Why is old paper so good?

Discussion in 'B&W: Film, Paper, Chemistry' started by Mike H, Mar 10, 2009.

  1. Mike H

    Mike H Member

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    I've just seen a friend's album of old family photographs from 1930s Shanghai. The quality of the small prints is exquisite, even though they are not contact prints (they range from 2x4 to about 3x5 in size).

    Every time I see old prints like this, I am taken by the richness of the tones. I know these papers probably had more silver than modern emulsions, but there is something else (perhaps the matt finish) that makes the photograph look like you can touch the image directly on the surface - like a charcoal drawing.

    Can anyone explain this? These are simply-processed amateur photographs. I've used very good papers in the past (Oriental, Zone VI Brilliant, Galerie), but cannot duplicate this look.
     
  2. yellowcat

    yellowcat Member

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    They could be contact prints, at that time there were a few largish rollfilm formats about.

    Also they could have been done on Print Out Paper, this was not developed but a contact print was made in sunlight and then fixed.
     
  3. jimgalli

    jimgalli Subscriber

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    Probably AZO and they probably are contact prints as both those sizes are near the commonest old Kodak Pocket folders. But you're right, try to match that presence with an Epson...
     
  4. Phillip P. Dimor

    Phillip P. Dimor Member

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    I absolutely agree.. It's a shame, over the years 'convenience' has beaten quality and people have learned to settle for 'less is more'.
     
  5. Curt

    Curt Subscriber

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    I was just looking at my photo album, my mother split all of the family albums between my sister and me, the photographs, especially portraits are astounding in quality. Imagine a quicky photo lasting for a half century or more and looking so good. I remember EW saying he was going to offer smaller prints and the customers would just have to accepted it. From what I have, not EW's, the smaller print is certainly worth its weight in gold. The only prints that aren't surviving are the Polaroids from the late sixties. They probably weren't meant to last and didn't.
     
  6. jim appleyard

    jim appleyard Member

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    For one thing, prints of the past were on fiber-based paper and IMHO, FB is so much "richer", "fuller" and just plain "more better". Most work today is on RC and while RC is processed faster and is less expensive, it just doesn't have the look.

    Many older papers had things like cadmium in them. I think Ektalure did. I'm not sure what cadmium did for a paper, but I'm assuming it was for some kind of color or look to the paper. Cadmium is a nasty, toxic heavy metal and is no longer a part of b/w paper. This and possibly other nasty chemicals are why some papers don't exist today.
     
  7. wrench

    wrench Member

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    I wouldn't say they don't last. They just have funny ways of changing. FWIW I love finding an old color polaroid from that period and earlier. Sure, you can replicate the color shift in photoshop, but its real nice in the original. Kinda drives my husband nuts though, we have all sorts of vintage polaroids of people and places lying all over the house just because I like the way they look.
     
  8. Mike H

    Mike H Member

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    Thanks

    I think you're all right. They must have been contact printed, if those unusual sizes were available back then, on POP or Azo. The prints do seem very very sharp and highly detailed. I told these people to seek out a publisher, because the photos not only have historical interest (documenting missionary life in China), but were taken by a very good photographer indeed.
     
  9. sun of sand

    sun of sand Member

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    They made contact paper in every size negative imaginable from what I've seen
    I just saw Convira for 35mm in long rolls meant for whatever ..photo kiosk or wallet size for finishers or

    I suspect it's not only the paper quality but also the period aesthetics that adds to the feeling and/or maybe simpler lenses that don't reveal as much detail
    To get "that 1930's period look" on film now you'd now have to have artists to replicate every aspect of life exactly from clothing to architecture, landscape, makeup, automobiles, furnishings, products, mannerisms and lighting
     
  10. Mike H

    Mike H Member

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    Figured it out...

    The pictures were probably from a Kodak Vest Pocket, which took negatives in 3" by 5.5" postcard size. The paper was Azo.

    I really like this format, just large enough and elongated enough (more so than 6x9 but not as much as 6x12) to be suitable for landscapes and groups of people.

    The paper is really something. I wonder if Lodima is the only comparable today. Or perhaps Centennial POP.
     
  11. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    i was lucky enough to restore
    old family photos from the 1800s
    through the mid-late 1930s.
    some of those portraits were
    the most beautiful i have seen.
    i won't mention how i restored them
    but it took a long time and it was fun :smile:

    all that said, portraits made in the early part of the 1900s
    are something else. i have scrapbooks/photo albums
    and high school portraits that i was either gifted or found in a
    junque shoppe that i stare at from time to time.

    just can't touch that stuff these days, with all the fancy gizmos we have ...
    you said it jim!