The Hurrell Style book - Bad information?

Discussion in 'Photographers' started by Darkbluesky, Dec 26, 2011.

  1. Darkbluesky

    Darkbluesky Member

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    Hello

    I have just received the book 50 Years of Photography, The hurrell Style, which I bought because I learnt that it had some technical info for each shot in the book, which is exactly what I was looking for. When I received it I was glad because I have found just what I was after: film used, lens used, shutter speed, f-number, and even type and amount of lights used! The book goes from the very beginning with portraits of Ramon Novarro until the very recent (70s years).

    I thought that all was very reliable, because afaik, this book was done when Hurrell was still alive, and with his collaboration/agreement. But, looking in more detail I begin to suspect about the technical data of the shots, specifically about the film used.

    According to the book, about 95% (I have not counted them, though) of them were shot with Eastman Super-X (not Super-XX, which came later). But reading in Vieira's book (Hurrell's Hollywood Portraits), he talks about different types of films used by Hurrell, during the different golden years, and never talks about Super-X. Moreover, Eastman Kodak Super-X was introduced in 1935 and even in the photos shot before (1931, etc) the book sais that he used Super-X...

    At this point my enthusiasm vanished, and I begin to suspect about the rest of the technical data... Unhappily I need it so much! Please, could someone try to clarify or comment? Do you have this book?

    If you have some idea / opinion about this I would appreciate it.

    Thanks
     
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  2. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    I do find understanding how others shoot and see interesting but...

    Film doesn't normally come with Meta-Data and I don't believe that it really matters that much.

    The data in the book is probably plenty to give you a good feel for Hurrell's style and tools but I don't believe there is any way any book can convey the nuances of applying it.

    If you want to recreate his look and quality you'll need to experiment a bit, well probably a lot.

    What you will probably find in time is that your own preferences will cloud the issue.

    For example I find this shot to be really fun http://www.flickr.com/photos/54459976@N00/5878966138

    But this one much nicer http://www.flickr.com/photos/8077097@N06/5229004360

    Both, at least for me, show an influence from Hurrell but the application of that knowledge is markedly different.
     
  3. Ryuji

    Ryuji Member

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    Choice of film and lens is probably the least important part of his work. Lighting, makeup, styling and the personality are a LOT more important.
     
  4. Darkbluesky

    Darkbluesky Member

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    Thanks for your answers!

    Yes, in fact I have some years of studying and compiling information about this. Let alone admiring and studying this style (photo and motion picture) for a lot of years.

    In fact is not an admiration for Hurrell specifically, it is for the whole 30s-40s style, photography/film and even to some extend, way of living, etc. And of course, I agree with the comments both you say.

    Style, makeup AND lighting is part of another study I am working on too, in parallel. At side of that (which is, of course, of basic importance), and after some reading and testing I still believe on the importance of film, developing, AND lens characteristics used (at least related to what is manufactured/sold today). Maybe I have to add, that for me, even professional studios (modern Harcourt, etc), Vieira's own attemps, and other professionals works, fall very short, or even fail completely. But of course each one can have his own opinion about that.

    On the other hand I agree that my own testing, which I do, is mandatory. I would like to know if someone has some information to compare/discuss, that could shed some light on this comparison/contradiction.

    As said, now I don't know if I should believe, for example, the types of light/power used described in the book or if they are also completely wrong... this is just an example.

    Tx!
     
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  5. Ryuji

    Ryuji Member

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    If you're trying to find out the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, I'd say the answer is no.

    If you are trying to formulate a strategy that could be used for your own photographic practice using modern material and equipment, who cares.

    BTW did you check out my work? Can you guess how I captured the second image on my site? Yes, I have the factual answer. But that was from a few years back when I was using inferior equipment, etc. and I'd be embarrassed to disclose the truth. But you're welcome to come up with plausible stories incorporating expensive brand names. If not, I could do that part as well. That's what I mean... hahaha.
     
  6. keithwms

    keithwms Member

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    Hmm, I could be wrong but I always figured that Hurrell originally shot to whatever (ortho?) film was available, made paper internegs and retouched them heavily. Many of the images have that graphical look.

    One interesting thing about these turn-of-the-century photographers- Hurrell, Steichen, Edward Weston, Cunningham et al, is that some of them modified their style as the more modern materials became available, others didn't.
     
  7. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    So.....

    Do you have an 8x10 camera?

    Given your research you probaly know this but I only think that getting in the right genre of film is important, I'll bet that FP4 is plenty close enough; in 8x10.

    Yes, you can probably get close with 5x7 or really stretch things and use 4x5, but, if the info by your name is right with regard to what you are shooting, there are real limits. 35mm it isn't going to get anyone to the same level as Hurrell. This isn't about your skill or dedication, it's pure physics.

    FP4's emulsion does not differ by format size, what does differ though, is the image size versus grain size. Changing formats completely changes the the look and the amount of detail available to print.

    For example in 35mm I find HP5's look too rough in many situations. In MF HP5 is nicely usable but still if I'm going to spend money, I would rather one of the Deltas or FP4. When we get 4x5 though, HP5 becomes a beautiful pallette to work on. This bias is mine but the physics are real.

    Edit.

    Or as Kieth says maybe an Ortho film.
     
  8. keithwms

    keithwms Member

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    Well, the ortho (or at least blue-leaning) sensitization is a pretty big deal; I would focus on that part of the look, foremost. If a suitable film isn't available, then you can put a cyan filter on a modern film and get pretty close. Once you see what you get in terms of skin tones, then you will see why I strongly suspect paper neg retouching.

    When did red sensitization appear? 50s and 60s? All I know is that it was amazingly recent.

    P.S. Nope I am off by ten years it seems.... look at this!

    http://www.msp.rmit.edu.au/Article_03/02e.html
     
  9. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    He did seem to shoot whatever film he had in quantity that was available, from what I've read, and retouching is an important part of the Hurrell look, but retouching directly on the negative, not on an interneg, as I understand it. This was largely the norm in professional portraiture in his context and beyond.

    Hurrell liked his subjects to use makeup only on the eyes and lips, to retain the glow of fresh clean skin. Blemishes could be corrected with pencil and knife on the neg.
     
  10. neelin

    neelin Member

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    I've been hacking away at this at Art City.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/neelin/5674882734/in/set-72157626241866365/lightbox/

    John Alton's "Painting with Light" (orig. 1949, but avail. in 1995 version) is somewhat illuminating on classic Hollywood technique.
    I've been using a lot of Agfa Scopix Cineradiography 35mm film to shoot these. It's a) orthochromatic b) I've got lots of it c) extremely contrasty.

    As far as technical details of those old photos related to modern recreation, my great epiphanies were:

    -orthochromatic film is just fine.
    -old Hollywood negs often had extensive pencil/blade retouching...bigtime!
    -the concept of "normal" lenses and using another film format i.e. 50mm/135 film 450mm/8x10 film, forget about it. You need the lens to subject distance to match the old 8x10 setup or your perspective is going to be off (i.e. fairly flat). It's pretty obvious after looking at a couple of shots. The example above with crop is probably and effective 100mm on 135 film, and it's still now where near as flat as the orig. Buster Keaton shot.
    -interesting sidenote. A lot of the poses while they look natural almost require duct tape & ropes to keep body parts in position! Well with fidgety kids anyways :wink:

    Robert
     
  11. keithwms

    keithwms Member

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    Knife???? Really! I hadn't heard of that kind of retouching. Wow that is a risk! Well, I would certainly make a dupe neg before attempting that :smile: Imagine you get a few minutes with some famous film starlet and then you take a knife to the neg...

    Looking at that image in the link I pasted in, there are two quick giveaways of red sensitization. (1) The shadows are deeper in the red-sensitized film. Note that in many of Hurrell's images you have dramatic, deep shadows; this is actually hard to do with ortho film. I've found that the UV sensitivity actually tends to create the appearance of more fill and gives a less graphical, uh, Rembrandty look. Even with very directional light, ortho film gives quite a lot of fill. Also (2) there are of course many more blemishes in ortho shots.

    Anyway my guess is that Hurrell started using red sensitized film he suddenly had a lot less work to do, to get the look that he wanted. Pure speculation on my part, of course.
     
  12. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    Right or wrong it's irrelevant past generalities, IMO.

    It's has a real scientific basis and studio sets are very good at repeating effects, but each and every subject that may sit for you will differ in both shape and reflectivity. Adjustments here and there to suit a subject would probably have been the norm not the exception for Hurrell, similarly they will be for you.
     
  13. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    Yeah I think I'd shoot at least 4 sheets.

    Now imagine trying to retouch this way with 35mm film. :blink:
     
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  15. neelin

    neelin Member

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    Not when you're indoors using tungsten lighting, exactly the opposite. OTOH that shot looks typical of outdoors, where there is a lot of actinic available light. My experience is with xray film though, and it's very contrasty, and you need oodles of tungsten to get enough light for ortho film. My ortho outdoors greatly washes out distant trees and clouds.

    Robert
     
  16. Bill Burk

    Bill Burk Subscriber

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    I think the bigger problem is attaining the skill level to use it.

    View attachment 42637
     
  17. Jim Noel

    Jim Noel Member

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    The etching of film with a very sharp blade was common practice in the time of Hurrell and his contemporaries. The use of an Adams Retouching desk ( not associated with Ansel) made the task of retouching with blade or pencil much easier, but real experts could manage without it.
     
  18. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    If you see 19th century photographs of children with sharp looking hands, those lines have most likely been cleaned up with a knife on the neg.

    Need to reduce a hotspot? One way to do this is to very carefully thin the overly dense spot on the neg with a knife blade. I've read that this was something everyone had to learn at Brooks at one time. Another approach is to sand the hotspot down with abrasive reducer--a product that Kodak used to make. I've managed to make it with brown tripoli abrasive and mineral oil.

    Pinhole in the emulsion? Using a sharp stylus perpendicular to the base side of the neg, with the neg emulsion-side down on a lightbox, stipple the area over the pinhole to scatter the light when it passes through the base and it will blend in the pinhole.
     
  19. keithwms

    keithwms Member

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    [HR][/HR]
    I find that with blue-sensitive film or a blue filter there is always a lot of filll, no matter how directional the light. The reason is the scattering power: 1/wavelength^4. So you get much, much more scattering with blue light, most of whch you can't even see with your eyes, but blue/UV sensitive materials pick it up.

    If you look at that Kodak advert in the link I posted, the effect is very clear around the nose. (The ortho image is on the left). So with ortho film, it's hard to 'sculpt' the face and create thinner features or dramatic shadows. Hence the need for retouch.

    Here is a shot with a 403 (UV) filter; note the amount of fill. This was in (deliberately) very harsh, direct overhead sunlight. I wanted to see just how bad the skintones would be! The poor gal looks like leather.

    BTW xray film has quite a lot of green sensitivity, because (I suppose) it is used to image phosphoresence from a screen, not the actual, direct xray image.

    P.S. Ah yes here is a pretty good overview of how xray films work:

    http://www.e-radiography.net/radtech/f/film.htm
     
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  20. Darkbluesky

    Darkbluesky Member

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    Thank you a lot to everybody for their comments and info, which I really appreciate but I would like to come back to the main topic, which is a relatively specific question: at side of the importance or not of knowing the film used, in order to replicate the style, does someone know (or has an idea) why they could have put Super-X for almost all photos in that book? Was that true? Does someone know why they have put Super-X even for the photos pre-1935?

    A mistake? I thought Hurrell colaborated in the making of the book (but I am not 100% sure), and I think that they must had access to some archival info, because I feel *impossible* to remember all the data for more than 150 shots (place where the shot was taken, lens, shutter speed, f-number, film, number, type and power of lights, and their emplacements, etc) 30/40 years later! (so if really they had access to some notes of the time, I should guess there is not too much place for errors (?!) ). Does someone know the story of this book, Hurrell involvement in it, etc?

    (Please, don't get me wrong: sure, I am always interested in discussing what you are telling me, it is fascinating, but for now I would prefer to try to solve/advance on the main question of this topic)
     
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  21. jp498

    jp498 Member

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    I think in "Hurrell's Hollywood Portraits", Vieira mentions that the retoucher would often do a contact print of the negative before doing their work on the negative. (Then do a contact print after) This was done so they'd have a "before and after" comparison rather than a backup image. Some films you can do retouching on the opposite side as the emulsion, which makes it a less less scary.
     
  22. cowanw

    cowanw Member

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  23. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    I know you may not want to hear this but I think the answer is that there is probably little or no data that carried through to the paper. (That brings up another wild card here too; whatever paper he chose, like whatever film he used, would have had a personality that would have contributed to the look. The negative doesn't work in a vacume.)

    Seriously, it is very possible that Hurrell was guessing as the book was being written, based on his experience, about what he probably-sorta-kinda-possibly-maybe used for that special shot of "X", on that special day years earlier.

    I don't know if there were notes taken by Hurrell or not, but I do know that I don't keep any camera setting records and only very crude notes penned on the boxes of my materials on hand.

    The practical question is probably not "is the book is a true historical record?" though, but instead "is the information contained a reasonable guide?"

    The latter seems likely and given the current market availability of Super X, at best the book gives you a reference of the type of film he may have chosen, liked, or got paid to say he used. Given that uncertainty, it would seem the specific answer is purely academic in nature.

    Also given the maliability of most any film's/paper's characteristics/responses though development and exposure and filters on the lighting and Filters on the camera and ... It gets to the point where what Hurrell actually used no longer matters.

    Most masters, in any trade or craft, get to a point where they can make various tools do the same work.
     
  24. Bill Burk

    Bill Burk Subscriber

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    I think this must only work for a condenser enlarger because with my diffusion head, the negatives print as if they have not been retouched at all.
     
  25. Darkbluesky

    Darkbluesky Member

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    Thank you Mark, I guess you are right, that is a likely explanation. To confirm that I guess I can, as suggested, try to contact Mark Vieira, but I think your guess is correct. I would need now to find technical info (spectrograms and sensitometric curves) of Super-X, Panchro Press and Super Sensitive Pan, which I can't find in any kodak book (my oldest one is from 1939, which seems "too modern"). Maybe it is better to open a new topic for that.
     
  26. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    You are welcome Darkbluesky.

    Mark Vieira may be able to add info to the mix that is worthwhile, don't know.

    Ansel Adams, The Negative, had a variety of curves in the back, don't know if what you are looking for is there or in similar texts but a trip to the library may help.

    So, with the historical question waiting on more research, enquiring minds want to know; how are you planning to use the info?

    The reason I ask is that, if this is a practical exercise, it is very possible given what you already know to backwards engineer from the works Hurrell left behind to get a very, very, very similar result.

    This is in theory simple, just define the qualities you want to replicate and look at what's available to see what might work and start practicing/experimenting.

    What I'm getting at is, for example, that film curves are maleable. We can make say Delta 100 print more like TXP by adjusting exposure and development.

    The manipulation of the curve of any film uses techniques that Hurrell, or his assistants, would have applied but that would have been highly problematic to record or replicate, like how much agitation a specific sheet of film should, or did, get and how accurately the developer temp was regulated on any given day.

    It also begs the question of what the water quality was as that would and will affect development if there were or are certain impurities. Impurities aren't necessarily a problem at a local level, as long as they remain constant, but can be very problematic when translating that info out of that locality.

    Agitating your films exactly like Hurrell did his and recreating his water quality isn't going to happen. The good thing is that it probably doesn't have to.

    I'm of the opinion that you could get very close to Hurrell's look by just getting the big things right and then seasoning to taste.

    What I'm saying is that;

    If you want the smoothness, texture, and detail of a Hurrell contact print, then using the same film size and contact printing probably matters much more than which film or paper gets used.

    If you want the lighting to match it is probably more important to understand the direction and size of the lighting source than it is to get the same brand of hot light. In fact if I were going to try this I'd use the studio strobes I already have rather than buying old theatrical lights.

    If you are willing to compromise a bit on texture and manipulate the process Pan F or even XP2 in 67 format might be workable for enlargement.

    So what are your plans?