Saturday, January 07, 2017

Dark Weather And Darker Deeds

Morning folks and a Happy New Ear to all of you - goodness knows I could do with a couple - age is proving to be a pain as my upper levels of hearing are fading - damn good job I didn't get myself into hock with that Stax Ear-Speaker set I was hankering after!
At least for the time being I can still see, though to be honest, in Scotland in the Winter all you can see seems to emerge out of a fug of gloom - it's tripod weather most of the time, but you know what, what did I say to that concept in a recent Hasselblad outing? Bollocks! that's what I said.
Oh yes, tripods are cold and cumbersome and rather marvellous, but, when all you want to do is get out and use a roll of film . . ahem . . the first roll since June . . well, you'll understand why I said Bollocks.

OK, so I've waxed long and lengthy about the 60mm Distagon and how much I like it, but, till now, all I've done with it is use it quite well stopped down, erm . .
"just so's everything can be nice and sharp" 
and what did I say to that concept on a recent Hasselblad outing?
Yep, you guessed it . . Bollocks!
You see, what I didn't fully understand with a Zeiss/Hasselblad lens is this . . apart from the fact that they never were cheap, that mucho-expensiveness was there for a reason.
Quality of image.
They are stellar optical performers at all apertures and this seems to be par for the course across most of the lenses (of all ages).
Yes I know the pre-FLE 50mm and 40mm's get a bum-rap some times, but I do wonder how much of that is down to operator error.
From my own point of view, I gave myself a bloody good kicking, and, shock, exposed most of my frames at f3.5, f4 and f5.6.
This was really hard for me to do.
It went against everything I know and I think that is visual immaturity on my behalf and it has taken me this long to realise it is such.
But don't get me wrong, I am certainly not one of those
"Oh GOD, the bokeh at f1.4, Jings it's gnarly and fizzy, but look at that central sharpness"
type of bods.
In this recent expedition, light and only light dictated my choices.

The Hasselblad has a large whackety-thwack mirror.
I'd said Bollocks to the tripod and I'd misplaced the Leitz TTT as back-up, so that was out too.
I had an endlessly gloomy day to enjoy.
It was approaching 3 in the afternoon . . . batten down the hatches time in Scotland in the Winter . . . 
I was using expired (06/2015) TMY 400 at EI 200 (a speed dictated by the use of Pyrocat-HD) .

So what could I do apart from balance shutter speed against possible shake?
The olde dictum of try not to use a speed lower than your focal length in low light was being shouted loud in my head, so, ergo, this dictated that the speed of my lens ruled the day.
It's hardly a high-speed lens is it?
I was super-careful in the way I held the camera - in fact the olde CCS bag balanced against my hip and the Hasselblad rested on top at times, softlee softlee catchee monkee . . .
And you know what, I think it worked - see what you think.

Expired TMY 400 - EI 200
Pyrocat-HD - 19 minutes 1+1+100, 20° C
Constant agitation first minute, then 2 inversions every minute to 17 minutes.
Stand development for an extra 2 mins to 19 minutes. 

1/60th, f4

1/60th, f3.5

1/30th, f4

1/15th, f4

You might be able to see that the daylight was sundering.
In the last frame, that's the sun just about gone over the Tay. It was a proper gloaming.
You can really see the plane of focus from the lens can't you - I have tried to get that happening in photographs before, but with little success - thankfully I have now found a friend in the Distagon that can show this peculiar effect well.
Amazingly to me, these are all straight prints onto some ancient Adox Vario Classic.
I've used filtering to bring them up to a Grade 3 equivalent (with the Adox, 30 Y in Kodak Units) simply because the paper is about 8 years old.
The really weird thing I have found with Pyrocat is that you can also print negatives from different films at the same time and aperture on the same paper.
In this case it is a straight 16 seconds at f22 using my Vivitar lens and this enlarger height which will provide me with a print with a 1.5cm border on 8x10" paper, so image size with rebate is 17cm square.
I've used a little tom-foolery in an extra 10 seconds burning here and there just to even up the edges a bit, but you could get away with just doing the 16 seconds.
They were developed in the under-appreciated Fotospeed PD 5 developer and stopped in Kodak Indicator and fixed in Fotospeed FX 20 Fix.
I've found this technique of consistent print timing/aperture also applies to other developers too, it's just getting your consistency of prcessing right. And I still wonder why people are prepared to spend half their lives banging on about split-grade printing when in reality it seems like an unneccesary bit of darkroom dark-artism (Hand me my cape serf, I am going to dazzle the populace!)
I think they've worked out fine and I would be happy to display any of them - it still surprises me what I can do with my make-shift darkroom.

Well, I've done this before, published the photographs, ended it and left you at the garden gate as it were with a bag full of petit-fours and the promise of a 'till next time' . . . . but this time I thought I'd make it possibly a bit more interesting by throwing in some back-up.
Oh yes, courtesy of a newly inherited ancient Ye PiePhone and a couple from my Sony, in the words of the great Jimmy Shand:

"Welcome to ma hoose, the drinks are o'er there!"

Yep, you've spotted it . . . this isn't the darkroom, but it is the place I do all my roll tank processing - it's my kitchen sink!
Nothing fancy, water from tap, thermometer (food grade!) for checking temps - they'll usually vary by a degree or two, or four (in the Winter) but it doesn't seem to make that much difference so long as you are above 20° C. The grey tub is an old washing up bowl - it is British made and has been a sturdy and reliable companion for years and years.

Ye ancient B&Q sink

Ye anxient washing-up bowl

So, after the film is processed and dried and wee contact has been made, we're all ready for some printing.
You've seen pictures of it before, but here is the maw of creativity after a recent tidy-up . . not much different!

Incredibly, this WAS after a tidy-up.
As you can see I really do have little space - I can print 9.5x12" but it isn't easy.

Hit the deck.
The cabinet holds my paper and paper safe.
That's the Patterson washer, and yes, two crates.
They've got beer in them and are actually quite valuable now!
You step down to the stone flags.

DeVere 504.
It's mounted on a piece of worktop on a kitchen cabinet which is on its side!
Like I said, space is at a premium.

OK, the flash went off . . . badly.
It is worth noting the Astrid Ioniser on top of the DeVere.
I don't know how you manage to print without an ioniser - it keeps dust and static down to an absolute minimum.
That's the DeVere switching unit and timer to the side. The timer is mechanical and totally accurate.

Ok, well that's my prayer-space - you know I kneel don't you, to print that is .  .  .

Jeez - who let the gnome in.
I am kneeling here, though it isn't obvious

Grist for the mill.

I've never shown these horrid, make-shift printing dark arts before, but needs must and all that.

The simplest most faff-free method I know for removing dust prior to printing.
Hold your fingers like scissors and lightly draw the negative through.
It shouldn't work but it does.
Got it from watching the person who prints H C-B's archive prints.

This horrible looking thing is the DeVere negative carrier.
The top aperture is for 5x4" negatives.
The lower plate is the metal 6x9cm carrier.
I've then taped the lower glass from a Meopta 6x9 glass carrier to that permanently.
And then hinged the Anti-Newton glass upper part above.
The negative sits between those

Negative ready to go.
It's flatter than a roadkill hedgehog.
No kinking or popping.
A light wipe with my index finger removes any dust that might have settled.
I haven't had to spot a print in years.

Ah, that's better - ready, set, GO!

I just like this.
The DeVere looks like some sentient being from a 1980's Dario D'Argento film.

And then the aftermath

The un-glam side of printing . . . washing them!

That's our bath - it might not look it, but it's bloody enormous.
The thing with the hose is my ancient and not brilliant Paterson print washer - it is a tempremental thing, but it does work in its own way and was by far the cheapest print-washer I could find when I needed one . . . £20.
The trays were for toning, but I discovered I had no selenium mixed and time was mucho-short, so I didn't bother. Toning can be done easily after the event (with a dried print and to no detriment - you just need to soak it first) if you can be bothered.
Prints were dried pegged (plastic, not wooden . . wooden mark prints badly and can become contaminated if you've not washed properly) from an old clothes line that hangs in the darkroom.

And that's it really.
It never ceases to amaze me that I can produce a piece of (Ph . . silent) 'Art' with such a basic set-up and that it'll outlast me unless someone chucks it in a skip.

The finished article.
Ignore the woodchip and marvel instead at the Leica Handbook!
The print has been squashed under a pile of books for a couple of days.
Omar Ozenir has a great method of drying which I might mention at some point - his prints are dead flat and put mine to shame.

And that's all folks - hope you enjoyed it!
Remember, if you keep picking that scab, it'll never heal.


  1. Aye, great work there Sheepy.

    Luvverly lens that Distagon. Despite sounding like a hangover remedy. Plink, plink, fizz.

    You can't beat a good bit o' quality glass.

    Nice pictures, too. And thanks for the guided tour of your photo processing facilities. I thought mine were cramped. At least I can stand before the DeVere. I do envy you your easel - mine's a rusty LPL which came with the enlarger. It's OK but a devil to make sure the paper's in straight.

    Brevity today. Cheers!


  2. "Take two Distagons, dissolved in a half pint of water and then have a lie down" . . Julian . . genius!

    The easel is an ancient Beard - I got mine from Secondhand Darkroom and it was very reasonable. One of the blades is no longer true, true, but it does a good job . . . however you can easily slide a very expensive sheet of paper under the fairly hopeless aluminium paper aligners, so it isn't infallible.

    Nothing wrong with brevity - I wish I could be . . .

  3. I really like "ANXIENT" in the second washing up bowl picture. An ancient Caledonian expression for worrying, perhaps? Do washing up bowls worry? There's always that "Will it come out" moment. [The capitals are to circumvent my very conscientious spell-checker.] And echoes of sentient... A life of worry... Enough.
    Lovely darkroom. Thank you. I remember my first was built into the roof-space where the headroom was so small that the enlarger had to be fixed at an angle with the top of the lamp house in the apex. Magnets to hold the paper. I had to kneel of course and it was so cold that in winter I had one of those little electric mug-heaters to warm the developer between prints. Printing in gloves is interesting. Electrically, it was an H&S nightmare of leads and adaptors. In summer during daylight it was too hot to endure at all.
    Happy days, as we say when the days are safely gone.
    Keep up the good work with the larger apertures. If you really want small apertures, cut out the middle man and use a pinhole.
    As a matter of fact, I think every photographer should have a go at pinhole, at least once. I mean one moderately serious attempt, not just an afternoon's play. Enough of that too.

  4. The only spell check I use is me eyes David, hence the mistake, but yeah it does lend something to an ordinary bit of grey brit-plastic!

    Your early darkroom sounds lovely, and tbh, I know I am lucky to have one at all, even though I complain about the kneeling.

    Have I not shown my pinholes? Nope, don't think I have and I might not have even printed them . . . there's some from a hacked 35mm panoramic (don't worry, it was a Halina, not an X-Pan!) and a nice old Agfa 6x9 box camera. I have tried pinhole, but I was never sure about it, so I stopped. Maybe the time is ripe for more . . .


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