Thursday, August 29, 2019


© José Manuel Serrano Esparza

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


by José Manuel Serrano Esparza

 © José Manuel Serrano Esparza

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.
© José Manuel Serrano Esparza

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 Photography.

Number 2/2004 of the legendary LEICAWORLD Photography magazine including Claire Yaffa´s porfolio Photography Masters.
© José Manuel Serrano Esparza

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 in 1967.


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 meters.

Little by little, she realized the huge photographic passion and vocation that had infused her, and in late 1972, after a meeting with Cornell Capa,

From left to right: Cornell Capa, Gordon Parks, Claire Yaffa and Duane Michals in a picture taken in 2002. © José Manuel Serrano Esparza

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.

Claire Yaffa with Gordon Parks during her years as a photojournalist for the New York Times, when she used a medium format 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 Rolleiflex 2.8f K7F Type 1 with Carl Zeiss Planar 80 mm f/2.8 lens and a 35 mm Nikon FM2 (a remarkable 100% mechanical camera featuring shutter speeds up to 1/4000th second and flash X-sync of 1/250th second, highly resistant vertical metal shutter blades made of lightweight titanium and able to work at extreme temperatures between -40º and +50º C) with Nikkor 50 mm f/1.8 Ai lens and MD-12 motordrive as main gear. © Claire Yaffa


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 remaining passive.

Within her images yield there are pictures which could be defined as sublime,

© Claire Yaffa

but also others really hard and painful to see,

© Claire Yaffa

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 psychology.

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.

 © Claire Yaffa

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 Hospital (2001).

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 teacher

Eugene Smith in New York. © Claire Yaffa

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.

© Claire Yaffa

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 of mind

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 representative moments.


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.

© Claire Yaffa

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.

© Claire Yaffa
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,

 Dr. Vincent J. Fontana, Medical Director of The New York Foundling Hospital with some   abused children. © Claire Yaffa   

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.

This way, some of the pictures show

© Claire Yaffa

exhausted and worried mothers next to their children (whose father has abandoned them),

© Claire Yaffa

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)

© Claire Yaffa

with rosy outlooks and even joy in their faces, basking in the real prospect of a possible better future for these so urgently in need of help children.

The images sport an astounding and exceedingly difficult to attain level of intimacy,

© Claire Yaffa

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)

© Claire Yaffa

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.

- Finding Their Way Home Again (1988) :

© José Manuel Serrano Esparza

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.

© Claire Yaffa

© Claire Yaffa

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 Disabilities.

- A Dying Child is Born: The Story of Tracy (1990) & Children with AIDS :

© Claire Yaffa

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 moment.

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.

© Claire Yaffa

© Claire Yaffa

© Claire Yaffa

© Claire Yaffa

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 child.

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.

© Claire Yaffa

© Claire Yaffa

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 work.

- 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.

© Claire Yaffa

© Claire Yaffa

© Claire Yaffa

© Claire Yaffa

© Claire Yaffa

© Claire Yaffa

© Claire Yaffa

© Claire Yaffa

Cornell Capa´s words on Claire Yaffa´s pictures of the New York Foundling Hospital children.

© Claire Yaffa

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 children.

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 and pictures.

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.

© Claire Yaffa

© Claire Yaffa

© Claire Yaffa

© Claire Yaffa

© Claire Yaffa

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 narration.

- 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.

© Claire Yaffa

© Claire Yaffa

© Claire Yaffa

© Claire Yaffa

© Claire Yaffa

© Claire Yaffa

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.

© Claire Yaffa

© Claire Yaffa

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.

© Claire Yaffa

© Claire Yaffa

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 life.

© Claire Yaffa

© Claire Yaffa

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.

© Claire Yaffa

© Claire Yaffa

© Claire Yaffa

© Claire Yaffa

© Claire Yaffa

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 of reproduction.

What Divertissement ... I Dreamed a Dream conveys are feelings, remembrances, atmospheres, moods, personal stories, longings ...

© Claire Yaffa

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 future.

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,

© Claire Yaffa

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.


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.
© Claire Yaffa

Photograph dedicated to Claire Yaffa by Ansel Adams. New York City. November 24, 1972. © Claire Yaffa

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,

© José Manuel Serrano Esparza

© José Manuel Serrano Esparza

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,

© José Manuel Serrano Esparza

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 rangefinder cameras).

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.

© José Manuel Serrano Esparza

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

Diagonal back view of Claire Yaffa´s medium format Rolleiflex 2.8f K7F Type 1. The symbiosis between this masterpiece of precision engineering, sturdy mechanical construction with reference class Carl Zeiss Planar 80 mm f/2.8 lens delivering big negatives and the MF Beseler 23C enlarger proved to work seemlessly in Claire Yaffa´s hands when put through its paces for decades of hard professional use. 
© José Manuel Serrano Esparza

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.

© José Manuel Serrano Esparza

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.

Claire Yaffa with her two Leica M6 rangefinder cameras. © Claire Yaffa

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.


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

© José Manuel Serrano Esparza

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. 

Yousuf Karsh. © Claire Yaffa

Inge Morath. © Claire Yaffa

Alfred Eisenstaedt at his office in the Time-Life Building
in New York City. © Claire Yaffa

Willy Ronis. © Claire Yaffa

Duane Michals. © Claire Yaffa

Lisette Model. © Claire Yaffa

Gordon Parks. © Claire Yaffa

Mark Riboud. © Claire Yaffa

Henri Cartier Bresson and Martine Franck at the terrace of their apartment in Paris on the Rue de Rivoli overlooking the Tuilerie Gardens. 
© Claire Yaffa

Robert Frank. © Claire Yaffa

Elliott Erwitt. © Claire Yaffa

Sebastiao Salgado. © Claire Yaffa

Barbara Morgan. © Claire Yaffa

Leonard Freed. © Claire Yaffa

Martine Franck. © Claire Yaffa


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,

© José Manuel Serrano Esparza

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.

© José Manuel Serrano Esparza
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 used.

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 sides.

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 darkroom.



Copyright Text and Indicated Pictures: José Manuel Serrano Esparza. LHSA

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