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Thursday, 21 June 2007


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What a beautiful shot. It's great to see such images, to be continually surprised and amazed at our heritage, and be able to think that, as comparatively poor as my contribution is, I am nonetheless striving to contribute to an art form that has produced (and continues to produce) such wonderful, and often poignant, images.

Does anybody know which autofocus settings he used? :~)

I'm really pleased to see a photo from Martin Munkacsi in your column "Random Excellence".

Munkacsi was the photographer, who perhaps "invented" the "Decisive Moment."

With his sentence: "Think while you shoot!" he shortly formulated ahead something that Cartier-Bresson brought to a point with his famous sentence:
"To take photographs means to recognize—simultaneously and within a fraction of a second—both the fact itself and the rigorous organization of visually perceived forms that give it meaning. It's putting one's head, one's eye and one's heart on the same axis."

Do you know, that Henri Cartier Bresson designated Munkacsi's photo “Boy run into the surf of the Tanganyika lake” as ”…the only photograph, which affected me."

It is really worthwhile to look more frequently at Martin Munkasci's pictures.

Take a look at 'Martin Munkacsi', published by Thames & Hudson for an in-depth examination of his life's work. It's absolutely superb, and well worth the £39.95 (£26.49 from Amazon) investment.

What's a "hand-worked negative"? Something like a Gene Smith ferricyanide bleach job to get all possible detail out of a long-scale negative? Does this have something to do with why the stands in the background are greyed out while the figures in the foreground are crisp and contrasty?

I Googled and Amazoned Munkacsi, learned more about his impact and later life. There's an Aperture issue dedicated entirely to him still available for $20-25, and a new 300 page tritone edition from Steidl that costs more but looks like it might be the better presentation of the work. Has anyone got either volume and can comment?


In addition to Mike's comments on the handwork on this negative, I suspect there's some "sharpening" going on with a sharp pencil and etching knife, since it would be difficult to get this kind of clarity with the materials and equipment available to him. A Graflex SLR of this era like my 5x7" Press Graflex, for instance, might have a shutter that could do 1/1500 sec. believe it or not, but that's not really fast enough to get those feet that sharp, even if he had a lens and film fast enough to shoot at that speed in full daylight. This sort of hand "sharpening" is pretty commonly visible in 19th-century portraits of small children in any sort of active pose (i.e., if they were alive when the photograph was taken).

I've never retouched negs, so I'm guessing, but the white lines on the shorts would be knifing? And the figures do look masked to me, though I agree about the UV scatter.

Mike: wonderful crit, thanks!

Etching with a knife on the neg would produce darkening or black on the print. Another method was abrasive reduction where overly dense areas on the neg (highlights) could be sanded down with an abrasive.

Pencil, dye, or ink on the neg produces lightening or white on the print. The crosshatching is brighter than pencil usually produces, so I suspect it may have done with something like india ink.

Of course an intermediate print could be etched with a knife and copied to a new neg, so that would be another way of producing the white marks on the final print.

Its ages since I have done any "knife-ing", how quick one forgets. I hate to say it but Photoshop has made somethings ridiculously easy. When I think of all the the little tricks that were used to make a top class print out of an average negative. It always amazed me that the photographer would get the credit for a "brilliant" photo when what they handed into the darkroom was poorly exposed and sometimes badly focused. Very few darkroom craftsmen ( and women) got the credit they so rightly deserved.

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