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Thread: Eliot Porter, The Place No One Knew

  1. #11
    Drew Wiley
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    Re: Eliot Porter, The Place No One Knew

    DT was the most malleable printing process ever invented, so could begin with all kinds of originals : color neg, color transparency of any type, or tricolor in-camera separations onto black and white film. The most common method was starting from a positive chrome and, via quite a bit of intermediate masking, making tricolor separations from those. Up to 15 sheets of film were sometimes involved, plus the matrix printing film itself. DT masking protocols are quite different than for Ciba printing; and both are different from color neg film supplemental masking when it is needed, although the same kinds of punch and register gear can be used for all of them.

    Some of Porter's original chromes have been drum scanned and reprinted via inkjet for sake of modern redux exhibitions. Inkjet doesn't have the same richness, hue purity, or transparency as actual dyes. But it's risky to subject the old remaining original DT prints to a lot of harsh display illumination, so certain compromises have been made. It probably would have been too expensive to have Porter's work remastered on actual dye transfer again by the only commercial lab still specializing in that service, which is in Germany and uses their own proprietary materials. But a number of individuals still do personal DT printing using remaining Kodak and Efke materials.

    I personally hate it when classic old color work is re-issued in either a different color medium or very different size. These new virtual digitally projected exhibitions of old Masters work, Van Gogh, etc. make me want to throw up. A friend described one of those to me earlier this week, and himself attended only because someone else had bought him a ticket. It's like paying to watch Elvis impersonators.

    Lightjet, Lambda, and Chromira laser printers expose regular Fuji and Kodak RA4 papers after scanning the original and then software manipulations. A highly skilled operator can achieve results analogous to Ciba in look, but with better color control, but certainly not in my opinion as well as a highly skilled Ciba printer could have done directly. It was the idiosyncrasies of the Ciba medium which often made it special. Fujiflex Supergloss is easier to handle and somewhat more affordable than Ciba was, and certainly keeps better before exposure. I need to order another big roll of that.

    There were some tricks to getting the greens of Ciba spot on; but I figured that out long ago. With color neg printing, the problem is with the film itself not well differentiating the warm tones - traditional CN films are engineered to dump all of that into "pleasing skintones". Ektar has solved that problem, but has trouble differentiating blue and cyan under certain circumstances.

    I won't go into the social issues. But I'm not thrilled about moving to space. We've already darn near wrecked one planet. Now that small amounts of water have been found on the moon as well as on Mars, we'll probably dry them up a thousand times faster if stations are ever planted there, and then go to war over the last few drops. I rooted for the Martians in "Mars Attacks".
    Last edited by Drew Wiley; 22-Jul-2021 at 16:31.

  2. #12

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    Re: Eliot Porter, The Place No One Knew

    Akk-Akk.

  3. #13

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    Re: Eliot Porter, The Place No One Knew

    Long ago I found a first edition of "The Place No One Knew". it was out of print at the time and I paid a lot for it. Revisiting it recently, I'd like to see the 2000 reissue. Color lithography has come a long way since the 1960s, and the repros in my 1st edition are a little murky.
    I did have the pleasure of seeing a number of Porter originals at the MPW some years back., and they still rank as the most beautiful color photographs that I've ever seen.

  4. #14

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    Re: Eliot Porter, The Place No One Knew

    https://www.sltrib.com/news/environm...l-level-about/

    This article has information on the lake level. Does not look good.

    If the level keeps dropping maybe some will be able to photograph a few locations and show the reality now compared to then?

    http://archive.azcentral.com/arizona...kayak0724.html

    Then this article from 2005. The level has dropped 145 vertical feet since 1999, when the lake was full.

    Maybe some of Porter and others locations will be seen again, including the bathtub ring and all the junk lost overboard from the boaters?
    Last edited by Willie; 23-Jul-2021 at 07:52.
    "My forumla for successful printing remains ordinary chemicals, an ordinary enlarger, music, a bottle of scotch - and stubbornness." W. Eugene Smith

  5. #15
    Drew Wiley
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    Re: Eliot Porter, The Place No One Knew

    Mark - all the re-issues are conspicuously inferior to the printing quality of the original edition. It would be prohibitively expensive to make books like that again. An enormous amount of hand tuning of the original plates was involved using highly skilled craftsmen of a level of skill and experience that might not even exist anymore. I've never seen any kind of color per se photo books of the same quality as Porter's early series. But the one notable problem with the originals is that the varnish on the pages has tended to yellow over time.

    As I recall, the re-issue of the hardback version simply used the original plates again. But these being somewhat worn, the end result was relatively disappointing. The smaller less expensive paperback versions of Porter's work and others of that same genre were all conspicuously inferior, but still worth having if one couldn't afford the big fancy ones. High quality book papers themselves have gotten so expensive in recent years that it's a game-changer problem itself.

  6. #16

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    Re: Eliot Porter, The Place No One Knew

    I can't help but wonder why most if not all the talks about photography eventually come down to "how the picture was made" instead of, for example , "why the photograph shows what it shows" or "what the photographer tries to say to the viewer". Something tells me that Mr.Porter was not making his pictures to demonstrate superiority of equipment, development and printing methods that he used. Or did he ?

  7. #17
    Drew Wiley
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    Re: Eliot Porter, The Place No One Knew

    Porter was independently wealthy. He had nothing to prove in that respect. Many of his Maine pictures, for example, were taken on the substantial family estate. He became quite a bird watcher, and then acquired machinist skills during the War, which helped him make his own equipment. He later replaced much of his own equipment with better gear from Condit. He is purported to have used a variety of cameras, mainly of 4X5 and 6X6 category; but expense was not an issue for him. After the war, he was pretty much free to do as he pleased. Thoreau was an immense influence on his outlook upon nature.

    Esthetically, the very manner of presentation of color, and how it integrated the subtleties of a rightly complex holistic natural world in the Thoreauvian meaning, was well served by the specific qualities of dye transfer printing. This is especially apparent in his first book, In Wildness, as well as in his last great book, Intimate Landscapes. It allowed for a fine-tuning of neutrals in particular, in relation to clean saturated hues, which is quite difficult in simpler processes. I already mentioned that he got into DT printing specifically to render bird colors accurately, which included softer hues. Having mastered that as well as could be expected back then, he acquired a very versatile palette for landscape work. So yes, he simply had to become a highly skilled technician to get his point across. But once he got traction with print collectors per se, much of his printing was done by even more skilled assistants like Jim Bones, or was even farmed out to commercial dye transfer labs when higher volumes of specific images were needed.

    DT is a lot of work and slows one down, and uniquely allows one to apply or re-apply subtle controls clear throughout the entire process. It was the ideal match for Porter; otherwise, he wouldn't be Eliot Porter as we know him. Thank goodness shortcuts like inkjet printing weren't available yet. Something would be missing. In fact, the best inkjet printers I have ever met were DT printers first. Dyes particularly favor control of deep tones, while inkjet is more friendly to highlight tonality. Overall neutrality and hue cleanliness is best achieved with dye transfer. But there are many renditions of it, with many possible dye combinations. During its heyday, at least five commercial manufacturers of supplies were extant. It could easily be revived if enough people were interested and had the money to spend on custom coating runs. But alas, this is the era of instant everything. I understand; even retired, I can't find an uninterrupted block of time sufficient to explore this particular process in depth. But I put plenty of time and contemplation into my other forms of darkroom color printing, so don't feel too bad.
    Last edited by Drew Wiley; 23-Jul-2021 at 14:56.

  8. #18

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    Re: Eliot Porter, The Place No One Knew

    If I can append Drew's history of Porter. He began his career as a physician, taught at Harvard, and became smitten with the study and eventually the photography of birds (my photography began with birds as well, coincidentally, having studied birds independently in graduate school). At the time I think he saw an opportunity to take the then emerging color films and his passion for birds and merge them into beautiful images. I can understand this passion for birds and their colors as my first published photo was a full page in Audubon magazine in 1986 of a rare Henslow's Sparrow singing on territory. It was taken with a 700mm f5 Celestron mirror lens which I purchased from a famous Astrophysicist, Martin Schwartzchild, who was at the prestigious Princeton Institute of Advanced Study. Martin and his wife Barbara both had a passion for bird photography and a core respect for Porter, and would go on sojourns to the Arctic, Iceland and US locations to photograph birds. We would get together often to share images we had taken during our various trips.

    But birds are too difficult to photograph at the nest and impossible otherwise with a view camera. Porter was highly criticized for having cut branches with nests in them to lower the nest to the ground so he could set up his camera and strobes. I think this criticism swayed him to somewhat reduce his bird photography efforts thereafter. My impression is that Porter chose to expand to the landscape to maintain the same visual aesthetic he had begun with birds.

    Many of his early landscapes were from the Maine island his family owned, so perhaps his explorations of that pristine landscape influenced his non-bird photo efforts.

    It seems incongruous to me that with our ever improving technology and printing techniques, we are unable to produce quality prints which match the DT output. I myself was satisfied with Cibas for some things and Lambdas for most of my LF prints. I never had a chance to have a DT print made of one of my own. As Drew mentions, it would be a wish to be able to produce prints of the same quality as Porter's DT prints from years ago. Perhaps someday.

  9. #19
    Drew Wiley
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    Re: Eliot Porter, The Place No One Knew

    Well, it really depends how far you wish to fine-tune any print medium. I've proven to myself and at least certain skeptics who have actually seen my work, that even RA4 chromogenic prints can be coaxed into a qualitative realm way beyond the stereotypes of them. And as far a Ciba went, as I told Ctein, who was accustomed to the control inherent to DT, you need to dance with Ciba instead, and let it lead. It's the very limitations and idiosyncrasies of specific media which contribute to their magic. But all kinds of other factors are involved : practicality, expense, image permanence, processing safety, equipment reliability, ease of acquiring supplies, etc. It's all relevant. Pick a method and get good at it.

  10. #20

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    Re: Eliot Porter, The Place No One Knew

    https://www.theguardian.com/environm...climate-crisis

    The short video of weather related disasters in the article is worth watching.

    Looks as if lower lake levels are opening up some areas that have groups lobbying for permanently lower levels.

    Those in the area relying on Tourism and lake boat rentals are really hurting. The tourism economy of the entire area is taking a hit. Two photographers I know were on a trip to the Southwest and cancelled - not due to drought but the flooding and damage in the area this past week.

    Below is a short section from the article.

    Before it was buried by Lake Powell, the sprawling region of slickrock canyons called Glen Canyon was described by environmentalist and author Ed Abbey as the “living heart” of the Colorado River. And now that environmental groups, scientists, and cartographers have access to document the restored ecology in hundreds of side canyons, they say it’s time for the park officials to no longer focus solely on maintaining water-based recreation at Lake Powell.

    “We are not anti houseboat, we are just pro-Glen Canyon,” says Eric Balken, executive director of the not for profit Glen Canyon Institute based in Salt Lake City. “We want the ecological values of Glen Canyon to be part of the discussion about how to move forward during climate change.”

    Balken says there is huge potential for other recreational opportunities in the side canyons that emerge out of Lake Powell. And the Page boating industry agrees that the newly accessible scenic areas in Glen Canyon are a big draw for tourists. “My customers say they have never seen so many beautiful places to park a houseboat,” says West. “The lower the lake gets the better it becomes for camping.”
    "My forumla for successful printing remains ordinary chemicals, an ordinary enlarger, music, a bottle of scotch - and stubbornness." W. Eugene Smith

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