Artistic uses of high-contrast

Discussion in 'B&W: Film, Paper, Chemistry' started by Michel Hardy-Vallée, Nov 22, 2005.

  1. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council Council

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    I was looking into using my recently acquired Tech Pan rolls (thanks Mike K!), and it looks that most people who use it for artistic means go for low ISO, low-contrast developers, mostly to benefit from its extended red sensitivity.

    Well, because they are rare to me, I'd rather use a more readily available film for standard pictorial applications, like Efke 25.

    I found Hortense's petroglyphs photos a gorgeous counter-example to low-constrast development of high-contrast films (ok, they're made with Ilford Ortho, but they're high-contrast nevertheless), and it got me thinking about what kind of art you can make with high contrast.

    So provided that TechPan's strength are maddening detail and superhuman contrast, how did you exploit those features in an artistic way? It doesn't have to be "just photography," i.e. exposed neg printed on paper. It could be an installation that uses projection of high-resolution slides, I don't know.

    Even reproduction work can be quite intense. Looking again at Hortense's pictures, I can see that there is an aesthetics to develop there.

    I was thinking that another interesting starting point could be macrophotography: first get as close as possible to something, capture it with a high-detail film, and enlarge it as much as possible on 11x14 or 16x20 paper to find some original shapes.

    Oh, and let's start the Hortense fan club, you know, to make some competition with the Gandolfi fan club...
     
  2. gnashings

    gnashings Inactive

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    This is perhaps not what you are after, but your post reminded me of a series of shots a friend of mine took recently. He shot some Tech Pan (at box speed as far as I know) and dev'd it in Dektol. He made some wonderful, surreal images with very intense contrast - he even produced a couple really neat Sabatier effect prints, it seems that the images from this combo lent themselves wonderfully to this. I know that printing had a lot to do with it, but the negatives allowed him to explore a range of high-contrast venues, from almost completely black and white to portraits with a bronze statue look (and you should see the eyes - the capillaries really come out - not "pretty" but very graphically interesting). Definitely not "just photography", some very creative stuff. Can't wait to try it.

    Peter.
     
  3. rrankin

    rrankin Member

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    Hi,

    Is there an online link to those petroglyph images? We surprisngly have some locallly and I've been pondering how to shoot them and could use some inspiration. hanks.

    Cheers,
    Richard
     
  4. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council Council

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  5. Lee Shively

    Lee Shively Member

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    I did this so long ago, I don't completely remember the specifics.

    I took some Kodachrome 64 and High Speed Ektachrome slides and printed them on Agfa Brovira #6 paper (which is no longer available). This produced a high contrast black and white negative print. I then copied that on Kodachrome 64 to obtain a high contrast black and white negative. I then printed that on Agfa Brovira #6. The results were almost line drawings with virtually no grey tones. I even tried "solarizing" some of the photos by flashing a light on the paper as it came up in some old, nearly exhausted Dektol. I got some neat results doing that but it was a long and a pretty expensive process. These days, the same results can be obtained more easily with (dare I mutter such obscenities?) Photoshop or Paint Shop Pro. Still, it was a lot of fun at the time.
     
  6. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    I think that high contrast lends itself to abstract images...by that I mean images that are about forms and textures rather then pictures of "things".

    If you have the opportunity, you may gain some ideas by looking at some of Brett Westons images.

    It has been years since I used Tech Pan and I never did calculate what it was capable of producing insofar as film DR...but I would think that it would have tremendous expansion capability.
     
  7. Flotsam

    Flotsam Member

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    Back in the Seventies which was a mini boom time in photography it was very popular to go for a super graphic effect using kodalith film to reduce a full tonal range negative or slide down to nothing but paper white and d-max black. The best of it was very interesting and nice but it became over-used and kind of passe after a few years.
     
  8. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council Council

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    I'm familiar with the all-white & all-black type of images, but find them of limited interest (nowadays it's such a cheap PS trick that it's not even striking anymore). I had in mind the look of archeological pictures, like bas-relief shots which need to boost contrast to get some tonality in an extremely flat scene. The textures have some unreality to them for being so sharp that I find very appealing.
     
  9. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council Council

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    How time passes...

    I'm reactivating this old thread to answer my 2005 self because I just found the work of someone who went quite far into the artistic use of Kodalith, but who's probably a bit forgotten nowadays.

    Syl Labrot (1929-1977) was an American well-recognized photographer, painter, educator, and prepress expert back in the days. He is an early colour photographer, doing mostly abstracts, but not one who has resurfaced as a pre-Eggleston pioneer (yet?). He did a fair amount of commercial work, which taught him how to use Kodalith for offset reproduction. Eventually, he started using it as a medium on its own. There's only one witness of this work, the 1976 book Pleasure Beach (http://www.vampandtramp.com/finepress/v/visualstudies.html).

    It's hard to find images of it around the Web, and even then it wouldn't do justice to the very peculiar texture he's achieving. Pleasure Beach is a mixture of text, collaged images, and graphic effects, but instead of happening at the level of book dummy (which was then rephotographed through the halftone process for repro), it's happening at the level of the plate-making process itself. Labrot would manipulate bits of images on Kodalith, texts, and work directly on the large sheets of film for colour separation that would be used for burning the printing plates with scratches, overlays, etc.

    This has for effect of using incredible ink densities (something rare for a colour photography book then), extra-sharp images (almost painfully so; there is quite a lot of unsharp masking halos), and a material facture that is unique: touching the pages feels like a handmade silkscreen because there's so much ink. Some of the effects are more subtle, but they all display a wicked sense of mad genius toying with the printing press (the fact that printers let him do that is a testament to the trust they had in his prepress abilities).

    The result is stunning, but I'm not sure if it's been long enough for it not to look a bit "of its era" (not to say "dated"!). I think the 1980s are to blame for this perception: checking out Labrot's book made me realize how much of a visual commonplace it was in magazines of this era to see giant halftone dots, visible traces of the colour separation work, and high contrast. In fact, these days there's a CoverGirl ad with singer Pink that's on the air, and which reuses a lot of this graphic language. It's yet another "ironic" or "nostalgic" take on visual culture, but it shows how commonplace it's once been.

    At any rate, if you have a good university library (or just access to interlibray loans), it's worth checking out Pleasure Beach, as it's probably no the kind of book that could be made anymore.

    Worth also checking out the catalog of an exhibit featuring him and other artists exploiting offset lithography as their medium :
    http://www.lightwork.org/shop/4-on-the-offset-press/
     
  10. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    hi michel:

    great to see you posting again, and thanks for reactivating this thread.
    i never saw it when you originally posted it ... and i for a long while was shooting
    tech pan for high contrast ...
    i shot a lot of backlit leaves and even a minute area of the film could easily be enlarged ( 35mm ) to 11x14 and larger with no grain &c
    i also used it in 4x5 this way ...
    a friend got married back in maybe 1997 and i shot his whole wedding using this film ... rating it at about 200 and processing it in gaf universal developer ( like ansco 130 ) 1:2 and got beautiful results. what was so nice was the images weren't pure black and pure white, but there were some midtones in there once in a while ...

    john
     
  11. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council Council

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    John, do you have scans of this work somewhere? I'd be curious to see them.
     
  12. Bill Burk

    Bill Burk Subscriber

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    David Lance Goines comes to mind, when I imagine someone who pushed the limits of offset lithography. He must have given a talk at my school back in the days, because I vividly recall a description of his process where he had to work on half the image at a time due to limitation on the size of his film/plate/press.
     
  13. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    hey there michel -

    i'll search my 35mm film for it,
    i haven't ever "gotten rid of " film so
    i am sure i can find it somewhere ..
    and i'll make some scans ( if + when i find them ! )

    but the wedding images are far far away,
    and unfortunately the negatives outlasted the marriage.

    - john
     
  14. NedL

    NedL Subscriber

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    I'm glad you resurrected this old thread too... interesting to read and think about. The original post made me a little sad when I read "a more available film like Efke 25..."