Professor’s Book Examines Mother-Daughter Bond; Shares Journey With Own Daughter

RIT uses revolutionary digital printing technology to print book’s black-and-white photographs




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One of the first photos taken in 1993 of O'Neil and Hess that is featured in their new book, MOTHER DAUGHTER: Posing as Ourselves.

Elaine O’Neil, a retired photography professor from Rochester Institute of Technology, calls the portraits with her daughter the “daily ritualizing of connection.” O’Neil and her daughter Julia Hess met each day in front of their living room window to take a portrait together. The ritual began when Hess was 10 and ended on her 16th birthday.

The portraits, shot with a large format camera on Polaroid film, are featured in O’Neil and Hess’ new book, MOTHER DAUGHTER: Posing as Ourselves.

“As a mother, I hoped to find ways to continue the connection that had thus far marked my relationship with Julia,” says O’Neil. “Through various projects, pictures together had become an important part of how we understood ourselves and each other.”

O’Neil and Hess will host a book signing at the opening reception of O’Neil’s photo exhibition from 5-7 p.m. Sept. 17 in RIT’s School of Photographic Arts and Sciences Gallery. The exhibit runs through Oct. 2.

Adds O’Neil: “The photographs had to be interesting moments. Sometimes as I edited the work, I had to remind myself that the important thing was the complexity of our relationship, not our looking ‘pretty.’”

In the book, Hess writes: “My older self now learns from my younger self about confidence and about not hiding my personality. I was able to show so much of myself then, and I feel it is so hard to do that now. Yet I was able to take these candid photographs every day, to the point that people who looked at the work felt that I grew up before them, that they knew me.”

In addition to O’Neil and Hess’ narratives, contributing writers Deborah Willis, Perri Klass and her mother, Sheila Solomon Klass, share their insights on the family photographs and the mother-daughter connection.

Published by RIT’s Cary Graphic Arts Press, MOTHER DAUGHTER: Posing as Ourselves, is a collaborative project involving RIT’s Printing Applications Laboratory and faculty members and research scientists from RIT’s College of Imaging Arts and Sciences along with industry partners HP and Mohawk Fine Papers.

Using the HP Indigo 5500 Press in PAL, the RIT team of researchers developed a process that uses a custom four-color ink set that consists of black and three grays (GGGK), instead of the traditional black and process colors (CMYK). One of the features of the HP Indigo Press is the ability for end-users to mix custom inks and, in this case, develop a custom palette of grays; similar to traditional duotone or tritone offset printing where several grays provide an extended range.

Nitin Sampat, associate professor in RIT’s School of Photographic Arts and Sciences, Franz Sigg, research scientist in RIT’s School of Print Media, and Jeremy Vanslette, manager of the Digital Printing Lab at the RIT Printing Applications Laboratory, conducted extensive characterization tests of the equipment, designed the custom inks, and worked on custom software to develop a process that enabled high quality reproductions of black and white silver halide originals.

“Nothing like this had ever been done before on a digital press,” says David Pankow, director of the RIT Cary Graphics Art Press. “Because of RIT’s on-campus resources and talent, the university was uniquely poised to meet the challenge. The end result is breathtakingly accurate reproductions of Elaine’s black-and-white photographs. The book is already causing quite a bit of excitement in the commercial publishing world.”

The book was printed on a new premium uncoated paper from Mohawk Fine Papers Inc.

“The publication of Elaine O’Neil’s black and white photo monograph stands as a milestone in the continuing evolution of Mohawk Superfine,” says Christopher Harrold, vice president of market development at Mohawk Fine Papers Inc. and a 1989 graduate of RIT’s master of fine arts program in photography. “Superfine has been a printing industry icon since its launch over 60 years ago when it was used by Yale University Press for A Pictorial History of Yale. With Elaine’s book, RIT Cary Graphic Arts Press uses the HP Indigo and Mohawk Superfine to set a new ‘gold standard’ for digital publishing.”

HP and Mohawk Fine Papers Inc. are the book’s corporate sponsors. Polaroid donated the film for the project.

To order MOTHER DAUGHTER: Posing as Ourselves, call RIT’s Cary Graphic Art Press at (585) 475-6766 or go to carypress.rit.edu.

Photo Captions: Book cover photo from MOTHER DAUGHTER: Posing as Ourselves (shot on March 5, 1994)

Photo of O’Neil and Hess (shot on Sept. 5, 1993)

Photo of O’Neil and Hess (shot on Sept. 30, 1998—Hess’ 16th birthday)

200909/oneil_hess1993_2_copy1.jpg

One of the first photos taken in 1993 of O'Neil and Hess that is featured in their new book, MOTHER DAUGHTER: Posing as Ourselves.