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MICHAEL CHASSID

Michael was a rising star in photography when we met around 1959. He had some pictures published in US Camera when their annuals were worth looking at. He got to a certain level and could not get any closer to stardom. He had a studio on 23rd Street at Madison Square. To my eye it seemed impressive. A large darkroom, a shooting area with an office in that area. I remember a big doofus kind of guy younger than me who was clumsy and graceless.

 

If you knew him for more than a half hour you would learn that he had a glass eye. He would inform every body in ear shot of this fact soon after meeting them. When he met Sid's friend Frank, Michael would say really loud, “Hey you one eyed fuck!” or something like that. Frank had been a Marine when helost his eye and was able to walk down the street with others in a pleasant manner. It was a drag to walk down the street with Michael, because seemed unable to walk in a straight line. He would always be bumping into you. The difference being military training.

 

I seem to remember that Michael had an older brother who was a cop and would wear his gun while visiting Michael at his studio. The brother asked Michael how you knew which side of the negative to put facing the paper in the enlarger. There was a roll of 35 mm negatives and Michael said that the curl of the film indicated that side should be down. The brother said “Don't bull shit me. Come on how do you tell?” Michael smirked at me and said that there was a shine on one side and the other was dull. He showed this to the brother and told him the correct way. The brother was satisfied with this. Michael didn't tell him that both of these ways were correct.

 

Both Michael and Sidney Kaplan told me this story the same way. There was a younger photographer named Steve who felt that Michael was a little more advanced and he could pick up some tips from Michael. At that time Harvey's 777 was the developer being used to “push” Tri-X film for available light photography in dim settings. It seemed that Steve never noticed that 777 as used by Michael was always replenished.

 

One evening a desperate Steve called up Michael and had a problem. He did a job and when the film was developed the negatives were very thin. Meaning that prints made from them would be very flat. No contrast. Michael told Steve to bring over the negatives and he would show him how they should be printed.

 

Photographic papers were numbered 1 was very flat, 2 was normal, 3 had more contrast, 4 had much more contrast. Kodak had a number 5 paper which was their highest grade. Agfa had a number 6 paper which was the most contrast of any paper made. Kodak made a Polycontrast paper which allowed several grades of contrast on the same sheet of paper by using filters between the light source and the paper. But Polycontrast number 4 filter was not nearly as contrasty as numbered paper.Developers had names that ended in a vowel and the letter L. Microdol, Dektol, Selectol, Rodinal etc. Lenses had names ending in a vowel and the letter R. Tessar, Ektar, Elmar, Sonnar, and so on.

 

The contrast of papers and films can be increased by lessening the exposure and increasing the developing time. Michael lifted up a few sheets of Polycontrast paper and put in some Agfa 6 in the box and waited for Steve. A anxious Steve showed up with a flat negative and a grim demeanor. They go in the dark room and Michael makes a straight print. It is very flat. He then puts on a Polycontrast 4 filter makes a print and it is a little better.

 

He then cuts the exposure and increases the developing time. Marginally better.Michael then stands on a stool in the darkroom and pisses in the developer! He takes out the Polycontrast filter and slips in a sheet of Agfa 6 paper without Steve noticing this and Michael then makes a stunning print! Steve is astonished while Michael says that this process is called Urinol!

 

Michael wanted to appear hip. I suppose he wanted to be hip. Among many people marijuana was exotic and dangerous and was sometimes called tea. Once at a lower east side party my friend from the army Stan (a colored guy, as we used to say) and Larry were bored and decided to roll some joints with tea. There was no pot so we rolled some with real Lipton tea. Just for a goof. Michael came over to me as with great stealth asked, “Is that regular tobacco?” I said no and he said, “Thats what Ithought.”

 

In those days although I was working professionally in photography I didn't know much and had a meager wage. I used to have my clothes washed at a Chinese laundry and the shirts would come back starched and ironed and they had a cardboard insert to keep them tidy. I used those cardboards to dry mount my prints on. I used cheap Camera Barn paper for print and my equipment was of a similar quality.

 

That was the kind of print I gave Michael. Years later when I used good paper, good enlarging lenses and much better technique I made another and larger print of that negative. The image just did not speak to me any longer. It has never been in any of my portfolios.

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