I don’t often mention Amateur Photographer here, though it’s a magazine that I used to read many years ago as a schoolboy – well before I started taking pictures – probably mainly attracted by pictures of scantily-clad women which occasionally appeared in its pages, or even those carefully posed nudes with strategically placed accessories or gauzy fabrics that amateur photographers were wont to produce in the 1950s and 60s (and they still dominated many club contests when I was on the edge of that world in the 1970s.)
Later, before the web, it became the magazine to go to in the UK when you were searching for cheap materials or equipment, or wanting to sell cameras, with pages of secondhand listings and adverts from Marston & Heard and others, as well as the first camera discounters. There seemed to be several times the pages of adverts as editorials, and much of the editorial was hardly worth reading. Compared to the US magazines such as Modern Photography and Popular Photography, their reviews were decidedly amateur. AP’s idea of a lens test was to open a window, take a few snaps of a ship at anchor on the opposite bank of the Thames and blow up the results.
There were the occasional articles that were worth reading. Once in a while there would be an interesting historical article or series by one or other of the few British photo-historians, or perhaps an extended review of a new book or exhibition which enabled the magazine to print some pictures without having to pay reproduction fees.
I even wrote a few articles for the mag, illustrated by my own photographs, including one with some of the Hull pictures I’m currently putting on my Hull Photos site, as well as several, intended to be amusing, on the outings and exhibitions of a small and atypical group of club photographers that got me more or less thrown out of the camera club, whose august members became aghast and I was summoned to appear before the committee. Some people had no sense of humour.
I’ve not looked at a print copy of the magazine (you can also subscribe to a digital version) since my local library stopped having magazines in some earlier round of cuts, but I do occasionally glance at its news feed online, and sometimes find something of interest. And a couple of days ago my attention was caught by a review of a book, Modern Color by Fred Herzog, written by Oliver Atwell, illustrated by several of Herzog’s pictures. The book was published last year by Hatje Cantz in Berlin.
I wrote about Herzog back in 2013, having seen some of his work in a lazy show at Somerset House, in which his work had stood out, along with some pictures by other photographers whose work I knew well, and I’ve seen more since. You can view many of his images online at the Equinox Gallery which brought his work to a wider audience with two shows in 2007. Before then he had previously had one-person shows also in Vancouver in 1994 and 1972 and had work in a few group exhibitions.
Herzog, who worked as a medical photographer at the University of Columbia and also as a Fine Arts Instructor, apparently took to working with colour because he didn’t have the time to make black and white prints, though his work suggests that he had a strong feeling for colour. It wasn’t unusual for photographers to work in colour at the time he started back around 1960 – and I took my first colour film – before I was a photographer – a year or two later. It’s the quality and intention of his work that were different, at a time when colour photography was largely the province of commercial photographers and amateurs like myself photographing their holidays or their girlfriends sitting in cherry blossom as I did.
Herzog chose to use Kodachrome, an excellent choice in terms of longevity, and a film with an attractive and distinctive pallette, if not the most accurate colour. It was also a film with high contrast, rather restricting the subject matter and lighting if you wanted to avoid large areas of empty shadow. Over many years of working he produced an extensive archive and you can look through 162 of the 100,000 or so at Equinox. They were taken from around 1958 to 2009, but it is work from the first 10 or 15 years that I find more appealing.
When I began working as a photographer in colour, Kodachrome was a rather expensive option, and I generally used less expensive alternatives, either process paid, or films which I could buy in bulk and process myself in E4 (later E6) chemicals. To cut costs I kept away from expensive Kodak chemicals too, making use of alternative and cheaper brews. Usually these produced good results, but keeping the solutions at the correct temperature and accurate timing was difficult.
Although producing transparencies was in some respects an easy option, it created a problem if prints were needed for exhibition. There were reversal papers available – and I used an Agfa version for the colour prints in my show German Indications – they were fiddly and it was hard to get good prints. More expensive were colour prints made from inter-negatives, which could be good, especially when paying for professionally made 4×5″ negatives from 35mm, and For those on very large budgets it was possible to get excellent dye transfer prints, but a single print would have cost around half my monthly salary.
Things changed a little with the introduction of Cibachrome-A by Ilford in 1975, making it possible to produce prints from slides in amateur darkrooms. The prints were brighter and bolder than those produced on conventional colour papers, and more long-lasting, but it was difficult to tame the contrast. Good for many commercial uses, Cibachromes were death to more sensitive images.
The chemicals used for the Cibachome dye bleach process were also pretty nostril-searing and disposal required some care. They were never very suitable for those of us with small and not too well-ventilated darkrooms, probably shortening the lives of many of us.
I abandoned colour transparency and moved to colour negative film for my own work in 1985, either processing the film myself or using cheap amateur film processing services, which also provided enprints as proofs. The change for me made sense because of new and better colour negative films and paper from Fuji becoming available. Until I moved over to digital almost of my colour work was made on Fuji materials, though I did try out some of the newer Kodak films that emerged after Fuji had disturbed their complacency.
But the advent of high quality negative scanners and archival inkjet printing have opened up new possibilities for all of use, and particularly those who worked with transparencies, giving a degree of control over contrast and colour that was simply impossible in the past. And it meant a new lease of life for Herzog’s Kodachromes.