Photo: ...Descending...
Pinkham & Smith Visual Quality Motion Picture lens-- 75mm f/3, on Nikon D3


Here you will find information on my use of soft-focus and Pictorialist lenses, and my techniques for mounting, using, and processing images from these lenses in this very digital world.

In addition, I will expound from time to time on the subject of "The New Pictorialism", and the development of a reflective style in current circles. Topics from Google Plus posts will find a home here, and perhaps some relative permanence in the ever-renewing world of social networking.

--Bruce Hemingway

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Pinkham & Smith on the Fujifilm X-T1

Pinkham & Smith on the Fujifilm X-T1

The Pinkham & Smith Visual Quality Motion Picture lens works well on the Fujifilm X-T1, and focusing is excellent with Fuji's manual focusing aids. This opens up a host of possibilities for making pictorialist images in unexpected places. The 75mm focal length (108 mm equivalent) works well with the X-T1, and complements the Fujifilm 56mm f/1.2 lens.

I also plan to use this lens with the Metabones Speedbooster Ultra, which will shorten the effective focal length back to 75 mm equivalent and give a wider view.  

From The New Photo-Miniature, Volume 16, Issue 1, January 1, 1921:

The "Smith" Lens.

Series I, F: 6 (Pinkham & Smith Co.), a single combination, semi-achromatic lens and The Semi-Achromatic Doublet, Series II, F: 6, were the original American soft-focus lenses, made twenty-odd years ago by Walter G. Wolfe, of this firm, at the suggestion of F. Holland Day, Francis Watts Lee, and other well-known pictorialists of that time. In loving and skillful hands the Semi-Achromatic lens gave results so pleasing and won such wide favor that, until within recent years, this was the soft-focus lens most generally used by pictorial photographers. In practice, however, the effects obtained with it were so variable and uncertain that it was decided to introduce a lens giving a firmer quality of definition, with a flatter field, and capable of bringing the chemical and visual images closer together, thus permitting of simpler and more certain use. This resulted in The Visual Quality Lens, F:4.5, made in doublet form, this permitting of its better correction and the use of larger apertures, without flare or halo and with a wide angle of field. As so made, this lens was adapted for handcamera and motion-picture work. It was suggested by J. Wallace Gillies and is widely used by professionals in pictorial portraiture, giving diffusion effects between the extreme softness of the S. A. and the precise definition of the portrait lens.

The Visual Quality M. P. Lens is an adaptation of this lens to the special requirements of motion picture photography, by J. Wallace Gillies,introduced within the past two months.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Pictorialism's roots

Venetian Canal (1894) by Alfred Stieglitz
The Flatiron (1904) by Edward Steichen

The birth of late-19th century Pictorialism was driven by many technological and social factors; of these,  two major developments in the evolution of photography in the 19th century stand out.

The popular view of photography, entertained by many painters and much of the public, was that photographs should not be considered "art" because they were made by mechanical means and by physical and chemical processes instead of by human hand and spirit. To some, camera images seemed to have more in common with fabric produced by the machinery in a Jacquard loom than with handmade creations fired by inspiration.

At the same time, many artists feared the replacement of painting. Paul Delaroche was one of the most successful academic artists of the mid-19th-century French Salon Realism.  Delaroche is reported to have said "From today, painting is dead" upon first seeing examples of the Dagurreotype process invented by Louis Daguerre in France in 1839. Indeed, painters of miniature portraits lost; in 1830 the Royal Academy in London exhibited over 300 miniatures; by  1870 only thirty-three. The Cartes-de-visite were small visiting card photographic portraits (usually measuring 4 1/2 x 2 1/2") which became immensely successful in the 1860's, selling by the millions, and spawning a huge commercial industry in production and support.

The introduction of the roll-film camera meant the loss of complexity in the photographic process. Consider this timeline:

1878 - George Eastman was one of the first to demonstrate the great convenience of gelatin dry plates over the cumbersome and messy wet plate photography prevalent in his day. Dry plates could be exposed and developed at the photographer's convenience; wet plates had to be coated, exposed at once, and developed while still wet, hence, the horse-drawn field darkroom:
Wagons and camera of Sam A. Cooley,
U.S. photographer, Department of the South
Between 1860 and 1865 [Library of Congress]
1888 - The name "Kodak" was born and the KODAK camera was placed on the market, with the slogan, "You press the button - we do the rest." This was the birth of snapshot photography, as millions of amateur picture-takers know it today.

  • Kodak Camera of 1888 
  • expose 100 Frames, send camera to Kodak
  • Kodak develops film and returns prints and the camera reloaded
  • "You press the button, we do the rest."
  • 1/25 second exposure
1889 - The first commercial transparent roll film, perfected by Eastman and his research chemist, was put on the market. The availability of this flexible film made possible the development of Thomas Edison's motion picture camera in 1891.  A new corporation - The Eastman Company - was formed, taking over the assets of the Eastman Dry Plate and Film Company.

1891 - The company marketed its first daylight-loading camera, which meant that the photographer could now reload the camera without using a darkroom.
(Source: Eastman Kodak)

Photography was now in the hands of everyone. The reaction of some photographers was to adopt new techniques to counter both the overly mechanical and too accurate view of photography, and the fact that painting enjoyed a much higher status than this new mechanistic process. So was born the desire to make photography more "painterly".

These artistic photographers, or Pictorialists as they came to be called,  used many techniques to achieve their stylistic ends, such as the use of multiple image printing, heavy manipulation of negatives, soft-focus, and the use of techniques such as gum bichromate printing and post-tinting, all of which were intended to lower the detail and produce a more artistic image. Many of these techniques were difficult and complex, thereby running counter to the ease-of-use of the snap-shooters of the day.

In an effort to be artistic, many Pictorialists chose to resemble the art of their day-- Impressionism-- in both subject matter and to some extent in visual style.

"In effect, the term Pictorialism is used to describe photographs in which the actual scene depicted is of less importance than the artistic quality of the image. Pictorialists would be more concerned with the aesthetics and, sometimes, the emotional impact of the image, rather than what actually was in front of their camera." (from A History of Photography © Robert Leggat, 1996.)

Parallels with The New Pictorialism will be the subject of a future post. Stay tuned...

Elias Goldensky, (American, 1867-1943). Portrait of three women, ca. 1915. Platinum print.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Pictorialism & Post-Processing: the making of ...Descending...

My banner image ...Descending... has elicited many comments and questions, so I've prepared a step-by-step example of my work, and hopefully, my thinking about the presenting of this image. The old Pictorialists used many techniques to achieve their stylistic ends, such as the use of multiple image printing, heavy manipulation of negatives, soft-focus, and the use of techniques such as gum bichromate printing, all of which were intended to  lower the detail and produce a more artistic image. My use of post-processing techniques seems mild in comparison...

Here is the my post-processing sequence:

1. Original Photograph, Pinkham & Smith lens,  Lightroom "Nikon-Neutral" profile
This original image is lovely, and can stand on its own, showing the look of the Pinkham & Smith Visual Quality Motion Picture lens, and the context of the scene with the windows and lighting fixtures. It has no post-processing added, being as neutral a conversion of the digital raw image as I can accomplish. Some viewers, for various reasons,  may prefer this image to the end result, which is perfectly fine.

 While I really liked the image, I was bothered by the question of what the subject of the image was-- is it the windows, the stairway, or the figure? I chose the figure as the center of interest, and cropped to an 8x10 aspect-ratio:

2. Contrast and black levels adjusted

Details seemed less important than Chiaroscuro, hence the adjustments of contrast and blacks. But the window line above and the step line below bothered me:

3. Added post-crop vignetting  to fade edges to dark
Some isolation at the edges solved those problems; now I wanted to emphasize the qualities of the light:

4. Split-toning warmth added
To emphasize the light, I added some toning. I chose to leave the image as color, just adding tone to it. Now the image looked "too close". I wanted to pull back and re-frame...

5. In Photoshop, increased canvas size, adding and offsetting image
I added negative space around the image and off-set it to use as a desktop background.

At this point, the image was too harsh and needed something else. I wished for some great shaft of light, like the wonderful light in Josef Sudek's St. Vitus Cathedral images. To accomplish that, I resorted to the use of Digital Film Tools' wonderful plugin, RAYS. Rays allows the user to move and manipulate a light source inside or outside the image boundaries, and control various aspects of the ray-traced light beams:

6. Using a plug-in called "RAYS" to add light diffusion
Here is my initial result:

7. First result using RAYS
After staring at this version for several days I decided it was over-done and the angle of the light was wrong. So I re-did the treatment:

8. Final result using RAYS; now the light comes from a better direction
Finally, I changed the crop to a square format:

9. Final square crop: ...Descending...

Comments are always appreciated. Too much? Too little? Is manipulation useful, or even appropriate?

What do you think?