gary s. whitford

After spending nearly four decades focused on children under anesthesia, Dr. Govind Garg changed focus at the age of 62, traveling the world, capturing the beauty of the planet and its people on film transparencies. He brought the exposures home and personally archived the best images in Cibachrome prints. Contemporary Art Month (CAM) provides an opportunity to see these vibrant prints while they are still available to be seen starting this Friday at Rendon Photography & Fine Art in Southtown.

Fading from View

Cibachrome (aka Ilfochrome) is a dying technology. It is a traditional darkroom process. Using color transparency film (like the old-fashioned slide projectors used), an artist beams light through the image to expose light-sensitive paper. The paper is put through a “bath” of special chemicals that reveal and fix the image.

Cibachrome is unique in that it does not require a negative transfer from the original film, it uses a polyester paper and metallic azo dyes. The color is extremely deep and vibrant, and the prints will virtually never fade. However, like Kodachrome before it, the technology has bowed to the overwhelming transition to digital technologies.

Dr. Govind Garg. Photo by Jennifer Garg.
Dr. Govind Garg. Photo by Jennifer Garg.

Consequently, the prints Dr. Garg will show during CAM represent a last-ditch opportunity to acquire collectible Cibachromes. Dr. Garg’s images – of everything from warriors in New Guinea to the Great Wall of China – capture well-known locations and unique cultures in uncommon light.

Physician Turned Photographer

Dr. Garg was a pediatric anesthesiologist, practicing at Driscoll Children’s Hospital in Corpus Christi and then in many of San Antonio’s operating rooms. In the 1980s, he started the city’s first ambulatory surgical center.

“Our misson was to save money in the surgical cost. That is why GECU of S.A. came forward to fund it. It was a $2 million project with 100 percent financing. Since it was a new concept, we faced lots of resistant from surgeons. Patients loved it – less cost and minimal hassle,” Dr. Garg said.

Interview on the Outskirts

To visit the photographer and retired physician, I had to leave my familiar neighborhood and venture into a gated, guarded place on the outskirts of town known as “The Dominion.” We toured his darkroom and viewed prints, talking about his work.

“I am sad to see Cibachrome go away. I believe that there is no other printing media will ever be like Cibachrome. I have an extensive experience with it since I had been printing with my friend James Arthur for 25 years. It’s important to personally make the prints – the presence of the Artist (photographer) during the process helps produce the finest interpretation on the final prints,” Dr. Garg said.

Dr. Garg photographs in Dubai. Photo by Jennifer Garg.
Dr. Garg photographs in Dubai. Photo by Jennifer Garg.

Darkroom processing and printing has a more visceral connection between the photographer and the print. Light streams through film in an enlarger, and the photographer often dodges particular parts of the image to get a proper balance of light and color, sharpness and definition. There is no Photoshop to get digital calibration into the process. Consequently, a number of “test” prints are needed to get the final product.

Critical Moment

The critical moment in photography happens long before the darkroom door is opened. Dr. Garg would arrive on a scene and watch it for days, finding the time when light and air and environment around a chosen place contributed to the best shot. One such image occurs on the steps of a cathedral in Guatemala before Mass.

Morning Prayer in Guatemala Photo by Govind Garg
Morning Prayer in Guatemala Photo by Govind Garg

“The women put out flowers on the steps, and a priest walks through spreading incense. The sun is actually behind and to the right of the church. We set up, and when the priest emerged from the church, we started. Then, in the darkroom, getting the smoke, all the color of the flowers, the detail right – it took a lot of work to get this picture.”

Dr. Garg started his work in photography in 1964 with a Nikon. It was a constant avocation as he progressed through his medical practice.

“My being a physician had a lot to do with producing fine photographic prints. Anesthesia requires full focus and paying attention to details, specially working with infants and children. Those years of surgery, full attention to the subtle details of a sleeping child, contribute greatly to the attention to detail required to get and print a good photograph,” he said.

Learning by Printing

Garg studied with master photographers at the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico.

“One teacher told me, ‘Garg, I can teach you the techniques of photography in 10 minutes. But I can never teach you composition. That can only be learned on the scene.’ I didn’t fully appreciate his words until I started shooting pictures, then living with them in the darkroom,” Dr. Garg said.

Depth of Real will open Friday, March 1 at Rendon Photography & Fine Art, 733 S. Alamo. The exhibit will remain in the gallery and available for viewing by appointment.

San Antonio copywriter gary s. whitford grapples, toys and dances with words all day. You can read more of his writing in the Rivard Report Column “Every Word Counts,” on the Extraordinary Words website and in his personal blog.

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San Antonio copywriter gary s. whitford is a partner in Extraordinary Words, providing clear, compelling content for business and non-profit communications. gary has lived in San Antonio for 2/3 of his...