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Picto, Paris, France
Old 03-30-2015   #1
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Picto, Paris, France

Greetings Tom; I hope this new thread finds you well.

I was wondering if you knew which B&W developer this lab used for the Paris based Magnum crowd?

Also, perhaps what B&W 35mm film & developer some of the Paris based Magnum Photogs preferred?


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Old 03-30-2015   #2
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From what I know, Picto made up the paper developer according to the negatives printed. They could control contrast and "tonality" by simply adding or removing chemistry. Probably a derivative of the old Defender developer to start with and then adding carbonate, Hydroquinone, anti -fog etc to fit.
As for film, once TriX was out in 1964 (in 35mm) I suspect that it became the standard film for most of them. I am sure that there were HP5, Agfa users among them, but most of them were devoted to Tri X.
Before TriX the Isopan from Agfa were popular - as were some of the Ilford films, HP3 etc.
Developer was probably D76 as it gave the most consistency - though again, sometimes they used Rodinal etc. It depended on peoples preferences too.
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Old 03-31-2015   #3
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I would imagine that they kept different developers in stock and used whatever one the customer requested.
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Old 04-01-2015   #4
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I have always loved the tonal look of the prints of many of the early Magnum photographers. I especially liked the particular "colour" of the mid-to-light grey tones. I have searched for many years to try to get that particular look. Nowadays I think that it may have been related to the Harvey's Panthermic 777, the developer which it's said was introduced to Picto by Cartier-Bresson. But I'm sure it wasn't just this. The lenses of that time gave a certain contrast and look that lent itself to that light grey look. To my mind a number of Erik van Straten's images have a similar look, and he has said that he uses Tri-X and especially T Max 400 in Ilford Perceptol 1:2, both rated at 200.

At the present time I use HP5+ or T-Max 400 in Rodinal, both at at 400, getting them processed by Monoprint, near Oxford. (They do a better job than I can!). I’m also in the process of trying these films rated at 200 in Perceptol.

But I have also done some research into the film-developer combinations of many of the Magnum photographers of that time period, and presented some of it in a thread begun by another RFF member on 4.11.12, called “How do I get these grey tones?” It may be helpful if I quote from what I wrote then:

I've been searching for the secret of these grey tones and grey "colour" too, for almost forty years, with only partial success but a lot of enjoyment.

I first noticed and loved them in the photos of Cartier-Bresson but I soon realised that they were also present in many of the photos of other European and Magnum photographers, and I wanted to know how they did it.

Over the years I've found various clues. For example, "Photography Magazine (Great Britain) Ltd" used to publish an annual book known as "Photography Year Book 19xx" in which they printed selected prints from well known photographers of the year in question, usually about 200 mainly black and white prints. In an appendix the book would present thumbnail versions (about 1.5 x 2 inches) of each print from the main print pages, and adjacent to each thumbnail would be a short summary from the photographer giving fairly extensive technical details of the photo eg camera film, developer, paper, print developer, and probable exposure details. Not all these details were present in all cases (minimal for Cartier-Bresson for example) but most photographers tried to give as much as possible, probably because it was a requirement for submission for publication that such details were given, or at least guessed at.

Some years ago I bought the Year Book for 1960 in a second hand bookshop and was delighted to find a lot of useful information, often from very well known photographers of the period and well known names even now. The list includes: George Rodger (M3, Summarit, HP3 in Microphen), Rene Burri (Pentax or Leica M3 with Canon 35 and HP3), Alfred Camisa (Leica M3 Ilford HPS and Microphen), Robert Doisneau (Rollieflex, HP3 and Promicrol), Cartier Bresson (only the camera was mentioned unfortunately - M3), Bert Hardy (only D76 mentioned), Bill Brandt (the photo of Picasso in his villa near Cannes (Rollieflex, Tri-X in Microphen), Leonard McCombe (Contax and Tri-X), Frank Horvat (Leica, wide angle Biogon, HP3 and Promicrol), Willy Ronis (Foca camera with 28mm, Plus-X and Microphen), Inge Morath (Leica M3 with Summarit, HP3 in Microphen), Harold Feinstein, a good friend of Eugene Smith (Ansco Super Hypan in 777), Alfred Eisenstaedt (Leica MP with Plus-X), Jean-Philippe Charbonnier (Tri-X in Microphen), Ian Berry Leica (M3 with Canon wide angle and Gevaert 33 film), Denise Colomb, portrait of Marc Chagall, (Ilford HPS in Microphen), Jean-Loup Seiff (M3, Summicron, Plus-X in D76) Denis Thorpe (Rollieflex, HP3 in Promicrol), Edward Boubat (Leica, wide angle Summaron, Plus-X in Microdol), Larry Burrows (Leica M3 and wide angle lens, HP3 in D76), and William Klein (Canon camera, Tri-X in D76).

The 1964 Year Book included: Louis Stettner (Plus-X in Microphen), Graham Finlayson (Guardian newspaper in UK: M2 HP3, Microphen) and Frank Herrmann (Sunday Times in UK: HP3 in Microphen).

Of course these techniques etc are what the photographers say they used for the particular photos that were printed - they might have forgotten the details and simply guessed at what they used, and anyway the techniques may not have been typical of their work in general at that time. But it does gives us something to go on.

What's relevant here is that the print tones in the book were just like those we are talking about in this post and what I was searching for, and this was true especially for the prints that used Microphen. Note how many photographers used Microphen at that time, partly no doubt for the extra speed but also I believe for those beautiful tones. The above are only a small sample: many others used Microphen too. Other developers that were often used were Microdol, Promicrol and of course D76 but Microphen predominated.

Some years ago (about 1973) I therefore settled on Tri-X (with the particular emulsion of that time of course) and straight Microphen, rated at either 500 or 650, and found that I could get near to the tones I wanted. I got the effect immediately, using the same equipment and lenses I had been using before, so in this case the developer made all the difference.

My advice would therefore be to try Microphen. I used it straight (Tri-X at 500 or 650, 7 mins at one minute agitation intervals at 20 C). I found that I had to use 7 mins with the Tri-X of that time - my simple mnemonic was 7 but not 8. I never got round to trying 1:1 on an extensive basis (I was emotionally well adjusted in those days and preferred to take pictures rather than agonise over technical details) but what little experimentation I did with 1:1 suggested very similar tones with slightly increased sharpness.

I must emphasise that I used Microphen just for the "colour: of the greys, not to get extra speed or for sharpness - in fact I actually got reduced sharpness over D76 1:1 and over the original Aculux from Geoffrey Crawley. Even now I prefer tones over contrast and sharpness as long as sharpness is good enough.

Over the years I've found that Microphen gets me as close as I can to those greys. I found that Microdol-X was close to Microphen but not quite as good and it loses speed.

I found that Rodinal can in certain circumstances have similar tones but only with Tri-X at 400, 1:50 with very gentle agitation (2 extremely gentle inversions) at five-minute intervals for 25 mins (yes 25) at 20 C. Of course with Rodinal one gets the amazing sharpness too. By the way, I couldn't get HP5 to work at all in Rodinal.

Incidentally I find that the prints of our colleague, Erik van Straten, are similar to the tones I'm seeking, and I believe he uses Ilford Perceptol and perhaps used Microdol-X in the past.

However, from research I suspect that, as suggested by BobYIL, the best method is to use Harold Harvey's Panthermic 777. I haven't tried it cos it seems such a fiddle to do properly, such as having to condition it first, only using very large tanks, and so on.

Of course there are other factors besides negative developer that can help get these tones: larger format films eg 6x6; lenses, their coatings and contrast; films and emulsion type; paper and paper developer if wet prints are made (I used to use Ilfobrom); whether the print is enlarged through a lens or scanned; the enlarging lens and its contrast; etc etc. For example, I find that my 35 mm Summaron 3.5 (M mount) gets me half-way to the right grey tones even if I'm using a film-developer combination that's not helpful in producing those greys. It’s an amazing lens for both sharpness and tones, and mine was made in 1954!

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Old 04-01-2015   #5
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Seems silly to say that in a complex system, something is 'ultimate.' As to the weight of different factors in producing a 'classic' grayscale, I'd place some emphasis on the lenses of the time. I've tried Sonnars of different ages for 35mm, and Tessars and Planars on Rolleis. IMO modern lens design has made a really open midrange harder to retain. It's harder yet with digital, which lacks the 'natural' toe and shoulder curves of film.

With so much emphasis now on glass and coatings that produce high contrast, we forget how much flatter the Old Guys' negatives tended to be. The modulation of grays that's hard to produce now was a 'given' from a Rollei Tessar, or from a Xenotar or Planar on a Rollei 2.8C of the 1950s. Later Planars, following a commercial/Hasselblad 'aesthetic,' things changed considerably. Materials, especially glass and coatings, had changed markedly. And now we're supposed to like Karbe lenses for Leica, though reviewers like Sean Reid point out how contrasty they are in bright sunlight.

In 35mm, have you printed from a vague-and-swirly Summarit negative? At the time, Zeiss lenses and Japanese Sonnar copies did a better job on resolution but were still low in contrast. They still make great 'sunny day' lenses. I've used a '38 uncoated Sonnar (in M mount by Brian Sweeney), 'David Douglas Duncan' postwar Nikkors (Sonnars), and the modern Sonnar-C. The last is up-to-date in coating and lower in aberrations, so it offers gentle rendering at large apertures but is contrasty when stopped down. But the older Sonnars, especially at wider apertures, produce low contrast and spread out a lot of the gray that LV and Anthony have been writing about. Overall, those who still favor Mandler-designed Leica lenses have settled on something that's in-between.

As to printers and papers, IMO the printer's style, and the skilled Picto printers in particular, made more difference than the papers of the 1950s and 60s, as long as the paper was un-ferrotyped glossy stock and had plenty of silver. It was sad to see Brovira and Portriga Rapid diminish in quality through th 1970s.

I wish I knew more about Microphen? Developers and films have fit a timeline, with HC-110 new in the 60s and not much used til the 70s. And when did Super-XX fit into the picture? I believe the original Tri-X (1954) was just postwar Double-X with a revised ASA (now ISO) rating. Panatomic X, Plus X, and Tri-X also differed in contrast (in descending order), requiring different development/developers. No doubt Euro films offered similar variations.

I'd like to know more about all the variables that were in play 'way-back-when.'

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