Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Leonar-Leigrano photographic paper, R.I.P.?


Cordier, Chemigram 28.8.76 III, 1976.  Private collection courtesy Gitterman Gallery
In the years prior to WW II, many of the most popular papers in Europe came out of the Leonar Werke AG, whose main plant was in the Wandsbek area of Hamburg.  The papers had special qualities and features to appeal to both amateur and professional alike, and brand names like Rano, Lumarto, Imago and Leigrano each gained wide followings.  Our interest today lies with Leigrano, if only because that was the paper of choice of Pierre Cordier after his invention of the chemigram in 1956.  The chemigram above is an example of a work done on Leigrano.  Leigrano 111 hard, to be precise, expiration date unknown.
Pre-WWI view of Leonar

Camera construction section ca. 1914

The Leonar firm had begun in 1893 as a partnership of a chemist and a merchant, manufacturing and selling photographic chemicals.  Soon the partners expanded into printing-out (POP) papers, popular at the time, and to the production of cameras: their first developing-out paper wasn't made until 1907.  Led by strong research and engineering, Leonar by the 1920s was able to introduce new types of paper coatings and emulsions to the industry, which helped establish it as a major player in most aspects of photographic developing and printing.  It introduced mass production methods to its factories and expanded its markets.  In 1932 it went public.

Leonar in the 1930s
Rolls of finished paper awaiting shipment


In 1943 Leonar was heavily bombed by the British and the Americans.  In the postwar years the firm rebuilt and modernized its operations (let no disaster go wasted).  Certain lines were discontinued, others given prominence.  Leigrano was singled out and seen to be a paper remarkable in its versatility, rich in silver, with a cool-tone bromide look in most developing agents; it had become popular with photographers of all types - in the street, in portraits, in the fine arts.  It's probably not an exageration to say that every German photographer in the postwar period used Leigrano at least in part, and that includes names like Otto Steinert, the Bechers, Hajek-Halke and Chargesheimer.  Not to mention the Swiss, French, Belgians and Austrians.
Leonar papers.  Note the interesting stains on the middle one.

But good things come to an end.  In 1964 Leonar was merged with Agfa, then owned by Bayer, which in turn merged with the Antwerp-based firm of Gevaert - the sort of corporate mischief so common in the history of photography, even to this day.  The separate identity of Leonar was allowed to disappear.  By the mid 1970s it had suspended operations entirely.  Requiescat in pace.

Yet somehow, like a revenant, it lingers with us, not only in memory and imagination but also tangibly in people's attics and cellars, for the Leigrano secondary market, despite the odds, is alive and well - when you can find it.  Just ask Wolfgang Moersch, the prominent fine arts photochemical manufacturer, inventor of ECO 4812.  When someone not long ago spoke to him of Leonar-Leigrano he said simply, "The very name melts on your tongue."  Michael Hummel recently brought to my attention a photostream on Flickr devoted mostly to lith printing that is chock full of outstanding examples of prints on long-expired Leigrano.

I've now entered the fray myself.  Last month I acquired some Leigrano from the descendant of a German prisoner-of-war interned in Alberta, Canada; he wanted to sell me his canteen and some medals too but I carefully declined.  Here's an etched chemigram I made from a sheet of it, Leonar-Leigrano 2a, expiration ca. 1945.
Collins, untitled etched chemigram, 2014
 I expect we haven't seen the end of Leigrano.


6 comments:

  1. Wonderful!!! Just what I've been looking for.

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  2. An intriguing article - but it leaves me wondering just what the secret of Leigrano really is, granted the interest in it by photographers. I love your pictures though, the Cordier and yours especially, seventy years after expiry.

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    1. I agree with you Steve. We don't spell out exactly where Leigrano's power lies or how, if we knew what it was or if it's even there, that it's accomplished. All I can say is give me more time with this material. I'll try to be clearer and more specific in a future post. The present post is just to put it out there - and likely to stir up that secondary market I mention!

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  3. Perhaps you can define "etched chemigram" for us...I suspect the term is new to a lot of experimental photographers.

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    1. You're quite right Rich, the term is a new coinage by Chris Anderson (author of The Experimental Photography Workbook, as some readers may not be aware) who, on seeing what I've been doing the past few months, christened them 'etched chemigrams'. This is an apt description. What I do is first create a chemigram, then etch it in H2O2 to remove gelatin from the emulsion, then rebuild it according to whim and opportunity. I follow bleach-etch techniques from a century ago, modified by newer methods of my own. The results are delicate: they can't be washed, I just let them dry as they will.

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  4. Very nice explanations about the History..

    I still have lot of Leonar Leigrano, Lumarto and other sort of this Paper on stock.
    Just in case someone is interested, pm me.

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