Fine prints can be made on any paper, agreed. But none are quite as fine as those printed on Azo and developed in Amidol. This has been confirmed by hundreds of people. Even Adams in his 50 photographs book says that he made a print on contact printing paper and it was the most beautiful print he ever made (I'm paraphrasing here, but I quoted it correctly in my "Azo Update 2000" article). Said he never could duplicate it with any other paper. Makes me wonder why he didn't "get it" and why he kept making those crappy enlargements. His early contact prints from the 30s and 40s are exceptional. They were all made on contact printing paper.
Some personal stories:
When Fred Picker saw Paula's and my prints he looked at them for a very long time--about 10 minutes each. No one before or since has ever looked at our prints so carefully. We were seated way across the room from him. He had set our prints on his viewing easel with his back to us. We thought he would be finished with a stack of them in about 10 minutes, tops. Well over two hours later he was still on the first stack.
In 1991 I took Paula to meet Paul Caponigro, whom I had not seen in almost 10 years, We listened to him play the piano and I offered to replace a tape recording I had sent him years before. (My equipment was better and I felt I could now send him one with better sound.) He said he didn't want it--pointed to his shelves, which were empty, and said that he was getting rid of everything--paring down, simplifying his life. Sometime later we asked if he would like to see prints. Reluctantly he said, "Okay, but I'm tired--just a few--no more than six." Paula showed him about six and I did the same. (Both of us had over a hundred prints with us.) When I was finished he asked if he could see them again. I showed him the six and asked if he wanted to see more. The answer was no. When Paula showed him six he said, "Let me hold them--and he proceeded to look at most every one she had. Then, to our absolute astonishment, he picked out a couple of prints from each of us and said he wanted to buy them. And he did. It wasn't that Paul Caponigro collects photographs and in any case he was at a point in his life when he was deaccessioning things, not adding to them. (This was shortly before he left New Mexico for Maine.) It was obvious to us that he bought them because not only were they fine, well-seen pictures, which they assuredly were, but for the print quality, which was something he hadn't quite seen before.
So I'll trust David's assessment of his own prints. We saw enlargements David had made previous to the workshop he took with us. They were excellent prints. Absolutely nothing wrong with them as I recall, and I am not one to give praise where it is not merited. In fact, his prints were so good that I suggested he do a book (what he was photographing lent itself to a book). I never would have even thought of saying that if his prints were in any way not good enough. So if David says that his Azo prints make his prints on enlarging paper pale in comparison I would trust that. Get yourself some Azo and see for yourself.
To RAP: I have a hard time understanding how it could take 4 hours to make a print. Even back when I used enlarging paper it took at the most half that time (now takes an hour for 5 prints from one new negative, but that's Azo--it is so easy to work with).
Two stories about great printers: Paula Strand went to a friend's darkroom and asked if he could borrow some paper--he had a particular negative he needed to make one print of. He finally got it on the 150th piece of paper. In the article about Strand in which this story appeared the point was to show how demanding Strand was and what a perfectionist he was. To me, the story showed that Strand did not know what he was doing. 150 sheets of paper for one print!!!!????!!!!
And it is said the Steiglitx would spend days making a print. Some point as in Strand story is intended to be made. To me I have same response as I did to Strand story.
I am every bit as much a perfectionist about print quality as anyone. If every square millimeter is not right the print should go in the trash. With Azo it is embarrassingly easy to get it right. Try it. Take one of your negatives and contact print the damn thing on Azo developed in Amidol. See for yourself. And it won't take you anywhere near four hours. That's guaranteed.
Michael A. Smith