Monday, January 12, 2015

A Foggye Daye In Olde Dundee Towne

Morning Folks and a Very Happy New Year to you!
I am sorry yet again if you've come along expecting more Caravan Chronicles . . it hasn't happened yet . . however this is just as exciting . . possibly more so really, so without further ado, here we go.

Admit it, if you're a traditional wet process photographic printer, we've all been there. The sheer temptation of all that lovely old paper, rotting away in darkrooms long abandoned by grab and squirt photographers (don't worry, there's no digital rail coming here). 
There's TONS of it, seemingly everywhere, free (if you know someone nice); at super tempting prices on eBay or Gumtree; car boot sales; Craig's List .  . whatever . . but it's out there. 
Like you, I have found the prospect of saving a large number of quids stocking up, a very easy and tempting proposition. 
Why not?
Paper is fucking expensive (for what it is) and given you can happily consign a healthy percentage of that £90 box of Ilford Galerie to the bin as wastage, unless you are super careful, then much cheapness is a very nice way to go.

BUT . . .

You knew that was coming, didn't you. 
It is all well and good opting for this route, and for a lot of times, it can be fine, however time and again for me, one thing raises its ugly head:


Yep - it's no surprise to learn that in common with all photographic materials, temperature and light and chemical ingress, but especially temperature can affect paper. For all you know, that lovely box of 11x14 Ektalure that only cost £10 has been stored in the photographic equivalent of a blast furnace. Even worse, very few darkrooms can be considered to be kept at a consistent cool temperature - they're up and down and all over the shop.

I recently received 2 boxes of Agfa MCC from a kind friend at Scottish Photographers - nearly 100 sheets of 10x8, and 50 sheets of 9.5 x 12. Lovely!
Now Agfa MCC was a fine paper, so fine that when it died about 6 years ago, it was resurrected by Adox and is still in production.
So that's my first point - the boxes I received must be at least 6 years old.
I was delighted though - for the cost of postage I had got loads of paper to go with my already ageing stock - Benzotriazole I thought, and Online Darkroom Bruce happily supplied me some.
I tested the paper - it was sort of fine (the 9.5x12 being a lot better than the 10x8) there was some fog, so my developer was suitably Benzoed and the fog sort of dealt with, however results were and are inconsistent.
Notice the use of the words sort of .
I've done a bit of research (och well, put my feet up with a cuppa and a copy of 'The Print') and discovered that had I just read first I would have realised that adding Benzo-T brings its own problems: extended development, loss of paper speed, colouration of the print. 
It's a bit hit and miss. 
I could also have used Potassium Bromide, however I have none of that, or even a commercial fog-reducer, but again I have none of that . . . so what do I do with this wealth of paper? Well, print with it of course! So I did.

I've had the following sequence in my head for a long time - it's all fairly simple stuff and a homage to a photographic hero of mine - John Blakemore (if you've never read his 'Black and White Photography Course' book . . why not? It is one of the most strange, wonderful and informative photographic books ever written). 
All of the negatives were made with Kodak TMAX 400 and 100, and developed in Rodinal (1:25). The camera was my Leica M2 and the lens a humble 90mm f4 Elmar-M (one of the most universally disparaged of all Leitz lenses). 
I think they work. 
See you on the other side.

Sequence 1.1

Sequence 1.2

Sequence 1.3

Sequence 1.4

Sequence 1.5

Sequence 1.6

OK - that is that out of the way. 

These are all prints made by me on 10x8" fibre paper, scanned for the purposes of this at 600 Dpi and if you study them (well you don't actually need to look hard) you'll notice something about the first 5 prints . . FOG

It is entirely obvious to me, and despite the presence of the correct dilution/amount of Benzo-T in the developer, the age of the paper has rendered the highlights with a dull thud.
Indeed I got so fed up, that at the end of the session I printed print number 1.6 on some fresher and stored properly (though still ancient) Adox Vario Classic.
Prints 1.1 to 1.5 were all printed several times (and all treated with heavy bleaching in Potassium Ferricyanide and then toned in Kodak Selenium) whereas print 1.6 was a single print, with just a light toning in the Selenium.  It took approximately two thirds less time to make and has a lovely airieness about it which is devoid from the other prints.
And this I guess is my point.
What a fucking waste of man-hours those first 5 were.
I shall have to print the sequence again for storage on properly fresh paper - I have spent a number of hours and utilised printerly skills and efforts on this and all for naught really.

Old paper might seem tempting, but in reality it is probably a waste of time

(This being said my one caveat to this is that proper Graded paper lasts considerably longer than Multigrade - I have some Grade 2 Galerie that is heading for at least 8 or 9 years old, stored in the coolness of my cellar/darkroom [sounds posh . . it's a cupboard with a stone-flagged floor] and it is still really fine.)

So, before you all go crazy and buy up the languishing stocks of lovely, tempting old paper, stored in yer Uncle's Baby Belling stove or on a bookcase in his sunny living room, think twice. Unless the vendor can guarantee that is has been stored correctly, fridged or frozen or at a consistent coolness, then to be honest I wouldn't bother.  
Life is too short!
Trust me, when that lovely glistening print is exposed to the cold white light of your darkroom and daylight you'll see that there's nothing enjoyable about it . . actually, you'll realise you've wasted your time.

Indeed I recently purchased a box of Fotospeed RCVC off eBay from a guy who said it had been stored properly for a couple of years - saved myself around a tenner, and that's foggy too.

So, Caveat Emptor!
Spend a bit more if you can
Buy fresh paper and store it carefully - the manufacturers need your money. 
And you!
Yes you!
Can you really afford the time to waste? 
Nope, thought not . . 
Me neither.
Over and out.

Oh, and lest I forget - Je Suis Charlie too.


  1. I think you hit it on the head, Phil, by highlighting the difference between graded paper and multicontrast. I got away with packs of Agfa Record Rapid and Kodak Bromide and they're both graded. However, that might have just been good luck brought about by clean living.

    You should print 1-5 again on fresh paper cos they make a lovely series. And I love the titles - sequence 1.1, 1.2, etc. Just the right amount of pretension. :)

  2. Hello again. Happy New January.
    On my nice new screen, it doesn't look like fog: it looks like a choice to make very soft and delicate prints. Things may seem different with the actual paper in hand.
    They remind me of Fay Godwin's series Glassworks and Secret Lives. They were one of her first essays in colour but the resemblance seems real to me.

  3. I had a sampler pack of FB paper from Adorama go bad less than a year after buying it fresh. It was odd blotchy fog though. My storage is normal room temperature which can be a bit warmer than I'd like in summer, but nothing outlandish.

    This is why I wouldn't ever buy paper I found at, say, a thrift store. No idea how it was stored, for how long, or if any of the store staff or (more likely) customers thinking it is inkjet photo paper might have opened it up to inspect the merch. My darkroom time is sadly at a premium and anything which wastes it is a false economy.

  4. Thanks for the comments Chaps!

    Bruce - I think the Graded/MG longevity thing has been posted in a few places and it certainly seems to be my experience.

    David - it really is fog - if I get a chance today I'll try and reprint them on fresh(er) paper.

    Paul - I've seen boxes of paper photographed open and for sale on eBay . . people haven't got a clue mostly; and you've hit the nail on the head about time - it can be such a hard graft printing, why waste your efforts!

  5. I stand corrected, but I still rather like the gentle contrast.
    I recently passed on some paper that I'd had stored for some time to a friend, who does a lot of proofing. He found that graded papers survived well, but the variable contrast stuff had became unusable.
    And where is the final thrilling episode of the Caravan Chronicles? We want the suspects to be summoned to the library, where the guilty ones are induced, by a devilishly cunning subterfuge, to confess all.


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