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.