Flash from the Past

So I went to the Washington Post's website today to see it open with a 25 year old photograph I took in Yangon, Myanmar (Rangoon, Burma) of Aung San Suu Kyi while on assignment for the Associated Press. Part of a story about the coup in Myanmar this week and Suu Kyi's failures as a leader.

What was strangest for me though was the quality of the image - shot with Fuji 800 negative film, using flash because the light was so low, developed in low quality photo labs in Rangoon and scanned in on AP's Leafax 35 scanners, the photograph reminded me how far technology has come. The original AP file is probably only 1200 pixels across, saved as a JPEG to create a small 200-300K file for transmission. The worst part of transmitting was the time it took send the the files over Burma's creaking phone system. If the line dropped (which it often did) you'd have to resend the entire file, so I spent many a sleepless night by the Leafax waiting for the files to go through. All the while, international calls in Burma in the 1990s cost around $5 a minute. I also had to travel with crocodile clips, screw drivers and wire cutters so I could pull out hotel room phone lines and connect the Leafax with the clips to the peeled back phone wires. I'd then call NYC (through the hotel operator because there were no direct international lines in Burma back then) and told editors I was ready to transmit. Crackle, crackle, whizz whizz and you connected and the files started to upload. Reds first, greens next, blues last - the full RGB.

I laugh because I remember older photographers telling me how cool the Leafax was compared to the drum scanners they had to use to transmit wet prints and how they had to turn hotel bathrooms turned into darkrooms.

Below is a screen grab from the Post with the AP file image and below that the same image rescanned today and cleaned up. I only wish I had the same technology back in 1996, but then again, I wouldn't be able to bore my kids talking about the good old days.

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