Monday, November 03, 2014

New Lands, Sleeping Bags And Big Cameras (Get your rubber trousers on - it's Part Two)

Well friends hopefully I whetted your appetite, and even if I didn't I am going to persevere with this shite simply because I have to get it all down and out of my system.
So to recap the last Blog:

Caravan Holiday.
Film Maniac with Large Camera
Lots Of Film
No Darkroom

As you can maybe tell from the above, film organisation was always going to be a problem. 
I took 8 Toyo Double Dark Slides with me, holding (obviously) 16 sheets of film, all of which I had pre-loaded in the proper dark of my darkroom. However, 4 of those sheets of film were TXP 320 from a previous load and I only wanted to use TMX 100 for consistency, so that was 2 DDS's knocked out for a start, but I took them anyway. 
My intention was to work my way through the remaining 6 (12 sheets of film) and using a recently purchased extremely very large changing bag change the film whilst there. 
And herein lay a problem.
Have you ever used a changing bag? I mean really used one as in it is all you had to use? Go on . . admit it . . you've got one, but you've never been brave enough to use it have you.
Well that was the predicament I found myself in.
Oh how I skipped out that first night to photograph. 
What a joyous time I had!
And then when I got back, had washed up and thought I must really get myself organised immediately so that I could stay on top of everything, how bouyant and enthusiastic I felt!
Ah, the innocence of youth! The naivety of the amateur!!
I had my changing bag ready.
I had my empty film box ready.
I had my rocket air blower ready to rocket.
I had my little interleaving sheets of paper ready to place over that day's batch, thereby delineating the end of the day . . .
I was good to go.


A brief aside into my thinking about keeping exposed film organised:
OK - it's pitch dark, or you're in your changing bag or whatever.
Stack you darkslides in the bag (before zipping it) in the order in which you will be placing the sheets in the box. A lot of people have several boxes for N, N+1, N-1 exposures etc, however I feel that it would be too easy to lose place of which image is which so don't use that method.
So say you have the following:

Darkslide 1:
TMX 100/1 (from your notes you know this to be a good exposure)
TMX 100/2 (from your notes, you weren't really totally happy with the composition on this one and you aren't really bothered about it)

Darkslide 2:
TMX 100/3 (from your notes you know this to be a good exposure)
TMX 100/4 (from your notes, a possibly difficult exposure - shadows placed on ZIII, but highlights well beyond ZVII)

[Now imagine the card inner sleeve that holds film in the plastic or foil envelope in a box of sheet film (Ilford ones are best here, because they are a folded sheet, not two separate sheets like a lot of other manufacturers)  - open that wide, put [in my case] 4 sheets of exposed film in, and then lay an interleaving sheet on top - that says to you in the dark that below the sheet is the first day's film.
Just as a double check, you have written on the sheet the day AND ALSO THE ORDER IN WHICH THE SHEETS ARE IN THAT PARTICULAR STACK (Obviously you can't read this in the dark, however if you get a bit lost you can remove it, seal the box and have a skeg at what you've done).]

Anyway, say in example to the above, you want to process TMX 100/2 first just to get a feel for correct development times. Unload that sheet first, place the film in the cardboard, fold it back down over the sheet, then say you want to process TMX 100 1 & 3 next. Unload and place in the card in the same way, then TMX 100/4 - that's the one which requires the most attention so you are going to process that last. Unload it last and place it at the top of the stack and place the interleaving paper on top of that.
Before you started, you stuck a piece of masking tape on the outside of the box with Day and Stacking info on too and also that the sheets are the first day's shooting.
So your strip of tape should read something like:

28/9/14 (Top - next to paper) TMX 100/4, 100/3, 100/1, 100/2 (Bottom)

You're going to ask why I've placed them in that order?
Go on, you are aren't you?
Well it's because it is easier to take a sheet from the bottom of a stack of film in my experience. Simple as that.

For however many days you are shooting (in my case 5) just repeat the above. And just because it is hard knowing what you are doing in the dark, you can always tell which way up the stack is, because the sheet of film on the bottom feels like film and not that sheet of paper you placed on top of the last sheet which is the top of the stack.

I hope this makes sense. It is a bit convoluted, however it worked very well for me apart from one cock-up in the stacking department, but I'll put that down to blind panic as detailed below.


Anyway where was I?
Oh yeah, bouyed up on a wonderful film-exposing evening, that's where I was!
All too ready to don a knotted hanky and raise a jaunty salute to anyone who might be passing.
I got everything organised as detailed above and with some trepidation and shaking hands (after all I had invested time and artistic effort into making these exposures) managed to unload my DDS's and get the film organised and sealed away into the box.
BTW - the picture of the tree from the last post, was from that initial batch of film.
Bongo I thought, job done (though it was getting a tad warm and sweaty in the bag [I am going to call it that from now on - The Bag - there, I've done it.])
So I pulled my arms out of The Bag, turned the light on, unzipped The Bag and got everything out. I was chuffed - it had seemed to work well.
I got my Rocket blower (essential if you ask me) and jetted out any bits of dust from the DDS's and organised them for loading, placed them back in The Bag alongside a box of lovely TMX 100.
Curiously I turned the light off (!), zipped both zips on The Bag, shoved my arms up the sleeves and prepared to load. 
And herein lies the problem with changing bags and DDS's - SWEAT
After I'd shoved my hands in I realised that for some unknown reason I was ramping up more moisture than a half-backs' Jock Strap. Are there such things as breathable changing bags? 
I've looked around and can't find them, but man it needs it, that and a small framework inside to stop the fabric draping itself over your hands at the drop of every hat. I know there's the Harrison tents, however one has only to look at the retail prices of these to realise that whilst they look totally the part, they are beyond the means of most enthusiastic amateurs . . ie ME.
In The Bag, the more frustrated I got with the cloth falling everywhere, the harder my fingers sweated. It was terrible - so much so that guiding the film into the slots in the DDS resulted in the film actually sticking to the plastic of the holders . . what a fckecking palava! 
It was a real nightmare and took me about four times longer than loading film normally takes. Allied to this, I didn't really know whether I'd ruined the film by getting moisture on the emulsion and said emulsion getting ruined by all the shite that was going on. 
I cannot emphasise enough how truly awful the situation was.
Several times the film stuck tight only a handful of millimeters into the slots in the holder and I had to scrabble with fingernails and swearing to free it, only to try loading it again, for the same thing to happen. 
The air was blue, and Ali wondered what the hell was going on.
After every sheet loaded, I put the film back into the box, took my soaking wet hands and arms out of the sleeves, unzipped The Bag and looked at the sheets of condensation which had formed inside The Bag's  material - it was like a greenhouse window on a frosty morning!
I then had to rocket air this to dissipate it, so I could carry on. 
I have never experienced anything like it, but I got there (in the end). 
And you know what, I knew I had to change tack, simply couldn't go through the torture again, so after a bit of thinking, the following two loads were made in conditions which most people would laugh at - they involved the following:

A bed.
A changing bag
A sleeping bag

Yep, I waited till it was pretty dark.
Shut the curtains (they were pretty much non-light-tight though).
Put The Bag, folded, on the bed (as a clean and easily made dust-free area . . well it was better than using a mattress that goodness knows how many people had slept in wasn't it!)
Laid out my film box and holders.
Draped a LARGE ex-army sleeping bag over the top.
And proceeded to unload exposed film and reload unexposed film into the holders underneath this makeshift tent. 
I had no idea whether the film would be affected, but I couldn't go back to The Bag alone. 
And you know what? It bloody worked! 
The sleeping bag was capacious enough to not keep draping itself all over my hands, but also of the right size to provide a nice light-tight seal where my arms entered underneath it. 
So all I can say, is if you ever find yourself without a darkroom, but with say a large coat and a darkened room, it is entirely possible to load and unload film. Of course you have to be careful, but it can be done! 

Schneider 90mm f8 Super Angulon, TMX 100, 1+25 Rodinal, Fotospeed RCVC
Hackneyed Cliché or Valid Artistic Statement?
Personally I'd go with the former

You have no idea how hard it was to make the above photograph. 
It was a cold and misty morning, my camera (lenses and ground glass) was doing its best to act as a condenser for the vast tracts of atmosphere surrounding me, as were my glasses and loupe. It was damn near impossible to see anything. Allied to this I knew there were several sheets of film in the holders that were totally fecked. However, needs must when the devil drives and this was one of those moments. 
Knowing that the film was possibly in a ruinous condition didn't help, but I had to use it - I couldn't just consign it to the junked sheets of history pile. 
And how do you think it has turned out?
Obviously apart from the composition (which is total shite) not half bad.
You can see there's a small mark about a quarter of the way up the print on the left side . . guess what . . that's it. For all my sweating and the film sticking tight, that was the only damage out of four sheets of film. 
It just goes to show that modern film is remarkably robust stuff. Bomb-proof is what I'd say. 
Oh and before I go, I'll also add that the combination of TMX 100 and 1:25 Rodinal doesn't get spoken about much, however it is as near grainless as a Warburton's bread factory!
Anyway, on that note, till next time I'll love you and leave you. 
It's deep into the lands of processing next time, so make sure you've got some fresh rubber trousers on, because I attempt something with regard to paper grading that is both foolish and interesting. However I'll try and make it a bit more interesting too and not all techie
TTFN and thanks for reading.


  1. Don't we love the "imperfections" that come with film? :)

    Have you tried using cotton gloves in The Bag? I used to have sweat problem whilst loading film onto plastic reels during summer. It drove me mad. Using cotton gloves helped a lot (switching to steel reels totally eliminated the problem).


  2. Must admit Omar, as this was the first time using The Bag, I didn't have any with me - also with sheet film do you not think there'd be a danger of fluffy clouds and fluffy negatives? Dust can be a huge problem with sheet film.
    It's a nice tip though - I will try and have a go and see how I get on!

  3. It's not that you're sweating more, but there's almost no volume of air to absorb it inside a flattened bag. More volume should help.

    You're quite right: you need some sort of internal framework. I made one from the bits and pieces that enthusiasts use to make kites. It helped greatly with the sweat problem, but I still preferred to take my hands out from time to time, because I wasn't as brave as you. I did all the plus dev – then out – all the normal – out again, and so on. This helped with the backache too. Then I found a sort of wonderful springy lightproof tent at a bargain price and for some reason, never loaded film in the wild again.

  4. The fluff would put some imperfection in your otherwise perfect work ;-)...(thinking about Bruce's post here)

    Giving the glove a solid whip first should help the fluff. But yes, there's always the risk.

  5. Thanks to you both!

    David - a springy lightproof tent - not a Harrison is it? They are tempting, but I could buy about 100 ex-Belgian army sleeping bags for the price of a new one, and fortunately I have the darkroom, so it's just a holiday thing.

    Omar - hardly perfection - you would literally scream if you saw the darkroom - it's a TOTAL mess, however I am fortunate in that the ionizer I use makes short work of any dust problems and the back of my hand takes care of the rest. If you don't have an ionizer, I can recommend them as one of the best darkroom gadgets ever.

  6. You could always make life easier for yourself, Phil, by just refusing to take any photographs that don't have a "normal" contrast range. Or stick to 35mm. :)

    Seriously, though, I suppose the easiest thing would be to have enough DDSs that you could load them all up in your darkroom before leaving. That might be workable on a caravan holiday - less so if hiking the West Highland Way...

  7. No, not a Harrison. I thought I'd rather have a Porsche or re-equip the Belgian army for the money. This was from Calumet – a cube, perhaps eighteen inches wide, with arms, that worked like those self-erecting Festival tents. Tricky to get the right twist-and-push action to make it flat again. Or is it twist-and-pull? Because of the springy loops inside, it doesn't fold into a compact package, so useful for the car rather than for backpacking.
    It was a clearance offer when they moved or re-furbished their premises, so very cheap, although I don't remember what I paid. I suppose they might have needed the warehouse space for more modern electronic stuff.
    The ubiquitous Mr Adams mentions changing 10x8 film by crawling head first into his sleeping bag.

  8. Bruce - you've convinced me - just sold everything and have gone for a Minox.

    David - ah - I've seen one of these in some old books - don't think they make them anymore, however something made of say Ventile would do the ticket nicely - highly breathable, pretty much light-tight cotton . . that and a framework . .
    I'll get my pencils out . . .