading off to Steamboat Springs at age 20.
I loaded up my bike and left the hotel on Wilshire Blvd. I stopped at a McDonald’s just down the street. With coffee in hand, I sat there watching my bike wondering what to do next. I was so overwhelmed by the size of LA. I had thoughts of leaving when I had just arrived. This might have been the first time I considered how my escape from Cleveland looked. I detested my last years in there, especially when one of the most influential judges of the most prestigious art shows tells me not to bother entering because he was “THE” judge. My photographs had been accepted to many Cleveland shows even at this judge’s gallery. How could I face that if I returned defeated? The gloom of Cleveland had me say with a loud resolving voice, No! I had to at least look for ads in the local newspaper I thought as I stared at the newspaper dispenser across the street.
I walked over to it and got the day’s paper. I could not believe my eyes! There it was! “Wanted: black & white printer, will train color.” That’s my job! That’s why I came to LA, to learn colour. I called the phone number, only to find the hiring person was busy. I called an hour later, and he was at lunch. Made one last call, but he was still too busy to talk. So I got directions to the photo lab, Elmi Graphics, 1545 Wilcox Avenue, and drove there.
On my way to the lab, I looked for a newsstand. A photographer I had worked for in Cleveland used Agfa paper and had convinced them to use one of his black-and-white photographs in its national ad that ran in many photo magazines. I found the ad.
I found the address. It was a two-story building built for the Citizen News in 1930. It had a great Deco facade. The Hollywood Post Office was just a block up the street. I parked my motorcycle with the others in the drive-through of the building. I walked in unannounced to meet the hiring person, Dave Travis. I was taken to the basement of the building where the lab was located. I started to notice images of familiar and not-so-familiar movie posters. Dave was in the back color correcting prints under two huge banks of lights, each two by four feet. He seemed pleasant, but I was there for the job. That was all that mattered to me. Come hell or high water, this job was mine! Shit, I was petrified, and the highway noise was still in my head. I showed him the Agfa ad from the magazine, mentioning I had just finished working for the photographer. He seemed a little impressed, so I upped the ante. “Give me a negative, and I’ll show you what I can do.” I almost turned around myself to see who said that.
I stayed at the lab the rest of the day with Dave, working on the negatives he gave me to print. We discussed how best to dodge and burn each image. We seemed to hit it off. He was from West Virginia, had traveled Europe, and, as I later learned, had connections to a few major photographer in the world of art photography. It was approaching eight o’clock when he asked me where I was staying. I mentioned the motel on Wilshire. He invited me to stay at his place. He called his wife and learned that she and her music manager were having a pajama party and that he should pick up some Thai food on the way home. I followed him on his Honda v65 Magna motorcycle to his home in Sherman Oaks. We were greeted by his wife, her manager, and their roommates, all in pajamas, plus this huge white rabbit, with these huge pink eyes. I sure had stepped into the crazy California life.
I talked to Paul Elmi the next day and I seemed to have been hired. I like to think that my printing skills got me the job, but later I learned Dave’s wife was from Cleveland. Perhaps it was the Cleveland connection that persuaded Paul to hire me. Either way, I was now working in a major graphic lab in Hollywood. Elmi Graphics was a photo lab that made dye transfer and Cibachrome composites for the movie and record industries. I bet we worked on at least 75 percent of all composites for movie posters, video boxes, and album covers.
For the next four years, I built photo composites for the movie and record studios and viewed many raw transparencies shot by some of the best photographers working in Hollywood. Photo composites, or as we called them, “strips,” were images made up of several other images. I had seen Jerry Uelsmann’s black-and-white composite images and always liked them. In fact, my very first winning entry into a photo contest was a composite. But here I was, doing the real thing in color for the movie industry. Being able to see the work you do up on billboards and on video boxes provided something very tangible; you could show people the work you did. I was very proud to be able to tell people I worked on that movie poster.
The lab’s 1986-87 flier.