The Great Lakes Film Collection
I was in Tanzania for a conference to launch a new initiative linking the North American Great Lakes with the African Great Lakes - and the stunning photography in Fresh Coast helped create an instant connection for conference participants who have not yet had an opportunity to travel to our region.

The Collection Provenance

Decades ago, when Ed Wargin began his work photographing the Great Lakes as one singular narrative, it was on diapositive (color reversal) film. Over time, as photography shifted from film to digital mediums, he maintained his vision to complete the project entirely on diapositive (color reversal) film, an important agent in the narrative. 

Artistic and Historical Implications of the Great Lakes Film Collection

This collection encapsulates the breadth of the Great Lakes Coastal Districts from the end of the 20th Century through the beginning of the 21st Century, which was a profound period of change and transition for the region’s natural and manmade landscapes. It is equally important to note that a parallel change was taking place in photography as the shift from film to digital mediums was underway.

During the latter half of the Fresh Coast Project, most camera and film manufacturers began to place their focus on the digital industry, abandoning the business of film cameras. This meant for those still using film cameras, it was increasingly difficult to have them repaired or replaced. 

Equally, the film manufacturing and processing industry abandoned their most revered film lines as they prepared for the cataclysmic turnover. As for the diapositive films used for making this collection, all were carefully chosen for their own idiosyncratic subtle grain and distinctive color palettes. 

Every film camera and the subsequent films used in the making of the Great Lakes Film Collection are no longer manufactured, with the exception of Fujifilm’s Velvia. It is worth evaluating the import of how the artworks were made in the development of the original project, as it brings into scope how difficult and improbable it would be to recreate such a film plate collection today.  

*See below the list of obsolete films and cameras used in the making of the The Great Lakes Film Collection.


Kodak VS  |  Kodak SW  |  Kodak Kodachrome  |  Kodak Lumiere LPZ  | Kodak E200


Pentax 67 + 67ii  |  Mamiya 6 MF  |  Canon  EOS 3, 1N & 1V   |  Nikon F3  |  Hasselblad  Xpan + Xpan ll 


The Timeline


Photographer Ed Wargin had always referred to the clear, unsalted waters of his home shores as the fresh coast, which is why he established his project by using that name for his working title. He later formally established The Fresh Coast Project as a way to bind and communicate his ideal goal of photographing the Great Lakes narrative on diapositive (color reversal) film. Though archival film being displaced by digital mediums was not even a thought during the early years of the project, his endeavor to artfully photograph the whole of the Great Lakes on diapositive (color reversal) film was his original goal as a young photographer. 


Working professionally but striving to hone his craft, Ed Wargin wanted to pursue how to better understand and work in natural light. In the 1980s, the desert southwest was noted for its application of "sweetlight" in large-scale photographic commercial productions, most of them for the automotive industry. Understanding this, he moved to the desert southwest and worked with some of the world's best photographers while learning about the effects of natural light upon the landscape and sheet metal. During this time, he returned to the Great Lakes every year to continue shooting his Fresh Coast Project. After this investment in the southwestern states, he permanently returned home to the Great Lakes region in 1992. 


As the Great Lakes Film Collection grew during this time, the mid 1990s saw the Fresh Coast Project and Film Collection's first use in commerce as film from the collection began to sell as limited edition prints, and later, in the development and evolution of Ed Wargin's artistic books about the Great Lakes region, along with numerous editorial essays involving the Fresh Coast aesthetic.


During these years, the emergence of digital mediums diminished the supply of professional diapositive (color reversal) film stock and processing services for professional film photographers, which added a new urgency to Wargin's work. During this time, The Fresh Coast Project began to coalesce its message as: "a decades long artistic endeavor to capture the larger narrative of the Great Lakes on film prior to the possible cessation of professional film as an everyday commodity."

With growing support, Ed Wargin's work on the Great Lakes included traveling the coastal districts and photographing them on diapositive (color reversal) film, archiving the film plates, speaking on behalf of the project at numerous events, teaching emerging photographers, all the while continuing to organize the film collection which included developing studio best practices for individual film file preparation; scanning each plate for a.) one publish-ready professional file, and b.) one corollary digital database marker file; adding reference information, cataloging each plate, archiving, and professionally storing each physical film plate and its subsequent digital counterparts. 


Today, The Great Lakes Film Collection is complete in its narrative, a career goal accomplished, and the arduous process of scanning, organizing, preserving and notating the diapositive (color reversal) film plates is complete. Due to the vast amount of photographs, the scanning and database portion of the task has taken several years to accomplish. Now finalized, the next life of this unique film plate collection will soon be determined. 


From Concept to Preservation to Art.


Curating the Original Film Collection

Processing The Diapositive Film

Early in his career while working for many fine art, advertising and editorial photographers in the field, Ed Wargin learned the importance of creating a strong relationship with the right lab. Toward that end, while working as a young photographer in California, Wargin was fortunate to have met and worked with Mike Lussier, a California-based professional film-processing scientist who specialized in developing diapositive (color reversal) films.

Mike Lussier's passion and skill for processing diapositive (color reversal) film is renowned amongst professional film photographers worldwide. And as luck would have it, Lussier later opened up AgX Imaging Labs in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan near the heart of the Great Lakes. This means the entire film collection (excluding a small handful of original Kodachrome work) was processed through high-end film processor: Mike Lussier of AgX Imaging Labs. 

When Ed Wargin started out making the archive in 1987, there were literally hundreds of high-end film processing labs across North America. By 2011, there were a mere 25 professional film labs working in color reversal film processing, and of those labs, only 3 were under constant color controls. AgX Imaging was one of those 3 photographic film labs. 

Film Editing

When assembling a film collection of this size over a range of thirty years, Ed Wargin considered two types of editing. First, he established a process for baseline edits; these are the ones that happen when film arrives from the lab and each diapositive (color reversal) film plate is inspected carefully with respect to narrative, as well as the integral elements of sharpness, color accuracy, composition and lighting.  

Because this was a collection to be created and edited over a span of decades, Wargin established a process for keeping all unselected film plates in accessible dry storage. This was because he knew that changes in technology over time could sway opinion over particular pieces of film. In particular, he knew that scanning technology would improve, causing decisions about film selections to change. For example, the film plate scanners of today can capture more detailed information in a high-end scan than when compared to those of a decade prior. Because of this, Ed Wargin regularly went back to revisit and re-edit stored pieces of film not initially selected for the archive. 

All diapositive (color reversal) film plates for The Great Lakes Film Collection had to surpass the photographer's benchmarks for color, composition and narrative. All final selections were then put up against Ed Wargin's Mission Statement for the project: Does this photograph tell the story of the Great Lakes?

Producing Digital Masters of Film Each Plate

Once the diapositive (color reversal) film plate was selected for inclusion in the collection and properly cleaned by hand, it was scanned into two separate working digital files by photographer Ed Wargin. The first digital file is a digital plate master file which is a publication-ready high-resolution 300 dpi scan (saved in a .tiff format and RGB colorspace) which has been color-corrected to match the original diapositive (color reversal) film plate as closely as possible or within the scope of the artists interpretation of any given diapositive (color reversal) film plate. Given the varied characteristics of high-end film plate scanners, no diapositive (color reversal) film plate is perfectly matched in its final digital form, however, through careful color control of each scan and color rendering, each diapositive (color reversal) film plate reflects the photographer's vision for future publication. The second digital file is an identical partner scan to the original .tiff file that has been saved in the .jpeg format to be used as a way-finding reference artifact to the original .tiff file, if desired.

Each diapositive (color reversal) film plate was scanned at the highest resolution possible using an Imacon Flextight X1 film scanner in the photographer's studio. This has ensured that each digital plate is professionally preserved and suited for a multitude of purposes including both print and digital outputs. 

Acquisition Note: Given the age and preservation of some film plates, further cleaning of dust particles at 100% magnification is recommended of some digital masters for desired high-end publication outcomes. * (see below)

Creating the Film and Digital Plate Database

After each film plate was properly scanned, its relevant information was entered into a multi-platform proprietary database. In this database, each film plate and its corresponding digital plate was given the following important information:

• File Code Number

• Art Title Name

• Year Created

• Photograph Location

• Film Plate Number

• Film Type / Brand

• Original Film Size

• Original Film Camera Used

• Original Project Name under which the work was created

• Clean Verification Level (scan cleaned 0-25% or scan cleaned 25-50%)

• Physical Scan Size (i.e. 22”x28” etc.)

• Film Plate Market Value Information

• Verification Checkbox for the 90 Single Edition Prints selected

• Artists Print Market Value Information

Film Plate Storage

Post scan, each film plate has been sleeved using Lineco Polyguard Continuous Archival Film Sleeves and labeled with its own proprietary File Code Number. Then each film plate is placed into a Print File Archival Storage Page of film originals. Then the archival storage pages are placed into Archival Methods Binder-In-Box volumes. This final holding place of film originals is kept safe under some of the best archival storage methods possible. Each volume includes the following archival traits listed below:

Archival Grade Boxboard in Black

Thickness: Black-.055

Finish: Black- textured paper laminated on acid-free black core.

Made from fully bleached, high alpha cellulose pulp. It does not contain any post consumer waste recycled pulp. Paper is free of metal particles, waxes, plasticizers, residual bleach or peroxide. Sulfur content is less than 0.0008% reducible sulfur.

The lignin content is measured by the phloroglucinol test with a Kappa number of 5 or less.

Metallic Impurities: iron will not exceed 150 ppm and copper will not exceed 6 ppm. No optical brightening agents are used in the pulp.

The paper contains a minimum of 3% calcium carbonate (CaCO3) with a pH range 8-9.5

Alkaline or neutral sizing are used. No alum rosin or rosin sizing are used.

Color dyes are light-fast and non-bleeding.

Surface of the paper is smooth and free from knots, shives and abrasive particles.

Board will not degrade and cause harm to artifacts stored in boxes made from this paper.

This paper passes the PAT (Photographic Activity Test) ISO 14523 formally ANSI IT9.16

Acquisition Note: * (referenced above) The database denotes the level of publishing "clean" readiness for each individual scan through checkboxes of 0-25% and 25-50% respectively. The checkboxes provide a quick-view reference point marking the level of print readiness. Before printing any of the files it is suggested that each file be inspected to meet your desired print objectives. Innumerable plates have already been cleaned at 100%, however, a clean digital file can often be subjective and it will be left up to the art curator and the art preservationist to further inspect each film and digital plate to meet their own rigorous outcomes.