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  1. #1
    Mustafa Umut Sarac's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2006
    İstanbul - Türkiye
    35mm RF

    Edward Weston's Technique

    From The Daybooks of Edward Weston 1. MEXICO II. CALIFORNIA
    Edited by Nancy Newhall
    Foreword by Beaumont Newhall

    Edward Weston’s Technique
    Edward Weston brought to Mexico an 8 x 10 view camera and a 3 1/4 x 4 1/4
    Graflex. His battery of lenses included an “expensive anastigmat” of unspecified
    make and several soft focus, or diffused focus, lenses, among
    them a Wollensak Verito and a Graf Variable. These lenses had the
    characteristic that the degree of diffusion (i.e., spherical aberration) could
    be altered at will.
    The Variable was basically an anastigmat, fully corrected for its maximum
    aperture, f/3.8. By changing the distance between the front and the rear
    elements of this double lens, varying amounts of spherical aberration
    could be induced. Theoretically it thus produced either a needle-sharp
    image or one so diffused that it hardly seemed to be produced by a lens.
    The f/4 Verito was described by its manufacturer as “a specially designed
    double lens . . . which, while it gives the desired diffused or soft optical
    effect, shows no distortion, double lines, or other optical imperfections,
    and being rectilinear gives an even diffusion over the whole plate. . . .
    Will not make sharp negatives with wiry definition unless stopped down
    to f:8.”
    When Weston wrote, on Easter, 1924, “Sharper and sharper I stopped
    down my lens; the limit of my diaphragm, f/32, was not enough, so I cut
    a smaller hole from black paper,” he was referring to this characteristic of
    the Verito as well as to the fact that great depth of field is given with small
    lens openings.
    Weston had trouble with the Variable. Although he stopped it down to
    the smallest aperture, he found troublesome flares. An optometrist deduced
    that this was caused by the large glass surface of the f/3.8 lens. On
    June 24, 1924, Weston purchased for 25 pesos a second-hand Rapid Rectilinear
    lens. This type of lens had long been considered obsolete, if not
    archaic. Years later he gave this lens to his son Brett, who generously
    presented it to the George Eastman House. It bears no maker’s name. On
    the barrel is inscribed: “8 x 10 THREE FOCUS,” and the scratched dedication,
    “To Brett —Dad, 1937.” Examination on an optical bench proves
    it to be an unsymmetrical form of Rapid Rectilinear of 11 Vi-inch focal
    length, well made and well centered. It has no shutter —Weston used a
    behind-the-lens Packard shutter —but an iris diaphram marked “R.O.C.
    and C.CO.” (Rochester Optical and Camera Co.”). The smallest opening is
    marked “256.” Measurement proves this to be the long-obsolete “Uniform
    System,” the equivalent of f/64.
    Weston used panchromatic sheet film. This material, capable of recording
    all visible wavelengths — in contrast to orthochromatic emulsion, which is
    relatively insensitive to red and overly sensitive to blue —was an innovation
    in film form: it was first marketed in America by the Eastman Kodak
    Company only two years before Weston sailed to Mexico. Notations of
    exposures in the Mexican Daybook indicate that the speed of this “panchro”
    film would be rated today at 16 by the American Standards Association
    system. A portrait in full sunlight required Vio sec. at f/11; an open
    landscape was stopped down to f/32 for an exposure of Vio sec. with a K-l
    filter. He had no meter to calculate the exposure. Experience guided him:
    “I dislike to figure out time, and find my exposures more accurate when
    only fe lt”
    On August 24, 1924, Weston noted: “I have returned, after several years’
    use of Metol-Hydroquinone open-tank developer, to a three-solution Pyro
    developer, and I develop one at a time in a tray, instead of a dozen in a
    tank!” This technique he used for the rest of his life. It is classic; he
    undoubtedly learned of it at the “photographic college” he briefly attended.
    The 1908 instruction manual of a similar institution — the American
    School of Art and Photography — recommends it as the standard
    developer. Weston used it with less than the usual amount of sodium
    carbonate. (Interestingly, the Wollensak Optical Co. advised: “Negatives
    made with the Verito should be fully timed, and slightly underdeveloped,
    using any standard developer with a minimum amount of carbonate of
    soda. . . .”)
    Weston printed on several kinds of paper. In his early years in Mexico he
    was especially fond of the platinum and palladium paper made by Willis
    & Clement, which he imported from England. This paper, which became
    obsolete in the 1930s, was sensitized with the salts of iron and platinum
    (or palladium), rather than silver. It gave soft, rich effects quite unlike any
    other kind of paper, and was cherished by pictorial photographers. Prints
    were exposed in sunlight for minutes, developed in potassium oxaiate,
    and fixed in hydrochloric acid. The addition of potassium bichromate to
    the developer gave an increased brilliance in the whites; this technique
    Weston used in his struggle to get prints of the dramatic white clouds that
    so moved him. The paper had a tendency, especially if damp, to solarize,
    that is, partially to reverse in the highlights, giving a dark edge instead
    of a light one. Printing was slow work. To make fourteen prints from
    as many negatives in one day, as he did on September 30, 1924, was
    On this day Weston noted with surprise that proof prints, made on Azo
    paper, gave him as much satisfaction as platinotypes. This material was a
    typical gelatino-chloride developing-out paper exposed to artificial light.
    Weston always referred to it as “gaslight paper,” a name given to it in the
    1890s, but which was retained decades after electricity became universal.
    Although Weston preferred an 8 x 10 camera (he rejoiced in “the precision
    of a view box planted firmly on a sturdy tripod”), he made increasing
    use while in Mexico of his 314 X 4lA Graflex —hand held even at exposures
    as long as Vio second. To enlarge these negatives on platinum or
    palladium paper was tedious. An enlarged negative had to be made. First
    an 8 x 10-inch glass positive was made from the small negative. From
    this, in turn, he made a new negative, which he then printed by contact.
    On his return to California, he abandoned platinum and palladio papers,
    and settled on glossy chloro-bromide papers —which he invariably printed
    by contact.
    This simple technique Weston used throughout his life. It was a direct
    outgrowth of his formative Mexican days.

    B e a u m o n t N e w h a l l

  2. #2
    David Allen's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2008
    Med. Format RF
    If my memory serves me correctly, Edward Weston's move to glossy paper was the direct result of Brett Weston having done so before him.



  3. #3
    Eric Rose's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2002
    Calgary AB, Canada
    4x5 Format
    Just goes to show talent trumps technique.

    "civility is not a sign of weakness" JFK

    "The Dude abides" - the Dude

  4. #4
    Vaughn's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Humboldt Co.
    8x10 Format
    Although Weston preferred an 8 x 10 camera (he rejoiced in “the precision
    of a view box planted firmly on a sturdy tripod”), he made increasing
    use while in Mexico of his 314 X 4lA Graflex —hand held even at exposures
    as long as Vio second.
    And in the California redwoods he lamented about his failed images under the redwoods -- due, he said, to his tripod (and 8x10) sinking into the duff during his long exposures. Something I can attest to! I always take pains to firmly plant my tripod...spikes help as does putting my 200+ pound weight on each leg to really sink them!

    At least with LF landscape, a bad day of photography can still be a good day of exercise.

  5. #5
    CMB is offline

    Join Date
    Mar 2011
    Santa Cruz, CA
    Multi Format
    Weston's early choice of mount was "shirt-stiffner" cardboard that he purchased (cheaply and in bulk) in 1923/4 from a Mexican laundry. He would sign the mount (never the photograph) on the front along with the year the negative was made (and sometimes the title and print edition number). On the back, he would indicate the negative number (eg: "6 PO" for "Galvan Shooting") along with the price ($10). By 1932, he had run out of the shirt cardboard (which have by now all turned brown) and switched to another cardboard support which seems to have fared better (still white today). I don't know what kind of dry-mount tissue he used to adhere the print onto the mount, but none of my four Weston photographs, made between 1925 and 1933, show any signs of delamination.


  6. #6
    tony lockerbie's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2006
    Bega N.S.W. Australia
    Multi Format
    Great reading Umut, thanks for that. As Eric says, the subject rules with Weston, and his equipment and working methods are a lesson to us all that gear does not matter a bit if the subject and technique are sound.
    Still, great to muck around with all that gear

  7. #7

    Join Date
    Feb 2011
    Multi Format
    Blog Entries
    I drove 250 miles to view a special E. Weston exhibition a decade ago. BTW I have a copy of the Verito mentioned above that I have not used enough.
    THanks Mustafa for the post.

  8. #8

    Join Date
    Feb 2011
    Medium Format

    Which 4 prints do you have?

  9. #9
    CMB is offline

    Join Date
    Mar 2011
    Santa Cruz, CA
    Multi Format
    Quote Originally Posted by kevinjk View Post

    Which 4 prints do you have?

    My mention of having four Weston prints was not meant to be boastful but rather to further illustrate, from personal experience, how this great artist,
    using modest and simple materials, crafted some of the finest photographs ever made. And since most only get to see a Weston framed on the wall of
    a museum, I thought that a description of his notes on the back of the mount would be of interest.

    The prints are:

    1. Steel, Ohio, 1922 (Armco Steel)

    2. Galvan Shooting, Mexico, 1924

    3. Succulent, 1930

    4. Monterey Cypress, Pebble Beach, 1932


  10. #10
    jp498's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2009
    Owls Head ME
    Multi Format
    I've seen some of Edward Weston's 3.25x4.25 pt/pd contact prints (of pictorialist style) in a museum and they are charming alternatives to big "straight" prints.

    I think he could have 1-up'd himself even more if he limited himself to 1-2 soft focus lenses rather than a whole bunch as it's mind boggling difficult to deal with a bunch of them at once and get good results. The interest in great depth of field is much the opposite of most of us; we can have infinite depth of field with i-phones and small sensor cameras and are bored of it.

    It's cool we have the same lenses available to us today, same cameras, same chemicals, similar papers (handmade pt/pd or michael/paula azo) and can have just as much fun and results as Edward Weston did.

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