Monday, January 21, 2019

Quiet Byways In Fife

Sadly, with a warning of severe weather predicted for mountainous regions, I swore off (and at) the snow and freezing rain predicted for my first spot of camera time in months.
A PLAN B was needed, so I put on my thinking cap, and (given that the sun doesn't crest the Tay Valley till around 8am [in the Winter]) thought better of risking life and limb in the mountains and plumped instead for a local, but quiet, bit of The Fife Coastal Path - Wormit to Balmerino.

Field Edge, Fife Coastal Path, December 2018

But before that, a word about how I am going to do FB posts this year . . hold your excitement there man . .
Most photographers don't air their dirty pants in public , , you only get the crisply ironed ones (who the feck irons pants, but apparently it is a thing so who am I to judge . . ).
So, in the interests of the skid-markedfart-shredded and un-ironed variety (or is that just me) I have decided to detail each film in their completeness.
I'll tell you how it came to be, then there'll be a scan of the contact print (stains and all . . there is nowhere to hide) and then you'll get choice prints made from the negatives.

The reason for this?

Well, I was thinking about it - a film is in itself a creative process, whether you realise it or not.
If you are out photographing, you might well be subconsciously following something.

Of course, you could just be snapping at anything and everything, but I am not talking about random bombing, I'm talking about your 'journey' (ugh . . overused these days? YOU BET).
OK, not 'journey' how about:

 Arc Of Travel

You load a film and set off with something in mind . . you do don't you?
I do.
I generally photograph for a purpose, that being to finish a film that hopefully contains some photographs I like.
It is a sort of Arc Of Travel and often I can see that in my contact prints - they detail where I have walked and travelled in a timeous manner . . . who knows, they might even show some sort of thought process or signs of life and not just my usual drooling gait!
The shutter of my camera takes slices out of the time I spent doing that activity and preserves something extra - an adjunct as it were, to my memory.

I remember the walk; I can describe it to someone easily. But to make that memory physical and of meaning to someone else, I need to refer to the photograph.

Now what if that photograph (as well as being a record of the photons bouncing off everything) has also managed to preserve some of the atmospherics, that I felt at the time?

I'm not talking about filming it, because that is photography without decision making; it might preserve the sounds and motions of the landscape, but has it captured any of you and your thought process?
Is this the distinct difference between the moving and the still image?
A definite URGE to take one small bit of time and subject and make it yours?

A giant widdle on the lampost of eternity?

I don't know.
Not to denigrate film-making - I'm sure film-makers would say that they've managed to capture some of their self in their work - maybe that is true.
It requires further thought and navel-gazing from me . . .

Anyway, with regard to photographs, some speak loudly, but others are mute.

And (long way around as usual) I guess this is why I am going to air everything.

Because, as I said, some sing loudly with a lusty bellow, and others are quieter than church mice, but no matter their db's, they are all a part of your AOT (Arc Of Travel).

The contact print reveals all.

Your choices, your composition, possibly even your thought process.

There is, as they say, NOWHERE TO HIDE:

Jings, did he really compose that?
Out of focus!
Camera shake?
Nice foreground but look at that bokeh!
Not that AGAIN.

The morning I was thinking and writing about this, I coincidentally got an email from Bruce of TOD and he said the following:

"Plus, I've noticed there's a process I go through. It seems difficult for me to jump out of the car, identify the best photo opportunity and take the shot (as I'd have to do with LF). Rather, I work my way into it. The process of exposing film seems to hone my photographic senses. The first shot I take of a scene is hardly ever the best. The good stuff seems to happen when I get right into it. It's like there's a shift in the way my brain works. I can't do that with LF or even MF. "

Very coincidental don'tcha think?

Oooh, I thought, there must be something to what I am saying if someone else is thinking the same way, so I thought about it and made a decision that this is the way I am going.
I might also thoroughly detail each frame (certainly when showing a 120 contact . . maybe not a 35mm, and half-frame . . well . . ) and film and process.

Hopefully it won't be yawn city - maybe it will be . . . but what it will show, will be the process of thinking (hardly) and how things went along.
So without further ado it's time for a baked bean and sprout curry with extra sauce and a side dish of boiled cabbage and pinto beans . . .
Ooo, and see that bowl of Kimchi . . .

Brace yourselves . . . 


Here we go:

 FILM # 66/51

FILM # 66/51

Right, so here's my notes for each frame - seems dull - maybe it is . . but tough:

First film >120< taken since   the weekend of 16/6/18!

1./ 5 sec - - - - - > 10 sec, f16 ZIII - Very Dark
2./ 8 sec - - - - - > 19 sec, f16, ZIII - Copse
3./ 8 sec - - - - - > 19 sec, f16, ZIII - Gate
4./ 3 sec - - - - - > 6 sec, f22, ZIII - Field Edge
5./ 3 sec - - - - - > 6 sec, f22, ZIII - Coppice/Field Edge
6./ 4 sec - - - - - > 7 sec, f22, ZIII - Wood
7./ 1 sec - - - - - > 4 sec, f22, ZIII - Path
8./ 1 sec, f22, ZIII - Fallen Trees
9./ 1/60th, f8, ZIII - Horse, Handheld
10./ 1/2 sec, f22, ZIII   - Reeds
11./ 1/30th, f5.6, Z???, Seal, Guessed, Handheld
12./ 8 sec - - - - - > 19 sec, f16, ZIII - Sitting Room

All tripod/cable unless noted.

- - - - -> Denotes an extended exposure time due to reciprocity.

I've no pretensions about the photographs - they're OK, but at least I was doing something!
It was a really enjoyable walk, with the first mile or so conducted in near darkness. I do so love watching dawn arrive and, because of the nature of the path I was able to do so without the massive buffeting the wind was doing on the other side of the hills.
It's easy walking this bit of the path, although I would caution against heading down to the tempting looking bits of shoreline (though you'd have to massively scramble down - they're pretty steep) as the tide will get you.
Anyway, keeping to the path itself, I encounted nobody till I was on my way back, which is sort of the way I like things actually.

Camera was the Hasselblad SWC/M; tripod was my faithful Gitzo, and the film was Ilford Delta 400, rated at EI 200 and developed in Pyrocat-HD for 21 minutes at 22ยบ C.
I no longer use a water bath to pre-bathe the film - it seemed ineffectual - so it is straight on, constant gentle agitation for 30 seconds and then 4 agitations every minute up to 17 minutes. Then I let it stand to 21 Mins.
Stop is 3 changes of fresh water.
Fix is around 6 minutes.
Then washing at the end.
Finally it gets the dreaded Photo-Flo treatment - I've never had much luck with any wash-aid, they all seem to cause all sorts of gunk on the film.
With Photo-Flo, take ONE drop to 1200ml of water, mix the drop gently, VERY VERY GENTLY through the water with your fingers (like you were tickling a trout) and then leave the film on the reel (in the solution) for about 5 minutes.
You have to be careful not to create foam when removing it to hang.
Again gentleness pays dividends.

I've mentioned this before - my darkroom is furnished with an Astrid Ioniser that keeps dust levels down a fair bit.
The reason for this? Well, if you really want to be scared when you've hung a film, just turn out the lights and use a torch to look behind you as you exit. The levels of dust revealed by the light beam are usually through the roof and completely sobering.
Thus, the Astrid. It is a great thing.
I used to use an old Mountain Breeze ioniser, but that expired a few years back - and the reason I went that route in the first place? Well, it was a tip from the late Barry Thornton and it made sense to me. Since I took on his ioniser tip I've rarely had to spot any print.
I know it seems like the strangest darkroom accessory ever, but it works.

Oh, and I've got a tip for removing dust from film too - that's in the printing section after this next bit!

Assessing the contact:
Contact prints are always a compromise - I tend to print mine on Grade 2 and take it from there, but typing this has reminded me that Ansel Adams in The Print (I believe) recommended printing them on the softest grade possible to maximise your eyeballing of potentially good prints and I think that is maybe something I will try out in the future . . . thank you brain!
Anyway, the above was a solid Grade 2 and printed to try and maximise each frame (though somewhat unsuccessful on that front). There was an old Barry Thornton adage too - minimum time for maximum black - which referred to using the film rebates (the black gridwork as it were) as an assessment of the correct exposure time for a contact. Now that's alright if every frame is perfectly exposed, but as you can see, these aren't.

I'm going to do a metering 101 in an upcoming FB simply because, the last 120 film I took was completely screwed up by a total brain-fart on the metering front by me . . . but hey, this isn't chimping and checking every photograph on a LCD screen - this is photography.
Chance will ALWAYS play a part!

Anyway, onto the prints (at last, you cry!).

I had two small session with this lot - Prints 1, 2 and 3 were printed on Ilford MGRC; Print 4 was printed on Ilford Galerie - Grade 2.
All prints were developed in Kodak Polymax which is liquid Dektol, the legendary cold to neutral print developer. They were fixed in Tetenal Fix. Print 4 was selenium toned.

Here's the dusty bit:

I always pass a negative between my first and second finger in a light wiping motion - pair of finger scissors - close 'em - pull it through. Dust is removed, and particles of gunk aren't deposited over the film - you can also feel the film this way. It's robust stuff. Try it and stop worrying.
If you're using glass carriers, a quick wipe with the back of your hand, removes 99.9% of the dust and eliminates the static that causes it to cling like a nylon dress to your tights (or is that just me?) - it sounds disastrous, but it works beautifully. 
This is a combination of tips from Barry Thornton and the woman who I watched printing from HCB archive negatives - they are simple and effective techniques. 

There - that's saved you a swift twenty for one of those horrible anti-static brushes!

Print 1

Print 2

Print 3

Print 4

Right - have you had a deco at those?

What's that at the back Atkins?
Yes, go on man? 
Yes, c'mon on, spit it out.
Hmmm - they do don't they.

To me, they all look remarkably similar with regard to contrast, yet Print 4 is a standard Grade 2. OK the selenium has given the blacks an extra edge, but it is subtle . . so what is going on?
Well I guess any printing paper is going to have to be a compromise between light sources - according to Ilford's literature, you can expect a difference of around a Grade (!) between condenser and diffusion heads. They also state that Multigrade paper needs a bit of adjustment to reach an acceptable Grade. It took me a while and a lot of trial and error to realise that using MGRC I needed to print on at least Grade 3 to get a print I found acceptable. I've never used MGFB but given the emulsion is the same then that should hold true for that too.

I think this is why I absolutely prefer printing on Galerie . . . there's something about printing on the old warhorse that just seems right. There's no farting about, no split-grade options . . just a quality emulsion on a quality base that will deliver an excellent print if you are careful. Add on this the possibilities of bleaching and toning should you feck it up, then like I said, it's a no-brainer. Expensive, YES, but in terms of wastage and time, I think the cost is probably acceptable.

It was Joe McKenzie who introduced me to it back in the 80's. Galerie then was slightly different - the blacks had a modicum (and I mean a tad) of greenishness to them - this was sorted by selenium toning - that's what Joe always did and I guess I have followed his regime ever since. This being said, these days the blacks on Galerie are neutral - no green, so you don't really have to tone if you haven't got the time or can't be arsed.

If you're still unsure about using it, save a bit of cash and buy a 25 pack - again, not cheap, but it will give you an idea. You'll be really surprised that an 'ordinary' fixed Grade 2 paper, can handle so many variations on a negative . . but it can. And that is part of its beauty. You really don't need to go down the split-grade route. Time spent in the dark can be exhausting - you want something that can lead you down the path to a nice print and not to have to worry about procedure.

I've said it before and to many people - with an average negative, there's a good chance that you can produce an acceptable print by just printing on one grade (and yes, this even works on multi-grade paper . . just because you have the ability to change grade on the fly, doesn't mean that you actually have to).
Sometimes an 'acceptable' print isn't always possible using one grade (say in the case of heavily underexposed film) and then I would advocate manipulation with dodging/burning/bleaching/toning . . . but on the whole, printing should be a relatively simple process.
You really don't need a wizard's cloak and a split grade printing degree - that has always seemed like over-complication to me.
But that's just me - if you disagree, feel free to come round for an afternoon stuffed into my tiny darkroom with me and the DeVere - just bring a gas mask and a SWAT team..

Anyway, that's a pile of reading you've done to get to here.
I've no idea why you've read all this, but if you've been able to take any wee tips from my own personal procedures, and (most importantly) have found them to work, then good.
I am chuffed about that.
As I said at the start, I think this is the way FB is going to go from now on . . but maybe with not as much explanation.
So, till the next time - happy hunting, take care, and if you know anyone who wants 200 tons of excess sprouts, use the contact form at the side of the page