Tuesday, October 28, 2014

New Lands, Sleeping Bags And Big Cameras (Oh No! . . . Part One?)

Greetings folks - well, I am (just about) finally back in the land of crazed blogs, comparisons of the action of photons on sensitized materials, expensive pieces of glass, mechanical marvels and all round madness . . . yes, you've guessed it, it's photography time again! And not only that, I recently buried myself so thoroughly in all things photographic, that I have only just been discovered by a rescue party who were off looking for a lost tribe along the deepest, darkest of wilds of the East Coasts of Scotland . . .
Oh yes, hard, tough, epic, but above all fun.
I'll blame my wife, because it was her idea whispered into my drunken brain that made us book a caravan at one of our favourite locations as our main holiday of the year, and boy was it perfect.

Leica M2, 90mm f4 Elmar, TMX 100, Rodinal 1+25
Ali in a quiet forest on a wet day - we were surrounded by a sea of mist. 
Leica M2, 90mm f4 Elmar, TMX 100, Rodinal 1+25
Line across centre of photograph courtesy Epson 'Perfection' V300 - GRRRRR!

When I started planning it, I got all excited like a small puppy and instantly thought "Oh boy! Oh boy!! 6x7, 6x6, 5x4, 35mm!!! Woof Wooof Woooof" and ran round and round in a circle until I was sick on the carpet, which was pretty stupid really. After I'd calmed down, and after a bit more thought I realised I had to make a stand against myself and rather than be led by the excitement of different formats, just take a leaf from my own words and limit myself. 
So I did.
Two formats only: 5x4" and 35mm - and even this was limited further with regard to lens choice: 90mm f8 Super Angulon and 203mm f7.7 Ektar (for the large stuff) and (God bless him - there he is at the back hauling his bones up that hill) The Right Reverend Ernst Leitz 90mm f4 Elmar-M (for the 35mm stuff).

I'll admit that I did take the 50mm 1.8 Canon Serenar too as back-up, after all it is scary heading off into the unknown without being prepared, and I suppose were I being really hair-shirted I could have slimmed it down even further from there, but I wanted to have some fun too - it wasn't meant to be all about self-flagellation, so the cat 'o' nine tails was safely left at home and after giving myself a stern talking to, I got everything prepared.
Ancilliary-wise all I carried besides the cameras and lenses, were 8 Double Dark Slides, a cable release and (boxes!! of) film, a light meter (Gossen Lunasix 3S), my ancient Gitzo Series 2 Reporter and a similarly ancient Leitz table-top tripod, oh and a large changing bag.
I would say this was fairly modest in real terms - I've often travelled with a LOT more, however, because of the need for bulky 5x4 film boxes (Kodak) for putting all the billions of sheets of film I was planning on exposing in, the whole lot took up THREE camera bags! 
But what did a little set-back like that matter to me - fortunately on this holiday there was only going to be the two of us as Alec Turnips has now started University and is in the midst of the longest hedonistic drinking spree you could ever imagine, so we had room and plenty of it in our venerable old Honda.
So, everything packed, we left with thoughts of coming back a week later to a smoking, vomit-stained pit in the ground . . and more on this later. 
And that was us, out first holiday properly alone for 18 years - it was exciting! 
And where did we go? 
Well, you know I am going to keep it to myself (selfish eh?) simply because I don't see the point in telling the world where it is. If you recognise it fine, well done, if you don't, well I guess holidays are what you make of them. To be honest I don't think anyone at mine or Ali's work would regard a caravan as an exciting prospect, but that's where they're wrong. A modern static caravan can be a luxurious experience and you haven't lived until you have experienced a full-on rain storm whilst being cosied up inside one. Remember when you were young, and it was pouring and your Mum or Dad let you put something like an old raincoat over your head and stand outside whilst thick, thundery droplets splattered off the top of it in loud torrents? Well, it is like that, except you are centrally heated (this IS Scotland after all) and can sit and read and drink tea and look smugly at the rivulets tearing off to eternity. It is (as they say in Yorkshire) Chuffin' Fantastic, and I dare the naysayers to experience it for themselves. 
There, that's my propaganda on behalf of the Caravan Club over and done with.

The Goode Captain Sheephouse on a particularly brutal day - it had been raining for nearly 24 hours straight.
Sometimes only the craziest garments will do - this poncho hides not just me, but a camera bag, Leica M2, 90mm Elmar and Leitz table-top tripod.

So where do we go from here? Well, to be honest, there's a lot more writing to be done, and the whole trip has to be cobbled together from snippets of crazed memories, drunken haze, the pleasures of quiet countryside, un-nerving experiences, rain storms, mist, curry and books!
So although I know you're thinking "not another of those crazy posts that spread over weeks and weeks and are dull dull dull", well, yeah I suppose it could well be. Sorry about that, but you know what? I'm going to read it, infact I've got a feed to my work so I can read it there too, because folks (and you'll either get this or you won't) I found the whole thing damn exciting - I was well out of my comfort zone of having a darkroom to do all the dark stuff and was operating on the edge of guerilla photography, loading sheets of 5x4 in semi-dark rooms, rolls of 35mm in sopping wet conditions, and the worst of the lot, trying to keep a logical track of the (ahem) 20 sheets of TMX 100 I did actually expose - that was a challenge all of its own . . but more of that to come. 
So do yourself a favour, don't get all excited about the forthcoming blogs and rush around like a puppy and be sick on the carpet . . you might well get yourself banned for life. No, take it easy, put your feet up and let your intrepid Captain do all the hard work for you!
So, just to whet your appetite (and hopefully keep you interested enough to follow up on this initial part) here's an example of what you can do with a 60 year old lens, a film that seems a bit 'Knightrider' these days, and a developer that is older than all of us . . . . .
Oh, and some exhausted Selenium toner too.

Kodak 203mm Ektar, TMX 100, 1+25 Rodinal, Fotospeed RCVC
Kodak 203mm Ektar, TMX 100, 1+25 Rodinal, Exhausted Selenium Toner (Unknown Dilution).
Fotospeed RCVC paper, Selective Pot-Ferry bleaching.

Interesting eh?
Basically I FUBAR'd the development and was left with a well-exposed, but fairly thin negative, and then a flashbulb went off!
Hadn't I read in 'The Negative' that you could expand the upper Zones of a negative by giving it a bath in Selenium? 
Yes I had, and so I did! 
And it worked. 
It's a weird technique, but the dark bits of the negative get even darker before your very eyes, resulting in a very nice 'vintage' expanded feel. The light bits (of the negative) remain the same, so you end up with lovely rich blacks and an expanded upper range - gorgeous.
The print was made on some ancient Fotospeed resin coated, developed in some even more ancient Moersch Eco tickled up with some Benzotriazole (thanks Bruce!) to overcome any fogginess in the paper. Grade was Grade 3 and I further enhanced the contrast by using a brush and Pot-Ferry bleaching on the highlights.
As a certain dead meercat used to say 'Simples!'
The one thing I would say about this negative is that tiny individual pine needles are totally visible and sharp, oh and that this was a limb off an Oak that must have been over 1000 years old - the old Kodak Ektar is an extraordinary lens and one of the real bargains in LF photography.

And so folks, on that note, I shall love you and leave you till next time - a dark and ghastly tale of poor contact sheets, sweat, changing bags and dust, oh and a real terrifying experience which had your author packing his Wista in double quick time and legging it as a quiet Scottish gloam descended on the land. Till then . . . TTFN.