The Mad Achemist Speaks: Fall 2012 in 510 Pyro

Chanticleer Point, November 2012

Chanticleer Point, November 2012

I took this picture on Tuesday, November 14, 2012 from Chanticleer Point in the Columbia Gorge. For once, the clouds were cooperating. So many times here in NW oregon, we have either total overcast, or blank, cloudless skies. Finding the cusp between these two opposites can be a challenge fo people like me who work 6 or 7 days a week at our day jobs so that we can afford to shoot large format film.

I have been experimenting with the developer 510 Pyro. Formulated by Jay DeFehr, it uses Pyrogallolic Acid, Phenidone and TEA (not the Earl Grey kind) as its main ingredients. it seems to be more stable than PMK, and has less of the maddening streaking and mottling. I mixed the developer two weeks ago, and melted my 100 ml graduate (beaker) in the process. It didn’t occur to me that a viscus 150 degree liquid would turn my measuring device into the leaning tower of plastic. Go figure. So far, I like this developer. It doesn’t have as much general pyro stain as PMK, but it has more proportional stain.

A few notes on pyro for the uninitiated. Pyro , which is short for pyrogallolic acid, was formulated, I think, in the 1860’s and enjoyed wide use until more stable developers arrived on the scene around the turn of the century. It’s demise was slow, however, as demand for it from a small, but determined number of photographers persisted. By the 1970’s it was all but forgotten. Then along came Gordon Hutchins. He formulated PMK Pyro in the late 1970’s to work better with modern films, and to reduce pyro’s tendency for uneven development. His success repopularized pyro, and led to a succession of new formulae.

Pyro is what is known as a “staining developer.” It tans, or hardens, the emulsion during development. This has a number of effects. I will mention two. First, the hardening of the emulsion tends to restrain highlights, and compresses the tonal scale of the negative. This can be an advantage in night photography, or for high contrast images when a softer negative is desired, especially when printing on variable contrast papers. Second, the image stain masks film grain, and creates sharper images.

The lens I used for this image was my 8″ Cooke Series IV Anastigmat. Made somewhere in the late 1800’s, it is exquisitely sharp, and the optics are uncoated. I wanted to see how uncoated optics would render the scene. Modern, coated optics are much more contrasty, and have a different feel to the images they create. Now, here’s the kicker: I used a red filter. If I’m trying to see how a lower contrast lens will render a scene, why would a use a red filter? I think that even with a red filter, the gradations of tone are smoother with an uncoated lens. Or, at least, that’s what I wanted to prove to myself. I like the results.

Camera: Camera City View 5×7.
Lens: Cooke Series IV Anastigmat.
Film: 100 developed in 510 Pyro