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 😅

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 . . . 


  1. Yes, you can't beat a good bit of nostalgia! Have to say that the Galerie looks the dog's bollocks to my eyes but I get your caveats re the PWT. If I were you, though, I'd chuck out all the out of date stuff unless you know (at least with the paper) that it's going to do the job. You can never tell with old film and I know from experience that when you've put your heart and soul into an image (not to mention time and travelling costs) that it's bloody infuriating when an out of date film lets you down. I've got a few old rolls but I only use them for testing cameras or taking pics that are easily repeatable should something go wrong. You owe it to yourself and the SWC!

  2. Thanks Bruce - the only ood stuff I have left is some sheet film - it's all fridged though. Have to say giving extra exposure with ood film really helps as does a bit of overdeveloping - not had too many problems tbh.

  3. I had a couple of issues with 120 where the backing paper showed through the neg. Haven't used a lot of ood 35mm but it's an increase in base fog I've seen there. I had an unopened box of original Agfa MC RC that was really badly fogged. Also had some ood stuff that's been fine including the old Agfa Record Rapid. The sheer frustration of ood stuff spoiling an image outweighs any savings for me.

    1. I guess it all depends on how it has been stored - my Galerie is well over 10 years old and has been stored in my darkroom which is constantly cool all year round (because of the stone flag floor - it was a mini-cellar).
      The Agfa MCC RC stuff I have, after the initial outer sheets were gone (increase in base fog) the inner ones were absolutely fine. I also have some Adox museum grade stuff that has to be around 8 years old - will be trying that next time, and also some Kentmere nuclear flash (fastest paper ever) when it was still made in Cumbria . . . watch this space.

      Mr Fecking Blogger Comments Tribulations

  4. As a film/digital half-breed, I feel wounded when you say "digital fecker". :) But I agree wholeheartedly about a photograph not being a photograph until it's printed. Some might say, "Well, you can see photographs on a computer screen. What's the difference?" It's a very big difference. Each paper has its own look and feel and the light under which you look at a photo makes a difference. And I like holding prints in my hand. I like the tangible more than the intangible. Which is why I like LPs more than digital music files. Even if the quality is the same, holding the album cover in my hands, looking at the art and liner notes, and even the act of physically placing the record on the turntable adds something to the musical experience that doesn't come with Open Folder and Click Twice.
    I really like the photo you made with the Rollei T in Moffat. That's the sort of thing I'm always looking for. The first photo on Forte Polywarmtone almost looks like an infrared photo. Very nice effect.
    Keep the posts and photos coming!

    Yours, &c.

    Fecker, Digital (Mrs.)

    1. Hi Mrs - Mr Fecking Blogger Comments Tribulations here. I had no intention to wound and understand that darkrooms are kind of difficult to set up. It was just a bit of banter, but I do have to say I really AM still upset about what digi-phog has done to choice for us here dinosaurs, and I don't necessarily (even for all its convenience) think it has been for the better. If it had never been invented, you'd still be getting rolls of film developed and select prints printed - I think the only thing that would change is you'd shoot maybe less, or maybe not - I used to know people at college who would happily blaze through 3 or so films for one sessions . . .but then they'd develop, contact and print what they wanted. Anyway, it keeps you off the streets . . and you enjoy it, so please don't feel that my comments were barbed too much. My best friend is usually on the nub of my digi comments anyway . . .this one slipped through ';0)

      Thank you for the comments. As for vinyl, well, save your pennies, because there's VAST over-production of it at the moment (and because it is no longer £3 for an album, but £17-20 it is really a luxury purchase and thus unaffordable) and in a couple of years time I reckon you should be able to pick up really premium pressings for not much money - it has started already over here - I get lists of sale vinyl every day of the week - tons of it around. Speaking as someone with around 500-odd LPs, whilst I enjoy the physicality, I much prefer my CDs!

    2. I'm not offended at all. If I was really offended, I probably wouldn't have written anything. Keep on feckin'!
      Thanks for LP buying tip! I order from Europe so I'll keep an eye out for sales.

    3. Point taken squire!
      Must cost you a small fortune in shipping from Europe . . what about Japan? Ever try Kupiku?

    4. I didn't know about Kupiko until I read your reply. WOW HD has free worldwide shipping. I buy music from them and books from the Book Depository, which also offers free worldwide shipping.

    5. Ah - they've been around for a long time shifting quantities of stock around the world - no idea how they can offer free shippig though - they're actually part of Alliance Entertainment in the States.
      As for Book depository - you know it's Amazon don't you?

    6. Yeah, but Amazon charges shipping and forces me to use the Korean government's customs ID, which I hate. Book Depository (and most places) just ship without any hassle.
      It's amazing how many smaller companies are owned by just a few huge companies.

    7. It is the world we live in - strange that Amazon themselves are trying to do 'the right thing' whereas Amazon as Book Dep standing there - like an elephant with a mask on, are bending the rules . . .hmmm

    8. I can't understand it, either.

    9. Someone, somewhere will be profiting - as the saying goes - no such thing as a free lunch.

  5. Dear Sheepy,

    It's good to see you Back In The Darkroom ™, giving physical form to those images.

    I have a more or less full (50) box of Ilfobrom (9.5 x 12) grade 2. That's from before they added the Galerie epithet. It's only slightly fogged on the edges where I opened the packet not realising it was unexposed!

    Coincidentally, I happened to squeeze out a print on a sheet of it this weekend. Exposure seemed to take forever, like > 60 seconds. The resultant image is soft tonally but it does it for me.

    I have some other older Kodak single weight paper which must be from the 70s or even earlier. You can get an image on that - slightly fogged, but atmospheric none the less. Also some no name stuff in a black box which I haven't yet tried.

    Though it is fun seeing how the old stuff handles, it is also a relief to come back to modern unexpired materials with their boring predictability and reliability.


    1. Hi JS ™ - I know what you mean, however I haven't bought a box of new fibre paper for around 7 years. Old MG stuff does tend to suffer the most, but graded seems to keep on going, and not only that, it seems to be more variable than its epithet suggests, so you're not really 'stuck' with a grade, that seems to be ballpark. I've had good luck with very different types of negatives on bog standard Grade 2 Galerie, and like I say, if you print it too dark you can always bleach and then selenium - it has worked for me a number of times.
      Would like to see some scans of these anciente prints of yours!
      HS ™


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