Sunday, April 12, 2009


Walker Evans, Austin, Texas March 1974

Karen and Murph, Dripping Springs, Texas April 2009

Late last night and this morning I was scanning and printing a couple of images of Walker Evans I shot when he was visiting UTAustin in the spring of '74. At the time, he was talking with a group of advanced photojournalism students, and I was there photographing him for the News Service of the university (for whom I then worked). The room was lit by overhead florescent lighting and I seem to remember that something like 1/30 at f/2.8 was somewhat common in those days. Normally we rated our Tri-X at ISO 200 and processed it in HC-110, dil. B. mixed directly from the concentrate. However, I remember distinctly that day I upped the ISO to 400 and pushed processed the film hoping to get sharper images. I would have been shooting with a 135mm f/2.8 Nikkor on a Nikon F2. Not the sharpest images in the world, but at the time, good enough for my purposes. I can get an acceptable, but slightly grainy 11x14 print from the neg.

Skip to a week ago while I was in Austin attending a reunion of the 1970's Daily Texan photographers. I was shooting my Canon 5D MK-II with a 24-105 f/4 L IS lens. The above image of Karen and Mike was shot at 3200 ISO, 24mm, 1/200 at f/4. As easy shoot. If I had been shooting film, it would have had to been lighted by flash, or I would have to had used TMax-3200 -- a super grainy film no matter how you process it. The digital image looks as though I was shooting Panatomic-X processed in some super compensating deveoper like FR-22. (Haven't heard of that one in a while, have you?) Need I remind you that I'm shooting at ISO 3200 and getting the results of an ISO 25 film, and without the inherent contrast of fine-grained film. 35 years later a lot has changed....for the better me thinks.

My point is this: everyone is bemoaning the demise of film and silver prints, but many of those who are crying the loudest have not seen the promise of the new technology at its best. The 5D2's full resolution images will print about 13x19 inches right out of the camera, and will astound died-in-the-wool silver folk. Especially when printed with the latest inks from the latest printers on the latest "glossy" baryta fiber based papers. I printed the Evans image above on Innova's Ultra Smooth Gloss Warm Tone. I warmed the RGB image with a color balance layer and on the warm toned paper, it comes close to looking like Protriga Rapid 111. Oh, don't forget, that if I had shot Evans with today's technology, it would have been sharp and full-toned and not grainy. Even if I printed it 24x36 inches. And the image of Karen and Murph would have printed 24x36 inches, also, and would be without grain. AND I could print it as either color or B&W.


Colin Griffiths said...

Aside from all the technical points that you make there is also another important point in your story. Regardless of how you feel you may have comprised photographic excellence at the time, many years later an image still has value as is the case with your picture of Walker Evans. In the digital age it is so easy to delete our images, yet we should think about the possibility that they may have significance in the future.

pitchertaker said...

Colin: Yes, there is that, too. As I speak with photo archivist here and there, they speak of films of the 30's and 40' beginning to self-destruct, and we all know what happened to the nitrate films. Archival silver and pigment prints, however made, seem to be the most lasting. While there seems almost insurmountable obstacles archiving digital files, my wife (head of a major research library) tells me what is reported to her concerning the latest sought after standards and concerns. If properly taken forward as new technologies become available, digitized materials offers the first truly permanent solution to archiving visual (words and pictures) materials. however, digital imaging is so new they are still arguing about what standard to use for recording images in camera let alone how to store them.

Billie said...

Life is good, isn't it Frank. I remember about 10 or 12 years ago, I never thought that digital imaging would progress so rapidly. I thought that I would be shooting film but here I darkroom at all. And the sky hasn't fallen either.

pitchertaker said...

Not so sure, Billie, something hit me from above and I don't think it was bird doo. Interesting at the recent "Daily Texan" reunion, you could tell the people who made their living with their cameras and those who didn't by what they were totin'. Out of the 50-or-so folks in attendance, I would say there were 10 5D2's, another 10-or-so 5D's, but nary a "pro" Nikon in sight. Even saw one 1Ds III over someone's shoulder. (BTW, just kidding, it really was bird doo.)

Steve Williams said...

All the Nikon guys were in Iraq or Afghanistan. No time to putter around at dinners when you have paying assignments.....*grin*

My own choice to use film has nothing to do with the end product. Focus on the final product --- a print or other presentation is certainly the common path---but for me what I end up with is sort of, well, secondary. I continue to shoot film because the process offers me more satisfaction.

Perhaps it is because I work digitally 40 hours a week and I just need a change for my personal work. For now film remains the right choice for me. Full toned prints without grain isn't the only choice out there nor necessarily the yardstick to measure a photograph.

I have to go to work now and gather my Nikon gear for some test shots with new models for a campaign I am working on.

Steve Williams
Scooter in the Sticks

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