Thursday, January 14, 2021

The Good, The Bad And The Fiddly

Morning - I hope everyone is keeping well and safe and greeting the shit-storm of a New Year with typical British stiff upper lip and a tough set to your shoulders. 

Ha, this is nothing like it was when I was a boy.
They used to beat us to bed in the dorm and we'd be awoken by a bugle call at 3.30am for a 16 mile run.
Then it was weights, a hose-down and just as the sun was beginning to rise a luverly runny egg for brekfast,
Cooo, gosh . . . . 
Eugh, gosh!

Made us Britons wot we are. 
None of your Jonny Forener muck round here, all that garlik and unyons and stuff.
Oh no, it's boyled beef, spuds, carots and grave from here on in.

Also just for this year, theres going to be extra reeding, more words, and, chiz, tests at the end.
Coo gosh.
Pleez Sir can we go home Sir . . . .

Anyway, you might recall that at the end of last year I said I was going to have a bash at using a Large Format camera again.
The Wista has been sitting in its rucksack for a few years and there was a likelihood I could punt it over the posts on the games field. 
I won't even mention the Sinar F which is currently safely packed away in a box in a chest in my study . . . no doubt plotting something Swiss.
It was all a bit daunting to be honest, but you know what, I had a go . . . and I enjoyed it too.

So carry on reading whilst your erstwhile blogger has a breakdown and rebuilds opinions as he types!

Haunted Lane

Y'see, whilst having a clear out, I found myself with a surfeit of well-expired 5x4 film - I'd always known it was there, but I just hadn't realised there was so much:

Delta 100 - 12 Sheets

TMX 400  - 7 Sheets

TXP320 - 30 Sheets

TMX 100 - 45 Sheets

So what do you do with so much film? 
Yes that's right - you use it! 

I also decided that rather than hang about in the dark for hours on end (if you're tray processing a sheet at a time, believe me there are better things to do) I would try and find a different developer that might  shorten processing time. 
Bruce from t'OD suggested Adox FX39II, so I gave it a go.

As you'll know, it is generally recommended practice when you footer photographically that you only try one thing at a time, just to see how you get on with it. 

You absolutely do not thow the baby out with the bathwater and change everything at once.

Not me though.
Oh no.
Why do anything by halves?

New developer.
Well expired (2012 some of them) films.
A format I'd forgotten how to use, as the last exposures I had done were in 2016.
Cold weather - nothing better for testing the mettle of a proto-LF photographer.
PVD-affected eyesight, which makes a lot of things (like focusing!) more difficult than they could be.

Oh yes, I was ready . . . but before we get to the main monkey-business, here's some backfill. It's long and no doubt boring, so if you fancy a yawn or are in need of a good sleep, please read; if not just skip it all till you get to the bit that says:

You Can Carry On Now

A long time ago, when I first started taking Large Format photos, I threw myself into it.
I had a Sinar F (for Field, or for those of us who have actually used them in the field, F for Feck Me That Weighs A Fecking Ton!); a 150mm Symmar-S; the world's Biggest Tripod and Head (Linhof Twin-Shank and Gitzo SERIES 5); a Sinar loupe, and couple of nice Toyo DDS
Oh and Gumption
I carried it all neatly wrapped in a Tee-Shirt Dark cloth, packed in a Deuter 22 litre (!) rucksack, with the Dark Slides in a lunchbox.
Oh boy was I dedicated!

My initial practice exposures were done on cut-up Ilford MGRC slotted into the holders, just to get an idea of things. Those were the days before you could buy the likes of pre-cut Ilford's Direct Positive.
It was a total bastard trying to neatly cut MGRC down to an accurate size under a safelight with a scalpel . . . well actually I didn't even have a proper safelight either, just a Philips red bulb.
But I was dedicated!
I then moved onto film and Kodak's HC110, coz I woz no longer just dedicated, I was serious too y'ken.
I lugged that set-up all over the shop, urban, suburban, haunted sites, woods, hills and one notable trip into the wilds that very nearly killed me (though that is a bit of an exaggeration).

Becoming frustrated by trying to produce contact prints I wanted to print something, so a call to the lovely man at the much-missed MXV Photographic resulted in £375 well spent - a DeVere Bench 504, 150mm Rodagon, all inserts and hand delivered too!
Printing was fun, but I still felt a need to break free, so hunting around I found a new friend.
I have to say, looking back, the acquisition of the Wista made the biggest difference - it was like carrying a kitten as opposed to a struggling bull-mastiff.

Looking back now I wonder where all that vim came from. 
Was it just a younger man's energy and enthusiasm, or was it something else?
From 2007 to 2014 I was like a man possessed, it was pretty much all I could think of.
And then it stopped dead.
For some obscure reason, my enthusiasm wained and I let it drop like a stone . . . right after the acquisition of one of the last 90mm, f8 Super Angulons ever made.
A final 4 more exposures were taken in 2016 and then nothing till this Christmas.

Why did I drop the ball? 
I have no idea. 
It might well have had to do with Hasselblad lust (a known affliction) but I've never really thought about it until, this holiday period, whilst kneeling in the dark for an hour loading all my film holders, I pondered why on earth I had actually taken up LF photography in the first place. 
And it sort of struck me, like a box falling off a top shelf, that it was (I think) a yearning for Validation.

Ah yes, the Heffalump in the room.

I believe I thought (in my Oh-so-SERIOUS-LF mind) that if only I approached photography with a BIG idea and a BIGGER format, I could validate my creative attempts and be taken seriously. . . as a . . . as a . . . ahem, coff coff:


Make that a small herd of Heffalumps.

You see in those days I cherished an idea that someone somewhere would actually like my stuff enough to say:

Here y'go Sheepy! 
Go forth and make photographs you poor unrecognised thing! 
Here, have a grand!
Go and buy some nice gear, you poor thing. 
All these years labouring with a knackered old Rollei T - how on earth did you manage dahling?
I think you're GREAT and that world out there deserves to see your work

Or something like that.

I think we all feel like that don't we?
Maybe it's what drives the hunger for gear we all have.

If only we had better stuff we could make better work.

Tempting isn't it - you could be recognised, or even, gasp, appreciated!

That's a younger man's dreams right there, and fortunately, such a thing never happened.
No one came knocking and nowadays I just beetle about being creative in my own way without anyone asking where the work is.
Self-funded creativity is the only way I think.
An understanding and patient partner is a massive help too.
If you're happy - great, that's the most important thing.
If others like it - great.
And if they don't - well so what.

But back to the main banana, WHY THE MADNESS?
Because, I have to say (rather like me old mate Bruce) I do find a large portion of Large Format photography relatively dull.
I know, because I've taken most of it, so don't get insulted and chuck your Dagor out of the pram.

It's a controversial statement, so let me justify myself. I've railed against it many times on here.
Just as a f'rinstance:
Buachaille Etive Mòr from that angle again, on an 8x10 camera and in colour too

Jings, just because someone famous took an iconic image of it, why copy? 
That single £20 sheet of colour film is sent off to be processed and printed (roughly a further £10 for dunking and another £10 for printing). 
Approximately, £40 for one colour image.
It's like owning a Rolex
Nice, but really expensive and almost pointless, because at the end of a day is it a craving for validation or something else? 
Does spending enough to cheaply feed a small family for a week on one image really make you a


Don't get me wrong - I'd love to have a go on the likes of a really nice 8x10" camera, and to be able to print it . . . Sorry for knocking a hole in upstairses staircase darling but the DeVere 8x10 enlarger wouldn't fit! 
But I don't necessarily think that having all that gear is going to make your work any better.
By the way, please notice the sarcastic use of work there; it's all over forums and gatherings and I loathe it. 
It's an effette term that's elitist and has all the hallmarks of Art School Bullshit
Work often hurts, can be mind-numbing, satisfying, exhilarating, soul-sapping, enjoyable, rewarding, stressful or a form of modern slavery. 
But please don't say photography is work, because it isn't.
Photography is a pleasurable experience that you do because you (hopefully) enjoy and are enthralled by it.
At the end of the day, no one is forcing you to take a picture.

So when you finally do decide to go all Ansel, mortgage your kidneys, leave a weeping family group and lug an 8x10 a couple of miles from the car, then give up because you're knackered; plonk your tripod down and think:

This'll do . . .

That is not work! It's Large Format photography.

Is it a form of masochism? Possibly.
Is it an urge for justification of the image? Possibly too.
Is it a craving for validation? Yeah possibly.

I'm not knocking anyone with the hunger to do it - after all I've been there, I can sympathise - you must have iron constitutions, but I am just pondering the reason we do it out loud in an effort to explain things to myself.

Maybe (and you can take this with a pinch of salt) most Large Format compositions are a result of the (not so) complex equation:

Weight + Distance = Image

I had to chuckle when I thought of that one; you see something promising, however, whereas with smaller formats you have the liberty to move around a bit and find something that looks exciting in the viewfinder, you are inexorably tied to that tripod (unless you're using a press camera), so you plonk it down and go through the rigmarole.

You fit camera to tripod; check camera; erect camera; lock down; open lens; compose and focus; get happy; check shutter; check meter; check f-stops; check film holder; double check composition; check focus on groundglass; make sure the corners are sharp if you want them that way; close down lens; stop down; cock shutter; insert film holder; remove slide; wait for fleeting light; take exposure; insert slide; remove film holder and place it somewhere safe; tear down set up, or else, more likely, carry it around (dangerously) on a fully erected tripod to the next place.

All the initial enthusiasm you felt for an image (well all my enthusiasm) can be rendered null and void by this activity.

Phew, is it just me or is there a pontificating twat in this room?

Anyway, again, WHY THE MADNESS when you could have just skipped in with a Medium Format camera and got pretty close to the same image?

I have thought about this a lot over the past few weeks, and I think this is where I (that's ME) am coming from now.
You see it isn't just a question of the ritual, though that is a huge part of it, but rather like doing Yoga or Tai Chi in a park, I think that the whole process gets you into a zone whereby you are entering some transcendental state of consciousness
The procedure is part of one whole thing. 
It's almost like a form of meditation and the image is the result of your concentration. 
Weird thought eh.
I am constantly surprised after immersing myself in taking 4 sheets of film, that a couple of hours have passed and all I have done is concentrated my attention on doing that.
Nothing else has mattered.

If you do make LF images though, please, these are just my thoughts, mad though they are - I'm really not having a pop at you - it's kind of addictive isn't it.
I'm there (behind that misted-over groundglass) with you.
There really is something rather satisfying about seeing the world on a groundglass in an upside down and reversed way and gathering all that conflicting information together so that it makes sense to your brain and ultimately to the final image.
It is certainly a challenge to do it well.
I don't know if I'll ever get there.
It actually just struck me, that it has a lot in common with my favourite TV series of the 70's, Kung Fu.

Anyway, you're not here for the pontifications of an old twat are you Glasshopper, you're here for photography . . aren't you?

You Can Carry On Now

The contacts below look utterly shite, and I would agree with you too, but that's what happens when you are trying to ease yourself back into something and trying to remember the process at the same time. 
It wasn't easy.

Delta 100 and TXP 320
90mm f8 Super Angulon

The 90mm f8 Super Angulon was like looking through a misted (it was very cold, the ground glass became condensationy immediately!) black net curtain. 
I hadn't a scooby what was going on.
Giving up all hope, I pointed the camera in a general direction, adjusted focus a bit and let rip.
Compositionally I have committed visual suicide as you can see.
You'll never take me seriously after this.
Developer was Adox FX39II. 
It has made me go hmmmmmm in a high-pitched way . . bit like a mozzie really.

Gargh 2!
Delta 100 and TXP 320
90mm f6.8 Angulon

It was slightly warmer - well the sun was out briefly and the wee 90mm f6.8 Angulon, whilst barely covering 5x4, did the job and I could see the ground glass a bit better, however it doesn't excuse the visual ghastliness of the above.
Maybe it IS that 5x4 thing.

I don't know.

All I do know is that the proportions of a 5x4 image are probably the most difficult to compose with - well they are for me, and strangely, unlike other formats, they seem to imbue the whole pantheon of Larger Format Photographers out there with a similar look - it is very weird.

Is it that the inherent proportions of a sheet of 5x4" or 10x8" are locked against the wider view of an increasingly widescreen world? 

Think about it, we all viewing everything in effectively Panavision.

Your TV is big and widescreen - you're so used to it that anything older than the mid-2000's looks cramped and small.

The world is 16:9 mad.

Over the past couple of years, cosying up with some old boxsets (Frasier, Cheers and Only Fools And Horses) it made me think that the old 4:3 ratio that the world lived with for so long, has far more in common with a 5x4" negative than modern 16:9.

Like the best advertising, auto-suggestion is subtle. Ergo, if you are viewing something W-I-D-E then you are thinking wide. It colours the way you view the world.

Maybe . . and it is a big maybe . . . that is why Large Format photography looks a tad out of kilter to modern eyes.

It is just a thought.

Again the sheets were developed in Adox FX39II. 
Anybody want some? 
OK it is optimised for T-Grain films (lower speed ones) but even with Delta it has produced muddy looking negatives.
Don't mention how it acted with TXP 320.
Look, don't mention it right!

That's Better!
Kodak TMY 400 (Expired 2012!)
90mm f8 Super Angulon

I had come close to deciding to wear the 90mm Super Angulon like some sort of 1990's rapper's neck attire. MC Sheep in the House, or something like that.
Fortunately I chose to lug it and the gear back to the Art College and try again.
I thought I'd better use the TMY 400 because it was the most ancient of the ancient ones I had - it expired in 2012.
The sun was out again, but really low and seeing as the whole slant of the Uni campus is South facing . . . well, what could I do but invoke the gods of flare!
Hmmmm - I stroked my chin - the thought of processing one sheet at a time in Pyrocat for my nominal 14 minutes leant an air of total ghastliness that I couldn't even contemplate it.
I thought again, and herein lies more madness.
It certainly wasn't going to be FX39II!
I've had 2 small containers of HC 110 (the old original un-f***ed-up stuff) sitting in my darkroom for 10+ years. It's gone a bit orange but I thought, why not, so tried it.
My reason there, is that I'd had a bad load on a sheet of film - fingers all over it trying to get the little bugger into the holder - so I thought why not try the developer and if the load was buggered up, I had nothing to lose. 
So, one 5x7 tray, 9ml of HC 110 and 295ml of water at around 20℃; 6 minutes in the dark for development, 1 for stop and around 4 for fix and bingo! A result.
I was so chuffed that it actually looked normal (compared to the mud the FX39II had produced) that I decided to process the rest of the sheets in it.
To say I was delighted would be an understatement.
HC is a nice clean-working developer and the time is very convenient, although these are now salient points as Kodak changed it entirely a few years ago. Plus it is now nearly £40 a bottle!
God bless 'em.
I think if I continue along this route I'll just use Ilfotec HC which is supposed to be virtually identical.

Phil Rogers, Dundee, Wista DX, 90mm f8 Super Angulon
Haunted Lane (again)

Phil Rogers, Dundee, Wista DX, 90mm f8 Super Angulon
Him (again)

Phil Rogers, Dundee, Wista DX, 90mm f8 Super Angulon
The Planet Takes Over

And that's about it really - the above are scans from work prints, quickly done on Ilford MGRC, Grade 3.
I quite like them actually - it's enough to make me want to persist with the Super Angulon's dimness.
By all accounts,  the Super Angulon design is a Biogon derivitive and seeing as you've seen a lot of that courtesy of the SWC/M on these pages, well maybe there'll be an air of uniformity to the images.

Anyway, I'll let you go now - you've read a lot, and they'll be coming around with your cup of tea and scone soon.
Remember to say hello to that nice lad Herman, he might look a bit funny but his heart is in the right place.