Minor White Zone System Manual

Ian Grant

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Interesting you mentioning Paul Caponigro in this thread. I remember being shown his book Monoliths by Peter Goldfield (who ahd worked with him and minor white), this was ona a workshop with I think John Blakemore or Paul Hill at Duckspool in the Quantock Hills in Somerset where Peter lived.. Monoliths is generally accepted as being a low point in terms of overall print and image quality compared to his other work.

Ian
 
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Alan9940

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Ian, I didn't mean to imply anything about Paul and/or his work; simply I was relating a story that I enjoyed and felt it might contribute to the conversation. I have one photo book by Mr. Caponigro and, honestly am not as familiar with his work as I am with some others of the "greats." I have heard similar comments regarding Monoliths.

I've also heard comments regarding the print quality of some of Ansel's work. Personally, of the many gallery shows of Ansel's images I've viewed and a private viewing of a couple of his portfolios in the "vault" at the Ansel Adams gallery in Yosemite, I've never seen what I'd judge to be a bad print. On the contrary...I vividly remember standing in front of a simple boulder and dead tree perched in the rapids of, I believe, Bridal Veil Falls in Yosemite when I realized I was drooling! Something about the gray tones within those rapids fueled a "refreshing" response in me! :)
 

David M

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I went to a workshop with Paul Caponigro at Duckspool.
The first thing we did was to expose blank paper for different times. Then we developed them for different times and contemplated the raw material of an expressive image – the huge and subtle variety of greys that we could work with. He was very poetic about this although I've now forgotten the actual words.
He was very kind about my work, (all 5x4 contacts at the time) which astonished me. I had thought that I wasn't ready to encounter such a distinguished photographer. It's a feeling that had led me to miss a Raymond Moore workshop previously. Two lessons learned.
 

Ian Grant

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I went to a workshop with Paul Caponigro at Duckspool.
The first thing we did was to expose blank paper for different times. Then we developed them for different times and contemplated the raw material of an expressive image – the huge and subtle variety of greys that we could work with. He was very poetic about this although I've now forgotten the actual words
It's a neat trick done with Record Rapid - the older Blu labeled version still with Cadmium in the emulsion. It was the variety of colours of the small square bits of paper which were sorted into approximately equal densities, they'd range from greys to quite warm browns.

I have seen early contemporary AA prints from his daughters collection a couple of times at galleries here in the UK and most weren't in the same league as prints he made later off the same negatives, they were quite a different league. I think that this was a combination of he became a far better printer and also better materials.

It can also work the other way around, I saw a Kertesz exhibition of his early work at the Barbican in 1987 in the smaller bar gallery, the large Ansel Adams Classic Images exhibition was on in the main gallery and the reason we were there, both were superb.

The Kertesz prints wee small all less than whole plate (8½x6½) some postcard sized and contemporary prints made around the time the images were taken, They were exquisite and jewel like and different to the AA prints we'd just seen, quite a variety of subtle warm tones, colours unachievable with today's papers. Some years later I went to a Kertesz exhibition in Paris in contrast the prints were much larger on bromide paper so no warmth and they'd lost something, they were still good and if I hadn't seen the early prints would know no different.

Ian

Ian
 

David M

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Yes, those would be the days when Record Rapid was a badge of true sincerity. A very nice paper, too.
A few years ago, there was an exhibition of AA's very early work on the South Bank. His prints were dreadful, even worse than my first efforts. You'd have advised him to stick to the piano, or to just guiding the tourists. I found it encouraging.
I do agree about Kertesz. Some of those tiny contact prints are wonderful.
Although WHFT was charmed by the possibilities of print colour, the f64 movement seems to have squashed all variations. Nowadays the other "alternative" process are bringing it back.
 
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Cospinol

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How does Picker's Zone VI Workshop book compare to Blakemore's B+W Photography workshop? Is it worth buying it?
 

David M

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I have both and I used to subscribe to Mr Picker's newsletter,
Mr Picker is very keen on order and method. His book simplifies the Zone System even further. He was very confident about his own opinions. I believe that in person, he was an inspiring teacher. He ran an excellent business, as I can attest.
John is concerned with making expressive prints and exploring creative possibilitie. His exposition of the Zone System is very clear and complete but neither simplifies nor strays into obsessive densitometry. For what it's worth, his book is more attractively designed and better printed. In person, he is a kind and inspiring teacher and he does suffer fools gladly. (As I can attest.)
I'm doing my best to be impartial, but I think my opinions are leaking out.
 

Alan9940

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If you're looking for an easily understand description of the Zone System and a simplified approach to the testing of materials, I can highly recommend Fred's little book. Fred's approach was to demystify the concepts of the Zone System so that one could get on with the hard part of photography; making expressive images. If you're interested in gleaning a bit of insight into Fred, I have nearly 1K pages (PDF) of his newsletters that I could send you, if you leave an e-mail. Since a lot of the info in his newsletters reiterates and/or clarifies the information presented in both his books, you'd be better served to have both.
 

Cospinol

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Well it's not that I am looking for an easily understand description ( I have been using the Zone System for 8 years now and it works very well for me), but when reading technical literature, especially about the Zone System, I often find that the authors have slightly different approaches to the System. That's at least what I am interested in, because it may help to refine one's own method.
For example in his book 'The Art of Photography' Bruce Barnbaum propagates to place your darkest (textured) shadows in Zone IV instead of Zone III (usual zone for fully defined darkest shadow texture)**. I adapted this to my process, which improved my negatives (at least I think that's the case ;)).
So coming back to your offer Alan, yes I'd definitely be interested in Fred's approach, though I wasn't able to get my hand on the book now. But nearly 1K of PDF pages sounds interesting, thank you, I'll send a pm.

** Roughly summarised because Zone III is on the slope of the exposure/density curve and you lose separation regarding clearly defined textures in shadow areas (there is a bit more to it in the book).
 

David M

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Fred writes on all sorts of subjects, from how to pack a suitcase to how to invest your money. He was an interesting man. Amazon have the Zone VI book for about £8 so it's not a bank-breaking extravagance.

**Can't see any real difference between placing Z3 on Z4 or rating the film one stop slower and then placing Z3 on Z3 in the normal way. The latter seems more straightforward.
 

Alan9940

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Yes, many practitioners (myself included) of the Zone System have adopted bits-n-pieces of it for one's own use. None of this negates its usefulness or principles. Fred conceived of many new ideas that were quite controversial at the time. For example, MPD (maximum printable density) which stipulates that you expose for Zone VIII, then let the shadows fall where they may. Fred's theory was that you exposed and developed for the most density you could print. This, of course, ignores minus development, but Fred never agreed with minus development and he liked to keep things simple. I used this technique for many years, but later in life I started working with staining developers and minimal agitation techniques that somewhat negate the need to worry about the high values. Additionally, new films have been developed (pardon the pun!) over the years that have a much straighter curve allowing the high values to separate better.

I totally agree with David regarding the placement of shadows in Zone III or Zone IV. If you've tested your film for personal EI and are careful about properly metering shadow areas, then placing these areas in Zone III shouldn't be a problem.
 

Cospinol

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As pointed out that was a "rough summarise" of the chapter in the book. I did not intend to get too much into it, as in forums this usually ends into a useless discussion about the Zone System and how to use it (which I have already had and witnessed several times and -no offend- don't want to participate in that anymore as it's just a waste of time:)). If you want to have further information on the suject, I'd recommend the book as it offers a great deal of advice on B+W photography i.g., not just regarding the Zone System.

But just to make it a bit clearer and again roughly speaking: In my opinion rating a film doesn't help you with placing the important shadow areas correctly. The placement of the shadows in Zone IV instead of Zone III the way B.Barnbaum proposes, is meant regardless of how you rated your film (I rate most of the B/W films I use about half of the ASA anyhow). It's just about the texture you lose when placing the shadows at the slope of the exposure/density curve. Zone III is in the slope area of the curve, Zone IV isn't. You develop accordingly afterwards. I have tried this method and noted a difference in shadow texture refinement compared to my older negatives in which the important shadow areas were placed in Zone III.
That's all I can say. It works.
 
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