Wright Morris

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howdy folks! would anyone happen to know what developing & printing technique Wright Morris used for his beautiful shots of the silos & old buildings? i have a 4x5 toyo view and an older rolleicord. i love detail shots and the view camera clarity. can anyone recommend a current film/developer/paper that may come close? i expect i'll get a lot of opinions, but that's ok! fire away!

-- Randall 'Red' Thomasson (tubbers@qwest.net), January 11, 2002



What a delight to see the name of Wright Morris raised after all this time! He's a hero of mine who preserved the slices of time in his own life and set them aside in the hope that we might get a glimpse into the way things were.

It seems there was a show of his work at the Sheldon memorial Art Gallery entitled "Structures and Artifacts, Photographs 1933-1954" Most of the agricultural structures I've seen of his are dated in the 1940's so that precludes Tri-X and possibly even Super XX. So let's go to the source and see what Wright has to say:

"On Cape Cod, in the summer of 1939, I moved up from the Rolleiflex to a 3.25 x 4.25 speed graphic, with a Schneider Angulon, and dreamed of a 4x5 Linhof. With the affluence of a Guggenheim Fellowship I acquired a 4x5 graphic view camera and a long-sought-for seven-element anastigmatic lens whose name I haave forgotten. I'm not proud of that. It might have been a Steinheil. It was a great satisfaction just to possess it. Fine-grain Panatomic film packs suited my purpose, as did Eastman's Velour-Black paper. An amidol solution, which I varied in strength, gave me the deep blacks I wanted. As an image maker, I emphasised structure at the expense of a full range of tones. Never having shaown a faculty for chemical solutions, I have left the developing of the film, with few exceptions, to the laboratories."

Wright Morris quoted from the essay 'The Romantic Realist' page 26 in "Time Pieces ... Photogrpahs, Writing and Memory" - Aperture ISBN: 0-89381-382-6

If you have not read Wright's essays you must. Folk like him are too far apart to ignore.

Cheers, ... Walter

-- Walter Glover (walterg@netaus.net.au), January 12, 2002.

Sorry Randall,

I forgot to address your query about contemporary materials.

I shoot similar subjects in the built environment and, although the new T-Max and Delta films perform splendidly in tandem with new brews, I find that the results I get on 120 (6x12) using Ilford Pan F and developing in Rodinal 1+100 please me very much.

Some subjects demand more tones than Mozart and I use the tabular grain films for them, but there are also times when a toe and a shoulder can do you proud.

Hope this helps ... Walter

-- Walter Glover (walterg@netaus.net.au), January 12, 2002.

"...as did Eastman's Velour-Black paper"

I thought Dupont made Velour Black.

-- Robert A. Zeichner (info@razeichner.com), January 12, 2002.

If I understand correctly, Cachet bought the license for Dupont Velour and manufactures it as Cachet graded Expo paper. I have tried only their multigrade Multibrom paper and have found it radically different from most fiber based papers. I have had good luck with Edwal Ultra Black on these papers.

-- Andrew Held (Heldarc@Yahoo.com), January 12, 2002.

Any of his work on the web?

-- (bmitch@home.com), January 12, 2002.

I just did a Google search and answered my own question. All I can say is WOW!!!!

-- (bmitch@home.com), January 12, 2002.

I'm also a Wright Morris fan having stumbled onto his aperture book "Time Pieces" at a used book store one vacation. It's probably counterproductive to try to turn the clock back to 1940.

Interestingly though Kodak Panatomic F is still in production (still catalogued at any rate) as Panatomic-X Aerecon II #3412 4mil estar base, and 2412 7 mil estar base. I bought a 5" X 200 foot roll on Ebay a while ago and have thoroughly enjoyed using it in the 5X7. It's almost too much trouble for 4X5. You have to cut to length, and since it doesn't have the thick base that we're used to with sheetfilm, tray development is the only way possible. I shoot it at ASA 32 and it is very contrasty in ABC+ Pyro. 3 1/2 to 4 minutes is normal for full development. The Estar base precludes almost any stain. I have a difficult time getting a perfect focus in the enlarger because THERE IS NO GRAIN! It's like Tech pan without all the baloney. As you might expect with grain structure like that, tonality is endless. Oh yeah, 5X7 negs are 17 cents each........just like 1940!

If you're new to 4X5 don't go looking for that stuff. You'll drive yourself crazy! I also use Arista 125 speed sheet film from Freestyle Sales Co. in Los Angeles which is Ilford FP4. Now that is a good starting point. A very forgiving film that does what it's supposed to. And fabulous in Pyro. I'm leaning towards Forte Fiber papers. I must be the only one because they're getting harder to find. (means freestyle doesn't have them any more.) Bergger has some very nice papers too, but pricey.

-- Jim Galli (jimgalli@lnett.com), January 12, 2002.

Ah! Somebody out there is noticing Wright! I have one of his books a beautiful old copy of... darn I packed it away for the new carpet. Still it's good to hear his name. Beautiful work, some lovely books at powells books and e-bay. I'd never thought to ask what kind of film and developing he did. Great idea.

-- jules hancock (poppster@wccta.net), January 14, 2002.

I am also a huge fan of Wright Morris. (Well, I am not that huge, although I ate a lot of Key Lime Pie on my Florida vacation last week.) I have several of his books, including a first edition of "The Inhabitants." I am interested in his images but also in his photo- texts, which were ahead of their time and not appreciated as much as they should have been. He received more acclaim for his novels. Anyone who works with photography and text together should study what he has done, presenting these media side-by-side as one work, each with a great sense of place and time, structure and light.

-- Sandy Sorlien (sand44@mindspring.com), January 18, 2002.

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