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Curious: What goes into getting a gritty, photojournalistic looking darkroom print?


rpavich
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Just thinking here: I'm wondering what elements go into getting those gritty, contrasty, photojournalistic darkroom prints that I see from way back? 

I know that normally we want to see all of the tones available but I was wondering about this particular style?

I'm guessing that the first element is a pushed negative, but the darkroom part of it is what I'm wondering about. Is it just a matter of upping the contrast using a higher contrast filter or is there something else? Does cropping it also help accentuate this look?

 

Here is a link to what I think is representative of what I'm getting at:

 

http://thebangbangclub.withtank.com

 

 

 

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Hello, first time poster here,

 

I am interested in your question and wonder what you are looking at: "photojournalistic darkroom prints that I see from way back", or scans of such prints on your computer?

 

The link you give shows (to me) quite normal images, the contrast a little harder compared to today's standards, with a little retouch on some of the prints. As was quite normal in those days, probably more so in South Africa, these images are not so refined, technically speaking. Today a normal digital camera will give a smoother and more "perfect" image. Perfect between parenthesis because in my case I mean that rather ironical.

 

I remember seeing old press prints of one of the fathers of South African photography, David Goldblatt. From a series made in the early seventies on both 135mm and medium format. The 135mm shots were great, full of contrast with a nice distinct grain. Very beautiful! Also comes to mind Mario Giacomelli's images of elderly people. And William Klein's images of New York. And Daido Moriyama's images from Goodbye Photography. And much more recently, the work of some photographers who are active now: Anders Petersen, Michael Ackerman, Machiel Botman.

 

I wonder if the style of these photographers, both technical (the use of film, the printing, etc.) and their way of photographing (maybe fast or intuitive) has to do with what you talk about. It is hard to generalise, but this style seems to be on the other side of the spectrum as for instance Irving Penn or Ansel Adams.

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Here is a link to what I think is representative of what I'm getting at:

 

http://thebangbangclub.withtank.com

 

 

 

From this link it looks like the photo's have been reproduced, then reproduced again, and maybe again, and the quality is way bellow what the darkroom print would have been like, and even worse than the worst newspaper reproduction.

 

All of those photographs would have started life as a normal contrast print, probably even a low contrast print made especially for reproduction. A such they aren't a good example of a well crafted photojournalistic darkroom print. Here is an example that keeps getting trotted out but it shows how a powerful image isn't just banged out and does require some craft

 

http://www.wemadethis.co.uk/blog/2012/01/shaped-by-war/

 

As you can see the lights and darks do not come entirely from the contrast of the paper, but are created by dodging and burning to both heighten the meaning behind the image, and also to balance the image visually, so the eye doesn't wander away. This is something that is missing from the images in your original link which are just graphically naïve, and probably not the fault or intent of the photographer.

 

 

Steve

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From this link it looks like the photo's have been reproduced, then reproduced again, and maybe again, and the quality is way bellow what the darkroom print would have been like, and even worse than the worst newspaper reproduction.

 

All of those photographs would have started life as a normal contrast print, probably even a low contrast print made especially for reproduction. A such they aren't a good example of a well crafted photojournalistic darkroom print. Here is an example that keeps getting trotted out but it shows how a powerful image isn't just banged out and does require some craft

 

http://www.wemadethis.co.uk/blog/2012/01/shaped-by-war/

 

As you can see the lights and darks do not come entirely from the contrast of the paper, but are created by dodging and burning to both heighten the meaning behind the image, and also to balance the image visually, so the eye doesn't wander away. This is something that is missing from the images in your original link which are just graphically naïve, and probably not the fault or intent of the photographer.

 

 

Steve

 

Thanks Steve, I've seen Don's work and I'm a fan.

 

I guess my examples weren't the best there were, I could have picked others but I couldn't think of any at that time. i blanked out.

 

Even Don's photos aren't "airy" and "fine" they are gritty and somewhat contrasty without lots of shades of grey.

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In the link you have an example of the 'before' and the 'after' (although it's probably better finding another copy of 'after to appreciate it without the darkroom notes attached). There is another version of this with even more notes written on the test print itself. So the 'grit' is down to the choice of paper, and normally you'd use a higher contrast paper, and then separate the tones even more by the burning and dodging. When you have the picture finished, and even for an experienced darkroom printer it may take many attempts, further enhancements can be made such as bleaching which intensifies higher tones and selenium toning that intensifies blacks and mid tones.

 

I think an easier photographer to research for the gritty high contrast technique may be Ralph Gibson. He starts with Tri-X and Rodinal and cranks it up from there. But there are loads of discussions by him and about his techniques on the internet. But craft is still the basis of his work, it isn't thrown together.

 

 

Steve

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