Arbor Low, Derbyshire – Me and Edwin Smith

My photograph of Arbor Low, negative : 1981; print : 2012.After a long hiatus, it’s time to revive this site and start adding new material from the dark side.
To kick off, here’s a print made this week from a 31yr-old 35mm negative on Tri-X film, processed in Kodak HC-110 developer; the print made on Adox MCC110 Premium Glossy, Variable Grade 4, processed in Dektol 1+4 and selenium toned.

…and herein lies a tale.

The sacrifices we photographers make...

My first visit to the prehistoric henge of Arbor Low in Derbyshire was in April 1981, when the photograph above was taken. I was on holiday and only carrying a 35mm Nikon FM loaded with Tri-X, with no intention of ‘documenting’ this site. In fact, I took very few photographs, contented instead to just marvel at the magnificence of the place and absorb the atmospheric location – see photograph of me on the right, taken by my companion at the time.

Many years later, in the 1990s, when I was acting as printer for Edwin Smith’s negatives through my friendship with his widow, Olive Cook, she asked me to print a negative that Edwin had made at Arbor Low in either 1956 or 1967.

This I did, a 12×16 inch print on 20×16 inch paper, using my De Vere 504 enlarger with a 150mm lens and condenser head on Agfa Record Rapid paper Grade 4, developed in Agfa Neutol WA 1+5 and selenium toned.
A scan of that 20yr-old print is here – spot the difference?

Arbor Low, photographed by Edwin Smith in 1967.

My notes on the adjustments needed in printing Edwin Smith's negative.I used to keep records of the printing details for all Smith’s negatives, including a sketch of the image with dodging and shading notes (see left). His negatives were more often than not very difficult to print, so a record was useful in case the need for reprints arose. The base exposure for this print was 17 seconds, but a fair degree of manipulation was required, as you can see, to get the tones to match the reference print – one of Smith’s original prints.
I wish I had been more thorough in my record-keeping though, as the actual date that this print was made and the original negative format went unrecorded.

Edwin Smith image of Arbor Low used in the book 'England', by Smith and Cook. Image © RIBApixSmith only used a few cameras during his career, a whole-plate Thornton Pickard Ruby, a Sanderson quarter-plate, an Ensign Autorange 6x9cm, a Contax 35mm and, towards the end of his life, a Linhof 5×4 with (possibly) a 9×12 cm back.  I believe this was a 6x9cm negative from the Autorange. The reason? – other photographs that Smith made on his visits to Arbor Low may be viewed in the RIBApix library and one is a 6×9 ratio print (The RIBA received all of Smith’s negatives by bequest after Olive Cook’s death and hold the copyright on all his photographs).
That particular image (shown right) was one used in the classic Smith & Cook book ‘England and is a good example of Smith’s use of a small coin laid on the printing paper before exposure to create a ‘fake sun’!

Even though I had used a 150mm enlarger lens (a size able to cover a 5×4 inch negative) it’s possible that I used this to get increased enlarger column height for shading and dodging etc. My recollection is that the majority of the negatives I used to be asked to print were 6x9cm. Only a trip to the RIBA collection will confirm for sure though.‡

Arbor Low, 2003; Nikon D100, converted to black & white in Lightroom.When I made my photograph of Arbor Low in 1981 I had no knowledge of Smith and his work. I had certainly not seen his photograph of that particular stone. Even when I re-photographed the same stone in 2003 (see image right) I had no recollection of my earlier attempt. This later, digital, version is a completely different interpretation.
It was only in adding a collection of recent Arbor Low photographs to my Weeping Ash site that it occurred to me to look back on my first visit, when I found the negative from which the print shown at the top has now been made. I was astounded that my version so closely matched that made by Smith all those year’s earlier and resolved to make a ‘modern’ print for comparison.

Olive's dedication to me in a book of Edwin's photographs she gave me in 1990.My only wish is that I had realised the amazing similarity earlier, while Olive Cook was still alive. She would have been astonished that I had stood in almost exactly the same spot and framed almost exactly the same photograph that her beloved husband had made so many years before.
It would perhaps have reinforced her often-stated remark that, of all the people who had printed Edwin’s negatives for her, she believed I was the only one that had total empathy with his work and methods.

UPDATE: Following a visit to the RIBA collection on January 16, 2013, where I researched Edwin Smith’s daybooks and viewed the original Arbor Low photographs, it would seem that his photograph was definitely taken on 6×9 cm format.
Unfortunately, although Smith assiduously recorded all details of his large format negatives, he did not leave records of his roll film ones. Judging by the rest of the prints in the Arbor Low collection, all of which are 2:3 ratio images, we can be pretty sure that the Autorange was used.

On several of his prints he had used the ‘fake sun’ artefice to give the impression that the sun disk was recorded at the time of exposure, and as an aid to the overall composition. Some worked to a degree, most didn’t!

This entry was posted in 35mm, Film negative, Other Photographers, Selenium, Silver Gelatin, Toned Print. Bookmark the permalink.

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