Anthony Hernandez

It was now over 35 years ago that I first became aware of the work of Anthony Hernandez. I’d become interested in the work of the ‘New Topographics’ which in some respects seemed similar to my own urban landscape work at the time, and booked to go on a workshop with Lewis Balz, whose work in his New Industrial Parks Near Irvine, California had greatly impressed me. So much that I wasted much time in making similar pictures rather than following my own ideas.

I didn’t entirely see eye to eye with Balz at that workshop at Paul Hill’s ‘The Photographer’s Place‘ in Derbyshire. I wasn’t impressed by him as a workshop leader, having experienced some of the best with Ray Moore and rather felt Baltz was too much plugging his own work and worth rather than in any way looking at the work we students had brought and trying to give us new ideas and motivation. As a teacher myself I didn’t much go for his teacher knows best attitude and a certain unresponsiveness.

I didn’t endear myself to him either, not just because I asked difficult questions (something every teacher should welcome) but because I wasn’t afraid to express my opinions on his work. Although I appreciated the fine grain and resolution he got from the films he used, I felt there were problems with the tonality in using films that were not designed for pictorial use and expressed my misgivings. It was actually an experience that led me to years of frustration and occasional joy in trying to tame Kodak’s Technical Pan film, “a black-and-white panchromatic negative film with extended red sensitivity” on an Estar baseintended for Microfilm use which Kodak stopped producing in 2004, though some sites continued to offer it for a while. Eventually they gave up telling photographers it wasn’t intended for pictorial use and brought out their own developer, Technidol, which did a decent job in restraining its contrast without reducing the ASA speed to single figures.

Kodak had actually stopped producing the film several years previously as the materials needed were no longer available but had found a large stock in their deep freeze so they could continue to sell it for a while. They also revealed that the film had been designed and produced for military purposes, its extended red sensitivity presumably designed to be particularly revealing in some aerial reconnaissance work.

Balz and I had a particularly testy exchange when the proofs of his new book ‘Park City‘ arrived and he showed them to us, along with some of his original prints. It was perhaps unwise for me to point out that the book proofs actually handled the highlights rather better than his silver gelatine prints!

But the most interesting aspect of the workshop was the work by other photographers who I had not perviously been aware of, including Chauncey Hare who I wrote briefly about a few days ago and Antony Hernandez. I can’t remember exactly which images Balz showed, but the work was probably from his pictures of Los Angeles (may present a problem with some modern browsers as the site requires flash.) Certainly the images were black and white.

Hernandez recently had a show at SFMoma, apparently the first retrospective of his 45 year career. You can see more about it at American Suburb X, Los Angeles Plays Itself: Anthony Hernandez at SFMOMA.

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