Fred Picker : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

Let me introduce myself. I am Richard T Ritter and worked at Zone VI Studios for 15 years under Fred Picker. At Zone VI I was responsible for the design and development of many of the produce Fred tough would be an improvement to the fine art of black and white photography. In the nintys when Calumet bought Zone VI I left the company and started work to develop a business to the repair of large format equipment.

Fred Picker for a number of years has been in poor health. He asked that his friends and family keep this to themselves.

Iím sorry to report Fred Picker died on April 4, 2002.

Richard T Ritter

-- Richard Ritter (, April 04, 2002


Thank you for the information, Richard. I am sure that many frequent members would want to know.

May Fred rest in peace.

-- Andy Biggs (, April 04, 2002.

Yeah, rest in peace. A good soldier. -JB

-- jeff buckels (, April 04, 2002.

Always opinionated and oft times controversial, his dedication to large format photography was a light at the end of the tunnel for me. I still read a couple of well worn issues of his Zone VI news letter, #24 Arpil 1980 sits at my elbow even now, just to keep the juices flowing.

Here's a toast to Key Day exposure's and the perfect proof.

"....rage, rage against the dying of the light." Dylan Thomas

-- Marv (, April 04, 2002.

Wasn't it Fred that said you can never, ever take pictures of cows or covered bridges, because they have been taken a million times already?

-- Andy Biggs (, April 04, 2002.

Paula and I are sorry to hear that Fred died. We only met him once, about 6 or 7 years ago, I think. To our great surprise (since we were well aware of Fred's feistyness and reputation for being difficult) he was as gracious as could be. And he looked longer and more carefully at our photographs than anyone else ever had before, or ever has since. All we knew of his own photographs were the terrible reproductions in his books. To our surprise, we saw that he made beautiful prints and was a far better photographer than we had imagined. It was a memorable day. Although we didn't see him again, we'll miss him.

Michael A. Smith and Paula Chamlee

-- Michael A. Smith (, April 04, 2002.

Thanks for the news, Richard. Fred was "one of a kind". He did more than most anyone I can think of to advance the practice of photography in the last 25 years. His contributions will continue to live through his books, videos and the excellent equipment he brought to the market through Zone VI Studios.

-- Alec (, April 04, 2002.

Deeply sorry to hear about Fred. Many, including myself, got their interest kindled in large format photography because of his passion for the art and his truly entrepreneurial spirit. For this unique combination, he was a true pioneer that will be significantly missed.

All of our best to his family in this time of sorrow.

-- Michael Kadillak (, April 04, 2002.


One of the unsung greats! I attanded on of his work shops around 1978. I remember Wes Disney, Sue Barron, Martin Tartar, Lil Farber, and the others. It was one of the most moving and inspirational times of my life and set me straight on the road to personal expression. DAMN DAMN DAMN! I do not know what to say right now!! This is a great loss. DAMN

-- Rob Pietri (, April 04, 2002.

Peace to you Fred ...on your journey did much for us!

-- Emile de Leon (, April 04, 2002.

I remember being a young sailor on board the USS INDEPENDENCE back in the mid 70s. Lots of time spent out at sea. And I remember so vividly reading over and over Freds Zone VI workshop book, and waiting for his next newsletter to arrive in the mail call.

Talked with him on the phone a couple of times and wrote to him a few times. I have one of his letters. And I have a print of his that he said was hard to print and therefore nobody else has one but me and him.

I wrote to Lil Farber once and asked her to please get Fred to tell us more about himself. She said he wouldn't do it. I often wondered about his family and his roots.

May he rest in Peace and may perpetual light shine upon him.


-- Kevin Kolosky (, April 04, 2002.

thanks Richard...

Fred will be remembered for a lomg time...please send condoleances to his family....

-- dan n. (, April 05, 2002.

Although I never met him, I've heard that Fred Picker was in interesting fellow. What strikes me most about him and Zone VI was the innovative way in which he made available some breakthrough tools that improved the field of photography.

As examples, I think of the compensating developing and enlarging timers. The compensating enlarging timer provides consistency using a cold light head that otherwise could never be achieved. I use the compensating timer, and I can obtain remarkable consistency from development to development. I have a Zone VI Type I enlarger, and while I regret that it can't really handle 5x7, it does an excellent job with all formats up to 4x5, and with 8x10.

Then there are all the smaller optimizations, like the tacking iron that's just ideal for tacking photographs onto a mat board, the electrostatic static brush that still sells for over $300 on EBay, and the mounting device for centering photographs on a mat board.

For those who may be aware of him, W. Edwards Deming used to say that one doesn't really understand something until they've improved it. I think it can be said that Fred Picker understood large format photography.

-- neil poulsen (, April 05, 2002.


We are all thankful that you see fit to take upon yourself the melancholy task of relating the news. I take it by your comments that this was a release from suffering.

Like the others I read the Zone VI Newsletters, bought the modified Pentax Digital spotmeter and dreamt of one day following in Fred Picker's footsteps through Vermont, Iceland and Easter Island - all a long way from down-under.

For me, Fred Picker's greatest lesson was his oft recited mantra: "If you want to know what happens with this or that, don't ask me ... test it." And now he's gone to test the greatest riddle of them all.

Like so many others I extend my commiseration and condolensces to those loved ones left behind.

But what a fitting monument that hallowed little meter is to the memory and legacy of a great bloke; for every time I use it the silence will be broken by the thought: "Rest eternal grant unto him, O Lord : and let light perpetual shine upon him."

Walter Glover

-- Walter Glover (, April 05, 2002.

What a terrible loss. His unwavering committment to "the best" was always a challenge to the rest of us. And a grest service to us too. Rest easy, Fred.

-- Mark Sampson (, April 05, 2002.

When I started LF photography thirty years ago, if you wanted to learn the Zone System, you had the original Ansel Adams photo series (if you remember when those books were about 5 x 7 and half inch thick, you are OLD) and Fred Picker. The major difference between Fred and Ansel was that Fred was readable and understandable. That made all the difference in getting me going in LF. His ability to simplify and his pragmatic approach to testing was essential in getting me started down the proper (proof) path.

Rest in peace, Fred.

-- Joe Lipka (, April 05, 2002.

After years of trying understand the relationship between the "scene" and the final print I read Fred's "Zone VI Workshop". His straight forward approach was pure genius. This book is probably the most important book ever written on the subject. I always looked forward to his newsletters. My father who just past away at 81 years old was also a big Fred Picker fan. I will always remember the hours that my father and I spent discussing the latest newsletter. Unfortunately I never met him but through his books and newsletters I felt that I was part of his extended family. I just had my Zone VI modified Sologor spot meter repaired by Rich Ritter after dropping it on the cement sidewalk. The modification from Zone VI resulted in the most accurate meters ever. Thanks to Fred for his great contribution to photography. Thanks to Rich for his continued contribution.

-- Dave Sherman (, April 05, 2002.

Fred Picker's outspoken and straight forward nature has kept me entertained and informed for years. As a former workshop student I can honestly say Fred's enthusiasm and dedication to teaching the art and craft of photography has provided me with much inspiration, thanks for everything Fred.

-- Brian Danieli (, April 05, 2002.

I will always be grateful to Fred Picker for kindling my interest in large format photography through his Zone VI catologues. I still have the last two, as they are full of useful information like Fred's wonderfully concise article, "How to use a view camera." I also have and still occasionally refer to his series of Videos on large format photography. I know of no more inspirational and informative short introduction to the zone system and large format photography than these tapes. "Printing With Fred Picker" is particularly fine. I wish someone would now make an instructional video as clear, informative, and inspiring as this taking into account the options that first-class variable contrast papers have opened up for us. Perhaps someone from the current generation of great large format teacher-photographers will one day make such a tape.

Fred Picker's death is a great loss to our community.

David Mark

-- David Mark (, April 05, 2002.

Mr. Picker wrote with terrific clarity about some technically complicated subjects, He pared away the obsfucation and jargon of other writers & teachers to present those powerful ideas boiled down to basic concepts and then presented them in a plain language, jargon free style so that even a complete photographic neophyte might find them useful. For this ability to teach we should all always be grateful.

-- Ellis Vener Photography (, April 05, 2002.

Never met the man, but we had a "lively" dialogue in the early '90s. Have the original enlarger, both timers, both books, etc. His name always sparked fascinating discussions, and his contributions to the craft of photography were many and varied.

I'll miss the man I never knew...

-- Rick Knepp (, April 05, 2002.

Although I never met him, I'll certainly be lifting a glass or two in his memory. He has influenced me and my work imensely.

-- Bruce Wehman (, April 05, 2002.

Fred was controversial and crusty, both good things in my mind. When you think about his contributions to photography as an educator, equipment designer/manufacturer, writer and artist, he is leaving a great void that will be left unfilled. Through his newsletters he conveyed an uncompromising philosophy that went way beyond photography. He will be missed. He will be remembered.

-- David Rose (, April 05, 2002.

By the way- the best tribute we could pay Fred is for someone to buy Zone VI back from Calumet and return it to it's former stature. I really miss those catalogues!

-- David Rose (, April 05, 2002.

Bread for the stomach and art for the soul.

Good bye, Fred, and thanks for all the fish.


-- Mike Sherck (, April 05, 2002.

Sorry, Mike, but it's not 'thanks for all the fish.' It should be "thanks for teaching us how to fish."

I've got two of Fred's cameras (4x5 & 8x10) and I couldn't be more pleased with them.


-- Anthony J. Kohler (, April 05, 2002.

For ever in my mind!

-- jaume princep (, April 05, 2002.

Fred, for ever in my mind!

-- jaume princep (, April 05, 2002.

I never met Fred Picker but I remember well the time I called the Zone VI studios shortly first becoming involved with photography to ask a question about something in his Zone VI book. I expected a receptionist to answer the phone and maybe some staff member to be put on the line to help me but instead I heard a male voice answering the phone saying "Zone VI Studios. This is Fred Picker, can I help you?" I was a little taken aback at the idea that I was actually talking with Fred Picker but I managed to ask my beginner's basic question. He was very nice, very kind, very patient in trying to explain whatever it was I asked about. I always thought of that conversation when someone would say how rude or abrasive he was. Certainly not to me.

-- Brian Ellis (, April 05, 2002.


I am intrigued by your suggestion.

But who is "someone". Someone is all of us. Maybe all of us should form a corporation and buy it back. Who should we get to run it now that Fred is gone?


-- Kevin Kolosky (, April 05, 2002.

Fred once wrote, on the occasion of Ansel's dying, to "lift a glass to him, he would appreciate that". I learned a lot from years of studying Picker's materials and opinions: I'll lift a glass to him now. Peace

-- Gary Meader (, April 05, 2002.

I attended his workshop in 1990. It was a terrific experience. I'll always remember Fred's attention at each day's session and the special privilege of seeing him print in his darkroom He was a great guy and will be missed by the photographic community.

-- Keith Pitman (, April 05, 2002.

I come a generation late to the teachings of Fred Picker, but I am not without my appreciation of a great figure in photography. When I was first learning the art and craft of photography, I read every book that I could get my hands on that related to photography, but essentially two authors really formed how I think about photography. There is, of course, the requisite Ansel Adams, but early on I was also loaned copies of Fred Picker's books and copies of all the old Zone VI newsletters. I learned a great deal from those texts all and continue to get more out of them as I re-read them. A great loss to photography to be sure. He will be missed.

-- David Munson (, April 05, 2002.

Mr. Picker will be sorely missed. Any time a craftsman/artist of his stature passes, we all lose something and the world becomes a little sadder.

-- Steve Gangi (, April 05, 2002.

I never met Fred Picker but his Zone VI 4x5 has taken me to many wonderous and beautiful places. As a tribute to his passion for the art visit.. Thank you Fred.

-- Dan Skahan (, April 06, 2002.

Lift a glass to Fred! Also, pull a dark slide, trip a shutter, print a master piece, carry on in the tradition. One thing among many about Fred, he was never afraid to stand up to the Yellow God father, Kodak. He was always ready to voice his opinion, and hard facts about the short falls of modern materials. He was the first to truly innovate with his modifications, equipment design, inventions. He was an honored torch barer. But one thing about true genious is that they realize that they are only a link in the chain and they teach and encourage others to carry on and improve, build upon what they accomplished and taught. How many workshop alumni are there out there? How many have been inspired by Fred Picker?

-- Rob Pietri (, April 06, 2002.

I did a bit of research looking at the VT newspapers. I found the following information about Fred.

This is from the Brattleboro Reformer, VT 04/05/2002:

Fred Picker

DUMMERSTON -- Fred Picker, 75, of Dummerston, died Wednesday, April 3, 2002, after a long illness.

An internationally celebrated photographer, author and teacher, he was a champion of causes supporting civil liberties and the environment.

A graduate of The Putney School, Mr. Picker attended the University of Vermont, taught skiing, raced sailboats, and passionately chased fish from Russia to Tierra del Fuego with a fly rod.

After serving in the U.S. Army Air Corps in Europe, he worked in the family wine business with his father, Harold Picker, and uncle, Jerome Picker. Mr. Picker pursued real estate development in Westchester County, N.Y., until the late 1960s.

With a love for the photographic art form, he returned to his beloved Vermont and quickly rose to prominence with a successful publication of numerous books and video tapes including "The Zone VI Workshop" (which still has vibrant sales), "Rapa Nui: Easter Island," "The Fine Print," and "An Iceland Portfolio." His Zone VI studios developed and sold specialty photographic equipment and supplies worldwide. He ran very successful workshops for serious amateur photographers for more than 10 years.

Mr. Picker approached life with calculated skill, daring, razor wit, and ceaseless humor. His tastes in life were broad and refined. He loved jazz, classical music, fine literature, gourmet cooking, Pink Panther movies, and the solitude of his Dummerston home.

He was a board member of the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center, a member of the Vermont Diversion Board, and a governor's appointee to the Vermont Council on the Arts.

He cherished his friendships and family, sought and demanded excellence, gave generously to those in need, and etched his unique character into the memories of all he met. With steely pragmatism, intellectual depth, and compassionate expression, he guided his life with vigor.

He is survived by a sister, Betty Picker Lauer, of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.; nephews Fred Simonds of Morristown, N.J., Dr. James Simonds of Santa Rosa, Calif., and Andrew Simonds of Boca Raton, Fla.; and his loving companion, Toby Young of Westminster. He also leaves his oldest, closest and most devoted friend, Lillian Farber of Newfane.

A memorial service will be held at the Dummerston Center Church on Sunday, April 21, at 2 p.m.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the American Civil Liberties Union. *********************************************************************

I never met Fred, but I found his Zone VI book to be a tremendous help to me with the Zone System and photography in general. Rest in peace Fred.

John Hannon

-- John Hannon (, April 06, 2002.

A Great Loss ! Rest in Peace Fred. Whenever I use my Zone VI camera, your modified spotmeter, watch your videos, read newsletters, I will remember you. Thanks all the teaching and inspiration !

-- Mahmut Gunes (, April 06, 2002.

Well whatever we think of him, he did affect the photographic lives of many of us, I have his Zone VI enlarger, bought back when he was the owner of Zone VI. Although the *^%$*& thing does not stay aligned from session to session, once it is aligned it is a wonderful piece fo equipment. The timers etc, are also very useful. Any way, just for his innovative mind he does deserve a toast with a single malt scotch and a farewell for a life well lived!

-- Jorge Gasteazoro (, April 06, 2002.

I followed Fred Picker and his teaching for about 30 years. What a strong influence he was on me, starting with the Zone VI Workshop book, in 1974 - I was 16! His views were a clear beacon in a field where most writers talked mish-mosh. I remember reading Newsletter #22 on a hill behind my house in Bernardsville NJ on a chilly October day, and it brought tears to my eyes. I've held that message close to my heart since then...

I loved his catalogs and his equipment. Let's not forget what a brilliant businessman he was - he found a huge need in the marketplace and filled it very well.

I could write about my years as a photo grad student at RIT and how I stuck to the Zone VI philosophy through that, falling back on the wisdom learned from Fred and his books and his philosophy. I remember telling one of my teachers, "You're a hack - your technique is terrible and your prints are muddy." I'd felt as though I'd already had an apprenticeship before I got there... thanks to Fred Picker.

My family and I took a trip to Putney VT in 2000 and I spent a little bit of a Sunday with Fred. He seemed well and was as gracious and kind as anyone I'd ever met. It was a very fine experience.

He meant so much to me I can't believe he's gone. I had no idea he had been ill. When a person is as alive as he was, and a spirit is that strong, it seems as though they'll never die, doesn't it? It's very, very sad. I feel worse than when Ansel Adams died...

Whenever I loaded holders, developed sheet film (in a tray!), set up a tripod, or pulled a dark slide, I have always thought of him. I certainly will from now on; with a heavier heart too, I imagine...

I would place Angels on Zone VIII.

God speed you and good fishing buddy...

-- Anthony Guidice (, May 02, 2002.

After 18 years respite from photography I have recently started looking through a lens. This evening I seached my bookcase and browsed Mr Pickers dog-eared book Zone VI Workshop, 8th printing 1979 , this book was my constant as I learned the Zone system. I still have a couple of letters and my first lens/camers calibration results from Mr. Picker. As I sat this evening with the excitment of returning to my old hobby it occured to me that I may get up-to-date information on Mr. Picker and the Zone VI Studios - I did. I did not know him other than his work and the inspiration he gave me but somehow I feel the loss of an old friend. Peter Corbett - London 8th May 2002

-- Peter Corbett (, May 07, 2002.

Sad loss to the medium.

May he rest in peace.

-- John Sharp (, May 17, 2002.

Like one of the above named contributors (Peter Corbett) I have been away from (large format) photograpy for some years. This spring I have taken it up again and Fred Picker's words ? though I never met him (but I have read all of his newsletters and some of his books, not to mention the Zone VI catalogues) have been ringing in my ears: "Focus on the far"; "If you're in a hurry, dress slowly"; "If someone told me Ansel printed wearing fishing boots, I'd try it"; "The Callier effect is not a theory, it's an effect"; "Don't take my word for it, try it", and so on. It's so sad to hear that he is gone. Knowing he has passed away makes me sad and I am going to miss him almost as I would a dear friend. Thanks to Mr. Ritter for letting us know! Kristian RÝstad, Oslo, Norway.

-- Kristian RÝstad (, May 18, 2002.

what a sad realization, indeed. to think that fred is no longer walking *this* sphere is a hard pill to swallow, but a necessary one nonetheless. i heard of his passing after returning from a trip to scotland, where i had thought a lot about fred, his images, and his impact upon me. it was doubly strange that my reading material for the 11 hour flight was a stack of 20 years worth of newsletters. he will be missed like few others i know.

cheers to you fred!

scott davis

-- scott davis (, May 18, 2002.

I never met Fred, but I loved those catalogs and the idea that I was dealing with a small company with a single goal. A company that seemed to have a heart and a soul, and a lifetime gaurantee that really was just that.

When I purchased a Zone VI 4x5 I did not realize how many people it would attract. Once in Yosemite a young boy asked if he could look through my camera. I did not realize that he was part of a school field trip and instantly thirty more children had lined up behind him. I have the same experience almost everytime I set the camera up. People are drawn to it and ask questions about the camera and photography in general. It sort of makes the owner of a Zone VI camera an embassador of photography. That is not a bad legacy!

Fred, you did a good job my friend. I am toasting you with a glass of a very good Merlot tonight.

How is the light in Heaven?

How is Ansel?

-- Chris (, May 21, 2002.

I never met Fred but have always considered him a friend. His contribution to photography will long be remembered.

-- Gary Wagner (, May 23, 2002.

Picker will continue to influence people for many many many years. He was the genuine article. I attended 5 workshops, spent some of the most enjoyable times of my life around the man (and his coterie) and learned things that affect me every day. Who wouldn't love a guy that when a neighbors barking dog raged out of control day after day, records the dog and broadcasts it thru his stereo back at the neighbor! Then when confronted by the neighbor to restrain tha damn barking dog replied, "Me, I have no dog!" One of my only regrets is that I was outbid in my attempt to buy ZoneVI when Fred was ready to slow down. It would have been a fun ride! To those that couldn't attend his service but wanted to, be assured that Fred was honored with respect, with honor and a large dash of required irreverence. In a world of 8 zones of white to grey, Fred was rainbow.

-- jeff hulton (, June 02, 2002.

I just got off the phone with Alen MacWeeney who gave me the sad news of Fred's passing. If not for Fred and the Zone VI Workshops, I never would have met Alen and begun my career by assisting him in NY. I would also not have had the desire to visit and photograph in Iceland from which I have just returned. The man may have been a little abbrasive at times, but what a guy. And what a legacy he leaves. To this day I think of Fred almost every time I print an image. No chalk! No soot! Rest well Fred.

-- Bill Schwab - (, June 04, 2002.

Fred Picker's death is a loss to photography and to the many who learned from him through newsletters, books, fine prints, and workshops.

He taught me how to look at photographs, and he taught me how to print. I will be forever grateful.

I first learned of him and his approach to black and white photography in the early 70s through the original loose leaf ring binder version of Zone VI Workshop. The Putney school Zone VI workshops I attended in 1978 and 1989 were excellent. I was fortunate to purchase prints from Fred, Martin Tarter, and Dave Usher which I still treasure.

I will always remember some of his workshop admonitions such as:

"Don't be creative when you should be mechanical. Don't be mechanical when you should be creative."

"If you don't go too far, how do you know if you have gone far enough"

"Don't talk about it. TRY IT."

My last phone conversation with him was about a year ago and as usual he was interested, friendly, and helpful in answering my questions.

He is truly missed.

Walt Gower

-- Walter E. Gower (, June 19, 2002.

I too was a devoted reader and re-reader of Fred's materials, catalogues, newsletters, books. I haven't been able to get my hands on the videos. Any suggestions?

Through the years I'd seen a lot of Fred-bashing in print - some of it was almost brutal. I wonder if any of those who wrote such things will leave a similar legacy to the medium as Fred did.


-- J. Shatus (, July 24, 2002.

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