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|| News Item: Posted 2014-10-03

“Tri-X appealed to the photojournalist in me, from day one. It’s why I became a photographer. “

By John W. McDonough

Photo by John W. McDonough

Photo by John W. McDonough
Beginnings, way, way back…

Early 1974. My first experience with processing Tri-X, in my apartment bathroom in Mesa, Arizona. Lights out, and a bath towel shoved underneath the door, loading a plastic reel (several times, I might add), eventually dropping it into a plastic tank with HC-110 or D-70 developer. All I kept saying to myself was: “don’t screw this up,” not realizing that Tri-X was one of the most indestructible films ever made (underexposed, overexposed, under processed, over processed).

It just didn’t matter.

But I held my breath until the film sat in the fixer for 15 minutes, before turning on the lights. When I looked at the images, after washing and drying (yes, with hair dryer), I knew that this was the beginning of a beautiful relationship. At Arizona State, The Scottsdale Progress, The Arizona Republic, The Los Angeles Times, and NFL Properties, and yes, even Sports Illustrated (NBA Finals in Chicago, 35mm and 2 ¼ Hasselblads, available light and strobes), Tri-X was an amazing film.

At 60, (I’m only slightly older), I have nothing but great memories. For that matter, I still love photographing in B&W, to this day, setting my digital cameras to monochrome. Drives my editors a little crazy, but there are just some moments or scenes that demand B&W. It’s all about “content” and the “decisive moment.”

Tri-X appealed to the photojournalist in me, from day one. It’s why I became a photographer. The staff photographer at the Greencastle Banner-Graphic newspaper brought me into the darkroom, to show me a scenic picture that I had taken with the company camera (I was the sports editor/writer, layout, and production department at that time). When the image came up in the developing tray, it was magic: my career as a writer ended abruptly. That was 1973. I left the newspaper, bought my own cameras, read a book on photography by Andreas Feininger, The Complete Photographer, while traveling around the country for 6 months. First photography contest I entered, I won.

And yes, it was a B&W photograph, using Tri-X film (a lab processed and printed the picture for me). It was a photograph of slums in Jacksonville, Florida, in the foreground, with new skyscrapers under construction in the background titled, “Progress?”

You could cover any event with Tri-X: news, features, sports, copper mines, dimly lit city streets, etc. From 200 ASA to 3200 ASA, the quality, sharpness, and shadow detail, was extraordinary. I changed developers at the Republic, using Edwal’s FG-7, with sodium sulfite when needed for higher ASAs. Matching up with the abilities of the film, I learned to make quality prints, (with Leitz Focomat enlargers and Leica lenses, and Agfa Brovira paper).

In my office and garage, are images and prints that I sometimes look at: moments in time that are still as vibrant as the day I photographed and printed them.

Commemoration? Way more than that! Beginnings that launched a lifetime career.

Thanks Tri-X, for making the memories eternally beautiful.

(John McDonough is a staff photographer with Sports Illustrated based in Southern California. You can see his work at his Sports Shooter member page: .)

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