short schrift

02 Feb 2014 -- click here for earlier articles

film tin


From time to time, I'm putting reviews of books (and magazines) old and new into Short Schrift. Here's one now:

Chalais: le village aux sept hameaux. François-Xavier Seren, Meaux 1999, Imprimerie André Pouyé, 132 pp, 216 x 200 mm. 8.3 x 7.9 inches

The title means, “Chalais: the village of seven hamlets”. It's a lovely little book, printed with the assistance of Credit Agricole de la Touraine et du Poitou, and it contains lots of good black and white photographs (and a few indifferent or even bad ones) of Chalais and its people, and it illustrates three very important points for anyone wanting to do anything similar.

First of all, the reproduction quality is mostly rotten: flat and muddy. It does no justice whatsoever to the possibilities of black and white, with maximum blacks in some pictures falling as low as densities of 1.17. When you consider that a good black and white print can reach 2.17, and that density is a logarithmic scale, this means that the 'blacks' on the printed pages are reflecting a hundred times as much light as on a print, and that the grey scale is correspondingly reduced: it is compressed into a range of less than 4 stops, 16:1, where a good print can spread the same tonal range (pure white to maximum black) across more than 7 stops (more than 128:1).

Second, it can be a great idea to try to try to get the support of local businesses, especially banks who by their nature (a) are anonymous and often poorly regarded and (b) have lots of money.

Third, there's no substitute for hard work. M. Seren knew his subjects; got to know them; gained their trust; and photographed them in all sorts of circumstances, at work, at home, at celebrations... It's sad that the book didn't do more justice to this little-known Leica-wielding photographer. But it's still worth getting hold of, in the unlikely event that you can find a copy.