Yousuf Karsh, Inge Morath, Alfred Eisenstaed, Willy Ronis, Duane Michals,
Lisette Model, Gordon Park, Mark Riboud, Henri Cartier Bresson, Robert Frank, Elliott
Erwit, Sebastiao Salgado, Barbara Morgan, Leonard Freed, Martine Franck …
These are the names of some of the best known photographers, all of
which have achieved acclaim the world over for their work. But being well known photographers is not the
only thing they have in common; they all have been photographed by Claire Yaffa. Her accomplishments as a photographer
definitely put her on a list of the best known photographers throughout the
world. Much of her work has been done with
Leica equipment which is ultimately the reason why I received a call from her a
short while ago. She had some questions
about her Leica equipment.
That made me think about writing an article about her and her work. I asked her about permission to
use some of her photographs and she graciously agreed. Along with that she also made me aware of an
article about her. My thanks to José
Manuel Serrano Esparza for allowing me to publish it here. His article is entitled
CLAIRE YAFFA: 45
YEARS PHOTOGRAPHING SOCIAL REALISM AND INTROSPECTIVE MOMENTS
45 exhibitions in United States, Germany, Austria, France and other
countries, 11 books published, a lot of photographic assignments fulfilled for
such newspapers, agencies, magazines and TV channels like The New York Times,
Associated Press, Vogue, Vanity Fair, Daily News, The Wag, Newsday, Food Patch,
Woman´s News and others, with many of her images appearing in them.
Photographic studies with Eugene Smith, Philippe Halsman, Gordon Parks,
Ralph Gibson, Cornell Capa, Lisette Model, Ben Fernandez, Duane Michals, Eva
Rubinstein, Joseph Schneider, Sean Kernan, George Ticer, Fred Picker ...
Photo Editor of Westchester Magazine between 1977-1987, Chairperson of
Breadth of Vision, Fashion Institute of Technology, NY 1975, Photography
Coordinator of United Nations for the International Woman´s Arts Festival 1974.
Advertisement of Claire Yaffa´s Pictures Exhibition held at the Leica
Gallery of New York between June 27 and August 9, 2008, which also took place
at the Leica Gallery of Frankfurt (Germany) in January 2010 and the Leica
Gallery of Solms (Germany) in November 2010.
And a deep knowledge and professional meetings for decades with many
other world class photographers like Alfred Eisenstaedt, Ansel Adams, Henri
Cartier-Bresson, Yousuf Karsh, Emmet Gowin, Inge Morath, Barbara Morgan,
Martine Franck, Nell Dorr, Lisl Steiner, Mark Riboud, Robert Frank, Leonard
Freed ..., having also photographed for a number of medical institutions like
The Foundation for Children with Learning Disabilities, the Bronx Lebanon
Hospital, the New York School for the Deaf and the Columbia Presbyterian
Hospital, and profiles and porfolios of hers have appeared in such prestigious
photography magazines like Shutterbug and Leica World International
Number 2/2004 of the legendary LEICAWORLD Photography magazine including
Claire Yaffa´s porfolio Photography Masters.
This is part of the amazing professional background of Claire Yaffa,
who has been a photographer of social realism, introspective moments and
landscapes for 45 years since she made her first picture of her 18 month old son
THE DAWN OF A PROMISING CAREER
Claire Yaffa got her first contact with photography in 1967, when she
took a picture of her 18 month son, born in 1965, and five years later
experienced the first turning point of her photojournalistic journey when she
met the great photographer of children Joseph Schneider in early 1972, who
taught her the fundamentals of how to tackle children to get pictures of them,
the best set up lightings and the most adequate ways to take advantage of light
Little by little, she realized the huge photographic passion and
vocation that had infused her, and in late 1972, after a meeting with Cornell
who praised her pictures but asked her what she wanted to convey with
her images, she took the definitive decision of becoming a professional
photographer focusing on subjects of social concern depicting real life, like
homeless people, child abuse, the disadvantaged and children at risk,
handicapped persons, Children with Aids, Holocaust survivors, the elderly, etc.
FULL-FLEDGED GROWTH AND EVOLUTION AS A CONCERNED PHOTOGRAPHER
And from scratch in late sixties, this great photographer always
striving after capturing with her camera those fleeting and representative
moments, has proved to have a highly sensitive eye to sort out a margin for
hope in pictures simultaneously oozing different degrees of despair, subtlely
goading the observers into entering her introspective world, in addition to
spur them to care and be aware about those human beings suffering, instead of
Within her images yield there are pictures which could be defined as
often presided over by an utter silence which speaks by itself, a kind
of smart mute crying coming from persons suffering from abandonment or pain
because of diseases. In this regard, her pictures of children, the cream of the
crop of her lifetime photographic production, are the most heart-rending.
They are very powerful, expressive and meaningful images in which she
often also strives after getting into the highly complex realm of human
On the other hand, Claire Yaffa´s photographic production has been from
scratch solidly grounded on a remarkable technical knowledge and expertise
learnt in darkroom from late 1967, so her images feature an outstanding mixture
of photojournalism, art and a sort of visual poetry, sometimes depicting magic
moments, other times revealing very graphic and harsh instants, but it all
always being photographed with great respect for the subjects and rapport with
them, often accompanied by high doses of courage necessary to get the pictures
in contexts of lives about to end or with nearby anxious mothers and fathers
very worried about their children.
Besides, a number of Claire Yaffa´s pictures required a lot of months of
previous hard work and contact with the people photographed until reaching the
suitable moment to be able to capture them in the most poignant way, specially
those pertaining to her books Reaching Out (1987), A Dying Child is Born: The
Story of Tracy (1992) and The Foundling, The Story of New York Foundling
Needless to say that the knowledge and professional meetings held by
Claire with all the aforementioned acclaimed photographers, with many of whom
she worked, exerted a very powerful influence on her.
In this regard, she was always inspired by the legendary reportages
Country Doctor (1948), Nurse Midwife (1951) and Minamata (1972) made by her
Eugene Smith for Life magazine, together with the concept of the camera
as a powerful instrument against discrimination embodied by Gordon Park´s
essays Flavio Da Silva Dying from Tuberculosis in Catacumba Favela of Rio do
Janeiro in 1961 (whose appearance in Life magazine brought about a 30,000
dollars sending of money from readers, which made possible to take him to
United States saving his life and coming back to Brazil after two years, with
wherewithal for a new home for his family), The Fontanelle Family at the
Poverty Board in New York City in 1967 (for which he lived for a month with
them in a filthy tenement building in Harlem until sending the pictures to Life
magazine, appearing in its number of March 8, 1968)), Beggar Woman and Child in
Estoril, Portugal (1950) for Life magazine, Big Momma and Boy (1967), Children
with Doll (Ella Watson´s Grandchildren) 1942 and others.
Therefore, Claire Yaffa is a photographer whose work underscores a deep
aim and harmony, with touching pictures instilling hope even under the most
gruesome contingencies, as well as being unwaveringly committed to photography
as a form of visual communication.
She has been for decades a witness of the transition from abusive to
loving parents, and also of a comprehensive assortment of emotions and
frustrations, which is reflected in her imagery, tackling all kind of people
often in great trouble, which sometimes can be a disturbing experience,
specially in the beginning until you know them more in depth after spending a
lot of time with them, but always trying to highlight their humanity,
photographing them such as they are, and doing her best to get help, compassion
and understanding for them in all those looking at the pictures, to such an
extent that she has always carefully selected what she wanted to photograph
throughout her long spanning professional career.
Likewise, she has steadily managed to create a bond with her subjects,
based on a deep empathy and a
relationship between her expressive language and her character and state
In this regard, aside from an accurate and fast timing, she has
developed a remarkable sense of anticipation which has become a key factor when
getting pictures of people, specially under low light conditions where
foreseeing the moment is even more critical, it all within the frame of her
erniest engagement in personal photographic projects exuding tons of heart and
soul, with a constant exploration of the range of chances to use her camera and
get one shot at the right moment, when there´s really a reason to press the
shutter release button. And to get to that magical instant, it was often
necessary to wait for weeks, months and even years of previous contact and rapport
with the subjects until being able to catch the most meaningful and
PLENTIFUL PRODUCTION OF PHOTOGRAPHIC BOOKS
In addition to her far-reaching work as a photojournalist for more than
45 years, Claire Yaffa has published a vast array of books including a
painstaking choice of pictures taken by her, making up a total of 11 volumes:
Homeless in Westchester County (1988), Reaching Out The Problems of Child Abuse
and Rehabilitation (1987), A Dying Child is Born: The Story of Tracy (1990),
Light and Shadow (1998), History of the New York Foundling Hospital (2001),
Embracing the Past: The Elders Speak (2004), Moments (2005), The Human Face of
the Homeless (2007), Life´s Dream (2007), Leica Photographers and Others
(2007), and Divertissement ... I Dreamed a Dream (2008).
All of them are hard bound exquisite and lavish editions, featuring a
very high quality of paper and a top-notch level of images reproduction, being
full of great pictures which were mostly digitized from original black and
white negatives through virtual drum scanner to preserve the pristine
appearance of the photos to the utmost, with a previous praiseworthy selection
of images which stem from a thorough picture editing, turning every photoessay
(most times made by her through very hard toil of years), into a published
book, a concept strongly reminiscent of Eugene Smith´s late stage keynote of
the photographic book as the best vehicle to display the most relevant ideas
and images of a photographer´s production.
Every book is a visual trove in itself:
- Reaching Out (The Problems of Child Abuse and Rehabilitation)
1987: It has become a classic.
Manufactured in 30 x 30 cm square format, it includes a ravishing set of
20 wisely chosen pictures which were taken with 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 (6 x 6 cm)
Rolleiflex 2.8f K7F Type 1 (made between 1960 and 1981, featuring a lower Zeiss
Planar 80 mm f/2.8 taking lens with Deckel Synchro-Compur MXV 60 sec to 1/500
sec plus B central shutter and an upper Heidosmat 80 mm f/2.8 viewing lens) and
a Hasselblad 500 C/M (with Carl Zeiss T* Planar 80 mm f/2.8 and Carl Zeiss T*
Sonnar T* 150 mm f/4 with Compur in-lens shutter featuring speeds between 1/500
sec to 1 sec + B and A12 film back and waist level finder with magnifier)
medium format cameras.
This book is a direct aftermath of Claire Yaffa´s first stage as a
photojournalist, in which she mainly used the aforementioned medium format
cameras and spent eight years - she would be a total of thirty two documenting
children and their parents inside this medical institution- and thousands of
hours between 1979 (when she first met Dr Vincent J. Fontana, Head of the
Mayor´s Task Force on Child Abuse and Director of the New York Foundling
Hospital) and 1987 (year in which the book was published) inside the New York
Foundling Hospital and its Crisis Nursery taking pictures of neglected, abused,
forgotten and abandoned children being attended within them, and the constant
struggle to fight against their psychological and physical damages that can
last a lifetime, and whose frustration often results in future crime and violence
if society doesn´t bear them in mind.
The photographer reveals on one hand the effects of the terrible infancy
of children who have lived under very aggressive and violent family
environments full of alcohol, drugs, teenage pregnancies, ill-treatment to
mothers, unemployment, unbearable stress, etc, until arriving at the Foundling
Hospital of New York, and on the other, that once there,
somebody will try to take care of them for the first time in their
lives, with a glimmer of hope.
Announcement of Claire Yaffa´s Exhibition Reaching Out (The Problems of
Child Abuse and Rehabilitation) at the International Center of Photography in
New York City in 1987 (with pictures taken inside The N.Y Foundling Hospital)
by Mayor Edward I. Koch.
very young girls (who have lived in domestic contexts of extreme
violence) yelling with rage, little boys crying, other girls with their
countenances hinting uncertainty ...
But above all, Claire Yaffa manages to capture images asserting that the
New York Foundling Hospital´s Temporary Shelter Program (offering help to
abused and abandoned children and their mothers) pays off little by little,
through a strenuous daily toil and intensive assistance provided by
professional nurses and medical specialists, with the mothers playing a key
role in the rehabilitation, so 13 of the 20 images depict previously desperate
biological mothers ( and some new adoptive mothers)
trust and approach with subjects most times complex to tackle, and show
how the hospital has become a kind of safety island offering hope and help,
where children are often reunited with their parents (mostly the mothers)
in a healthy, warm and loving atmosphere enabling them to break the
cycles of violence feeding violence from generation to generation.
They´re riveting sights subtletly unfolding a key factor in Claire´s
success: she photographs mostly with the heart, and feels highly touched by
these often oucast people, whose soul and character she manages to adroitly
capture with her camera.
A 8 page photographic essay on homeless people in Westchester County.
It includes a selection of the more than 1,000 photographs of
Westchester´s homeless persons taken by Claire Yaffa during a period of seven
months travelling around the county and getting images at the Samaritan House
(a transitional housing accomodation for the homeless in White Plains), the
soup kitchen at the Grace Church Community Center, the Westchester County
Airport Shelter, the Maple House (a shelter in Mount Kisco for women and
children) and The Sharing Community (a Yonkers shelter for the homeless).
On the other hand, an assortment of 60 pictures belonging to this work
made up an exhibition both at the Museum Gallery of White Plains Library and at
the Bridge Gallery in the County Office
Building in White Plains.
Her main goal with this project was to depict all these people as they
were, instead of showing them as others think or believe to be true about them,
photographing their pain and pride and portraying a different view of the
homeless, id est, a hopeful one, with the aim that her images could help modify
people´s preconceived prejudices and concepts about certain things, documenting
the hardships of those persons who had become dependent on others, along with
the dignity and vulnerability of the human beings.
Besides, Claire´s pictures often show the social and psychological
upheavals having a deep effect on her subjects, in the middle of a constant
struggle to gain the trust of persons shunned by society whom she photographs,
and simultaneously, she manages to reveal their dignity and humanity, being
fascinated by them, looking after them, and having her own unique vision.
And she has provided a lot of photographs appearing in this book to
Their World, the publication of the Foundation for Children with Learning
- A Dying Child is Born: The Story of Tracy (1990) & Children with AIDS
The monograph A Dying Child is Born: The Story of Tracy is probably Claire Yaffa´s most heartbreaking
book, depicting the terrible story of Tracy, a baby girl born prematurely with
AIDS and whose mother abandoned her after giving birth at the Incarnation Children´s
Hospital in Bronx, New York.
To get the pictures was something extremely hard, because of the
appalling circumstances in which Tracy´s short life evolved inside the
hospital, with absolutely no relative, her mother or father visiting her at any
Finally, the doctors and nurses couldn´t avoid her death, which happened
when the little Tracy was just thirteen months of age.
There were only three people present during her burial (none of them her
father, mother or any other relation), and Claire Yaffa was one of them.
Claire Yaffa also photographed other very little children with AIDS at
the Incarnation Children´s Hospital. Some of them could survive and are
currently grown up.
This 22 page book, published by the Incarnation Children´s Center,
includes 12 black and white photographs documenting the final days of Tracy.
On its turn, Children with Aids is a 36 picture collection available for
exhibition made up by unflagging efforts developed by Claire Yaffa for 10
years, between 1990 and 2000, at the Incarnation Children´s Center in Bronx,
New York´s only skilled nursing facility providing specialized care for
children and adolescents living with AIDS.
This heart-wrenching series goes on what started with A Dying Child is
Born: The Story of Tracy, which is a part of the collection, and most of the
other children also died during the fulfilment of the 10 year spanning essay,
with some of the pictures being particularly graphic and vividly revealing the
odyssey experienced by Dr. Stephen Nicholas and his staff with every patient
The photographs from A Dying Child is Born are in the permanent
collection of the International Center of Photography in New York, and was
previously exhibited at Incarnation Children´s Hospital, New York Sarah
Lawrence College, Cleveland Museum of Health and Science, Albert Einstein
College of Medicine at Neuberger, New Orleans Museum of Art (two photographs
from Tracy series “A Dying Child is Born”).
And a number of pictures included both in A Dying Child is Born: The
Story of Tracy and Children with AIDS were displayed during Claire Yaffa´s
exhibition Life and Death Once Upon A Time: Children with AIDS held at the Fait
et Cause Museum in Paris (France) in June 2002.
- Light and Shadow (1998):
This is a photographic book in which the author departures from her
documentary work on social subjects and focuses on the human form and abstract
forms in nature, and as stated by Gordon Parks in the prologue, she proves to
have the ability to explore the ineffable worlds of shadow and light that
challenge photographer and painter alike.
Featuring 80 pages and hardcover, this book edited by Aperture and
published in 1998 includes 45 pictures and boasts a top-notch printing quality,
with a comprehensive choice of monochrome pictures whose common core is the
fragility of life and perception, along with the fluctuating boundaries between
sad and joyful moods, it all being intertwined by Jeffery Beam´s poems often
appearing beside the photographs, with in synergy with botanical shapes enable
the viewer to revel in both moments of rich contemplation and inspiration.
These remarkable pictures clearly belong to the realm of Fine Art in a
fairly pure expression linked to the dichotomy sensitivity vs theory often
explained by Jim Vestal, since though the visual appeal of Claire Yaffa´s
images in this book is very high, sensitivity outweighs aesthetics in them when
the author takes the photographs, and instead of applying any analytical and
sequential thinking, the weightiest factor is the readiness and ability to
respond well directly and without any analysis whatsoever to stimuli, id est,
to what she sees and feels about it, which brings about a conspicuously vital
- The Foundling, The Story of The New York Foundling Hospital (2001):
This book including text by Martin Gottlieb and contemporary photographs
by Claire Yaffa delves into the history
of The New York Foundling Hospital, which was committed to help the children as
the most vulnerable human beings.
Concerning this, Claire´s pictures (who were made throughout a lot of
years of hard work) are instrumental to understand the daily toils of nurses,
doctors, staff of the hospital and parents to attend these destitute children
often coming from families and communities where violence, illness, substance
abuse, poverty and homelessness are commonplace.
The Foundling, The Story of The New York Hospital is a unique and
historical photographic work which began in 1979 and was made by dint of very
toilsome effort, patience, great sensitiveness and ability to get empathy with
subjets, even in the most eerie circumstances.
The photographer went on getting pictures of the children inside this
famous hospital even after the publication of this book, reaching the amazing
figure of 32 consecutive years working inside it documenting these needed
And she donated to that medical institution all of her huge photographic
archive made within it, both photographs and negatives.
On the other hand, this book proves a cultivated gift for picture
editing, with a discerning selection of images, a trait common to the rest of
her books and exhibitions, and hereof, the influence of Inge Morath (who made
functions of picture editor between 1949 and mid fifties choosing the best
photographs from the contact sheets sent by Henri Cartier-Bresson to Magnum
office and also often fulfilling this task for Simon Guttman, who was then
editor of Picture Post and Report Agency) and from whom Claire Yaffa (who was a
great friend of hers and shared many hours in laboratory and workshops with the
great Austrian photographer, working with 24 x 36 mm contacts and differet size
prints) learned a great deal, is apparent, along with her dual gift for words
Life´s Dream (2007) :
Published by Ruder-Finn Press, it features 80 pages encompassing a
choice of beautiful pictures focusing on the usually unnoticed images that
surround us, with the photographer proving once more her great talent and
penchant for capturing the often not perceived beauty and mystery that can be
found in both everyday objects and different
human spheres of activity.
On the other hand, this is perhaps Claire Yaffa´s book in which the
influence of Duane Michals, another of her most important teachers of
photography, is more present, since the aim is not to only capture the actual
world, but to go beyond its boundaries and mix imagination with reality, in
some way following Michal´s bedrock ´I believe in the invisible. I don´t
believe in the visible´, giving priority to intuition, fantasy and a small
voice inside head saying: Isn´t this extraordinary? and searching for a diversity
of messages, with a constant flow of unfathomable events and contexts which
bring about questions and make the observer continue his/her reflections.
And with the support of words often accompanying the pictures, Claire
Yaffa also pines for enhancing the cognitive potential of the purely visual
- Moments (2004):
A wonderful book whose content also belongs to the realm of fine art and
visual poetry, evoking subtle emotions, unexpected encounters and fleeting
events, with 48 black and white exquisite images which set up an array of
intimate visions of both lost and remembered moments, along with instants of
elation and sorrow, without forgetting the foreseeing of instants yet to come
that also have their percentage of photographs within this work.
On the other hand, a number of familiar objects and surroundings turn
into unique images thanks to the photographer´s know-how, finely tuned eye,
choosing skill, and a recognized very good taste, managing to discover elusive
messages and nuances in commonplace daily things which often become intriguing
and mysterious on being captured by her camera.
They´re fleeting and irrepeteable moments full of beauty and thrill,
whose emotional intensity increases a great deal in some of the images
revealing a yearned family background deja vu.
It all with a steady introspection world.
- Divertissement ... I Dreamed a Dream (2008):
It includes 86 pictures, 74 in black and white and 12 in colour, and is
the third book in a series of visual poems that began with Moments (2004) and
Life´s Dream (2007).
This work goes on the path of introspective scope, with excellent images
conveying a wide range of emotions and evocative scenes from daily life that
the photographer has captured with her camera, bringing about moments and
messages of loss but also other ones expressing cherished moments of living.
The meaningful pictures flow calmly and elegantly, speaking by
themselves about the subtleties and nuances of everyday existence, not always
easy to recognize and appreciate under the stress and helter-skelter of modern
Different visual metaphors and deja vus appear once and again in a
continuous explosion of feelings and longings transmitted through photographs
that are a frequent commendable mingling between gorgeous fine art and graphic
poetry in its purest expression.
On the other hand, there are some pictures of buildings not looking for
the accuracy and precision of shapes typical for example in Albert
Renger-Patzsch and his realistic and objective photography as a loyal mechanism
What Divertissement ... I Dreamed a Dream conveys are feelings,
remembrances, atmospheres, moods, personal stories, longings ...
This book is the apex of the new turning point experienced by Claire
Yaffa from late nineties, when after more than three decades as an acclaimed
photojournalist (an activity she also keeps on fulfilling currently) she began
to get pictures belonging more to the sphere of personal emotions, convictions
and feelings related to the daily surrounding life and all kind of
remembrances, it all constantly wrapped by a sort of unutterable back to the
On the other hand, when being photographed by Claire Yaffa, objects and
structures often transcend their inert condition and become living entities
featuring their own personality and catalysing a great variety of thrills and
memories. In this regard,
the amazing image of the stone stairs of page 81 (made with her Leica M6
and Summicron-M 35 mm f/2 ASPH, shooting handheld at a very low shutter speed)
or the sublime oniric image of page 21 (with the three very young ballet
dancing girls rendered blurred with her Summicron-M 50 mm f/2 version 5, framed
with a dynamic diagonal composition and presided over by an intentional lack of
unnecessary detail greatly resembling Alexander Rodchenko´s concern about
placement and movement of objects in space) are highly representative examples.
Therefore, in spite of featuring a remarkable technical background, the
photographer is fully aware that the most important thing over any technicalities
is the image in itself, the representative moment captured and the message that
the photograph conveys.
Many of the pictures included in this marvellous book were displayed
during Claire Yaffa´s exhibition I Dreamed a Dream held at the Leica Galerie Salzburg
(Austria) in October 2011.
FINE ART PRINTS
Definitely, this photographer has a gift for her trade, which becomes a
flawless synergy between photography and art, resulting in her famous b & w
prints made by herself, working many hours in professional darkroom, as a
maximum expression and getting excellent results.
In this regard, the influence of Eugene Smith and Ansel Adams,
Claire Yaffa with Ansel Adams. New York City, November 24, 1972.
two of her most significant photography teachers, has been and goes on
being substantial, together with the learnings acquired watching prints made by
other historical masters of this craft like Igor Bakht, Teresa Engle Moreno,
David Vestal, Georges Fevre, Voja Mitrovic, Bruce Barnbaum, Nathalie
Lopparelli, Pablo Inirio, Dominique Granier, Juan Manuel Castro Prieto,
Giulietta Verdon-Roe and others.
This way, Claire Yaffa´s photographic laboratory is simply gorgeous and
very well designed,
fruit of thorough planning steps to ensure its functioning, including
the dimensions and type of equipment to be used in the darkroom by means of a
layout making provisions for all the items that are used inside it and the
print sizes that must be accomodated, besides featuring storing shelves and
cabinets built with the adequate height of working surfaces.
Darkroom has been her sancta sanctorum for many years, when after very
busy days as a mother and wife, she gathered strengths to go there at night,
while everybody slept.
And it goes on being the magical place she loves to be in, her space for
recreating impressions and thoughts about the world with its beauties and
problems, still trying to decide if what she thinks and photographs is
important and meaningful, in the same way she has made since late sixties when
she began her photographic career.
Everything is in its location, and tidiness reigns supreme within this
wonderful darkroom in which two first rate enlargers highlight:
a) A condenser Beseler Model 23C blue color from mid sixties,
featuring a six elements in four groups Schneider Componon-S 80 mm f/4
lens for her prints made from original 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 (6 x 6 cm) negatives
exposed with her Rolleiflex 2.8f K7F Type 1 (made between 1960 and 1981,
featuring a lower Zeiss Planar 80 mm f/2.8 taking lens with Deckel
Synchro-Compur MXV 60 sec to 1/500 sec plus B central shutter and an upper
Heidosmat 80 mm f/2.8 viewing lens), the camera she mostly used between late
sixties and mid eighties (when she started using two 35 mm format Leica M6
This is one of the best medium format enlargers ever made, painstakingly
engineered with a constant and smooth operation of the focusing controls and
boasting a two-column supported very sturdy mostly metallic construction that
assures an utter freedom from vibration, a major factor in enlarging work.
Schneider-Kreuznach Componon-S 80 mm f/4, one of the best enlarging
lenses manufactured hitherto for medium format 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 negatives.
A thoroughbred from an optical, mechanical and electrical viewpoint,
able to deliver a superb performance for many decades of intensive use, it
features a negative stage consisting of a flat platform that divides the upper
and lower bellows, and once the lens stage is open, you can insert the negative
carrier into it, with the ring on the under side placing the negative into the
proper optical position of the negative stage and enabling to guide the carrier
while it is rotated to the desired point.
This legendary enlarger has the further advantage that it can handle
size films between Minox 8 mm and medium format 2 1 /4" x 3 1/4" (6 x
9 cm) without changing the condenser unit, by means of glassless and dustless
type standard negative carriers which can be rotated in the negative stage,
with the important benefit of getting the most correct condenser stage location
with respect to the size of negative being used, raising or lowering the
condenser stage so that it rests at the most accurate position, which results
in a complete light coverage of the negative area, an optimum flatness of field
and the avoidance of hot spots.
Claire Yaffa has used it for more than forty years, keeping the
negatives and the paper stages in as much horizontal alignment as possible as a
key to high quality enlargements without out of focus areas, and taking
advantage of its great stability, versatility and range of choices for creating
gorgeous b & w prints, either setting all the filtration dials to zero
(when using baryta paper) or using variable contrast papers by means of the
built-in colorhead (including filter holder and being part of lamphouse) used
to control contrast without the need for an additional set of filters- in
condenser mode, providing crisp and specular illumination for the maximum
resolution of grain structure and fine detail (fostering the resolving power of
the Zeiss Planar 80 mm f/2.8 lens
of her beloved Rolleiflex 2.8f
K7F Type 1 medium format camera) as well as higher contrast in black and white
prints, in synergy with cold lamp and built-in filters, in addition to using
sometimes the yellow and magenta filters of the filter lever (placed in filter
position) to change contrast as first class substitutes for a set of variable
contrast filters with the filter lever in white light position and the filter
inserted into the swinging filter drawer under the enlarger lens.
On the other hand, the use of the built-in red filter of the Beseler
Model 23C blue color ensured consistency on making different prints from the
same 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 (6 x 6 cm) negatives.
b) A Leitz Focomat V35 Autofocus for her prints made from original 24 x
36 mm negatives exposed with her two Leica M6 rangefinders.
In mid eighties, her great friend Cornell Capa advised Claire Yaffa to make
the change to 24 x 36 mm format Leica M rangefinder cameras in order to get a
greater level of whispering shutter noise, a smaller size and weight of
photographic equipment, a comprehensive assortment of highly luminous lenses
and above all to attain more intimacy and discretion with people when
approaching them, with the added advantage of being able to shoot handheld
indoors at very low shutter speeds without trepidation under dim or very dim
light conditions thanks to the lack of a slapping mirror typical in RFs.
This way, Claire Yaffa bought two Leica M6s with a Summicron-M 35 mm
f/2, Summicron-M 50 mm f/2 (the two lenses she has mostly used), an Elmarit-M
28 mm f/2.8, a Summilux-M 75 mm f/1.4 (her favourite Leica M lens for
portraits), and a Summicron-M 90 mm f/2.
After a bit hard learning curve in the beginning until getting
acquaintanced with the optical VF and the superimposed-image RF featured by the
Leica M6 (she had taken pictures with her medium format Rolleiflex, a camera
sporting a very different using style, for almost twenty years), this change to
Leica M meant a turning point in her career and a change in her way of
photographing, helping her to see more (in this regard the possibility of being
able to watch what is happening outside the framing lines of her M6s was a
pivotal aspect) and enhancing her photojournalistic passion even more.
Then, though her Beseler Model 23c (an exceedingly versatile device able
to handle film sizes from Minox 8 mm to 6 x 9 cm) made a very good choice to
make prints from original 24 x 36 mm negatives exposed with her M6 Leicas, she
realized that she needed a printer exclusively devoted to make enlargements
from her 35 mm negatives, to get the best feasible results, comfort and
production consistency with that format.
The choice of model was not easy.
Because of the intensive darkroom teaching imparted to her by W. Eugene
Smith during early seventies, she thought of buying a second hand Valoy 2,
specifically designed for 35 mm format, featuring manual helical focusing and
being the only Leitz enlarger sporting an Anti-Newton ring condenser (she had
seen her professor Gene Smith use this type of enlarger in his New York loft,
having also been Lou Bernstein´s favourite enlarger for fifty years) either
with a 50 mm Focotar or Focotar 2, a Schneider Componon 50 mm f/4 with Compur
00 thread and adapter ring from 25.5 mm to 39 mm, an early EL-Nikkor 50 mm
f/2.8 under the helical assembly without an extension ring or even a Summicron
50 mm f/2 M39 with Leitz DMUOO Summicron adapter as better choices than the
traditional Elmar 5 cm f/3.5 with Valoo aperture ring fitted over the lens.
A further possibility within the realm of enlargers exclusively intended
for 35 mm format was the Leitz Focomat IC (with a Focotar 50 mm f/4.5 lens or
EL-Nikkor 50 mm f/2.8 working in AF mechanical mode, or the Schneider
Componon-S 50 mm f/2.8 used in manual focusing), with its exceedingly perfected
light source which is a kind of hybrid between condenser and diffusion,
yielding a smoother gradation and grain than the purely condenser types,
getting an outstanding balance between sharpness and tonality, along with its
focusing head raising mechanism based on a pinch-lever smoothly operated by
forefinger and thumb of the left hand.
And she finally made her decision, acquiring a Leica V35 Focomat
featuring a 40 mm Focotar f/2.8 lens
Focotar 40 mm f/2.8, a top-notch enlarging lens for 35 mm format. Though
not reaching the tremendous quality in corners of the Schneider Componon-S 50
mm f/2.8 or Schneider Apo-Componon 40 mm f/4 , Claire knew that any
top-of-the-line 6 element lens can do for not very big enlargements, and
applied a practical criterion on choosing the Leica lens, since the Focomat V35
mechanical construction and autofocus are optimized to match it and provide a
steady and consistent workflow of very good prints for many decades. The
Focotar 40 mm f/2.8 performs superbly, integrated in a whole made up by itself,
the light path and the mixing chamber of the very robust and easy and quick to
use Leitz Focomat V35 AF.
with mechanical autofocus through a cam system working flawlessly
throughout its 3x to16x enlargement range, and sporting a diffused light mixing
box which makes printing the highlight areas on contrasty black-and-white
negatives easier than when using condenser type enlargers.
This is a great enlarger, specially if you are going to make prints not
exceeding 16 x 20 " (41 x 51 cm) in size.
Stuck from scratch to Eugene Smith´s darkroom guidelines according to
which the conveyance of the meaning intended with pictures can be only assured
through the utter control of the entire process, Claire has used the Leica V35
enlarger as the contrivance to develop her printing techniques and experience
to match her vision since mid eighties to nowadays.
Therefore, her prints are the fruit of great work and dedication. She
has always spent the required time to make things, never sparing efforts in
search for the best possible results, in a context ruled by the lack of rushes
of any kind.
Maybe it could be defined as a dying art of darkroom printing, far from
the current helter-skelter times.
A painstaking way of working which is essentially an artisan craft with
a limited series of prints from each original negative, because the aim is not
to make massive sales, but to fulfil a remarkable self perfectionism strongly
inspired by a number of masters of photography and printing she has known well
for almost fifty years and whom she highly admires, an inner need to express
her love and passion for photography and art as purely and honestly as she is
able to attain, giving it her all in a classical way that has greatly proved to
work, grounded on her know-how, good taste, and thoroughness.
And it pays off, since each print made by Claire becomes a sort of
masterpiece in itself, the yield of many hours of personal effort, being looked
after as a newborn baby, controlling through and through every phase in
darkroom as the only way to guarantee that her pictures will convey the aimed
purport, merging the documentary approach with the outstanding image quality
and pondering content featured by her prints.
It has enabled her to get a loyal clientele for decades. It is a
question of confidence, and those knowing this great photographer and human
being trust her professionalism, experience and honesty, along with the
undoubtable historical and artistic value of her pictures, which highly
probably will experience a soaring resale value in future, including her
excellent portraits of many iconic masters of photography (a stunning
collection of pictures which is probably the current worldwide benchmark in its
scope, and in which Claire managed to draw the most significant traits of their
personalities) she knew in depth and worked with from early seventies, most of
whom developed their careers during the most glorious years of photojournalism.
GREAT PORTRAITS OF MASTERS OF PHOTOGRAPHY
Thus, another photographic genre where Claire Yaffa has excelled is
making portraits of Masters of Photography with available light, something in
which she was inspired by Alfred Eisenstaedt (the most influential photojournalist
ever and arguably the greatest expert in history creating quick portraitures of
famous people with available light), with whom she developed a friendship until
his death in 1995.
This way, throughout her lifetime, this remarkable and versatile
photojournalist and artist
having a great library encompassing tons of books on photography,
painting, sculpture, architecture, etc, has also made portraits of a number of
world class photographers, among whom can be quoted Yousuf Karsh, Inge Morath,
Willy Ronis, Duane Michals, Lisette Model, Gordon Parks, Alfred Eisenstaedt,
Eugene Smith, Mark Riboud, Cornell Capa, Robert Frank, Leonard Freed, Erich
Lessing, Martine Franck, Emmet Gowin and many others.
In early September 2009, Leica presented a dream come true: its full
frame Leica M9 digital rangefinder camera featuring a no crop 24 x 36 mm
sensor, a tremendous technological conundrum deemed virtually impossible to
solve (since the non retrofocus Leica M lenses are much closer to the sensor
than dslr retrofocus lenses, in such a way that specially with objectives from
50 mm downwards in focal lengths, towards the corners of the frame the angle of
incidence of the light rays coming from the rear of the lens can be so severely
off-perpendicular that they won´t pass equally through the microlenses above
the sensor, which can result in strong vignetting) until the legendary German
photographic firm managed to create improved offset microlenses to optimize performance
at the edges of the frame, together with a sensor cover with bettered filtering
of infrared light, in such a way that lens mounted IR filters weren´t needed
any more, so from that moment on,
there was a perfect synergy between the M9 and a very wide range of
Leica M lenses, from 1954 to nowadays, thanks to the usage of each specific
focal length as it is, without cropping factor, made possible with the 6-Bit
coding correcting vignetting and cyan shift alike, along with a manual lens
selection choice made up by a total of 36 different objectives, whose model
number, widest aperture and focal length are individually identified by an
internal firmware, attaining astonishing levels of detail thanks to second to
none optical quality of the lenses and the lack of an anti-aliasing filter.
The appearance of this camera was highly welcomed by Claire Yaffa, for
whose type of photography the professional dslr cameras featuring big size and
weight along with a slapping mirror and much higher audible noise during the
shutter release were not the best choice for getting pictures in a very quick
and quiet way without drawing the subjects attention.
This way, she bought a Leica M9 that has been using extensively during
the last three years, specially attached to her beloved Summicron-M 50 mm f/2
4th version designed by Walter Mandler in synergy with a Leica 1.4x magnifier,
a remarkable combo for a 0.68x camera like the M9, getting an 1:1 finder to
achieve a greater focusing accuracy and staying true to a working and picture
taking way present since the days of Oskar Barnack, fullfilling a flawless analog-digital
transition, with the significant boon of being able to use the outstanding
image quality delivered by the Leica M9 up to ISO 2000 shooting indoors at very
low shutter speeds (the lack of mirror of the M9 and the high luminosity of
Leica M lenses makes that higher sensitivities aren´t most times needed to get
a sharp image even in very dim light conditions) and watching what´s happening
outside the framelines at every moment.
The new microlens layout has increased offset at the corners to keep the
effects of shading to a minimum. There is no limitation on the lenses which can
Definitely, the full format mirrorless Leica rangefinders, both in the
analog and digital domain, have proved to be the most appropriate cameras for
the kind of pictures she gets.
On the other hand, though she has used traditional darkroom for most of
her career getting excellent results, Claire Yaffa is aware that times change
and technology evolves, so in recent times she has been printing her pictures
using the DNG archives of her Leica M9 and a professional digital inkjet
printer, following the basic bedrock explained among others by Dan Burkholder,
according to which a digitally produced negative can mean better and easier
darkroom prints on silver gelatine, cyanotipes, platinum/palladium, etc, if the
photographer has got the experience and knowledge to do it, creating digital
negatives via the computer and with the added possibility of even making
digital negatives of some original analog negatives which could have been
difficult to print, gaining more control of the contrast and fixing other
Therefore, both analog and digital photography are very useful for
Claire, and she doesn´t deem them two antagonic technologies, but two great
different and complementary means to get the desired results, one within a
laboratory and the other one through a computer, so after a few years of
training and tests with inkjet printers she has made remarkablet digital
negatives and very good prints using the digital route and creating negative
densities (searching for a good dynamic range with rich blacks) and adjusting
contrast, getting the most of her accurate professional inkjet printer allowing
an unmatched accesibility and control of negative making, attaining amazingly
detailed and tonally precise digital negatives able to yield prints
indistinguishable from those printed with camera original negatives.
Furthermore, from mid 2005, there has been a tremendous evolution in the
scope of high quality inkjet papers, specially concerning the fiber-based ones
and the baryta-based ones, which has meant a quantum leap in comparison with
the starting choice of inkjet photographic fine art papers available between
around 1996 and 2004 (satin, luster or semigloss resin coated; matte cotton and
wood fiber based) that had advantages and disadvantages, so Claire used the
excellent second generation top-class Harman Gloss FB AL (greatly resembling
the traditional Ilford silver halide papers and the most beloved silver gelatin
black and white papers of many wet darkroom users) until it was discontinued in
2011, and later the semi-glossy surfaced Ilford Galerie Gold Fiber Silk ( a
pure acid-free cotton rag paper lacking Optical Brightening Agents, so avoiding
fadings) and Harman by Hahnemuhle (Gloss Baryta FB renamed) inkjet papers
featuring a baryta base, a major step forward in appearance and feel, with an
excellent minimum Dmax of 2.2, which Claire handles with utmost care to avoid
any possible scratching.
In the beginning, the learning curve on tackling the handling of new
digital printing techniques was steep for Claire Yaffa, but after some months
of intensive work and trial and error tests, she realized that the amount of
control she was able to grasp over the images she created on the compuiter
screen was far superior than what she was able to do in a conventional
Copyright Text and Indicated Pictures: José Manuel Serrano Esparza. LHSA
PUBLICADO POR ELRECTANGULOENLAMANO EN 11:09
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