Chris is a fellow Airfix Model World (AMW) contributor and as you can see, a great modeller! ‘Crisp, controlled and characterful’ define builds from CJ’s stable and his delicious Phantom is a prime example of that.
It’s a privilege to call him friend and I recommend you look out for him in future editions of AMW!
…from the irrepressible Joe Lycett, on ‘8 out of 10 cats does Countdown’.
Dawn, 1943, somewhere in Lincolnshire. As the cold light rapidly intensifies, a lone photographer moves quietly among the stained and battered olive drab B-17s parked around the periphery of the base. As he captures his images, Autocars tow F1 fuel trailers from bomber to bomber, while 500lb ordnance is busily loaded and boxes of .50 cal carried aboard to feed the voracious appetites of the heavy machine guns that will later that day punctuate the cacophony of battle, high over Europe, with their signature ‘thunk’, ‘thunk’, ‘thunk’.
With all 36 frames of the Kodacolour roll exposed, the photographer re-wound the film, popped the back of the camera and slipped the cassette into a rucksack pocket. There it stayed through the heat of summer, before finally being developed and printed.
Dawn, present day. Somewhere in the US. A modeller stands in their local hobby store, attention riveted on the pages of a book about B-17s. Within the pages were colour images from England, 1943; fine references all and highly valued as an aid in determining that thorny issue of the appearance of well weathered olive drab. Around the world, other modellers cheerfully absorbed all that the photographs conveyed and translated those observations into paint shades and weathering that adorned numerous scale models.
The two scenarios are hypothetical but nonetheless representative of an aspect of the modelling psyche that has quietly remained unqualified for as long as photographs have been utilised as key research material. In essence, the status of picture references within the modelling community is sacrosanct. The broad belief is that ‘the camera never lies’ and in many respects it doesn’t but there are certain considerations that I’ve routinely found aren’t overtly publicised or discussed in connection with those images – the end product of the photographic process.
Let’s shift sideways for a second. Modelling is a visual hobby. Every element of it; from standing in the hobby store, soaking up all that plastic loveliness, to the build, painting and finishing, display, shows, clubs, competitions, instructional DVDs and more – all universally reliant on the Mk.I eyeball. We trust in what our eyes communicate to us but do they really tell all? Is that image from 1943 something on which we can rely at face value? I don’t consider so and suggest we can, as a modelling collective, perhaps better do so with just a little extra background information.
Photography is a science as well as an art and while I’m not in any sense an ‘expert’ on either, I do have the benefit of a City & Guilds in General Professional Photography. Applying that knowledge and experience to our hypothetical 1943 scenario, it’s interesting to factor in some missing information.
First up, few references (if any) come with a verifiable list of the basic technical attributes extant at the point of exposure and subsequent development and printing – the camera used, lens fitted, shutter speed and aperture used, whether the film was ‘pushed’ (deliberately under exposed, then over-developed to compensate for declining light or the need for a higher shutter speed). Beyond this, (in the case of our 1943 hypothetical example) there is the delay in film development, while the film was subject to heat exposure in the rucksack (affecting the emulsion and consequently the latent images), whether development was correctly carried out (temperature, agitation and so forth). The potential list goes on to include whether filters were used (in black and white affecting tonal reproduction), the film type used and so forth – these are just some of the factors that affect the resulting image and what is recorded here is in no sense exhaustive.
Our film, having been developed and printed has other considerations to reveal. The olive drab on the B-17s in 1943 was photographed early in the day, when the light contains a higher proportion of the blue end of the spectrum, rendering the drab in ‘cold’ tones (the opposite is true towards evening, with red light predominating, which would provoke a ‘warm’ record of the drab. Between these two extremes is daylight at midday in the northern hemisphere – about 5,500 degrees Kelvin, a blend of light temperatures that might be described as ‘neutral’.
When light strikes a surface and appears to be ‘blue’ for example, it’s because that surface reflects blue light but absorbs the other colours of the spectrum. Our 1943 photographer observes the olive drab and his eyes signal his brain accordingly, resulting in the visual perception of ‘olive drab’ but his ‘perception’ will likely differ from that of you or I by simple virtue of differences in the biological signalling and interpretation equipment. This means that even direct observation of an object is not definitive but subject to interpretive variations.
Let’s take a step forward and say the 1943 negatives are now developed and extant. The emulsion in the film negative does not replicate per se, the colour ‘seen’ in real life by the camera, it imitates it. This colour interpretation varies from lens to lens among manufacturers, further diversifying the resulting colours recorded. We can call our negatives a ‘first generation interpretation’, subject to all the vagaries previously mentioned above.
The next stage is to produce prints and these are simple interpretations of the information captured in the negatives. We can call our prints a ‘second generation interpretation or ‘an interpretation of an interpretation of reality’. Prints are also subject to exposure issues and whether the prints were ‘dodged’ (deliberately under-exposed in places) and/or ‘burnt’ (deliberately over-exposed in places), all things affecting the resulting image. Beyond this, correct development is essential in avoiding changes to image density and as before, this kind of information is never carried forwards into the present day.
Our mythical prints now journey towards modern times but regrettably aren’t stored under certifiably archival conditions (few are) and so colours and tones fade and alter and in so doing, migrate further still from the reality of that early morning in 1943. Eventually, the prints find their way into the hands of a B-17 researcher who incorporates them into the pages of their forthcoming book, requiring a scanning process, which generates a printable file we can call a ‘third generation interpretation’ or ‘an interpretation of an interpretation of an interpretation of reality’.
The printers reproduce the images in each edition of the book using a suitable print process and give birth to a ‘fourth generation interpretation’ or (roll of drums and a deep breath) ‘an interpretation of an interpretation of an interpretation of an interpretation of reality’ until it reaches the eyes of that happy modeller in the US, who shows the book to a friend, who’s eyes and brain perceive the colour and tonal information differently, though neither are aware and neither will ever, as a result, speak of it. Unless they’re reading this…
All of that might suggest I’m out to terminally undermine the confidence expressed through the possession of photographic references – sincerely, I’m not but what I am advocating is a broader awareness of the weaknesses in claiming colours, tones or hues are ‘so’ because there is a photograph that appears to support the view. In tandem with that, I’m concentrating on ‘wet process’ photography here, rather than current digital technology, although that too is subject to broadly similar cautions. All of which, are gently offered as grounds to unfurrow that brow, chill, relax and apply the law of ‘TLAR’ (That Looks About Right).
So, the next time someone at the club or on-line or at a show tries to give your leash a tug over this, tell them about an early morning in 1943…unless you painted your ’17 pink…then you’re on yer own…
“It’s only plastic”; a succinct quip that came from Ted Taylor, as we discussed modellers in general at a club we were both attending at the time and their reactions and responses to kit building. What he meant was, those folks who might, for a variety of reasons, regard themselves either as ‘serious modellers’, who strive for excellence or those recognised and applauded as ‘gifted’. Ted also had another segment of our community in mind – those who routinely fret over perceived inaccuracies, engineering issues and questions of fit.
Today, I’d add another category – anyone who expresses discouragement or finds demotivating, ‘modelling excellence’ when they see it. So, what does all this add up to? What is the casualty here, if any? I believe it’s ‘happiness’. If I return to Ted’s observation, the advice he intended to convey to everyone was ‘relax and enjoy it, whatever your ability, whatever your interest – it’s only plastic’. I support that. It doesn’t prevent anyone from still doing their best but instead emphasises what should be the bedrock of the hobby – fun, enjoyment and an absence of taking yourself and the plastic too seriously.
And what of those who jokingly or seriously express discouragement on sight of something they otherwise regard as special? I guess the problem boils down to a lack of awareness of the actual root of happiness – ‘acceptance’. I regard myself as a ‘mid-table obscurity’ modeller (to coin a footballing turn of phrase – that’s ‘soccer’ to our American friends). I’ll likely never be a blue riband, gold medal winning modeller but neither am I a beginner either. I sit in the ‘obscure’ middle somewhere and ‘accept’ that that’s likely to remain the case and in that, I’m totally happy. If I see something from another modeller that lights up my admiration and interest, I cheerfully accept that it’s beyond my current capabilities and at the same time feel profoundly inspired – inspired to be witness to what’s demonstrably possible with the right techniques and tools and that in turn spurs me on to push harder, while never forgetting ‘it’s only plastic’.
There can’t be too many modellers who’ve never heard the term the ‘shelf of doom’; that place where abandoned projects go to die. If ever there was an expression of a failure to understand ‘acceptance’ as the root of happiness, the shelf of doom is it. Does it matter if what you envisaged is different to how the kit has panned out? Do you only do ‘perfection’? Did ‘Advanced Modeller Syndrome’ burn you out? All indicate an absence of happiness in your hobby, a lack of acceptance of ability and a damaging presence of over ambition. Dial it down, wind it back. Have a beer, relax and chill. It’s only plastic. Pull that kit back off the shelf and finish it. Accept the result. Learn what you need to from it, then take another off the shelf and apply that learning. Keep building, keep enjoying, keep accepting, keep happy.
It’s only plastic.
Until next time.
Jon is a great friend and a wonderful guy. He’s also a very accomplished modeller with a wide clientele of loyal commission purchasers and this, coupled to his amazing output, means he’s also very practiced.
Given a predilection towards experimentation, Jon has given himself huge opportunity to explore what he likes and to push the boundaries with commission subjects he might not otherwise have covered. It’s been a sincere joy to see his abilities and the quality he produces just go skywards and that looks set to continue, as he incorporates aspects of the ‘Spanish School’ of finishing into his models. Here’s one I really love from his current crop – a quarter scale Tiffie in the European scheme.
The other thing I particularly enjoy about this build, is that it was underpinned by the human element and involved (during the commission process), research into the pilot, Squadron Leader Patrick Glynn Thornton-Brown of 609 Squadron and his ultimate fate.
Here’s the link to Jon’s page and the other images – 609 Squadron
I do hope you enjoy this and Jon’s other lovely models.
Welcome to the home of what will be an increasing number of images from other modellers around the world, whose output I particularly admire and enjoy.
I guess it’ll prove to be a fairly eclectic mix of kit bashers, covering aircraft, armour, figures, science fiction, dinosaurs and more.