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Monday, 16 August 2010


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What a great read, thank you. Anticipating the next chapter!

This is the kind of person that NEEDS to be interviewed on video. I'd pay US$25 for a DVD in a heartbeat.

Favorite papers, film stocks, photographers, and advice, tips, ideas that he would impart to an apprentice would be more than worth it.

Waiting for part 2.

What a great story!

Talk about a great way to start the morning.

Hello Mike,

Probably the greatest story ever told on T.O.P.! Amazing and touching.

amazing story of workmanship. can't wait for the next part of this truly inspiring post.


Thanks for publishing this article. It is one of the most compelling pieces I've read on 'The Online Photographer'. - would only query a technical point on silver content in photographic papers as this should have no effect on visual density according to ILFORD.

Tom Kershaw

Priceless! This is why TOP readers are addicted. Can't wait to read Part II.

"...prints were consistently head and shoulders above that of everyone else"

I really wish I knew what that meant - what makes prints at that level clearly better than everyone else. I seem to find that once prints reach the level of "excellent", they all seem to be pretty equal to me. Different maybe, but all very good. How would one person at a place like Picto where everyone was presumably an outstanding printer, still manage to be clearly better? What makes his prints better? (And would I see it if I had the chance to look at all of the Picto printer's prints? Could I even learn to see it?)

The issue of "silver content" in papers is a long story that I could recount in great detail.

Ironically, the genesis of the story has to do with the heavy metal cadmium, which Agfa quietly removed from Portriga for environmental reasons in the '80s--without telling anyone--changing that emulsion and robbing it of its legendary richness and depth. That's what kicked off the persistent rumor that manufacturers were "skimping on silver."

But let's not get any further into it here, as it's really incidental to this story.


If I may answer that (having been a custom exhibition printer myself), often "better" has to do with a) being able to work quickly; b) being able to cope with difficult negatives; c) having unerring judgment as to what a print "needs." (As an aside, Peter told me that when he showed Voja the illustrations he intended to use for this article, on his laptop, Voja ignored their pictorial content and immediately commented on their tonal values.) Thus, it's not so much that you would look at one good print and say that it's head and shoulders over another good print, but that, if you could see one printer's attempt at a negative next to Voja's rendition, that's when you would see the difference.

Peter will go into this issue in more depth in tomorrow's article.


Wonderful story. My eyes welled up as I read that bit about your getting the job and what Voja told you afterward...what can I say.

Many thanks for take out of the shadows the job of people that conclude the art work in photography. I feel some nostalgia of the darkroom times. Some months ago a more young photographer told me that he don't pay too much attention to the way their photos are printed. He prefer focus in do the show. Another colleague say to me every time he see me: "the time is coming". He refers about the time i can't no be able to get film. The worst part is he is close. Month to month i have difficult to get good film and if i found some is too much expensive. I remember with love the humble darkrooms i had. This were places to introspective sight, to make love with some girlfriend, to experiment, to discover. The proud and feeling of get good copy in the middle of the night, alone with the music. All the best

I really hope this article will turn into a book---this history needs preservation. Simply amazing!


What a wonderful account of friendship, determination, skill, integrity and a great man - I hope you will one day write a book to complement your marvellous photographic production.

When I went to see the HCB show at MOMA in New York a few months ago, I was taken aback by the pedestrian quality of some of the prints. But they were the older ones; 8x10s banged out quickly for magazine reproduction. Or perhaps they were just work prints. I'm not sure. Probably a bit of both. But then I'd come upon a series that were clearly "head and shoulders above the rest," including a number of fairly large ones (16x20 maybe?) among which was an exquisite print of "Martine's Legs":

I've long known that HCB did not do his own printing, but I did not know who his printer was. Thanks for the informative article!

Thanks for that info Mike (and of course you can answer - I'd appreciate anyone with some knowledge answering). Often I hear about someone making wonderful prints, and it feels like there must be something I'm missing since many prints look equal in quality to me - even those I've known to be lauded by others. (Although I haven't done a ton of print-looking, so I thought maybe my inexperience was part of the reason.) I've wondered if the expertise is more wrapped up in how to deal with difficult prints, than in the final results of one person over another. Does anyone know of a book or website that talks about exactly what makes a print good? (Beyond "maintaining details in both shadows and highlights" kind of stuff?)

Thank you very much to Peter and Mike, this is a story that I always wanted to read. I also had the privilege of learning photography in a darkroom, an amazing, relaxing, magic, sexy place (in spite of the odours).

A teacher and master printer once told me (after watching a HCB exhibition in Mexico) that Henri was in great debt with his printer. For me it was a revelation of how even the work of some of the great masters needs a degree of collaboration.

I'd like to know if it's true that HCB negatives were difficult to print (It is said that he didn't pay much attention to exposure).

I can't wait to read the next part, this made my eyes wet, and I agree with Michael, I will pay for a DVD with Voja Mitrovic in it.

Another wonderful article at TOP, Mike if you keep on this way you may be able to publish a book on all your best posts. I can see a bestseller!
Hernan Zenteno, I hope you are wrong!
By the way Mike, what about a post going into a little more detail about your custom exhibition printing experience or a "Top 10 Tips" for printing in the darkroom?
Anyway can´t wait part II, thanks Peter and Mike!

This is a beautiful story, beautifully told. We are blessed to have talents such as Voja Mitrovic and Peter Turnley in our midst.

What Tim McDevitt said.... Looking forward to hearing more about what "it" is that sets Voja's work apart as I'm definitely still finding my feet when it comes to B&W prints.

"I'd like to know if it's true that HCB negatives were difficult to print (It is said that he didn't pay much attention to exposure)"

Tomorrow's post talks about that.


Excellent Peter.

"(It is said that he didn't pay much attention to exposure)"

I knew I was in good company ;-)

Thanks for this great untold story! I saw the HCB show at MOMA in New York a few months ago and many of the photos were quite beautifully printed.

This story made my day - thanks!

Another great post, and another great portrait, of a guy you'd like to be listening to, over lunch. PT's image of Voya.

I have the privilege to own two of Voja's prints--an HCB and a Peter Turnley print. I am amazed at the tonality achieved in both of these prints--even at a large size from such a small negative. If you have a chance to view any of the actual prints I urge you to do so. If you ever have the lucky opportunity to buy one for yourself you will never regret it. They are marvelous.

Very interesting ! I saw some of the printing from Picto at the Rencontres Arles last month, where there was an expo on the history of the lab.

For those wanting a book about what a 'good' print can look like, I'd only recommend going to see some exhibitions ;o) There was also the point raised of some drab early prints in the HCB expo - if those were intended for reproduction then they would need to be fairly flat so as to work with the screening and half-toning available. A couple of decades ago, I made a lot of prints like that myself as my employer had a contract with a large print-works.

I'm looking forwards to the next instalment . . .

A very enjoyable - and informative - read, Peter. I particularly liked your description of Voja helping you get a job at Picto. Thanks for posting it, Mike.

I was a professional black and white printer for over 20 years. I was good, but I never felt I was a natural printer...

I remember going to see a H.C.B exhibition 10 or more years ago. It was fascinating listening to peoples comments (there was a amateur photography exhibition on as well in town, so there were a coule of hundred keen amatuer photographers in town....). They talked about the composition, the lighting, the focus...

But I didn't hear one person talk about the prints. No one talked about the tonal range. Or about how you could see the sprocket holes from the film in some of the prints - where the printers had strived to get detail into dark areas where there was almost none. Or how difficult some of the negatives had been to dodge - where you were right on the edge of having to over dodge an area to get detail into a part of a print..

I learnt more about printing at that exhibition than I had in the previous 10 years. It gave me a new respect for the printers art, and helped make me a better printer.

I can only that Voja and all the other printers at Picto for making me think about what I was doing and becoming a better printer....

Thank you for this!

Just think of all the generations (current and future) who'll have absolutely no clue whatsoever as to what Voja pulled off with those 80 prints. They'll think the magic was simply in the number- the very smallest obstacle to that amazing achievement...

@ MartinP: " There was also the point raised of some drab early prints in the HCB expo - if those were intended for reproduction then they would need to be fairly flat so as to work with the screening and half-toning available."

That's exactly the case, Martin. Many, perhaps most, of the pre-war, and immediate post-war, prints in the first two sections were indeed produced for publication repro. In fact, one of the most fascinating little sights of the show is one such print displayed backward so that we can see all of the stamps and instructions written on a typical repro print of the day (194x). Several versions (repro and exhibition) of one particular print are shown to illustrate just such a point.

Off-topic, but still noteworthy, is that Henri did print his own work before WWII but apparently abandoned the task later. (Resigned that he could not possibly do better than Voja?) According to Peter Galassi Henri's niece, Anne Cartier-Bresson, is undertaking a study of his images' printing so perhaps we'll hear more on this subject one day soon. She's a prominent photography conservator so she's up to the challenge.

I'm afraid that it is very difficult to learn how to print really well from books, Lord knows I really tried. It's really about watching and working with a fine printer that you learn. I can honestly say that I learnt more in 10 hours this way than I did in 20 years of reading.

I really wish that I could keep a darkroom going, but unfortunately at the moment it is not a realistic proposition, and I'm afraid by the time it is that it will be next to impossible as getting materials will be very difficult.

Great story. I'd also second the idea suggested by the earlier Michael that it would be great to have a DVD of Voja. Knowledge like this can be lost so easily.

Really a great story - and an inspiring one! I'd be very interested to know of the digital equivalent of this printing expertise? Where does Peter, or the current Magnum or VII photographers, have their digital files printed? I'm very interested in that process and how one can go about outsourcing this back end to actual printers.

Love hearing first-hand accounts of this sort. TOP continues to excel!

It sounds like we have more than two actual custom printers here, and of course any number of photographers.

What I would like to see about up there with anything in the whole world is a symposium where somebody (Mike, say) picked a very small number of images from some offered by photographers, and at least two, by preference more, printers worked their magic and showed the results and wrote about what they did and why. Ideally, the camera originals would be available for each of us to play with as well, made available before the expert versions came out, so we could see how we liked our own next to the pro versions.

Obviously this is asking two or more experts to spend time (or asking Mike to spend money). The originals would have to have some potential, or it would be a waste of time. For the full version (letting us play ourselves) the photographers would have to let one of their images a bit further into the world than many people are comfortable with.

But I can't remember EVER seeing this done; I don't know of anywhere I can see different interpretations of some images, with explanations from each printer on what they thought they were accomplishing.

It seems to me like it would be tremendously educational.

Also the full version described pretty much has to be digital (to share around originals that widely any other way seems...unlikely), and if the display is online...does that take it outside the realm of expertise of too many people, so we don't have candidates to actually do it? Or do too many of the printers think the digital display loses so much this wouldn't produce useful results?

Oh, and on top of that there's the risk of comments being offensive to people who generously participated by providing photos or doing post-processing.

Maybe it's unfeasible (insufficient people willing to take the key roles), or not a good idea, or not likely to be productive. Or just not something Mike wants to do. But man does it sound interesting!

(If there's, say, a book with something on this basis, I'd LOVE a pointer to it!)

Thanks for the fascinating distraction Peter.
Paris Student,

An amazing and important piece of photographic history - really one of the best stories I have read on this type of subject. I don't think even my Epson could spit out 80 perfect 8x10-ish prints in an hour. I don't know that I've turned out 80 perfect prints in 30 years in the darkroom! I am both inspired and humbled.

"Black & White Photography" magazine has a feature pretty much exactly like you describe. It's called "The Printer's Art." Every month they give a negative to two different printers and give a step-by-step through their printing process, then show the final results of each. It was one of my favorite features in the magazine, although some months were a lot better than others.


Mike, I think you've even told me that before. I'll have to dig up a paper copy or two to look at (I haven't yet found this bit of the magazine on their website).


A beautiful story, Peter. As one who is connected to the former Yugoslavia, and today to Bosnia, I appreciate your giving Voja his due. Tom butler

80 prints in an hour is impressive. Just the mechanical handling of the negatives plus the exposure time plus focusing are eating a significant chunk of 60 minutes.

And getting 80 exposure spot-on without developing one of them is downright scary.

This is a great story
I'm glad I've read it.
I'm getting more and more interested in black&white lately.
Thanks for posting

Thank you David K. for recommending this excellent story about Voja Mitrovic and Peter Turnley and a beginning of a wonderful life with many challenges!

I just received two prints from Peter. Both were printed and signed en verso by Voja. They now hang next to the Cartier-Bresson picture that was also printed by Voja.
This story gave extra meaning to the pictures and I think you both.

Great story... what really intrigues me though is the destiny of Radmilo Mazic and his photographic archive from 1950's Foca...

There are some more untold stories of great printers. One of them was Larry Bartlett, the wizard in the lab of a daily newspaper in London and 5-times (? even more) winner of the Ilford Printer of The Year Award. His book in which he reveals some of his techniques is still sold on Amazon. I could look over his shoulders and it was indeed amazing how a skilled printer like Larry would print an image in no time with his hands between the enlarger lens and the paper dodging and burning it to perfection.
Well, the good old times...

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