Hi Paul Petraitis Former Chicago Historical Society — thanks for reading the piece and glad you found some things in it to stoke your own thoughts and experiences. I started my photography career with over a decade in the darkroom, and certainly studied and worked with a number of masters along the way — shooters and printers. Your thoughts on contrast are relevant to images produced quite a few years ago, but not for contemporary image creation and printing. You can’t compare the sliders on Lightroom to darkroom techniques; the RAW file has much more information these days and, in fact, most of the moves one makes in Lightroom are specifically to emulate the look of older, higher-contrast film types (take a look at a mushy RAW digital file and you’ll see what I mean). I have 7 pieces printed in a gallery right now — half are film and half are digital. Nobody can tell the difference. And 120 film is actually much worse than digital for shadows. I can retrieve far more shadow information in a RAW D850 file than I ever could with 120, which had to be exposed specifically for shadows, with very little leeway for error. If you look carefully at Siskind’s “falling people,” you’ll see some where he exposed for shadows — and you can see the hair on subject’s legs — and others where he didn’t and the entirety of the darks are one shadowy mass. In his time, you got what you got. Today, I can take one file and choose which look I’d like.
As for Mydan’s piece, I’m staring at an original print of it right now — as it sits on my wall — and I can assure you, the horizon line is off. And yet, my favorite photograph of all time. :) Which goes to show, post-processing and these other technical aspects of photography are really only side notes in the history of photography, which moves forward on emotion, moments and ideas far more than it does on technicalities.