Friday, August 25, 2017

Yer Arsenal

Mornin' Varmints!

Well, I recently had a rather lovely time armed (why is it photography has all the combat terms? . . Shoot, Kit, Armed . .) with a very lovely MF kit:
Vic the 500 CM with the 60mm Distagon and 150mm Sonnar, and Olly The Rollei, with his ancient 75mm Tessar.

Now you might think lugging this amount of gear around would be a pain, and in one shoulder bag it certainly is, so that's why I resorted to two bags . . one big 'un with the Hasselblad stuff and the other much smaller with the Rollei.
Despite the fact they're MF cameras, they're both relatively luggable:

On a its oh-so-1960's skinny strap, the Hasselblad in particular seems to accomodate less of the space/time dimension than a modern 'Pro' SLR - it strangely looks smaller too, and I can't get my head around that!
Also, because of the optical quality of the Zeiss lenses, hand-holding such a decent-sized camera is relatively easy, simply because you can afford to take photographs even wide open with little appreciable loss of quality on the negative.
It is this factor (as well as feeling very 'professional') that endears me to Hasselblads.

But you know what (and as others have uncovered before me) as a walk about camera for those who hate having to use 24 or 36 exposures at a time, a nice little TLR of quality build, makes a wonderful and very very adaptable friend. Olly (my Rollei T) is a reasonable, light, quiet and relatively rugged little machine; he only draws admiring glances and comments, because he is so beautiful and so damn old-fashioned looking.
OK, so a 2.8 or 3.5 Rollei E or F would be maybe a nicer machine from the optical point of view, but let's set this straight - Olly's 3.5 Tessar is a damned fine lens with a really wonderful treatment of out of focus areas. His optimum (optimised) aperture is f11 and I can confirm this is what you should use on a Rollei T if you want it really sharp all over.
The image softens a tad at wider apertures, but you don't notice actually - it is a homegenous mess of crispness and smooth OOFA..
The greatest thing about any TLR though, is that you can actually hand-hold with reasonable expectation of decent sharpness all the way down to around a 1/4 of a second. Brace yourselves, your hand or the camera, or employ a nice little Leitz Table Top Tripod, and 1 second is easy.
I use a neck strap with mine (original Rollei scissor strap) and gently pulling down on the strap and breathing out really make the lower limits of hand-holdability expand beyond the horizon.

Anyway, enough of this guff - here's the films and the photos.

The Hasselblad Stuff.

First up are the Hasselblad films - both HP5. Now I've never had much success with HP5 really, but this was reasonably priced so I snapped it up and developed it in Pyrocat HD for 16 mins at 21C, and then let it stand to 20 mins. I think I have reached a conclusion too - whilst I appreciate 'T-grain' films for their versatility and bombproofness, and whether my eye has changed a lot, I don't know, but I do think that these days I prefer 'normal' films like FP4, HP5, Tri-X etc.
I think it seems to come from (not the grey palette per se, because you could look at any John Sexton photo and say the grey palette of TMX is second to none) some combination of greys, shadows and crispness? I don't actually know, but I do know that I think I can differentiate between T-grain and normal. So there must be something . . . ***

Hoist 'Pon My Own Petard!

*** Well actually, that was my thinking when I blearily scanned the contacts and wrote the above without referring to the film types . . .
The Hasselblad films as mentioned were HP5, but the Rollei films were ancient TMX 400 (ARGH!) and Ilford Delta 400, both at EI 200 (DOUBLE ARGGGH!!!).
And you know what? jings, TMX 400 and a single coated lens (the last two photographs are that combination) - well, I think the results speak for themselves - though these aren't properly printed things, just 3200 DPI scans from the contact prints and a bit of tickling up in Photos.
All the same, to me, they have that proper old-school air about them that I see in photos I love from the 1930's and 40's.
Strike 1 for T-Grain! ***

Anyway, back to Hasselblads and HP5 - the first film was taken at one of my favourite places in the world and whether the weight of the words of David M were weighing on my shoulders or not I don't know. But last time I posted photos of the place (roughly a year ago) he wondered whether I could put the place in its place as it were - give it more of a detailed air and reveal more of its structure.

And you know what, I bloody couldn't.

The tower is damn near impossible to photograph well, because it is fenced off and surrounded by heavy wood and impassability - honestly, it was like trying to make photos of a very tall building somehow magically shrunk into a tiny room filled with magically shrunken trees - I had no room to move, and no space to stand back and get it all in - even with a wide-angle lens.

So I struggled, picked my tripod up, put it down again, huffed, moved around, and then spotted some horses and was like a child:

"Ooooh, HORSES!" 

said I, abandoning the tripod and merrily taking nearly a whole roll of film of some of the most poor horse pics you have ever seen:

See What I Mean

You see stupidly, in my excitement about HORSES, I forgot to swap lenses and go for a wide option, so the whole bloody lot were taken with the 150mm Sonnar - no wonder they're stupid close-ups like the horse is photo-bombing every frame!

But things changed after that (no, really, they did) - I knew that the horse pics were a disaster, so, intent on saving the weekend (I only had 2 days effectively in total) I had a stern talk with myself and became determined to make better photographs . . .

We had some lunch, and the sun came out, and in fact it got downright roasting, if you can use such a term in Scotland. We were both shattered from our working weeks, but despite the temptation (very big) to head for a snooze, I gritted my teeth, loaded the second HP5 into the Hasselblad and went in search of a mini-adventure.

I turned up at a place I have been intending to visit seriously for quite a number of years. It's fully apparent on an old OS map I have of the area, as Hotel, but I never knew of its existence; indeed back in the day, my trips here were filled with visiting a relation, tending a grave and no exploration of the environs, so it slipped under my radar. I'm acutely familiar with the road it is on now though,  but I'd only ever sailed past a couple of times and still never visited it.

Anyway, back in 1997 this wonderful building was struck by lightning whilst the owners were away on holiday and underwent a devastating fire, to the extent that rebuilding would probably have cost more than the whole place was worth; try finding someone with the skills for building with Lime these days and stone masons who can cut and chop raw stone so beautifully. Trust me, there's precious few around - so, subsequently the house has slid ever since.

A Lost Cause

It'll start to properly collapse in a few years which is awful because it is beautiful and in an incredible setting; not far from a river, surrounded by wild hills and woods and fields. Having read further, it is also apparently well-haunted, but personally I could find nothing like that (being sensitive to such things) other than an air of abandonment - all the ghosts have gone elsewhere - they like warmth and being reminded of what it is like to be human . .

Approaching it was rather like approaching the photographing of a Vet (eran) - you know, Army, Wars, laying down their lives so we can do everything we take for granted - you have to be utterly respectful and do them justice and hopefully establish a rapport which transcends mere film and chemicals - it is not as easy as it sounds. In fact that goes for most portraiture - check out some of Arnold Newman's transcending photographs to see what I mean.

Strangely (to me, and despite trying my hardest) I don't think I have got anywhere near doing it justice - my rapport was non-existent given I had hardly any time.
I'll just have to go back methinks (any excuse) and photograph it in snow and rain and storm and sun. There, I feel better now!

Anyway, I really did try - the sun was out (it was mid-afternoon) there were hard shadows everywhere and I had a feeling like I was stepping back in time. I was excited and a bit trepidatious too . . .

The use of the two Hasselblad lenses was also interesting  - I still need to get my head around the 150mm - I've never done a full lens set-up approach before and I found it challenging, in that it seemed to really complicate my view of things, so rather than just get in and shoot, I had to stand and think AND I still need to get my head around the 150mm!

I believe I am more of a wide-angle man actually, though as we'll see later, the 75mm Tessar on the Rollei proved to be as natural as breathing.
Hmmm . . . maybe an 80mm Planar would be a good choice on the Hasselblad . . .

That's Better!

The above were roughly divided half and half - Sonnar at the start, Distagon at the end.
I actually like both - the Sonnar definitely has a more 'pictorial' quality, whereas the Distagon is pure, hard fact - it's an inspiration-inspiring lens.

I really haven't done it any justice though - in reality it needs something more panoramic with a large tower that I could get up so that I don't keep getting converging verticals, but can get the whole scene in - bring on the cherry pickers!

The broom and especially gooseberries were rampant, and to my eye they kept the dereliction in place - the house was sinking into a sea of vegetation.
I've photographed a lot of city dereliction and it is always RAW and in yer face as it were - I definitely prefer the former.

The Rollei Stuff - Part 1.

Anyway, partially satiated, I wandered back to the car, still amazed at how such a lovely place in a lovely bit of land can remain so neglected, and then thought, 'Well . . Why Not?!' and pulled Olly out of the boot and went back.
As we'll see, it might only be an 'advanced amateur' camera, and as old as me, but it takes a lovely photo that reveals atmosphere. I'll put it down to the Tessar - single coated and reverential.

The sun was still shining and the Tessar concentrated my mind for a few frames, and that was it.

Olly the Rollei? He's a good old stick is my T
(I seriously thought I'd broken him a few years back, when, using a tiny amount of WD40 to sort a very squeaky take-up spindle, the whole camera siezed and would not work. I was frustrated as feck, left it a few months, tried again, still nothing, so in desperation, thinking that maybe the WD 40 had loosened some lubricant which had then [this being Scotland] re-seized somewhere important, I did what I have done with a couple of old LF shutters . . left them on a warm but not hot radiator for a day or so. It worked! And has worked ever since. It's just a theory of mine, but worth a try if you are at the OH SHIT! stage.)
He's been a companion of mine for a long time now and we've seen some lovely landscapes together.

Anyway, before we get back to the house, I'll set the controls on the Time Machine to the previous day and detail this properly chronologically:

The first film through Olly was very expired TMX 400 without a light meter . . you can tell can't you. We arrived on a Saturday afternoon and it was dull and quite unpleasant, but that didn't stop me -
I guessed and snapped and guessed some more after only a brief EV reading of shadows.

(Oh and the change in format of the contact sheets, is because I bought some very cheap Printfile 120-3HB sleeves. I don't know why, but I've always used the "4 sets of 3" sleeves . . but these were a revelation. One less cut, and less mucking about! Also less chance of scratching and dropping, if you know what I mean.)

Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible . .

The Ramblin' Man Stuff - Skip If You Like!

I was rather amazed by the number of abandoned buildings - this place never ever used to be like this - it used to be quaint and full of moneyed old ladies. In fact the town was almost impossibly English in places - and why not, beautiful surroundings, not far from the Border. The locals were semi-accepting of the invasion because it brought money into the town - of course, it was a different matter if you were of school age back in the 1970's, but that's another long story . . .
And it is still quaint and I love it, but when I started exploring, I was really unsettled by how rundown it is in places and thought to myself something had happened in the 30-odd years since I'd lived here, and I think I might well have got to the nub of it.
Basically . .  ready?
Property prices!
15 years ago you could buy a detached Victorian 4 bedroomed villa here with gardens for around £100,000 to £150,000 . . and they weren't just bog standard Victorian houses either; these were built for the moneyed of the area; from émigrés from Edinburgh and Glasgow, to the local landed gentry and well-off - basically 'the nobs'. And as with all varieties of nob, excellence was demanded, so they were built to a very high standard indeed.
At the time, similar properties in the rest of the UK must have averaged around at least £250,000 for a 'normal' house and of course in London you'd have been well over a Mill or two.
Prices like that don't stay hidden for long.
You're 60-odd miles from Glagow Centre and the same from Edinburgh . . . England is just a couple of hours away - it's a good placement with a good community (and I'll say that, the community is sterling) but I think what happened is that cheaper properties (of which there were quite a few) have attracted people from Darn Sarf (In much the same way my Mum and Dad were attracted and bought a whole house for £600 in 1967!). I'm not denigrating the community, but where before the émigrés were old ladies and retiring couples with money (bank managers, teachers, you know the sort of social level) now it is a broad swathe of society with people from every social background, good, bad and indifferent, and that has bought with it a 'tougher' feel.
It always was a tough community - you ask some local farmers, and I can personally attest to the penury of hill farming - but it is different now.
Do I sound like a snob?
I dunno - probably - though it's a word I wouldn't apply to myself, being council estate raised. It's just that on our 1960's/1970's estate, most people really cared for their property - albeit rented - because they knew the worth of having decent bricks and mortar, having gone through the intensity and destruction of the Blitz.
Yes there were problems, but they were minor.
(After we left London, drugs, guns and gangs moved in and my old estate became known as Little Beirut. But that was brief and as far as I can see these days it's an OK place to raise a family.)
But anyway, nowadays decent housing is taken for granted, but believe you me, it's not that long ago when it was definitely not the norm.
But there's something else at work too - the way society is now, people are about as rootless as a hoe'd weed - you're no longer 'of the place', maybe even no longer 'from the place', you just 'live there'
This is a new phenomenon.
Communities up until relatively recently have been fairly closed. You, if you had been born somewhere and could trace back a few generations, were 'OF' the place. If you'd just moved there, you were 'FROM' the place. It would take quite a while for you to be utterly accepted - sometimes a couple of generations. This is true in my opinion - I've observed it and been on the brunt end of it.
But now there's new dandelion seeds in town, they move where they can afford, and this area was affordable compared to other parts of the country; they come and stop and life deals them some rough hands and they flit and the houses get caught up in legal red tape and all the while the weather keeps going and Winters' come and go and the house starts to slide and before you know it (as in the last two photographs at the bottom) your front window has fallen in; your rear outbuilding has elder trees growing out of the walls; the drains and gutters are choked; water enters the property; damp takes a hold; insiduous mould creeps on; vermin, rot, and boring insect attack all take their toll; in very little time you have a derelict (requiring vast expense) property on your hands.
People wipe their hands of it and vanish.
The paper trail of responsibility dries up, and poor Mrs McKenzie, who, maybe 30 years ago bought a lovely wee semi-detached next to some good solid neighbours finds herself tethered to a disaster in decreasing property value and saleabilty . .
And all because property prices are cheaper here than elsewhere.
Town Councils need to get a grip and sort out situations like this before they go beyond anything sortable - it's shocking and needs to be acted on, or, as is happening in my old home town, things will start to get really really bad - Mr David Mundell, Secretary Of State for Scotland take note - it's one of your communities I am talking about!
Over and out . .

The Rollei Stuff - Part 2

Anyway, enough of the ramblin' man shite - here's the photos!

First into the ring is ancient TMY 400 developed in Pyrocat.

Yes, I Know . . . Remember To Consult Exposure Meter Next Time

Next up is the Delta 400.
The river pictures bring an instant tear to my eye as it was where I was raised. Getting down under the bridge and just standing there for 10 minutes, before taking some photos and immersing my hands in the cold, clear water was a salve for city life.
As for the house, well, I guess it reveals it - please excuse the converging verticals, it was inevitable from the ground!
I think an atmosphere has been captured though, as you might see from the (ahem) OK-They-re-Not-Really 'Prints'.

Weirdly Semi-Guessed

The 'Ere-Ain't-They-Just-3200 DPi-Scans?' Bit


 "You Talkin' To Me?"

 "You Talkin' To Me?"

 "You Talkin' To Me?"

"Well, Then Who The Hell Else Are You Talking . .  ?
You Talking To Me?
Well, I'm The Only One Here."

I Love The Comedy/Tragedy Masks Someone Has Nailed To This Trunk

Wonder Where The Wheels Went?

Mirror, Signal, Manouevre

Fire Escape For Ghosts

Had To Crop This Because Of The Verticals

A Nice Comfy Sitting Room

And Again

Potrait Of A Van


I Dunno - I Think I Captured Something

Anybody Home?

Just Us Ghosts

My Parents Are Buried Here


Abandoned House I (With Curtain)

Abandoned House II (With Webs)

And that, as they say, is that.
Sorry for the length of this post, but hope it has been interesting.
As usual, comments are most welcome unless they're 'Anonymous'!
TTFN and remember:
Mony A Mickle Maks A Muckle, But No Any Mickle Maks A Pickle!


  1. You don't post often, but the lengthy reports you do make are well worth the wait. I like the rambling stuff as well as the photos. My favourite horse photo is the third from the left in the top row of the contact sheet. Mr. Horsey looks heroic and the tree nicely fills in the blank sky. The first Rollei photograph is really nice, and I hope you make a proper print and share it here. The bottom two photos of the windows are well-composed and interesting, though they make me feel a bit sad, as all abandoned houses do.

  2. Thanks Marcus - your comments are always welcome and yes, I'll get some proper prints made as soon as I can. Time slips through my fingers like air . . . I'll get there.

    As for the abandoned houses, the melancholia from them was palpable!

  3. Baa-ravo Mr. Sheepy. Good to see you've been out and about doing what what gives photographers their name - photographing!

    The horse photos - yes we've all been there, done that. For me it tends to be cows, but the less said about that the better... I think that with a suitably contrasty printing, there could be a couple of worthy contenders.

    Love the pictures of decay. Yes there is an air of sadness, but it also serves to remind of how nature will (relatively) quickly reclaim. I'm not sure how gracefully modern buildings will degrade. There's something about the older materials, local brick, mortar, sand, that just wears and erodes and looks part of the landscape in a way that whatever they're using now does not.

    My 2d worth (see what I did there?) is that HP5 in medium format is a completely different beast from HP5 in 35mm. Of course they use the same emulsion, it's just be the larger negative. I've not yet tried Delta 400 in 120. That pleasure has yet to come. Oh, the anticipation!

    1. Hi Julian - thanks for the comments. I doubt any of the horses will appear in real print any time soon, but och well, it's only a fiver (sic) down isn't it . . .

      Older materials . . well, it's lime mortar. I read an interesting thing saying that lime is a sacrificial material. It is softer and erodes (eventually) and that explains why when you see an old wall that's been re-pointed with cement, the stone is breaking away and the cement is still as was. Modern cement is impermeable. It rains, gets into the cracks between cement and stone, freezes, the cement doesn't move, but the stone will crack away either in a big or small way, and so it goes one for years, eventually damaging the stonework. If it were pointed with lime, it is the lime that would crumble (eventually, give or take a couple of hundred years).
      It's really interesting actually . . well, yeah I suppose it is! Try finding modern builders who are prepared to use lime though - definitely not a bish-bosh job. It requires time and nurture to set properly.
      Oh and I am deffo not 'down' on modern materials - I really do love a bit of 60's concrete brutalist!

      Anyway, yes HP5 - I think you are right actually (even moving up to 5x4") and weird it should be like that; whereas FP4 is pretty much the same no matter the format. Delta 400 I like - it has the detail and a nice pictorial quality depending on the camera.

      More photos soon!

  4. Another enjoyable read, Phil. I think you have a natural penchant for the square format: that's when you make your best compositions, imho. I noticed the passing reference to an 80mm Planar for Vic but you might want to think of an old Rollei Standard instead. I can see you doing some great stuff with that.

  5. Forgot to say, Phil, that I really enjoyed your videos! I can see you with your own youtube channel. :)

  6. Thanks Bruce - think I need to get some stick-on stubble and jaw chisel before I have my own YT channel . . anyway . . who're you calling a TUBE?!

    Ah, the Rollei Standard - y'know, you never know. I have been thinking about it actually, but it is a Tessar (albeit uncoated) isn't it? I was thinking more of a Planar on an early big-boys Rollei might be more of a thing . . but then again, you never know. Watch this space . . . . . . . .

    OK you can stop watching now.


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