Monday, January 21, 2019

Quiet Byways In Fife

Sadly, with a warning of severe weather predicted for mountainous regions, I swore off (and at) the snow and freezing rain predicted for my first spot of camera time in months.
A PLAN B was needed, so I put on my thinking cap, and (given that the sun doesn't crest the Tay Valley till around 8am [in the Winter]) thought better of risking life and limb in the mountains and plumped instead for a local, but quiet, bit of The Fife Coastal Path - Wormit to Balmerino.

Field Edge, Fife Coastal Path, December 2018

But before that, a word about how I am going to do FB posts this year . . hold your excitement there man . .
Most photographers don't air their dirty pants in public , , you only get the crisply ironed ones (who the feck irons pants, but apparently it is a thing so who am I to judge . . ).
So, in the interests of the skid-markedfart-shredded and un-ironed variety (or is that just me) I have decided to detail each film in their completeness.
I'll tell you how it came to be, then there'll be a scan of the contact print (stains and all . . there is nowhere to hide) and then you'll get choice prints made from the negatives.

The reason for this?

Well, I was thinking about it - a film is in itself a creative process, whether you realise it or not.
If you are out photographing, you might well be subconsciously following something.

Of course, you could just be snapping at anything and everything, but I am not talking about random bombing, I'm talking about your 'journey' (ugh . . overused these days? YOU BET).
OK, not 'journey' how about:

 Arc Of Travel

You load a film and set off with something in mind . . you do don't you?
I do.
I generally photograph for a purpose, that being to finish a film that hopefully contains some photographs I like.
It is a sort of Arc Of Travel and often I can see that in my contact prints - they detail where I have walked and travelled in a timeous manner . . . who knows, they might even show some sort of thought process or signs of life and not just my usual drooling gait!
The shutter of my camera takes slices out of the time I spent doing that activity and preserves something extra - an adjunct as it were, to my memory.

I remember the walk; I can describe it to someone easily. But to make that memory physical and of meaning to someone else, I need to refer to the photograph.

Now what if that photograph (as well as being a record of the photons bouncing off everything) has also managed to preserve some of the atmospherics, that I felt at the time?

I'm not talking about filming it, because that is photography without decision making; it might preserve the sounds and motions of the landscape, but has it captured any of you and your thought process?
Is this the distinct difference between the moving and the still image?
A definite URGE to take one small bit of time and subject and make it yours?

A giant widdle on the lampost of eternity?

I don't know.
Not to denigrate film-making - I'm sure film-makers would say that they've managed to capture some of their self in their work - maybe that is true.
It requires further thought and navel-gazing from me . . .

Anyway, with regard to photographs, some speak loudly, but others are mute.

And (long way around as usual) I guess this is why I am going to air everything.

Because, as I said, some sing loudly with a lusty bellow, and others are quieter than church mice, but no matter their db's, they are all a part of your AOT (Arc Of Travel).

The contact print reveals all.

Your choices, your composition, possibly even your thought process.

There is, as they say, NOWHERE TO HIDE:

Jings, did he really compose that?
Out of focus!
Camera shake?
Nice foreground but look at that bokeh!
Not that AGAIN.

The morning I was thinking and writing about this, I coincidentally got an email from Bruce of TOD and he said the following:

"Plus, I've noticed there's a process I go through. It seems difficult for me to jump out of the car, identify the best photo opportunity and take the shot (as I'd have to do with LF). Rather, I work my way into it. The process of exposing film seems to hone my photographic senses. The first shot I take of a scene is hardly ever the best. The good stuff seems to happen when I get right into it. It's like there's a shift in the way my brain works. I can't do that with LF or even MF. "

Very coincidental don'tcha think?

Oooh, I thought, there must be something to what I am saying if someone else is thinking the same way, so I thought about it and made a decision that this is the way I am going.
I might also thoroughly detail each frame (certainly when showing a 120 contact . . maybe not a 35mm, and half-frame . . well . . ) and film and process.

Hopefully it won't be yawn city - maybe it will be . . . but what it will show, will be the process of thinking (hardly) and how things went along.
So without further ado it's time for a baked bean and sprout curry with extra sauce and a side dish of boiled cabbage and pinto beans . . .
Ooo, and see that bowl of Kimchi . . .

Brace yourselves . . . 


Here we go:

 FILM # 66/51

FILM # 66/51

Right, so here's my notes for each frame - seems dull - maybe it is . . but tough:

First film >120< taken since   the weekend of 16/6/18!

1./ 5 sec - - - - - > 10 sec, f16 ZIII - Very Dark
2./ 8 sec - - - - - > 19 sec, f16, ZIII - Copse
3./ 8 sec - - - - - > 19 sec, f16, ZIII - Gate
4./ 3 sec - - - - - > 6 sec, f22, ZIII - Field Edge
5./ 3 sec - - - - - > 6 sec, f22, ZIII - Coppice/Field Edge
6./ 4 sec - - - - - > 7 sec, f22, ZIII - Wood
7./ 1 sec - - - - - > 4 sec, f22, ZIII - Path
8./ 1 sec, f22, ZIII - Fallen Trees
9./ 1/60th, f8, ZIII - Horse, Handheld
10./ 1/2 sec, f22, ZIII   - Reeds
11./ 1/30th, f5.6, Z???, Seal, Guessed, Handheld
12./ 8 sec - - - - - > 19 sec, f16, ZIII - Sitting Room

All tripod/cable unless noted.

- - - - -> Denotes an extended exposure time due to reciprocity.

I've no pretensions about the photographs - they're OK, but at least I was doing something!
It was a really enjoyable walk, with the first mile or so conducted in near darkness. I do so love watching dawn arrive and, because of the nature of the path I was able to do so without the massive buffeting the wind was doing on the other side of the hills.
It's easy walking this bit of the path, although I would caution against heading down to the tempting looking bits of shoreline (though you'd have to massively scramble down - they're pretty steep) as the tide will get you.
Anyway, keeping to the path itself, I encounted nobody till I was on my way back, which is sort of the way I like things actually.

Camera was the Hasselblad SWC/M; tripod was my faithful Gitzo, and the film was Ilford Delta 400, rated at EI 200 and developed in Pyrocat-HD for 21 minutes at 22ยบ C.
I no longer use a water bath to pre-bathe the film - it seemed ineffectual - so it is straight on, constant gentle agitation for 30 seconds and then 4 agitations every minute up to 17 minutes. Then I let it stand to 21 Mins.
Stop is 3 changes of fresh water.
Fix is around 6 minutes.
Then washing at the end.
Finally it gets the dreaded Photo-Flo treatment - I've never had much luck with any wash-aid, they all seem to cause all sorts of gunk on the film.
With Photo-Flo, take ONE drop to 1200ml of water, mix the drop gently, VERY VERY GENTLY through the water with your fingers (like you were tickling a trout) and then leave the film on the reel (in the solution) for about 5 minutes.
You have to be careful not to create foam when removing it to hang.
Again gentleness pays dividends.

I've mentioned this before - my darkroom is furnished with an Astrid Ioniser that keeps dust levels down a fair bit.
The reason for this? Well, if you really want to be scared when you've hung a film, just turn out the lights and use a torch to look behind you as you exit. The levels of dust revealed by the light beam are usually through the roof and completely sobering.
Thus, the Astrid. It is a great thing.
I used to use an old Mountain Breeze ioniser, but that expired a few years back - and the reason I went that route in the first place? Well, it was a tip from the late Barry Thornton and it made sense to me. Since I took on his ioniser tip I've rarely had to spot any print.
I know it seems like the strangest darkroom accessory ever, but it works.

Oh, and I've got a tip for removing dust from film too - that's in the printing section after this next bit!

Assessing the contact:
Contact prints are always a compromise - I tend to print mine on Grade 2 and take it from there, but typing this has reminded me that Ansel Adams in The Print (I believe) recommended printing them on the softest grade possible to maximise your eyeballing of potentially good prints and I think that is maybe something I will try out in the future . . . thank you brain!
Anyway, the above was a solid Grade 2 and printed to try and maximise each frame (though somewhat unsuccessful on that front). There was an old Barry Thornton adage too - minimum time for maximum black - which referred to using the film rebates (the black gridwork as it were) as an assessment of the correct exposure time for a contact. Now that's alright if every frame is perfectly exposed, but as you can see, these aren't.

I'm going to do a metering 101 in an upcoming FB simply because, the last 120 film I took was completely screwed up by a total brain-fart on the metering front by me . . . but hey, this isn't chimping and checking every photograph on a LCD screen - this is photography.
Chance will ALWAYS play a part!

Anyway, onto the prints (at last, you cry!).

I had two small session with this lot - Prints 1, 2 and 3 were printed on Ilford MGRC; Print 4 was printed on Ilford Galerie - Grade 2.
All prints were developed in Kodak Polymax which is liquid Dektol, the legendary cold to neutral print developer. They were fixed in Tetenal Fix. Print 4 was selenium toned.

Here's the dusty bit:

I always pass a negative between my first and second finger in a light wiping motion - pair of finger scissors - close 'em - pull it through. Dust is removed, and particles of gunk aren't deposited over the film - you can also feel the film this way. It's robust stuff. Try it and stop worrying.
If you're using glass carriers, a quick wipe with the back of your hand, removes 99.9% of the dust and eliminates the static that causes it to cling like a nylon dress to your tights (or is that just me?) - it sounds disastrous, but it works beautifully. 
This is a combination of tips from Barry Thornton and the woman who I watched printing from HCB archive negatives - they are simple and effective techniques. 

There - that's saved you a swift twenty for one of those horrible anti-static brushes!

Print 1

Print 2

Print 3

Print 4

Right - have you had a deco at those?

What's that at the back Atkins?
Yes, go on man? 
Yes, c'mon on, spit it out.
Hmmm - they do don't they.

To me, they all look remarkably similar with regard to contrast, yet Print 4 is a standard Grade 2. OK the selenium has given the blacks an extra edge, but it is subtle . . so what is going on?
Well I guess any printing paper is going to have to be a compromise between light sources - according to Ilford's literature, you can expect a difference of around a Grade (!) between condenser and diffusion heads. They also state that Multigrade paper needs a bit of adjustment to reach an acceptable Grade. It took me a while and a lot of trial and error to realise that using MGRC I needed to print on at least Grade 3 to get a print I found acceptable. I've never used MGFB but given the emulsion is the same then that should hold true for that too.

I think this is why I absolutely prefer printing on Galerie . . . there's something about printing on the old warhorse that just seems right. There's no farting about, no split-grade options . . just a quality emulsion on a quality base that will deliver an excellent print if you are careful. Add on this the possibilities of bleaching and toning should you feck it up, then like I said, it's a no-brainer. Expensive, YES, but in terms of wastage and time, I think the cost is probably acceptable.

It was Joe McKenzie who introduced me to it back in the 80's. Galerie then was slightly different - the blacks had a modicum (and I mean a tad) of greenishness to them - this was sorted by selenium toning - that's what Joe always did and I guess I have followed his regime ever since. This being said, these days the blacks on Galerie are neutral - no green, so you don't really have to tone if you haven't got the time or can't be arsed.

If you're still unsure about using it, save a bit of cash and buy a 25 pack - again, not cheap, but it will give you an idea. You'll be really surprised that an 'ordinary' fixed Grade 2 paper, can handle so many variations on a negative . . but it can. And that is part of its beauty. You really don't need to go down the split-grade route. Time spent in the dark can be exhausting - you want something that can lead you down the path to a nice print and not to have to worry about procedure.

I've said it before and to many people - with an average negative, there's a good chance that you can produce an acceptable print by just printing on one grade (and yes, this even works on multi-grade paper . . just because you have the ability to change grade on the fly, doesn't mean that you actually have to).
Sometimes an 'acceptable' print isn't always possible using one grade (say in the case of heavily underexposed film) and then I would advocate manipulation with dodging/burning/bleaching/toning . . . but on the whole, printing should be a relatively simple process.
You really don't need a wizard's cloak and a split grade printing degree - that has always seemed like over-complication to me.
But that's just me - if you disagree, feel free to come round for an afternoon stuffed into my tiny darkroom with me and the DeVere - just bring a gas mask and a SWAT team..

Anyway, that's a pile of reading you've done to get to here.
I've no idea why you've read all this, but if you've been able to take any wee tips from my own personal procedures, and (most importantly) have found them to work, then good.
I am chuffed about that.
As I said at the start, I think this is the way FB is going to go from now on . . but maybe with not as much explanation.
So, till the next time - happy hunting, take care, and if you know anyone who wants 200 tons of excess sprouts, use the contact form at the side of the page

Monday, January 07, 2019

Last Drops Of A Golden Summer

Well, there I was with actual time on my hands to do stuff . . so what did I do? Yep, had a good sort through the darkroom.
There were rather a lot of old boxes of paper, and a lot of (seemingly empty) 25 sheet envelopes. 
I've always known that I had some Forte Polywarmtone left, but in my mind it was one sheet . . . had I read the envelope, I'd have seen it was 3, the last time I inspected the interior . . er . . . nearly 7 years ago . . gulp.

I don't know about you, but I think I hate digital photography more now than I did then, simply because in its wake the death-knell of many many fine papers and companies rang loud around the world, including Forte, whose Polywarmtone is the subject of this 'ere blog.
This, legendary (and I don't bandy that about lightly) paper - long gone to the great darkroom in the sky - is a tragic casualty, and meanwhile some digital fecker is groaning on about his jets clogging up. 
Saints alive, from the experience pov, this is IT - printing with museum grade materials, which will, God willing, outlast us all, only to be munched on by the cockroaches from the end of days . . .
It truly is sad that the choice of materials available to today's hobby printer (or professional) is a tiny slice of what it once was.
However, while we're here, I'll boldly state that for those of us who do still make the effort to print - fortune smiles upon us - for the greatest photographic paper in the world is still made:

Ilford Galerie

It is superb and expensive, BUT, reassuringly easy to print with.
Choose Grade 2 and with careful print manipulation you can take on the world - it's versatile, and perhaps unusually for any paper, really does make any almost any image look superb.
For myself I also get far less spoils with it than anything else.
At the end of the day, if you're going to spend a shedload of time printing some meaningful negatives, then it's a no-brainer.
But, back to the nub of nostalgia and the Forte.

The Last Of The Mohicans
This Was Surface PW-14
Must Have Been In My Darkroom For Around 10 Years

The Instructions
All Well And Good If You Know/Have The Correct Filters
If Not . . Guesswork Involved

It looks old doesn't it, from the Bohemian Chic of the envelope to the typeface used on the instructions, and it is old in its attention to detail and sheer out-and-out quality of materials.
There is little like it any more.
It had a superbly variable warmth (dependant on developer) coupled with easy toning, which yielded a broad palette of nice tones.
It was quite a slow paper both in exposure and development - mind, maybe that is because this is an ancient sample; but then again, a box of Galerie I have that is older comes to full fruition in 120 seconds in Polymax developer, whereas the PWT took 180 seconds plus.
And I do seem to remember when I got the box that it seemed pretty damn slow then, but then I also seem to remember reading that that was a mark of the paper.
There's an interesting article and link to register to buy a box (if it ever goes into production again) here

Anyway, I had to treat it right - it wouldn't do to send this off into the night without a decent image, and I hope I have done it justice.
Looking back through my print archives, I can see that I didn't have the skill or the images to make the most of it before and have only found 2 images that I like printed on it . . . wonder what happened to the other 20???

I mixed up fresh fix and stop. The Kodak Polymax developer was mixed not that long ago so was fine, and into the dark I went.
I'll confess that it has been well over a year since I printed on fibre paper which is shocking, so the quiet rhythm of darkroom work took a small amount of time to get used to again, but once you've learned to ride Ansel's bicycle, well . . .
I spent 6 exhausting hours from start of printing to end of toning and start of washing because I also printed the same negatives (plus a couple of others) on Galerie. I wanted a comparison between the two for this 'ere blog, because I thought you lot would be interested . . so stop yawning at the back!
It was fun with a capital F, and my intention is to spend more time doing it.
I take a fair amount of photos, and to not print many of them . . well, what is the point in taking so many photos - capiche?

And so, to the prints - they're all 800 dpi scans from the prints themselves and I'll detail the details as it were underneath.
I'll also say that just for fun I tried to match the prints with equivalent ones printed on the ancient Galerie - it was semi-hard to match exposure, but I took it on the chin for the team . . . and only actually matched two of them.
Well, it did seem a bit extravagent.
Anyway, anon . . .

Forte Polywarmtone
Somewhere Near Grade 3?
Who knows, but it was Selenium Toned

Ilford Galerie - Grade 2
Selenium Toned

Yes I know, the Galerie print is a fair bit more exposed - it was very difficult to do and I certainly wasn't going to use another sheet of (expensive) paper just to furnish this blog with more testing.
I am super happy with the Galerie print as it reflects the feel of the day. The PWT print is very lightweight and 'airy'.
As you can see it is no slouch as a paper though - I would say fine detail is equal in both.
The negative this came from was Ilford Delta 400, EI 200, developed in Pyrocat-HD.
Both prints were lightly toned with Kodak Selenium 1:20 too.
One thing you can't get from this is the surface quality of both prints. I prefer glossy finishes and that's what they are, but what I will say is the finish on the PWT is utterly sublime - it is glossy and silky and rather than reflecting light all over the place as a lot of glossies do, it holds it and adds it as an extra dimension.
That sounds like bollocks, but it is my impression of it.
Even Adox in their wishes to revamp the paper say that it will be impossible to replicate that surface ever again . . .
Nothing like ramping up the pressure on my last three pieces then ๐Ÿ˜…

Forte Polywarmtone
Unknown Grade.
Bleached And Then Selenium Toned

Ilford Galerie Grade 2
Selenium Toned
Digital Scanning Footery

I rather like this image in an old and decrepit way.
It was exposed on a piddle-i-dee afternoon in Moffat. It was chucking and I was moving about with the Rollei T seeing what I could find. I came across an abandoned cottage and it had outbuildings in the back garden that were in a serious state of disrepair. This room looked like it had been someone's cosy den at one point - but that must have been a couple of decades ago.
The texture of the curtain mixed with the very subtle reflections of glass (barely discernible in the terrible light) made for an image that cried out neglect and disappontment and abandonment.
You could feel the buildings' pain.
At that time (early 2017) there were a number of properties in the town that were like that, which was very unusual. I always remember the town as a place of polite well-to-do-nes; of friendly old ladies who were very accepting of incomers; of youngsters who were less welcoming and a crowd inbetween who were fine!
It was a place of clean (but fading) moneyed cliquiness and a quiet fortitude.
I like/liked it A LOT.

Anyway, I've cheated . . . the Galerie print is poor, so I've lightened it a bit in 'Photos' - I dunno, I got arse over elbow and mucked up my timings. 
The PWT though . . . that is another story.
What I was dealing with was a terribly under-exposed negative. Y'see what I'd done when taking the picture, was grit my teeth, stopped down a tad (just to get the ivy and the curtain) and shot it at 1/8th at f8.
The film was TMX 400, 2 years past its expiry date and the EI was 200.
Well-expired films do need a bit of extra oomph in exposure, but sadly this was a guess too far.
The light was terribly poor and everything was fairly dreich.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, it isn't easy to print.
As such it was a tad more exposed than I thought suited the subject matter, so after a while in the washer, I took it out, and bleached it lightly in Potassium Ferrycyanide.
Interestingly this has taken some micro-highlights that weren't at all obvious and given a sort of streaking to the lower right quadrant - fortunately that has given some form to some of the very very slight reflections that were present on the glass.
On the whole I like the rendition

And so, to possibly the last sheet of PWT ever exposed in the world!

The Bones Of Granton House
Forte Polywarmtone
Unknown Grade.
Bleached And Then Selenium Toned

I rather like this image - it was taken at Granton House in Moffat - a (once) wonderful Georgian House cum hotel which burned down a couple of decades back. It's a shell of a building and rather dangerous, so if you are tempted to visit, don't put our head through a lintel - it could well collapse. There's the wreck of a van in the garden, as you can see above, it looks rather like the slumped skull and tusk of some mechanical elephant and I'd never noticed that till I typed this.
It was a hot spring day, the fields surrounding the house were full of the wash and debris of the severe storm of Winter 2017 when the whole town was cut off.
I know this area well - it is the product of such weathering - but that storm must have been something else; the fields were full of small boulders - quite something.

I am glad this was my last image on PWT, though strangely none of the legendary warmth comes through - I'll put that down to using Kodak Polymax developer (liquid Dektol) which is neutral to cold, and then toning in Selenium 1:20 for a couple of minutes.
All the lovely subtleties of light the Rollei's single coated lens has let through though, are present in the negative and on the print. 
I like it a lot actually.
I didn't make a Galerie print of this - maybe at some point in the future, but tbh I was ker-knackered as I had made another set of prints for another article. 
It was 6 solid hours of work - thoroughly enjoyable work.

And that's about it - if you print you'll understand the trails and tribulations; if you don't, well, I know it is easy for me to say from my high castle and guerilla darkroom/cupboard, but you should try and learn it. 
The final, physical image, is IT to me. 
To take light and time and atmosphere, and even emotion, and distill it into something you can hold and look at, well, it really is the whole point as far as I am concerned.

So, Forte Polywarmtone
Good luck Adox - I think it is going to be a difficult job.
I had great pleasure using up the last of my supplies and hope I have done it some justice.

TTFN - thanks for reading, and if you could help me across that road I'd be forever grateful . . .