Friday, September 13, 2013

Density Junkie (Part One)

Morning Playmates from a terminally cooled down Summer's-gone-and-Autumn-is-coming Scotland.
Ah yes I can smell the chill on the air and the clenching poverty now . . oh yes folks - this will be a hard one. Personally I reckon Putin is so peeved at Merkels financial outing of the Russian ex-pats in Cyprus, that they are just going to say . . Who's got the Pipelines? Who? Was that a Pretty Please? Pretty Please With Bells On? Hmmm? Hmmmm?
(Кто имеет Трубопроводы? Кто? Это было Симпатичным Пожалуйста? Довольно Пожалуйста Со Звонками На? Hmmm? Hmmmm?) Apparently.
All I can say folks is if you are European . . . invest in some good quality woollen underwear. There, that's a tip for you. Woollen, because it is the best - synthetic can't hold a candle to it. And if you are really feeling flush, Ulfrott, or Woolpower as it is known . . their socks are incredible.

Perceived/Received Wisdom!
There is a general belief that one should always trust one's elders and betters . .
Am I right?
You trust me don't you?
Har har - just joking.
Question everything.
Learn for yourself.
Trust Little.

To give you a point from my own life - aeons ago, late 1960's
The sage lesson I am going to recall this week concerns my brother. BC - Big Chris. He's 6'4" tall and in the late 1960's was one of the tallest men in London.
It's true.
People were shorter then - a lot shorter. I remember him telling me that there were a bare handful of people in London and its vicinity that were over the 'magical' 6'. Seems strange these days doesn't it, but you just have to look at his generation - Wartime babies, rationing. I've no idea where he got his size from, but it didn't apply to me (well it did in girth of stomach . . but that's another story).
BC was going on 17 stone at the time - pure muscle.
He played a lot of Rugby and on a holiday job worked had worked as a lugger on the building site of the old (now demolished) Northolt Swimming Baths - one bag of cement under each arm and running. Double hods . . that sort of thing.
For fun, he would borrow my Mum's solid canvas/leather/plastic/tartan shopping bags, load them up with tins and then go for 10 mile runs.
He got fast, really fast, and like a train bearing down on you was a formidable presence.
I trusted him.
'Stand there Phil - look it's unbreakable.'
That was the command.
The unbreakable item?
A late 1960's Bottle of Orange Squash in a newly-on-the-market 'Unbreakable' Plastic Bottle.
It was so Space Age you could almost taste the vacuum.

So handy; so convenient. So much lighter than glass. 
This is one thing you won't need the hubby to help you with on the weekly shop. 
And Mums it is Unbreakable too, so no more worrying whether little Sharon will drop that old fashioned glass bottle and hurt herself, no! 
This is the FUTURE.

So I stood as commanded whilst he proceeded to chuck the bottle at the kitchen lino from what must have been around 5-odd feet up.
The resulting drench of concentrated orange liquid was remarkable. As was the plastic shrapnel. Not least for the fact that a chunk of it nearly removed my left eye., fortunately glancing off my Orbit (the bony area surrounding the eye socket).
The shouts from my Mum were also remarkable - though strangely I don't remember her swearing  . . . that would come later and it took me to break her!
I trusted Chris though. He'd given me lifts home from Barantyne School on the crossbar of his bike . . .
And Chris, I still have the scar.

So, trust your elders and betters? Or learn, as I have had to do, to harbour a tad of reticence . . .
Photographically it is a lesson I have learned in a hard way.
I have had a problem/still do have a problem. I have a large amount of sheets of 5x4 film. I had a splurge at the start of the year, and in doing so, had little thought for the fact that I already had some. The latest expiry on it is 2014. But I have recently found a number of sheets of stuff that has expired by about a year. It wasn't refrigerated ('tis now).
Anyway, last weekend I thought it was high time I started using it up.
I have tried LF photography in a City at times when there are people about . . and you know what . . . it very nearly sucks.
For a start you look like a total idiot.
People keep wide berths.
Maybe I should mutter to myself and develop a twitchy-shake to my head - it might make the whole exercise easier . . after all who is going to pay attention to a loony with a stupid-looking old camera . .actually, scrub that . . most people don't even realise that a 5x4 camera is a camera!
If you've ever seen Monty Python's Village Idiot sketch, you'll get an idea of what I am getting at.
Village Idiot on the outside but ready and willing to discuss Cartesian Dualism with anyone who cares to ask.

Yer average Large Format Photographer
Sitting on a wall . . waiting for light to happen.

So who is going to pay attention to a loony with a weird wooden contraption on top of three poles, who keeps ducking under a cloth attached to it and reaching round the front and twiddling with knobs?
I'll tell you who pays attention. Security Guards and The Police.
In this lovely old isle you are on CC TV most of the time.
Operating a LF camera illicits one response . . Extreme Suspicion.
Call me paranoid, but on the contact sheet I am about to show you, the first frame I took, was up a close and around the back of a takeaway restaurant. It is a shite photograph, but that isn't the point (yet) . . about 45 mins after I took it I wandered back on the other side of the road and there was a police car nearby and two officers! What? For me? I have nearly been arrested before for being SAIPOC (Suspicious And In Possession Of A Camera - you can read about it here if you like). Do the police really think that someone using a camera that requires you to mount it on a tripod is going to actually be of danger to the State? Has no one heard of iPhones???

Anyway, I digress - to use a LF camera in a City, you really need to get out early. In my case around 5 or 6 AM. generally the latter - it takes me two hours on average to make four photographs, so I can be back and having a cuppa before the rest of society deems me too dangerous to ignore.
So there I was, a surfeit of film, a bad conscience and the prospect of Winter looming meaning no hiding from the eyes of suspicion under cover of extreme earliness. What can you do, save, get everything together and head out. Which I did.
To say the results were bad and the photographs dull would be an understatement. I think the term I would use both for composition and technical prowess, would be ahem (better get your Mum out of the room) . . Shit.
Quite why I find it hard to compose with a 5x4 camera is beyond me. It isn't for want of trying. I've exposed approximately 250 sheets of 5x4 film and I still can't get the hang of it! Taking in the length of time I have been doing this and film costs then versus film costs now, and averaging everything out to a conservative 75 UK pence per sheet, that approximates to around £190 on film costs for little gain.
So what is it I struggle with? Well, I am beginning to suspect it is all about proportions. I've mentioned this before in FB so won't go into it again . . suffice to say it is duller than a small grey man, painting a small grey building, battleship grey . . inside and out.
Back to the Shit.
Here - have a deco at the Contact print and see if you agree with me . . I know you will!

Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud.
It's all there folks - look at the edge effects from uneven development.
Glory in Hippo Heaven!
Ilford MG RC Mudtone, Grade Mud, Kodak Muddymax, Agfa Mudbath Fix.

I have here dear reader, broken the rules set down in Paragraph 6, Subsection 2, of The Photographer's Law . . namely:

Thou Shalt Not Show The World At Large Thy Worst Bits.

If thou showest your worst to The Worlde, then The Worlde will mistrust you implicitly. 
Keep your worst for your own misery. 
File that print away in ye olde paper boxes . . 
If 'they' see thy worst, how are 'they' going to know if thou ist any goode?

So what does this have to do with not trusting everything you read?
Well, I have fancied using David Vestal's formula of Divided D76 for a long time. It is quite easy to mix and I wondered whether it could give me grey tones along the lines of this:

I love the grey scale in this photograph. It is of course of Sir Ansel Of The Adams and was taken by Vestal. Surely if I mix up some of his own discovery of a compensating version of D76 I could not only have a developer which deals with a vast array of lighting situations, but also, maybe might give me greys like the above.
Well, that's what I thought - ever the hopeful searcher for photographic truth.
Here's Vestal's original Formula as stated in Anchell & Troop's semi-Bible, The Film Developing Cookbook:

Bath A:
Metol 2 g
Sodium Sulphite 50 g
Hydroquinone 5 g
Water to 1 Litre

Bath B:
Borax 2 g
Sodium Sulphite 50 g
Water to 1 Litre

The only problem I had, was that I didn't have any Hydroquinone. However on re-reading the text I discovered that A&T were saying you could omit the Hydroquinone, by upping the Metol and Borax. I had Metol, Sodium Sulphite and Borax so I was in business!
And here's their version:

Bath A:
Metol 3 g
Sodium Sulphite 50 g
Water to 1 Litre

Bath B:
Borax 5 g
Sodium Sulphite 50 g
Water to 1 Litre

5 minutes in each bath, temperature variable, constant agitation. No pre-soak.
OK I thought, interesting - this goes against all my 2 Bath experience (Barry Thornton  - lots and lots of it). I have developed films both with and without a pre-soak with BT 2-bath and through practical experience came to the conclusion that a pre-soak was an essential thing.
A lot of people say it isn't, because with constant agitation you'll get even development anyway. I'll agree with that for a lot of developers, but for some reason me and 2-baths (and actually all developers) . . without a pre-soak I can often get uneven development, and I am Captain Agitation!
There is also the theory that giving a pre-soak, means that the developer has less chance to soak into the film, because it has to displace water from the soaked emulsion . . there is some sense to that, however when you think about it, the developer has to expel/mix with water with a pre-soak, or has to saturate a dry film with no pre-soak.
I can see no difference, and especially if you are using constant agitation.
It is almost like calculating how many Angels can dance on the head of a needle . . so hair-splittingly, hair-splitting as to be of only a navel-gazer's interest . . but for me, a pre-soak works, however here were my elders and betters A&T (they have written a wonderful and highly acknowledged book after all) telling me: no pre-soak; so balking against it like a surly toddler, no pre-soak it was!

When I process sheet film, I do it carefully, lone sheet after lone sheet . . one at a time. I am also a pretty conscientious and methodical developer, so sheet film processing can be a looooong process. With the Vestal DD76, this was 10 minutes development time plus the stop, and fix so you are talking about approximately 20 minutes per sheet . . that's nuts . . . in the dark . . . with nothing but yer brain for entertainment.
But the goal of a long grey scale and tonally wonderful negatives was ahead of me . . what was such time spent when you could be nearer nirvana!
So, I developed my first sheet. I am going to detail each one in  . . er . . detail, that way you can get an idea of what I have done.

Frame 1:
90mm Schneider Angulon.
TMX 100, EI 50.
Meter reading taken from shadowy area on tree and placed on a rough Zone IV.
2 Minutes at f32, extended to 4 Minutes Exposure to compensate for reciprocity.
Does that look like a thin negative to you? Too bloody right. The developer has dealt with the leaves and things quite well and the extreme range of brightness, but that's about it. HP5 and 1:2 Perceptol would have done it a lot better.

Frame 2:
150mm Schneider Symmar-S
TMX 100, EI 50.
Meter reading taken from concrete highlight and placed on Zone VI.
8 Seconds at f22, extended to 11 Seconds Exposure to compensate for reciprocity.
This is the best one. I actually think there is almost a glimpse of the tonal scale you can apparently achieve with this developer.

Frame 3:
150mm Schneider Symmar-S
TMX 100, EI 50.
Meter reading taken from pipe and placed on Zone IV.
1 Second at f22.
Totally ghastly. Exposure was rather hurried though as a Security Guard and his van were bearing down on me and I had to hurriedly make this and then shift my tripod!
To be honest, despite asking what my camera was, he was alright, and I did ask him if it was OK to be photographing here. He also remembered Joe McKenzie (my old lecturer) so that was fine too.
Look at the uneveneness though, caused by lack of a pre-soak.

Frame 4:
150mm Schneider Symmar-S
TMX 100, EI 50.
Meter reading taken from skull and placed on a rough Zone VI.
4 Seconds at f32, extended to 11 Seconds Exposure to compensate for reciprocity.
Unfortunately I didn't compensate for the fact that I was massively extended in the bellows department (oo-er missus) and this is the thinnest negative of the lot . . and the one I most wanted to come out the best!
I so desperately wanted this to work, but it is deadly thin. Not enough exposure, and uneven development.
What a shame.

So there you have it, a Quadrille of Doome. I should have stopped when I saw how thin the first negative was, but I was too trusting and the photograph of Ansel was in my mind's eye . .
So, having got 4 really quite thin negatives, I racked one of them into my enlarger and had a butchers at the grain . . Oh trump. it is that really non-existent soft grain which I am actually beginning to hate, simply because it is so difficult to see. The Sodium Sulphite had done its worst and made the grain all smooth. Conversely, if you want smooth grain, then this could be a good developer for you with TMX, but for me. Nope. Sorry. All it seems to have done is ushered the brass out of the room, when I so desperately wanted the full-on blare of a high-powered horn section! Know what I mean?
I actually think (and maybe I am being daft here) that given a traditional film with a traditional grain structure (ie, NOT T-GRAIN!) and given enough exposure then DD76 could well be a good choice. I have a roll of Agfa APX 100 that I am willing to sacrifice in the best interests of my readers . . so watch this space. But for films like the TMX's, then walk away, and quickly. The results are not pleasing.

Turned Out Nice Again
Ilford MG RC, Grade 4.5, Kodak Polymax, Agfa Fix

I had to make a quick print of the above - it is a work print (again heart on sleeve). In a final Fibre paper print, I'll keep the shadowy tonality, but use liquid lightning (Potassium Ferricyanide) to emphasise some of the skulls towards the back. You can do a lot to make this into an interesting print.
Also, a note to readers - if this looks all soot and ash on your monitor, I can assure you it isn't. I have my minotaur calibrated and what I see more or less emulates the prints (that doesn't say much eh!). I didn't do it expensively either, I used this. It is a great little piece of freeware.
My other thing I must say about this negative is that in all my years of enlarging negatives, I have never had to try and focus such a grain-free one . . so maybe that is an advantage . . I suppose.
It was totally, utterly, incomprehensibly, incredibly, difficult, even with a fine focuser like the Omega. Honest, the grain was invisible. 
So there.
Want grain free?
TMX 100 and Vestal's Divided D76!

These results have cemented something in my mind . . and it was something I hadn't realised until I did the Ralph Gibson Experiment all those months ago . .
I am a Density Junkie (or at the very least, I think I might be)
You know - over-exposed, possibly over-developed.
Thick and black.
Through density comes a form of luminosity (in my view).
I viewed my contact sheet and hungered for more oompah!

The 1973 Brighouse & Rastrick Brass Band salute Sheephouse's Quest For More Density!

Yes you can compensate for an underexposed (read: soft) negative with a higher grade of paper, but honestly, a denser negative printed at a lower grade will, I believe, give you a nicer result.
I am determined in the future to throw away all ideas of lovely whispy, 'perfect' negatives.
Give me it dark and dense and I'll take it from there.

So there y'go folks.
I hope you have gleaned something from this, because I have.
It is a lesson learned by me, and written almost immediately, for you.
Hopefully it has been instructive.
Let's call it growing up in public.

Tune in next time for Part Two, where I make a discovery in a good book, roll out an (almost) final 10ml from my ancient bottle of Rodinal, and further cement my thinking about 5x4 Photography.
Take care, God Bless and thanks for reading.

If You Could See What I Can See .  . When I'm Cleaning Windows
I managed to get my didgy camera through the bars which restricted the Wista
Imagine coming across a sight like this at 6.30AM


  1. Hi Phil,

    I've tried the original Vestal formula with hydroquinone and it works great. I think that the amount of metol in the alternative version is just not enough. When you compare it with the 6.5g in the Thornton formula, that's over 100% more metol. I'm not sure whether the 50g of Sodium Sulfite provides enough alkalinity to start any development.

    The A&T book is a good starting point but there are claims in it which I can't verify in my tests. For example, with divided developers they claim that the process is temperature insensitive and that almost no development takes place in bath A, both of which I found to be incorrect. I've become very fond of Thornton's 2-bath and have done quite a few tests. It IS sensitive to temperature and there is significant development in bath A. As a matter of fact, with Tmax400, 8 minutes in bath A only gives perfectly usable negs (no surprise there, as it's very close to plain D23).

    Last but not least, thanks for the was a good read.


  2. A good read....thank you sir! ;-)

  3. Thanks Mike - it is good to know you are stil lreading.
    And thanks Omar - yes I think you are probably right. I'll have to get some hydroquinone and try Vestal's original formula . . .
    I processed some APX 100 in the DD76 and it worked out OK, and very fine-grained again (and that's another story).
    BT's is a great developer - I used lots of it and always found it best with T-grain films (and if you read his books, that was sort of his aim). His Bath 2 claims (stronger or weaker solution than the standard) also played out well . . but this being said (at the moment) gimme blow-out skies!
    I am probably getting curmudgeonly in my old age . . .
    Thanks again for comments - it always makes this feel worthwhile.

  4. You want hydroquinone, I've got hydroquinone. Ping me your address Phil and I'll stick some in the post. How much do you need?