Pictures with a Purpose

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Pictures with a Purpose is a 1939 book by Charles Kerlee, an established commercial photographer in California. With its dramatic Art Deco cover, the book presents a range of his work in beautiful black & white printing, along with detailed stories of how each photograph was made (click on the images to read them). He explains everything.

For example, the 5×4 Du Pont Superior Panchromatic film was developed in Pyro-Acetone developer and the prints enlarged with a condensor enlarger were developed in Amidol. He gives the exact formulas of each. Describing the photograph of the shoe, he states:

Minimum exposure was absolutely essential to give the best rendition of the delicate detail and texture. The slightest over-exposure would have caused a loss of contrast in the perforations, in that the darks in the small holes would tend to become lighter. Furthermore, over-exposure would have caused a loss of the delicate middle-tones of the suede leather.

That is a seasoned professional talking. Three years after this book when the US entered World War II, the great Edward Steichen set up the Naval Aviation Photographic Unit and recruited the best photographers he could find. Kerlee was among them.

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