I’m taking a break from working on a large photograph to write about working on a large photograph. I’m not sure how much of a break this really is but I’ll give it a go. Recently I was looking through some of my old photographs from my Marvel Comics days to find something I wanted to post on Facebook. I settled on a photo of Fabulous Flo Steinberg in a Groucho mustache and glasses combo from Halloween of 1996.

I took a bunch of photos all through my Marvel days but not nearly enough. They were the days before digital photography so photos weren’t as easy to take and were a lot more expensive to develop and print. Sometime in 1990 or 1991 I bought an Olympic Stylus camera. That was a small (about the size of a large bath size bar of soap) 35mm film camera that I carried around in my pocket as a matter of course. I’d pull it out every now and again to take a photo of something or someone. I took more photos than anyone else there at the time but I still wish I had taken more.

The Halloween day that the photo of Flo was from was a day where I took a lot of photos. Or at least a lot for my days of shooting on film. I took 51 photos that day all at the the office Halloween party. Those parties were a big deal at Marvel in those days but this was a weird one.

Marvel was having money troubles due to all sorts of shenanigans by the big wigs and was heading towards bankruptcy which it finally declared in December of that year. On top of that editor Mark Gruenwald, who for years was the master of ceremonies for all of the Marvel office parties, had died suddenly and unexpectedly just a couple of months ago in August. This was the first Halloween party without him. Everyone wanted to carry on in his honor but it wasn’t the same without him. He usually had a bullhorn and ran all the goofy party games. He loved them.

In looking at these fifty one photos from the day I was inspired to make one of my large photo collages out of them. Inspiration is one thing but you’d better have more than that if you want to finish a project. Luckily I seem to have some sort of compulsion to finish is as it takes a lot of work. I’m on my fourth day of working on it and I’m not even done yet. But I’m getting close.

It was really tough going at first. After I was inspired to make this photo collage I noticed that the scans of the negatives had a lot of problems. Back in the early 2000s I scanned in all of my 35mm negatives from 1985-2001. It took weeks to do. I kept all my negatives in sleeves so they were pretty well protected but these particular negatives had a lot of dust and scratches on them. I’m not sure why but they were worse off than my usual negatives. So I would have to clean up the scans in Photoshop by hand. Lots of color correcting, using the healing brush, and the clone tool.

The cleaning of the scans part took three days. It’s a task that had to be done but it’s not the most interesting thing to do. Sometimes I’m okay with tasks like that. I’m just using my eyes and reacting to whatever I see. If I see a dust spot I click with the healing tool. Over and over. Sometimes it can be very meditative but mostly it’s tedious. At least I can listen to shows, music, podcasts, or whatever as I do it.

By the end of the third day I was ready to start working on the actual large photo rather than cleaning the individual pieces. The problem was I still had no idea what I wanted the final piece to look like. I had fifty one pieces but no puzzle box to look at. I noticed I had two types of photos. Pictures of individual people and pictures of the event. I decided to make two rows of individual people on the top and bottom and place the event photos in the middle of them.

At first I guessed wrong about how wide the individual photos should be. I set up guides and gutters at two and a half inches apart and started to layout the photos in that pattern. I ran out of room before I ran out of photos. It was back to the drawing board to set them up at two inches apart. This time I got it right. It took a few hours to get all the photos in place but this was the easy part. Thinking up the pattern can be difficult but once the kinks are worked out following a pattern is easy.

Now I had to work out the middle but I had nothing. Usually when I make one of my large photo collages I work around a large central image or three. But I didn’t have that for this one. I had taken these photos before I developed my large collage style so they weren’t taken with that in mind. After a few false starts I decided to just start placing photos and not worry about a central idea until I saw one developing. So that’s what I did. I’d place one photo, resize it, place another, try to find a place for a third, and so on.

I did that all morning and finally after about fifteen photos were placed I started to see what I wanted to do. Then I dropped the final five in the middle section and everything fell apart. But that was okay. I knew I could get it. I knew I had a good visual idea and all it would take was time and perseverance. So I kept at it until I got it done. At least that part. The hard part.

Now, as I take this break, I only have the border to do. I often string a bunch of images around the outside of the photo collage to make a border of images. This time I’m using my “Border of Faces” technique. That’s where I search all the individual photos for people in the background. I cut out their faces and place them around the edges. People who may have been cut out of the main picture get into the Border of Faces. That takes a while to do but it ends up looking cool.

Well, I gotta get back to it now. I have to finish and I’ll probably even print it out and make a physical collage out of it. That’ll take a while.