Saturday, January 20, 2018

Long Range Weather Forecast

Morning Chunderers . . well, as you well know, a New Ear is upon us and I don't know about you, but I fancy a pint.
Sorry, did I say PINT? I meant PRINT!

Yes, at last, like coughing up a fur-ball of creative inactivity I finally got back into the darkroom, got out some proper fibre paper and had a damn good printing session.
It lasted a few hours and I filled my Paterson print washer to capacity so could do no more, but I believe I was satisfied.
Now you're probably rubbing your noggins and wondering why I am speaking like this when I have already published a piece on printing in 2018 - well, I had two days worth of printing before the enlarger bulb holder went.
Sequence In Dream Minor was completed on Day Two, but this lot were done on Day One and I'd already started writing this if you know what I mean.
No Time Machine involved, well, at least not yet.

Anyway, onwards - the papers I used were some wonderful and terribly ancient Agfa MCC multigrade and some even more wonderfuller and possibly even more terribly ancienter Ilford Galerie - Grade 2.

The negatives were some I'd made back in September 2017 and had been desperate to print . . however despite my desperation I didn't go mad and print the lot in one go, no, I just (argh!) burned a few sheets of irreplaceable Agfa to see what I could do. 
Tantamount to 'coming out' at a Rugby Players' Stag-Do I know, but you know what, Multigrades don't last forever and I've still got about 25 sheets left, so stick that in your pipe and smoke it.
Initially the results were, erm, shite.
Too dark and way too much contrast, but I'll come to that later.
It just felt sooooo good to get back into the slow rhythm of darkroom work.
It is a tiny space is my darkroom, and I have to kneel to print (could be construed as praying to the Gods of Silver Gelatin), but, like a well-designed kitchen (you've heard of the kitchen triangle haven't you?) it is incredibly easy to find your way around and get on with some action, so kneeling on bare flagstones is fine actually.

But first let us rewind.

I thort you sed there wos no Time Machine involved Sheepy?

Yes I know, but, well, excuse me . . .

Some background - this particular photographic adventure occurred back in September 2017 - oh it was fun, in fact it was cracking fun (with extra crack).
It was so much so, that I decided to utilise the ubiquitous PiePhone (Sausage and Bean Mk. 4 if you are wondering) and make some vijos.













The films were TMX 100 (expired 09/2015) EI 50 and Ilford  FP4+ (fresh) EI 80 and I shot them both over the space of about 2 hours, where (again) I easily slipped into The Zone.
It was an incredible experience where time and everything else moved quietly aside and I found myself immersed in the easy rhythm of looking at the land, the setting of my tripod, meter reading, focus, composition and the wonderful, light thunk of the Hasselblad mirror-lock-up being activated and the inspiring whirr of the shutter capturing something special.
I hope the results bring that across to you.

I remember Ralph Gibson saying that he often willed the light to produce something special and when he was processing the film he did the same with the chemicals. You're probably thinking "BOLLOCKS!" but I dunno, sometimes, certain things need that sort of thinking.

When I was younger and more foolish I remember standing outside camera shops and looking at Bronica SQ's and thinking if only I had one of those I could channel all this feeling I have for landscape into reality . . . but alas it was not to be and I probably spent any money I saved on a guitar (!) . . . that's why the Hasselblad has been such a revelation to me.
Setting it atop a good tripod, confidently choosing your f-stop and time; composing and locking up the mirror 'til you decide to trip the cable release, is my old self come alive.
I can feel that naive 20-odd year old (OK, he looks a little strange, half buried in mud, in his drainpipes and Dunlop Green Flash) standing beside me punching the air and knowing somehow that light and time are translating.

Translating?

Yes!

I, through the medium of photography (my camera, film, chemicals and paper) am translating some deep currents of atmosphere from the Scottish countryside into something that (hopefully!) has meaning to all men.
Does that sound like shite?
Probably, but like I said last time, if some of the guff that passes for (f)Art these days passes for ART, then my shite is as valid as the next mans.
Possibly more so?
Well, without getting too far ahead of myself, I put EVERYTHING I have into making photographs (and writing too) - it's a creative urge that isn't funded by Arts Council grants . . . like most of you, I do this for the love of it and spend my hard-earned ackers on materials and tools.
I go to © The Red Shed and make prints. I wheel them out onto this blog and they are exposed to the world to ignore.
That's fine by me.  
I do it first and foremost, for me, but if anyone else likes them, then I truly appreciate it.
It's the creative process and the translation (that are part and parcel of the craft of photography and printing) that are important.
That's what I love.


Anyway, first up was a negative, that, though OK, looked heavily underexposed.
Yes, caution pays in such choices, but I love the feel of the photograph so thought I would have a crack at it.
So, a quick test strip of Agfa at Grade 4 (100M).
Why 4?
Well, it is really old paper and, like a lot of MC paper, I feel age can impart a certain dullness to things; last time I used it it was all on Grade 3 to give me what I needed and seeing as I haven't properly fibre printed in over a year and a half (!!!! - don't worry, I gave myself a good kicking when I realised that) I thought its age would show even more . . so, the Agfa then, and on Grade 4 (100 M in Kodak units).





Hmmm - like a black cat in a coal cellar, wrong choice, however, would I listen to the voice of reason? NOOOO, of course not, so blindly stumbling on, and first print produced.
Some background though:

Enlarger - DeVere 504
Lens - Vivitar 105mm
Easel - Knackered and Beardy
Developer  - Liquid Kodak Dektol, also known as Kodak Polymax
Stop - Kodak
Fix - Ilford

And here's the print - almost invisible, though the harder grade has produced some nice highlighty bits.
Yes, it is dark Jim, but not dark as we know it . . . I wanted to keep the very sombre mood




Agfa MCC - Grade 4


I shrugged my shoulders, made an executive decision, punched myself in the face, and switched to Grade 3.
Sadly I didn't change the time of the exposure, but that's the sort of stupid mistake you can make when you aren't doing this all the time. It is very easily done, and that is partly why I am including the blunders, you can only learn from mistakes.



Agfa MCC - Grade 3



So I made another executive decision, knee-capping myself in the process and did less time and some wafting of hands to bring the banks to life a bit.




Hand-Wafted Agfa MCC - Grade 3
(with brussel sprout)



But it was still too dark! Not only that, but some lovely staining occurred on the paper (and no, I haven't dropped a leftover Christmas Brussel on the print).
So, with some blue air occurring, I ditched the Agfa, made another executive decision, and switched to Galerie Grade 2.




Super-Ancient Ilford Galerie - Grade 2



Now obviously this is ridiculously lightly printed, but it does reveal everything hidden under cover of darkness in the Agfa ones, so from there I made what I think to be the correct judgement of exposure, balancing detail and sombreness. 
The final print is in the big prints bit at the bottom.
Anyway, I became bored with that negative, so wanted to try something else - this being one of my Sonnar photos. 
I took a stab at guessing exposure too and this is what came out:



Super-Ancient Ilford Galerie - Grade 2



I was a tad too light, but I could live with it. 
There's a little-known darkroom trick I utilised on this: if you are printing away and are pretty much at fruition but the blacks just aren't quite there, try squeezing a small amount of neat developer into the tray and agititating a little faster than you normally would just to disperse it. It can squeeze the maximum blacks out of your paper without overly affecting contrast - it is subtle, but it does seem to work, especially if you are working in a cold darkroom with trays at room temperature (like me). 
I saw Joe McKenzie use this technique, and he would then go on to selenium tone too, thus adding just a tad more richness to the blacks. 
Interesting stuff (well, I think so)!

Anyway, here's my finished prints (sadly not finished pints).
The one thing that is really obvious from them is how unlike each other the 60mm Distagon and 150mm Sonnar are. . 
The Distagon is the all-seeing eye - it is as accurate as can be (apart from some slight distortion of things at the very edges of a frame) and produces an incredible mix of cold hard fact and pleasing tones. 
The Sonnar on the other hand is like a night in a boutique hotel with all the trimmings if you get my drift - it is gloriously romantic in its view of the world, rendering anything not in focus into a wonderful mash of soft beauty. It is easy to see why it is probably the world's most popular portrait design. 
I have another Sonnar-based lens - the Nikkor 105mm, but that is very different to this, so maybe there's some Zeiss magic going on.
And to this I will add the fact that I know I am incredibly lucky to own these two optical works of art - believe me it was a very long struggle to get here.

Anyway, I hope you like the prints (and the free pints too) - in hindsight maybe I should have printed Number Two lighter, but it was incredibly dark (in spite of what the videos above show) and especially (with the overhanging trees) very sombre. 
One and Four could have done with a tad of burning on the sunlit (!) patches and Three, well I could do no more with the sunny bits (but check out the Rowan leaves in silhouette!) but that aside (and you may not get it from the scans) the actual prints reveal great detail and are pleasing when looked at in a 'physical' dimension as it were.
So if you want to come round for a cup of tea and to have a look at them, let me know and I'll see what I can do . . .




Railway Cutting 1




Railway Cutting 2




Railway Cutting 3




Railway Cutting 4




And that's about it really. 
I rather like the last Sonnar one best of all. 
My eye keeps wandering around it and not settling on anything - it looks a mess, but then I see that soft Sonnar out-of-focus bit reflected in the water, all becomes right with the world in a way I can't put my finger on.
Dare I ask it, but is there an air of John Blakemore about it?
I dunno - possibly is all I'll say. But surely that can only be a good thing.
John is a photographic hero of mine and a master printmaker to boot, so I am aspiring to good things.
That can't be bad, can it?

The one thing that stands above even the results though, was my chance to totally immerse myself in the photo-making experience. 
Just to be swallowed whole by the light and the setting for a couple of hours (which might have seemed like 10 minutes or 10 days had I been thinking about it) was an unforgettable experience. 
It almost seems other-wordly in hindsight; my spirit took flight; my brain got out of the way and just let me be. 
The weird (and just remembered) thing is, that I don't think I made conscious choices of where to plonk the tripod, what to point the lens at and so on - I just went where the light and the land dictated. Whether this was all part of some inner-voice saying:
 "Cooo - would you have a look at that missus!" 
Or (and infinitely more appeasing to my normal frame of mind) was it the land itself and the mysterious machinations of trees and water and plants and soil playing out some quiet interplay with each other whilst the translator moved softly amongst them trying to pass on what his spirit heard them saying?
Questions of aesthetics and exposure did, to a large extent, vanish; I worked methodically and quietly making the most of the moment. I became lost in that railway cutting that nobody remembers - a short transition between rolling farmland, lochs and the soon-to-come upland hills.
It was pure pleasure.

I hope you all have the chance to become absorbed like this (maybe you have been already!) because it is like nothing else.

TTFN and remember, when the muse comes knocking, drop everything and go - they might not come around again for a while.