Book Reviews

The Book Of Pyro, Gordon Hutchings, Bitter Dog Press, Granite Bay, CA, 95746, soft cover, 100 pages, $29.00. U.S. & Canada, $33 Overseas.

The Book Of Pyro is admittedly rather esoteric but it is also one of a kind, and as such, fills a special niche. Pyro (Pyrogal-lol) is one of the earliest known developing agents and in fact, was once the universal developer. Even with today's modern emulsions it offers a unique combination of advantages and is being rediscovered by a new generation of b&w practitioners.

In the introduction to The Book Of Pyro the late Morley Baer explains how he came, in the 1930s, to use the ABC Pyro Citric formula that he used until his passing last year. Gordon Hutchings, over a period of several years, experimented with the old Pyro formulas and devised an improved modern version. This new formula, which he calls PMK, short for Pyro, Metol, Kodalk (trademark Kodak), gives better results with modern films yet maintains Pyro's unique characteristics.

The Book Of Pyro covers all aspects of using Pyro from mixing the chemicals, to special considerations of fixing the image, and a section on the toxicity and safe handling of Pyro. Hutchings describes several alternate methods of processing film in Pyro, presenting pros and cons of each. This discussion includes both sheet and rollfilm and each method is covered in minute detail. Also included is a formulary with some alternative Pyro formulas, a listing of Hutchings' equipment and methods, test data with Kodak, Ilford and Agfa films, and an expansive bibliography.

Not for everyone, but if you are interested in fine art b&w photography you will probably find The Book Of Pyro valuable.

Book of Pyro - Preface

It had been a long and discouraging printing session. I was trying to print a 4x5 negative of backlit surf against dark headlands. I distinctly recall the varied bright forms of the surf; some shone like chrome, some glistened like snow and some appeared translucent like white angel hair Christmas decoration. Despite much effort, these values and the sense of the original experience could not be duplicated in the print. Added contrast rendered the scene stark and artificial looking. Printing the whites down to make them separate rendered them chalky gray. Finally, after three long printing sessions, 40 or 50 sheets of a variety of papers and several developers, including split development and the old Beers formula, I at last made a successful print. I have never printed that negative again.

Assuming the worst was behind me, I put the next negative in the enlarger, this time an 8x10 shot of a backbit glacier. It was more difficult yet and I could not make a fully satisfying print. Later, gloomily reviewing the meager results of so much work, I came to the conclusion that I was completely dissatisfied with my development technique and was determined to do something about it. The film and D-23 developer combination I used was no longer adequate.

I purchased virtually every commercial developer available and felt confident that one of them would prove superior and solve my printing problems. A friend suggested pyro as a developer. 1 had dabbled with pyro several years earlier but my brief experience conformed its reputation as a grainy and hard to control developer. Furthermore, I wanted the convenience of a commercially prepared formula. Surprisingly, my tests with the commercial developers indicated that they were only marginally better than the old D-23. Testing very carefully and critically with these formulas, the results were not what I had hoped for. In particular, the highlights were not as luminous and did not separate as well as expected. Another friend suggested pyro and I finally gave in. Still confident that it would he too grainy, I decided to give it a test it could not survive - I would photograph clouds.

I exposed a series of negatives of wonderful storm clouds, prepared several commercial developers that were on hand and a tray of ABC Pyro (the Edward Weston version). The negatives were developed, proofed and the prints hung up to dry.

The next morning the prints were arranged face down in order of film developer: D-23, ID-11, D-76, FG-7, HC-110, Rodinal and the ABC Pyro. Flipping the prints over one-by-one revealed the same old familiar images. The D-23 print of clouds looked dull and tired. The ID-11 and D-76 prints were not much better. The FG-7 print was best so far. but still not exciting. The HC-110 photo as slightly brighter, but a little harsh looking. the Rodinal print as, surprisingly, much like the HC-110. Disappointed so far, I casually flipped over the pyro print and stared in disbelief, Clouds! Light, rich complex clouds that seemed to swirl before my eyes. Looking closer I noticed a strange three dimensional quality about them and subtle tonal nuances that were not evident in the other prints. The clouds were also sharp. Whoever had heard of sharp clouds?

With my heart pounding with excitement, I sat in my chair and stared at those simple proof prints for a long time. For several days after this incident I carried these prints with me and excitedly waved them in the faces of my friends. I knew then that I would learn about pyro and. if possible, improve its performance. Thus started what became a 10-year research project which is not finished yet. This book is a summary of this research to date.

Gordon Hutchings, 1991

Black & White Photography: A Basic Manual, 2nd Edition, Revised, Henry Horenstein, Little Brown and Company, distributed by Silver Pixel Press, 21 Jet View Drive, Rochester, New York 14624-4996.
ISBN 0-316-37314-1, soft bound, 230 pages, $21.95.

The standard text in many college and high school programs is also a great book for the student attempting to self-teach. Black & White Photography: A Basic Manual covers all the things that you'd expect in a good, basic book, with chapters on camera types and camera handling, lenses, film and exposure, darkroom techniques including film processing and printing, accessories, flash, filters, etc. and a chapter on print finishing and mounting. In addition to the basics there are chapters on alternative processes, buying and maintaining equipment, bulk loading film, and a great section on troubleshooting.

Educators will appreciate the very complete glossary and everyone will love the comprehensive bibliography. The only down side is that the materials section, while very extensive, is somewhat dated. Many of the materials in common use today were introduced after the revisions were made.

That notwithstanding, Black & White Photography: A Basic Manual is a book that will answer nearly all of your b&w photographic questions. This book is highly recommended for the new photographer, the photographer who has been away from the medium for a while and wants to get up to speed again, and, of course, for the photo teacher looking for a great text to build a basic photo class around. Good stuff!

The Darkroom Cookbook, Stephen G. Anchell, Focal Press, 313 Washington Street, Newton, MA 02158
ISBN 0-240-80196-2, soft cover, 206 pages, $24.95.

If you divide the $24.95 cover price by the 150 formulas that are included in The Darkroom Cookbook it comes out to a little over 16 cents per formula. A good deal, that!

But seriously, author Stephen Anchell has done all of us a great service. The information in The Darkroom Cookbook is mostly available elsewhere but now we have it all under one cover. As actually a compilation of a series of articles originally written for Camera And Darkroom magazine, Anchell embraces classic formulas as well as modern ones. In fact, he admits to attempting to act as a conservator of some formulas that are in danger of being lost as emphasis shifts from silver imaging to digital.

Don't be mislead. The Darkroom Cookbook is not just a collection of formulas. There is a wealth of information on everything from weights and measures to a concise explanation of percentage solutions (thanks Steve, I finally understand percentage solutions!). A very complete Pharmacopoeia, a discussion of lab equipment, teaspoon versus metric and/or US customary measurement, and the most comprehensive conversion tables I have seen anywhere. These make The Darkroom Cookbook a real bargain.
The Darkroom Cookbook is destined to be a classic. For anyone working in black-and-white it is a must have.

The Darkroom Cookbook, Second Edition, Stephen G. Anchell, Focal Press, 313 Washington Street, Newton, MA 02158
ISBN 0-240-80423-6, soft cover, 287 pages.

Updated with new formulas and number of minor error corrections.

The Film Developing Cookbook, Stephen G. Anchell and Bill Troop, Focal Press, 313 Washington Street, Newton, MA 02158
ISBN 0-240-80277-2, soft cover, $26.95.

Photographic processing is a chemical process. While it is not necessary to know anything about chemistry, it is necessary to understand what photographic chemicals do, and why. The Film Developing Cookbook will help photographers aquire a working knowledge of photographic chemistry that is relevant to black and white film developing and serves as a reference and refresher for photograhers of all stages of their skill.

This companion to The Darkroom Cookbook will help photographer's familar with different developer formulas for acheiving a wide range of pictorial effects, and teach them how to mix and use photographic solutions from scratch - even to create new ones. Many of these developing formulas and archival fixing solutions contained in The Film Developing Cookbook have never before been presented.

"The authors have compiled from sources ordinary and obscure a treasure-trove of information from the everyday to the experimental, all of it useful and interesting. Nothing like this has been published in decades. I have several pages of notes of things to try from just my first reading."
Gordon Hutchings - author, The Book of Pyro.

The Variable Contrast Printing Manual, Stephen G. Anchell, Focal Press, 313 Washington Street, Newton, MA 02158
ISBN 0-240-80259-4, soft cover, 190 pages, $24.95.

Review ©1997 Maxim M. Muir

I had long ago assumed (and I know what you are going to tell me about that!) that most people who become involved in black and white printing (the silver gelatin kind) start out using variable contrast papers, since these are now the most commonly found types of paper on the market. I have been using variable contrast paper (AKA VC paper) of one type or another since the early 80's . When you have been using a material for so long, it is easy to forget that many people just starting out are finding their way around "problems" that you have long since mastered. But if you think I am going to say that Steve Anchell's new book "the Variable Contrast Printing Manual" is for beginners only, you would be wrong. I have read through this work a couple of times and have learned several new things, so yes it is possible to "teach and old dog new tricks"

This book, despite the sound of the title, is not a how to book. It is rather, an overview of variable contrast printing. Steve takes you through a brief history of variable contrast papers, an explanation of how VC papers work, a section telling you how to calibrate your chosen paper, three chapters on handling the papers with different filter systems and different lighting systems, a chapter listing all the major enlarger light source options, and two chapters on print processing concerns. The rest of the book consists of some appendix information containing basic formulas, and an example of how you can compare the density ranges of different papers with your particular setup. What he has done here is lay the groundwork so the reader may take things further as they wish.

Steve is not oriented toward using densitometers to determine speed and density range of papers. However, he does show you how you may use step wedges to perform visual tests. None of the tests he describes are difficult to setup and accomplish. I am aware quite a few people want to know what filter or dichroic head setting correspond to what "paper grade". Frankly, I do not worry about that in my own printing. I simply adjust the filtration and exposure of the print until the print "looks good". However, for workers who want to produce negatives to print within a specified density range, the calibration section will tell you how to do that.

The greatest advantage VC papers have going is the ability to use different filters to control local contrast in the print. The chapter on multiple filter techniques will give the person who has never experimented with procedure a good basic place to begin. Once you have tried some of these examples in your own photographs (the classic use of bringing in sky detail with both a burn and a filter change), the possibilities for exploiting this ability of VC paper will become virtually endless.

What did I pick up from this book? Well for one, I was not aware that the Forte papers do not contain optical brighteners. I am a heavy user of their paper, especially Forte Polygrade FB. Sometimes I have my prints wet for a long time. Since the paper does not contain brighteners, I do not have to worry that they may be leeching out from the emulsion from being wet a long time (and like in so many other "controversies" in photography, not everyone agrees how much leeching of optical brighteners really occurs over how much wet time). I am very used to the look of this paper, and my customers have liked the results I provide for them with it. I Also learned what I already suspected about my main paper, that it does not have the range of contrast that is available from a different paper, like Ilford MG FB. My negatives and most of my customer negatives are consistent enough, thankfully, that this "problem" does not rear its head very often, but when it does, I know it is time to use a different tool (paper). The book will help point you in that direction when you may be having a problem as well.

In all, I'd say this is a decent companion to have along with " The Darkroom Cookbook" by the same author. Since this book is published by Focal Press, I would imagine places such as Calumet Photographic and Light Impressions would carry it. Larger bookstores such as Borders and Barnes and Noble should stock this as well. If you need to order the book, the ISBN is 0-240-80259-4.

Beyond Basic Photography: A Technical Manual, Henry Horenstein, Little, Brown and Company, distributed by Silver Pixel Press, 21 Jet View Drive, Rochester, NY 14624-4996. ISBN 0-316-37312-5, soft bound, 242 pages, $19.95.

OK. You've finally finished your last project for Photo 101A or you've attended the final evening session of that adult education class. What next? Well, a good place to continue is Beyond Basic Photography: A Technical Manual. Although some of the information in the materials section is a bit dated (the same problem shows up, to a slight degree, in the suppliers and publishers appendix as well) the book suffers very little as a result.

As the title suggests, Beyond Basic Photography: A Technical Manual is not intended for beginners although it is so well written that a novice could, without too much difficulty, get through it and learn a lot in the process. It takes up where Black and White Photography: A Basic Manual leaves off, building on the techniques introduced therein and exploring them through practical lessons and assignments. Like all three books in Horenstein's trilogy, the illustrations used are clear, concise and easy to understand. Whoever designed the books is to be congratulated on very intelligent use of photographs, and where they are easier to read or more concise, line drawings.

The section on the Zone System is very understandable and will get you started with a minimum of fuss. Also covered with commendable clarity are the view camera, flash technique and lighting, advanced darkroom techniques, and an easy to comprehend section on sensitometry. Included is a useful chapter on the health hazards with common photographic chemicals. This very important issue is too often ignored in photographic books. Joseph A. Dickerson

Zone VI Workshop, Fred Picker, available from Zone VI Studios, Inc. $19.95.

Written with a feeling of love for the fine black-and-white print, the book is a serious presentation of principals and techniques of the zone method made famous by Ansel Adams. This book is for those who want to make fine prints and correct exposures.
The New York Times

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Revised: May 19, 2002