Last May 24, 2013 meant a remarkable success for the Westlicht 8th Photo Auction, one of whose highlights was undoubtedly the 24,000 euros fetched by a 17,5 " x 12 " (44,5 x 30,5 cm) print of Alfred Eisenstaedt´s worldwide famous
Print of the acclaimed picture made by Alfred Eisenstedt sold at Westlicht. This great image is one of the most important icons in the History of Photojournalism.
´ V-J Day Kiss ´ in Times Square, New York, taken on August 14, 1945, signed by the photographer in ink,
without forgetting the 66,000 euros paid for Irving Penn´s ´Woman in Chicken Hat´, the 15,600 euros reached by a photograph made by Ernst Haas in 1961 showing Elliott Erwitt holding a black painted Leica M3 and the 9,000 euros attained by a picture of Pablo Picasso wearing a clown mask made in 1957 by David Douglas Duncan.
Therefore, this event has meant among other significant sides the confirmation of a steadily increasing trend and great interest for classic photography, specially the black and white one, shared by both international and local collectors having a penchant for really top-notch pictures made by many of the most legendary Maestros of Photography ever, to such an extent that Westlicht Photo Auction is currently the international benchmark in terms of average results in the sphere of auction houses devoted to photography (to quote only an example, a 76% of the images were sold during the recent 8th Photo Auction, often getting bids and final hammer prices far beyond their starting price tags).
Westlicht Schauplatz für Fotografie logo at the entrance of the Gallery where auctions are held.
But then, a question arises:
How is it possible this outstanding renaissance and passion for pictures which in a very high percentage were made made a lot of decades ago in the XX Century and taken with cameras using chemical films in different formats? Why are there nowadays so many people willing to pay so steep figures for these images on high quality photographic paper to such an extent that there are even usual moments of bidding war for the most coveted items?
REASONS FOR A CLEARLY UPWARD TENDENCY
There are a number of factors having brought about this craving for acquiring classic photographs made by famous photographers with chemical films, among which stand out:
a) The very significant value of those images, both from a historical and social viewpoint, since most of them are to great extent mankind heritage and often depict instants captured in the midst of events which marked turning points in the development of XX Century.
b) The outstanding quality of the images in terms of the highly representative moments depicted in the pictures, irrespective of the cameras and lenses with which they were got and the technicalities of them.
c) The magic of black and white. Most of these photographies were taken with b & w chemical emulsions featuring plenty of silver halides and delivering a very special vintage aesthetics of image on photographic paper, a real treat to watch and appreciate.
d) The impressive gift for their trade proved throughout their professional careers by the legendary photographers who made these pictures in a time when the great illustrated magazines like Life, Picture Post, Collier´s, Regards, Look, Ladies´ Home Journal, etc, paid very well the top-notch photographers to cover different areas of the globe and fulfill a lot of assignments, investing tons of wherewithal of their own to finance their worldwide trips under the best possible conditions, in order to subsequently fill the pages of their graphic publications with excellent pictures oozing impact, which skyrocketed both the sales in newstands and the advertisements of a number of important brands.
Back cover of Coca-Cola in the Life magazine number of January 17, 1938. The great company featuring the best distribution network in the world then and now, had the wisdom of following the advice of Henry Luce (Owner and Editor of Life), John Shaw Billings (Executive Editor and the key man when deciding which stories would be included), Daniel Longwell (Executive Editor and constantly producing brainstorms to fill the pages), Wilson Hicks (Executive Editor, a man deeply knowing the photographers and whose mission was to send them on assignments in which they could excel the most according to their working style and experience) and great picture editors like Edward K. Thompson from the first meetings held at the advertising offices of Life located at 135 East 42nd Street New York. It dawned on them all that the key factor for massive sales of the top-notch magazine was to hire very good photographers (who were very well paid) to make pictures stories all over the world, full of images oozing impact to steadily draw the buyers´ attraction and keep them as enthusiasts of Life both acquiring the legendary illustrated publication in newstands and through subscriptions. Needless to say that the labour of picture editors choosing the cream of the crop of the great images and the toil of the art departments making the layouts together with the photo editors was also seminal.
Portrait of Alfred Eisenstaed made by Claire Yaffa in 1978.
To quote only an example, Alfred Eisenstaedt, a photographic driving force in himself for seventy years between late twenties and mid nineties of XX Century, was instrumental in the development and tremendous success of Life magazine, from its very launching on November 23, 1936 with 380,000 copies sold, which would soon result in world record sales of one million copies a week from March 1937, an astronomical figure for the time.
V-J Day Kiss in Times Square is one of the most important icons in the History of Photography and has been a part of a number of exhibitions all over the world since the end of the Second World War. Here we can see the advertisement plate of the exhibition 75 Years of Life held at the New York Leica Gallery between November 11 and January 7 of 2012.
Eisentaedt published thousands of his pictures in it and made the amazing figure of 92 covers.
And the same happened with other great photographers who worked for Life magazine like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Eugene Smith, Robert Capa, Werner Bischof, David Seymour ´Chim´, George Rodgers, Margaret Bourke-White, Eileeen Darby, Ernst Haas, Elliott Erwitt, Andreas Feininger, Bob Landry, Carl Mydans, Elliot Elisofon, Dmitri Kessel, Frank Scherschel, David Douglas Duncan, Gjon Mili, Gordon Parks, George Silk, Hansel Mieth, Larry Burrows, Ralph Morse, Peter Stackpole, Philippe Halsman, Cornell Capa, Thomas D. McAvoy, Walker Evans, William Vandivert and many others.
e) The continuous increase of resale value of the acquired prints, so they turn into coveted items of investment with high levels of reliability.
f) The blossoming emergence of China as a country highly interested in classical photography, with a lot of knowledgeable bidders coming from this nation.
g) The increasing spreading of high-end LED fixtures which are beginning to enable collectors and investors alike to have inside their homes these valuable historical prints made from original negatives exposed by famous photographers, something greatly reserved till now to museums and galleries. These new state-of-the art contrivances are allowing enthusiasts of top-notch photography to have specific areas of their abodes devoted to display these masterpieces with the most adequate lighting without any risk of spoiling them.
h) The handcrafted nature of the copies on sale at Westlicht, both vintage and later alike, which were born inside darkroom many years ago, often after a lot of hours and even days of strenuous efforts searching for the best possible prints, trying to interpret as faithfully as possible the reality of the photographic act when the picture was taken.
i) A great quantity of these photographs were selected by many of the best picture editors in history: Simon Guttman (Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung), Edward K. Thompson (Life), Stefan Lorant (Weekly Illustrated, Picture Post), Roy Striker (FSA Project, Lamp), Willard D. Morgan (Life, Look), John G. Morris (Life, Ladies´ Home Journal, Washington Post, New York Times, National Geographic), James A. Fox (Magnum), Howard Chapnick (Black Star Agency), Barbara Baker Burrows (Life), Marie Schumann (Life), Arnold H. Drapkin (Time), Robert Pledge (Zoom, Gamma, Contact Press Images) and others.
In those times, photographers were constantly asked to make picture stories, with a very important requisite: the photographs had to be great and with outstanding impact, because the goal was to sell as many magazines as possible.
Thus, the labour of the picture editors was an utterly key factor because they had to choose the best pictures to be published from the contacts, following the images narrative.
Beautiful advertisement plate of Agfa Isopan black and white 35 mm film from forties.
j) The unique appearance of the prints made from legendary black and white chemical emulsions like Eastman Kodak Nitrate Panchromatic Weston 32 bulk loaded motion picture stock from thirties, Kodak SS Panchro Nitrate Panchromatic Weston 32 from thirties, Kodak Super X Nitrate Panchromatic from thirties, Agfa Isopan F,
Agfa Isopan F 35 mm black and white film from mid forties.
Kodak Plus-X, another classical black and white film which was launched into market in 1938 and was produced until 2011. It featured a sensitivity of 125 ASA and was extensively used by a number of Magnum photojournalist during forties, fifties and sixties of the XX Century like George Rodger (coverage of the London Blitz in 1940), Mark Riboud (pictures of Eiffel Tower in Paris in 1953), Erich Lessing (Budapest rebellion against Soviet occupation in 1956), Eve Arnold (photographs of Joan Crawford in 1959), Leonard Freed (October 1964 pictures of Martin Luther King in Baltimore acclaimed by thousands of people just returned from Europe after been awarded the Nobel Prize of Peace) and many others.
Kodak Plus X, Agfa Isopan ISS, Kodak Panatomic- X ISO 32 (1933-1987), Kodak Super XX, Kodak Tri-X 400, Ilford HPS, Ilford HP3, Ilford FP3, Agfa L IR, Ansco Super Hypan, Ilford HP4, Ilford HP5, Fuji NP 400 PR, Agfa Isopan Ultra, Ilford Pan F50, etc.
Kodak Super-XX 35 mm film, the chemical black and white emulsion used by Alfred Eisenstaedt on August 14, 1945 in Times Square to get the famous picture of the V-J Day Kiss of the sailor and nurse in Times Square. It featured a sensitivity of 250 ASA and was the par excellence all around performer fast film used by photojournalists until the arrival of Kodak Tri-X 400.
On their turn, all of these black and white chemical films featured special different looks, and a remarkable versatilty of results could be obtained depending on the used developers (some of them optimized to deliver fine grain like the Kodak D-76 and Xtol) and others fostering the acutance, id est, the visual perception of sharpness, like the Agfa Rodinal.
Kodak Tri-X Pan 35 mm film. The 24 x 36 mm format photojournalistic most widely used in the History of Photography. A significant percentage of highly acclaimed pictures were made with this black and white chemical emulsion boasting superb acutance and tonal range, along with an unmatched versatility.
And there were great b & w classical films like the Kodak Tri-X 400 and the Kodak Plus-X, that though delivering some grain, offered outstanding acutance, tonal range and versatility in darkroom when making top quality prints in various sizes.
Leitz Valoy II, a gorgeous enlarger dedicated for 35 mm format. It was very covenient to use, featuring manual focus and a helical focus mount. It could use a number of top-notch enlarging lenses like the Leitz Elmar 5 cm f/3.5, Leitz Focotar 50 mm f/4.5, Leitz Summicron 50 mm f/2 with DMUOO adapter, EL Nikkor 50 mm f/2.8 (with 39 mm Leica thread mount extension tube placed between the lens and the enlarger) and others. Its use convenience was remarkable, also being easy to transport. It was extensively used by many famous pros, among them Eugene Smith, and together with the Leitz Focomat 1C (also a great enlarger conceived for 35 mm format and used among others by Ralph Gibson) was very frequently the 35 mm enlarger chosen by many photographic agencies for their darkrooms throughout many decades during XX Century, being currently still used by great lovers of black and white photography shooting monochome films with their analog cameras.
Leitz Focomat IIC (for MF),
Leitz Focomat IIC enlarger, optimized for 6 x 9 cm medium format, though it is able to handle other sizes like 35 mm and 6 x 6 cm through the appropriate negative carriers. This is one of the best enlargers ever made. Its usual lenses were the Leitz Focotar 60 mm f/4.5 and the Leitz V Elmar 100 mm f/4.5. Produced between 1957 and 1983, it had a price tag comparable to a car during sixties. It was often part of the darkroom departments of the best publishing houses and photographic agencies in the world, delivering top-notch results stemming from its optical and mechanical quality manufactured without any compromises, to such an extent that vast majority of them are still in flawless working condition.
Beseler Model 23C (from 35 mm format to 2 1/4 x 2 1 /4 MF),
Beseler Model 23C, specially designed for 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 medium medium format (though it can handle sizes from Minox 8 mm to 2 1/4 " x 3 1/4 " a classic beloved by black and white photography enthusiasts. The outstanding mechanical quality of this enlarger, built like a tank, allowed a professional use for many decades, to such an extent that there´s currently a thriving second hand market with many of them in very good condition. Needless to say that in synergy with top-of-the-line classic enlarging MF lenses like the Schneider Kreuznach Componon-S 80 mm f/4 it usually has featured for many decades since mid sixties of XX Century till now, the quality of the prints in a number of sizes on photographic papers that can be attained with it is simply superb.
Omega D2 (for 4 x 5 LF),
Omega D2 4 x 5 " (10 x 12 cm) large format enlarger from mid fifties, a sturdy workhorse produced between 1954 and 1979 and belonging to a lineage started by the Omega D (1938-1941) and the Omega DII (1941-1954) which was the standard for LF enlargers since late thirties. Able to endure a lot of decades of daily hard professional use, it proved to be virtually indestructible, and in synergy with the Wollensak Raptar 135 mm f/4.5 Anastigmat and the Wollensak Raptar 162 mm f/4.5 Velostigmat lenses (the objectives it featured originally) and above all with the much better Schneider Componon-S 135 mm f/5.6, Schneider Componon-S 150 mm f/5.6, Nikkor EL 135 mm f/5.6 and Nikkor EL 150 mm f/5.6 became a highly widespread dependable device within the darkroom departments of the most important photographic agencies and illustrated magazines in the world, since though the 35 mm miniature format embodied by the very small mirrorless rangefinder Leica and Contax cameras meant a revolution and created a new kind of photojournalism much more agile and quick, the superb large format 4 x 5 cameras (contact print of 10 x 12 cm) like Graflex Super D and above all the Peacemaker Speed Graphic and Crown Graphic went on being used by many professional photographers (both in the photojournalistic and artistic sphere) pining for getting the best feasible results in terms of resolving power, contrast, tonal range and possibility of big enlargements and reframings without loss of quality, since the great surface of the negative (16 times the area of 24 x 36 mm format and much bigger than the 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 medium format) enabled the picture editors to modify the aspect ratio of the original images of the photo essays or even if necessary to be able to select very small zones of the LF negatives for their subsequent still top quality enlargement according to the layout of the magazines and its pages needs. In this regard, great photographers using the aforementioned LF cameras like Margaret Bourke-White, Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Weegee, John Sexton, Nat Fein, and many others were specially relevant and consistently got very good pictures featuring amazing level of detail and getting covers of the most prominent illustrated magazines of the time. Besides, an Omega DII from late forties which belonged to the great Diane Arbus has been used by the acclaimed portraiture photographer and printer Neil Serkirk (taking advantage of 6 x 6 cm carriers) to make superb copies from 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 negatives exposed by the great American photographer from New York with Rolleiflex and Mamiya twin lens reflex medium format cameras.
Beseler 45 AF (for 4 x 5 LF), Beseler 45MX (for 4 x 5 LF), Beseler 45MXT (for 4 x 5 LF), Durst L 184 (for 8 x 10 LF), Saunders LPL 4500 II (for 4 x 5 LF), De Vere 504 (for 4 x 5 LF), Beseler 45MX (for 4 x 5 LF), Durst L 1200 (for 4 x 5 LF), Omega B22 (for 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 MF), Zone VI for 5 x 7 LF), Leica Focomat V35 (for 35 mm format) and others, with diffusion or contrast head, making a big difference in the prints and handling contrast very well.
It all in seamless sinergy with gorgeous enlarging lenses like the Varob 5 cm f/3.5 (for 35 mm), Leitz 95 mm f/4 VOORT (for MF), Schneider Componon-S 80 mm f/4 (for MF), Schneider Componon 100 mm f/5.6 (for MF), Focotar 50 mm f/4.5 (for 35 mm format), Summicron 50 mm f/2 M39 with Leitz DMUOO Summicron adapter (for 35 mm format), the Schneider Componon-S 50 mm f/2.8 (for 35 mm format) and others, which were to great extent the key factor to the final quality of the prints, along with the type of light sources enabling different looks.
l) The stunning chemical and physical features of the black and white classical emulsions like the Kodak Tri-X 400 and others containing high quantities of silver halides of not controlled shapes resembling clouds of asteroids.
When making copies on photographic papers from these b & w chemical emulsions which include a lot of silver, the grain is more visible than in technologically more advanced monochrome films like the Kodak T-Max 100, Fuji Acros 100, Kodak T-Max 400, Ilford Delta 100, Ilford Delta 400, etc, offering hexagonal shapes, tabular configuration, very flat crystals of silver salts, geometric uniformity and much less quantity of silver, in such a way that grain is less apparent on the copies made from them by means of enlargers, even with 400 ASA and 800 ASA films.
But the classical black and white films containing much higher quantities of silver and featuring not controlled and irregular shapes of grains, deliver much better tonal range and acutance, particularly if they´re developed with the most appropriate developers for it in synergy with top-notch enlargers and the best photographic papers matching their traits.
And besides, however amazing it may seem, the classical monochrome films featuring big quantities of silver together with unpredictable, greatly chaotic and not uniform shapes of grains like the Kodak Tri-X 400, Kodak Plus-X, Kodak Panatomic-X and others, are much more intimately linked (regarding their behaviour during the photographic act, the development of the exposed emulsions, the creation of contact prints and the making of positives in different sizes through enlargers) to the last boundaries of the current most advanced Physics Science, specifically to the scope of Werner Heisenberg´s Uncertainty Principle (as to the position and the momentum of the orbital of electrons in atoms) and Max Planck´s Quantum Theory (as to the revealing of the individual behaviours of the subatomic particles that make up all kinds of matter and the grasping of which molecules are energetically favourable to which others and the magnitudes of the involved energies) and Schrödingen Equation (with respect to the wavefunctions change in time and its application to the concept of free particle) and the extremely irregular character of classical chaos showing up when electrons scatter from small molecules, without forgetting that a lot of highly excited Rydberg atoms are generated inside the b & w chemical emulsions in the moment of the exposure, dwelling between the classical world and the quantum one whose link is the Quantum Chaos, presided over by the impossibility of knowing the position and speed of a subatomic particle.
Therefore, what happens inside the transparent gelatin of these classical black and white chemical emulsions when their silver grains sporting various sizes and irregular shapes are dispersed within it and suddenly the exposure takes place, is something stunning and of extreme complexity.
35 mm contact of Alfred Eisentaedt´s V-J Kiss Day famous photograph. Photo: Alfred Eisenstaedt.
The great picture V-J Kiss in Times Square made by the extraordinary photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt that August 14, 1945 in Times Square, New York, is a very good example of the final product attained after the formation of the latent image at the moment of the exposure.
That´s to say, an invisible image was born inside Eisenstaedt´s Leica IIIa rangefinder 35 mm camera when the Kodak Super-XX 250 ASA black and white 24 x 36 mm film inside it, featuring high quantities of silver, was exposed on pressing the shutter release button, the light incided on the monochrome chemical emulsion and an invisible image of the kiss between the sailor and the nurse (the latent image, only made of silver) was created and impressed on it, subsequently being made visible through the development with Kodak D-76 (for twenty minutes) a few hours later that day sixty-eight years ago, and after it, the 35 mm contacts prints were created to make the picture editing (Eisenstaedt made five pictures of the sailor and the nurse, of which the best one was chosen).
m) The loyalty to first-class chemical black and white photography kept by its connoisseurs all over the world. Regarding Westlicht, the devotees of the pictures made by Masters of Photography have unremittingly been spellbound for years,
paying top attention to the exhibited images
and subsequently resuming their march after relishing the magic of black and white.
Copyright Text and Indicated Photos: José Manuel Serrano Esparza