Tone-Line Photography

Tone-Line Photog­raphy by M. Halber­stadt by Susan Ehrens

Market Street Tone-Line. Photo by M. Halberstadt

M. Halber­stadt. San Fran­cisco lrom Twin Peaks (tone-line proeess), 1954. Photographed for Ford Motor Company dealers in San Fran­cisco, used as a Christmas card, printed on a gold back­ground.

Tone-Line Photog­raphy By Halber­stadt

Halber­stadt took this view from Twin Peaks looking slightly south­east down at Market Street slicing across down­town San Fran­cisco.

He was asked in 1954 by the Ford Motor Company dealers of the Bay Area to produce an image for their Christmas card. It provided an oppor­tu­nity for Halber­stadt to further exper­i­ment with a special nega­tive-making tech­nique used in photo-lith­o­g­raphy known as the tone-line process,

As early as 1947, Halber­stadt had discov­ered it in an Eastman Kodak book while setting out to design a new letter-head for his busi­ness.

Basi­cally, the process consists of making a soft (under­ex­posed) posi­tive from a nega­tive. Then, after sand­wiching the two together in register, the ensemble is placed in a contact printing frame to expose to Kodalith film. By placing a weak film posi­tive in contact with a regu­larly exposed nega­tive, you end up with a low-contrast surro­gate nega­tive.

The frame with the nega­tives gets placed on a revolving plat­form (Halber­stadt used a small patter’s wheel) and exposed to a light source placed about 45 degrees from vertical. A thin sliver of light passes through the sand­wiched nega­tives along the edges of light and dark objects in the image. The exposed Kodolith film is processed in a high-contrast litho devel­oper. The resulting photo­graphic image is solely deter­mined by varying the expo­sure.

After a few trials and errors, Halber­stadt decided to begin this process with a low-contrast orig­inal nega­tive. He photographed on a slightly over­cast, but clear day to capture this partic­ular Market Street view. Careful expa­sure and devel­op­ment provided a print revealing primarily enhanced high­lights.

Other vari­a­tions were subse­quently gener­ated by re-exposing the film to achieve a Saba tier effect (solar­iza­tion of the image), and by using different angles of light. Halber­stadt has frequently used tone line since the 1950s, intrigued by the process of “begin­ning with some­thing in the real world and ending up with some­thing totally abstract.”

To read more by Halber­stadt about the tone-line process:

John p, Scha­effer. The Ansel Adams Guide: Basic Tech­nique of Photog­raphy, Book 2 I Little Brown and Company, 19981. pages 120 – 123.

From B&W Maga­zine

Tone-Line Still Live. Photo by M. Halber­stadt

Leave a Reply