by Fred De Van
Ed Buffaloe: Ever heard of Harold Harvey’s Panthermic “777” Developer? Me neither, until Larry Price asked if anyone knew the formula on the Film and Developing forum. That was over a year ago. I eventually found it listed in my 1947 editon of the Photo Lab Index as Defender “777”-D. The entry said “...the formula of this developer is not available for publication...” Quite some time later, Fred de Van posted the fact that 777 contains p-phenylenediamine.
Fred de Van: 777 seems to work best at 75º F and above, and is best used in large quantities (big tanks). It changes a little after the first few rolls and a new batch should be ripened with a few unimportant rolls--it will then be stable for years. It really lasts well, even though visually it is not confidence-inspiring. Murky is normal. It is hard to mix, and the initial mixing is critical. Agitation is quite important--do it the same every time.
777 has a giveaway smell--nice but very distinctive. Poorly marketed, and very expensive, it was originally only available as a mixable kit packaged in a too large cylinder. It was hard to mix, and once mixed it was a borderline suspension that if you had never seen it before seemed like it was not properly mixed. It was sold premixed for a while, but this falling out of suspension problem dissuaded most from ever buying the expensive and seemingly unstable contents. A bottle of relatively fresh, perfectly good 777 looks very funky. Putting 777 in a 500 ml tank is asking for disappointment. It is very soft working and unpredictable when there is 250 ml of solution attacking 80 sq. inches of silver-rich emulsion. (Edwal 11, 12 and 20 do this too.)
W. Eugene Smith and I would make sure our friendly competitors never discovered our secret sauce by giving them 16 oz out of a "ripened" 3 1/2 gal tank of 777. We knew they were used to things like DK-50, DK-60a, UFG, Acufine, FG-7, Clayton P-60 and the like, and we would wait for the blue smoke phone call that was sure to come in few days.
Standard practice for changing overworked 777 was to dump 2/3 of what you had and add fresh to the worked stock. Rarely, did any 777 addict mix a totally fresh batch. For us guys who shot everything from 35 mm to 8x10, 777 was a god-send--perfectly predictable, stable, consistent, do anything, at any temperature, magic stuff. It will work well (unlinear) from about 55º F to over 100º F. Dead on predictable and linear from 65º F to 90º F. Agitation is hypercritical. Testing is the starting point--not an endeavor for the occasional user.
In the 50's through the 80's social life for many like David Vestal, Bill Pierce, Nick Samardge, Guy Terrell, Aurtour Tcholackian (AKA: Arthur Tcholak--he anglicized his first name and used Tcholak professionally), Andre Kertez and a bunch of others, was getting together at somebody’s studio, the Tcholak Lab or the Pierce mill/home to chart out a new time and temp sheet for some new film with 777. There was a lot of inspection developing going on. The product of these get-togethers, hand drawn charts, were some of the closest held secrets in the photographic world.
Arthur has a cousin by the name of Isgo Lapagian, and maybe someone in the L.A. area would know if he is still operating his custom B&W lab which, I think, was in Receda. At my last contact with him in the 90s, he was a still a steadfast crusader for the usage of 777 for all of his customers. He may still be using it and would have a fount of information on it. I have no idea where or how to find Arthur, but I am assured that if he is still plying his darkroom mastery, he is using 777.
Cartier-Bresson was a staunch enthusiast and heavy user of 777, and I think was largely responsible for its adoption by Magnum's lab in Paris. Alas, Henri was rarely around NY and was not part of the group, though I spent as much time in his presence as I could when he was in town. Howard Chapnick of Black Star espoused 777 to many in his flock since it made his life a bit easier.
Ted Kaufman: From Fred's description, it sounds like Harvey's 777 has a lot of glycin, in addition to PPD. If you add enough glycin to a formula, it will form a cloudy suspension that will not dissolve no matter how much you stir it nor how long you let it sit. Left to sit, the suspension will eventually settle out clear with a layer of fine sediment. Also, glycin is a soft working, fine grained developer component which yields a unique glow to prints. So I'm sure this is one of the components.
Ed Buffaloe: I knew I had seen several p-phenylenediamine/glycin fine-grain developers in an old formulary, so after Ted made his post about the glycin I looked them up and posted three of them on the forum. After staring at them for a while, it dawned on me that one (a formula by Morris Germain) had 7 grams of metol, 7 grams of paraphenylene diamine (base), and 7 grams of glycin. Voila! 777!
This may not be the original 777 formula, but it has interesting characteristics nonetheless. The original Harvey’s 777 developer is still available from Bluegrass in Louisville, Kentucky--phone number (502)-425-6442.
If you look at the time-temperature-gamma charts posted below, you will see what Fred means when he says 777 is linear--with many developers, the lines are curved. Hence the “panthermic” designation for 777.
Fred De Van: It seems like you have it. Memory also says that there were more components in the Harvey
formula--a buffering agent and/or a preservative and such, but the qualities were infinitesimal. Some of the discussion lent toward them being bogus components that did nothing of value but were there to obfuscate and
confuse the curious--chemical straw men. None of us had any interest in making it ourselves, but what was in it
was a constant question. The differences in performance in small tanks and the way agitation changed the result
always led to the question as to why (when there was time to think of such otherwise unimportant things--we knew how to use it right).
My slavish insistence on using 777 was not drawn from a desire to have membership in some esoteric, chemically-inspired, obtuse, cult; on the contrary, it was solely a practical matter.
My relationship to ABC was a truly unique one. I was brought into the ABC movie project by my existing client, Burlington Industries, whose many divisions were primary sponsors, and was contracted to represent and supervise the interests of Burlington, David Suskind, the executive producer, and the Network. I was paid by all three for different elements of my involvement, which made it affordable for everybody. These films were mostly made in Europe on tight schedules, and rational budgets. Sound stage work was done at the CBS Brooklyn production facility. They were far from being low-budget corner-cutting affairs, but there was no fat allowed and no prima donnas.
Because of the basic nature of Television, and the cost involved in producing a large number of full length, original, dramatic films (something only HBO can afford to do today) my role was critical to the viability of the effort. Theatrical film (which these very much were) depends heavily on word of mouth, something that was a nonevent to the sponsors since there was no value in "guess what you missed last night". Promoting and publicizing a film which nobody had seen was why I was there. Far different from standard production stills, sometimes my photography was more important than the film itself. They were provided to the media everywhere and drove the audience. Dozens served as TV guide covers and hundreds filled the Sunday papers.
Working as a tight unit with Burlington Advertising and ABC publicity, my staff produced thousands of prints a month. I produced the most accurate and consistent set of negatives humanly possible. My crack darkroom staff lived in photographic nirvana--uncompromising precision and utter ease in getting the jobs out the door. 777 was the key to delivering stunning prints with a level of consistent (client retaining) quality that was above and beyond anything the industry had previously seen.
I carried a a matched set of calibrated cameras and meters on these trips--4 Minolta SLRs, 2 motorized Leicas, 4 Hasselblads, a Linhof Technica V, and a full range of lenses for everything. The compliment of tested emulsion film was copious in volume and varied to the point of making me arrestable. The only thing omitted from my accessory kit was the kitchen sink. A Nikonos, and Widelux were among the incidentals, all light measuring tools were in duplicate, and everything was hand-carried. The studio had spares of all critical items that could be air shipped overnight. Exposed film was air shipped to the studio sometimes daily.
It really was not as much work as it sounds. Film crews abound with production assistants to make a lot of
tedious annoying tasks impact you very little or become totally invisible. As daunting as it may sound, the hardest
part was detailed planning. It worked glitch-free for dozens of projects, thanks to invaluable support from
Minolta, Leica, Kodak, Ilford, Hasselblad and Marty Forscher. Nothing ever broke down in the entire system,
other than the publicity mill at ABC, who were so pleased with the result they began to run amuck. On the first
day of production when everyone was feeling each another out, I usually showed up with my beater 1950's vintage Fed (Russian made Leica IIIc copy) and a Minox. Nobody was ready for what followed.
Without the foundation of the highly adaptable, reliable, and consistent film processing that our 777 developer delivered (complimented by the fact that there was a floor to the light levels we would deal with) this would have all came crashing down on us like a house of cards. We all clearly understood that if the critical film processing step faltered in any way the entire endeavor would degenerate into a nightmare. There was no possibility to re -shoot anything due to the big-name actors, the remote locations, and rigorous limited schedules. The cost structure was only profitable if everything worked perfectly, and were would all be looking for other work if the quality slipped. We had created a dream job and, once the word got around, we had a lot of pretenders. We kept our job, and the pretenders failed, principally because we never talked much about our 777.
In our discussions about writing this article, Ted asked Fred to send us as much information as he could recall about how 777 was used. Here is his response:
Use a a tank larger than you need by at least 100% filling the space with empty reels. Start with constant gentle to moderate inversion agitation the first 30 seconds to 1 minute, followed by 10 seconds per minute thereafter (5 seconds per 30 seconds for slightly greater density). To lower contrast, omit half of the agitation the final 2-3 minutes, but agitate once before the last 60 seconds. To raise contrast, gently agitate by inversion 10 seconds every 30 seconds.
Depending on personal agitation techniques, your mileage may vary.
Newer films may have less silver and different dyes and backing materials than those that this was established on.
With a floating lid on a deep tank, this is good for about a year of constant use of at least 20 rolls a week average. Dumping half to 2/3 every 6 months was the norm, but these guys used as many as 100 (or more) rolls of 120 a week. If not in use for a while, cover the surface with Saran wrap before the floating lid or insoluble crystalline deposits will develop. Tanks and bottles may gain a coating of dissolved silver and gelatin as it is used.
Ted Kaufman: I developed a roll of HP5+ in 777 over the weekend and finally nailed the time/temp at 9 minutes at 70º F., with one minute initial
agitation, followed by 10 seconds (4 inversions) per minute. I might go down to 8 minutes next time, just to see how it fares with a little less development.
Nonetheless, at 9 minutes the highlights printed with good detail, so I was very close, if not right on.
Fred De Van: With 777 develop for the highlights with contrast second. It is difficult to overdevelop. A little undevelopment equals a lot of underdevelopment. instead of cutting to 8 minutes (bad idea) you may like the even more luminous effect you get by extending the time and softening the agitation. You can develop until the negs look like soot and as long as the agitation is not too much and retain an easily printable result with bright open shadow detail. The highlights do not pack up as you would expect.
I've been meaning to send this for a while, but it's a cold wet day and I'm catching up on overdue correspondence.
From reading the literature of the time, it seems pretty evident Dr. Lowe, the photochemist who founded Edwal, evolved E12 from the Sease formulae. He wrote about how the formula may be used, and offered several variations to suit specific applications and taste. It also seems likely Germain’s formulae was a personal variation of Lowe’s formula.
I ordered some developer from BPI, and sure enough, it was quite different from E 12 & Germain's.
First, there seemed to be no glycin in BPI's 777.
Second, there was a much higher volume of 'stuff' to make a gallon of 777 than was needed to make Germain's. A liter’s worth of dry 777 weighs about 155 grams. A liter of Germain’s weighs 91 grams. Sixty grams of fairy dust ? Maybe.
It looked different, it smelled different, and most importantly, it behaves completely differently.
It is as Fred describes it, a beautiful developer, with a smooth, glowing tonality.
Germain's / E 12 makes a distinctive upswept curve similar to HC110. Even in a stable, replenished system, it is a brilliant developer. Edwal 12 is a developer well worth knowing, but it is completely different from Harvey’s 777.
Finally, Harvey's articles from the 1940’s describe the behaviour of his developer, and BPI 777 fits it like a glove.
I only want to give you a heads-up - but I'm sure many 'old hands' have shared this before.
This article is copyright 2002 by Fred De Van, Ted Kaufman, Larry Price, Don Cardwell, and Ed Buffaloe. All rights are reserved--this article may not be reproduced in any form without the express permission of the authors.