The Lee Pratt 1941 Buick
I’ve got 19 hours in the photos you see here. I described the problem with the transparencies I got from Lee on Monday, but I figured I would go over the process of recovering them in a little more detail today. These photos were shot on slide film and then processed at a one-hour development house in Iowa sometime in 1980. What Lee got back was something that looked a lot like an uncut strip of developed negatives wrapped in a plastic sheath.
So, my first step was to cut the roll into lengths of six images so that they would fit into my scanner. This is where I discovered something was amiss. When I went to cut the film, it didn’t cut – it just sort of stretched around the blades of my scissors. Thinking they used some kind of super plastic as a sheath, I went to remove the plastic only to find it was glued to the transparencies.
Not knowing what to do, I decided to very carefully peal the plastic away. The process was a lot like taking a sticker off of a plastic bottle – only you gotta do it really slowly because if that sticker tears, you loose a 40 year old image and you are solely responsible of robbing the world of a pretty damned important perspective of a really important car.
“What are you doing!? Don’t stretch the damned thing! You’ll ruin those proportions Lee worked so hard on!”
That out of the way, I now had a very long strip of incredibly sticky transparencies in front of me. That’s when I decided to call Sarah at the Life Archives. She had never dealt with slide film showing these characteristics, but she had plenty of experience dealing with negatives showing the same symptoms. So, she talked about Chemistry for a while – none of which I understood – and then told me to grab the same “stop bath” that I use when developing my black and white negative film. Traditionally, stop bath is used to clean the the developer and fixer off of negatives – effectively ending the development process. But it also has a hardener of sorts onboard and once it is rinsed with water, dries with no streaks.
So, I dipped the strip in stop bath for about 15 seconds, agitated it, rinsed it, and then hung it to dry overnight. The next morning, I had a very long, sort of sticky strip of transparencies. Progress… Hell, I was even able to cut it with scissors into appropriate lengths.
From there, I took on the task of removing 40 years of dust and hair that had accumulated on the film. This was the hardest part of the whole process. Because the film was still sort of sticky and all of this debris was embedded into the film, an air brush was useless. So, I used tweezers… Very, very carefully and removed as many of the blemishes as I could. It was tedious and mind-numbingly stressful, but I was able to get through it without damaging a single image.
The results aren’t half bad. I didn’t want to lose the character of the film in either color or grain, so I have not touched these images in photoshop. Instead, I scanned them in high res and compressed a copy to a 72 dpi jpg for your web viewing.
So. Nerd shit over. Similar to Monday’s post, I haven’t edited the roll at all. Instead, I’m posting it in its entirety – duplicates and all… and in the order they appeared on the strip. Enjoy:
I just finished this write up and as I was proofing it, I realized I spent all of my words on the nerd process of recovering the film and ZERO words on the car itself. I think I’ve been obsessed on the recovery process for so long that the feature itself became a bit of an afterthought. I mean, in my head I was sort of thinking, “It’s Lee Pratt’s Buick. Who the hell doesn’t know the details?”
In reality, I think a lot of people probably don’t. But at this point, I’m spent. I have zero brain power left… and I don’t have the patience to wait for my own recovery in order to get these images out in the world. So, I’m giving you a consolation for my own ineptitude. It’s the Custom Rodder feature on Lee’s Buick that went to print around the time these images were captured:
Hopefully, Lee will come along to address any other unanswered questions about the car. But there is one thing I’d like to editorialize a bit – Why is this car so important?
For me, it’s simple. In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, plenty of folks were building traditional customs. Many of those cars, however, were a little picturesque for my tastes. Folks seemed to be reflecting on the golden era of customs in a way that seemed overly filtered. Everything was cute and pure.
And then, Lee came along with his ’41. It was a car that looked as though it had nefarious intentions right from the start. A hood belonged behind the wheel – one that came from the lowrider culture, but one that had been so successful as a hoodlum that he had grown a taste for the finer things.
Up until Lee built this car, I can’t think of a single example of a car that makes me feel this way. This… is cool.