My rebuttal to the Magic Formulas and Photographer’s Romance with the Nonsense is at the end in italics, but first here is a direct comparison between two identically exposed 7″ X 17 ” J&C 200 film shot back in 2003 and processed upon my return home.
The following two negatives were some of the very first negatives I processed via Semi-Stand forms of development back in 2003 in my quest to find a predictable method to process film in a Reduced Agitation form of development where Sandy King suggested “extraordinary results” were possible if a technique could be found. They negatives have each been identically scanned with all tonalities for each negative captured, negative is not altered or sharpened in any way, the files are exactly how Photoshop stitched them together and not manipulated in any way.
The negative on top was processed in ABC Pyro, reputed to be one of the most aggressive of all Pyro formulas, my thinking was I wanted to hopefully contrast the differences with a tray processed negative against that of a Semi-Stand processed negative, I chose the ABC Pyro formula as it’s reputation for harsh negatives.
ABC Pyro breaks down as follows, 1 part A – 1 part B – 1 part C – 7 parts water. Continous agitation in a tray for 18 minutes, resulting highlight density meausers 1.79, traditional wisdom would dictate the 1.79 highlight density above Film base plus any fog from processing would be a more contrasty negative, certainly that is not the case as seen below.
The negative below was processed using PyroCat HD at a dilution of 1A – 1B -175 water. Agitated for the first 2 minutes and then let stand for 25 minutes then a 30 second agitation and then let stand again for 25 minutes and then remove to stop and fixer.
Measure highlight density is 1.33. Further, what you are seeing when looking at the below negative is a quicker transition out of the Film’s Toe and a much steeper Straight line, that directly translates to higher Mid Tone Contrast or Micro Contrast. The great Mid Tone and Micro Contrast is validated in a Histogram seen below. With regard to Multi-Contrast papers, because the highlight density is lower there is less need for soft contrast / 0 grade light in the printing process, or as I like to call it, Contrast Killing Green Light.
Below is a Histogram shows exactly what happens when Extreme Minimal Agitation processed negatives are compared with Tray Processed negatives, a gentleman for Spain captured a post I put on Facebook, bear in mind these captured Jpegs were resolved @ 72 DPI on a computer screen. This unsolicited Histogram from a gentleman in Spain clearly validates the Minimal Agitation technique through the means of Photoshop sensitometry. Thank you Pere Casals.
Lastly, you’ll notice I have not said anything about an increase in sharpness, because as the author stated in his article, sharpness is a function of Film and Lens resolution and not film processing, however, it cannot be disputed, Minimal Agitation film development does give the “impression” of higher acutance because of heighten micro contrast
The pure tonnage of magazine pages and ink devoted to secret formulas and special additives that would miraculously turn a photographer’s negatives into Ansel Adams lookalikes and the resulting prints into masterpieces, was staggering. To my astonishment, the exact same thing is now happening all over again.
The current magic developer is one of several variations on pyro. Now, there is nothing wrong with pyro and its variations. It will get the job done, and well. But it is a staining developer and that is often more of a hindrance than a help. Especially if you are using variable contrast papers, because the color of the stain sends paper contrast off in unintended directions. But the big problem is not the pyro but how it is being used. And it is not just pyro. Other developers are being used in these manners also. Post after post talks about using pyro with techniques for reducing contrast where the subject matter does not call for reduced contrast: split developers/water bath / dilute still bath / minimal agitation, all classes of contraction development (reduced contrast) that I thoroughly shot down as both ineffectual and risky, a quarter century ago. And if you are disinclined to accept my expertise…
No problem! These techniques were also shot down by lots of people both before and after me. Even Ansel Adams pointed out that they were irrelevant with modern films.
These are development schemes intended to reduce contrast, as an approach to what in the Zone System is called contraction: intentional reduction of negative contrast for purposes of fitting an overscaled subject to a midrange grade of B&W silver-gelatin printing paper. These approaches were marginally effective with old thick emulsion films (there are no films like this any more, unless some of the Eastern European junk is still that far behind) but were highly prone to loss of film speed, uneven development and other forms of damage to the image. I debunked these methods in great detail during the early 1990’s and published several new techniques to replace them, techniques that did not suffer from the same serious drawbacks.
Now, someone, probably several someones, is advising people new to film photography to use these contrast reduction film development formulas/techniques for development of normal exposures and subject matter: precisely where they should NOT be used, even if they worked well!
The author goes on to suggest that “staining developers” which includes all Pyro developers are detrimental when used with Muti-Contrast Silver papers due to the “color” of the stain. In part that is true with Pyrogallol based Pyros such as PMK, Rollo Pyro and ABC because the color of the stain is “Green”, the soft contrast layer of Multi-Contrast papers is acitvated via “Green” light and there will be a reduction of contrast within the highlight region. However, Pyrocathechin based Pyro formulas which I use such as the PyroCat family of developers produces an “Amber” colored stain and therefore does not lost contrast in the highlights as suggested by the author.
The last thing I will say about discoveries I’ve made and real world applications of the techniques I use is that they do not always follow what hard and fast theory suggests and it is the real world result that I choose to exploit in my Negative Design and Split Contrast Silver printing techniques. I can only assume that the author is siting what theory would suggest when it comes to expansion and contraction as a result of Minimal Agitation forms of Film Development as my real world experiences and results contradict many of what his article suggests are true with Pyro and it’s use with Minimal Agitation forms of Film development. I have found over the years since my discovery that there is a fair amount of well respected and well known Large Film photographers who dispute the Minimal Agitation technique as smoke and mirrors, is that because they simply have not been able to get the results I do or is it they simply prefer denying the fact to continue what has been traditional practice for all these years, that is a question I doubt will ever be answered truthfully.
I don’t plot graphs, rather I use actual photographs generated from my negative design processed via my Minimal Agitation technique in concert with Multi-Contrast papers and Split Contrast printing methods, from these I make determinations on the direction I want to push the findings. I would offer these “unsolicited” critiques of my Minimal Agitation technique and a second unsolicited comment about my Silver prints here below.