Baker River
Warren, New Hampshire, 1970
Fred Picker, The Fine Print
The photographer Paul Caponigro, looking at the first version of this print said, "The water isn't wet - reprint it and make it wet." How? More contrast? Less? Different paper? Different developer? What imaginative, simple virtuoso trick would allow the viewer to experience the clarity of a spring-fed mountain pool? Paul's response to my question was disappointingly ambiguous. "The way to do it," he said, "is to do it. Go into the darkroom and don't come out until the water is wet."

Four hours, thirty sheets of paper, various developers, additives, exposure times, development times, and toners were expended on the tiny pool until, finally, the water was wet. A year later in Paul's darkroom I watched him spend two days creating a pilot print for his "Portfolio II". The print he got after fifteen minutes would have excited most photographers, but he insisted on a print that "lived". He got it using the very same "trick" he had taught me. Persistence.

This negative was made on 4" x 5" Tri-X film developed Normal + 1. Although the area photographed was small, a wide-angle 121mm lens was needed to assure sufficient depth of field. The reflecting surface was only three feet from the lens, but the trees reflected from it were about fifteen feet above the pool, requiring sharp focus from three to about eighteen feet (lens to pool totals eighteen feet). Focused at 5 feet, this lens is sharp from 2 feet 10 inches to 21 feet at f/32. Using f/f45 provided a margin for focusing error, and the exposure was for one second. The day was gray and the plus development helped to separate the tonalities within the stone, which was placed on Zones V and VI. The only pure white appears in the thin line where the water meets the rock in the lower right corner and the only black is seen in the narrow band of wet rock just above it.

The print was made on Ilfabrome No. 2 paper developed six minutes in Ardol developer diluted 1:3. One ounce of 10% glycin solution was added per quart of developer; the glycin cooled the brownish tones of the paper-developer combination. Long toning in very dilute selenium brought the tone still closer to the the desired neutral gray.