Tuesday, November 05, 2013

The Ralph Gibson Experiment (Part Three)

Mornin' Maties.
Or in the words of me old mate Gollum (the original one, you know the one that has lived in my head since I were young, not the fake New Zealand one):
Oh yes, Easter is a comin' and there's nothing yer Cap'n likes more than a nice Easter egg. As many as possible so that I can put me ol' seaboots up on my cabin table come Easter morn, give thanks to the Lord and stuff myself full o' Albumen and Yolk.
Chocolate I hear you ask?
Nah, not here.
It gives me the monster-jips. I remember a time when we was runnin' a Brigand full o' Cacau beans down in the Southern Seas - oh yes. Very nasty. But you don't want to hear about that. Suffice to say I can't look a bar o' Lindt in the eye in the same way no more.
Nope, a good ol' hard (or soft) boiled hens egg, and as many as you like.
That does for me at Easter and bless the chicken that lays 'em.
Remember Cool Hand Luke? He's got nothin' on me come Easter Monday.


Well, as regular FogBlographers (why didn't I think of that before?) will know, I can drone on with an intensity which could send a caged and smoking lab Beagle to sleep, so today I am going to do something different.
In the words of the world-renowned Buitoni Ravioli TV advert from the early 1970's:
Don't talk . . . Eat!
(Actually, go on, search for a picture of a tin of Buitoni . . I dare you . . you won't find one . . again . . why?)
I am going to let the pictures do the talking and save my fingers the walking.
I will refer new readers back to The Ralph Gibson Experiment Part 1 and The Ralph Gibson Experiment Part 2, in which the whole ludicrous thing is explained, but if you are short of time, here's a précis:
The preface is simple:

Make photographs with a standard shutter speed that does not change and a standard aperture that does not change. All that needs to change is the focus, and even then . . .
Have a standardised processing procedure.
The camera I used is a 1960 Leica M2 - it's as sweet as a nut and I love it. The lens is an uncoated 1934 Leitz 50mm Elmar. It lacks contrast, so to help things, it is also fitted with a FISON lens hood.
The film is developed in a particularly strong solution of Agfa Rodinal (or R09 as it is now known) - Mr.Gibson's objective was to achieve a dense negative, and strangely this has helped me, delivering better results from the rather soft Elmar that are more akin to a modern coated lens.

I'll detail the procedure now:

SHUTTER SPEED: Well Mr.Gibson states his sunny day shooting speed is 1/250th of a second, however this is Scotland (Hoots!) and I chose to use 1/125th of a second, just in case.
APERTURE: Ralph uses a standard f16. He believes this gives his pictures a uniformity. It is a very cleaver move because it removes all faffing around and means you concentrate on the picture. I used f16 for every picture on this film.
FILM: he uses Kodak Tri-X, with EI's ranging from 400 down to 100.
DEVELOPER: Agfa Rodinal (or R09 as it is now known). He uses this at a dilution of 1+25 and a temperature of 68° Farenheit, with a 10 second agitation every 1 minute and 30 seconds, for a total time of 11 minutes.

And that is it.
Well yes.
Well yes, because you are freed of the general process and apart from focusing can make images pretty much on the fly.
My variation on this for this post, is that I had no Tri-X and was down to the last roll of fast film in the house, an expired (November, 2010) roll of Kodak TMY 400.
Because of this, obviously development times were different from Tri-X, so I roughly grabbed a figure out of the air, and settled on 9 minutes, with Ralph's agitation regime. I used 10ml Rodinal to 280ml water in a small Paterson tank. The Massive Development Chart recommends 5 minutes for this combo at EI 400, so this is well over!
The other variation is that for some of the last shots, I took the shutter speed down to 1/15th and 1/60th at f16, simply because the shots were of interiors and through windows. Yes I like the idea of a set speed, but I am not stupid and film is expensive.

Contact Sheet


After making two shots at the bus stop, I hit the upper deck of a bus on the way home from work. And as you can see, it has been fine in one shot, but, worried about the unholy way in which the bus was throwing me around and camera shake, I upped the shutter speed to 1/250th and with f16 the combo hasn't worked for shadow detail at all.
The sun was low, but it wasn't exactly dark, but it was a stop too far!
This being said, Frame 3 (the only one at 1/125th) is a corker.
I'll call it The Buddha On The Bus, simply because the rear of the man's head reminds me of Buddha's serene pose.
What isn't seen is his young son, who was running around causing chaos. I think the guy just closed his eyes for a second and assumed this serene pose!

The Buddha On The Bus
The Buddha On The Bus

Now certainly, on my monitor at work, this seems too contrasty, and very dark (and the same for the rest too - you might need to adjust accordingly) but at home and of course in the actual print, there is a nice glow and the subtleties of the shadows work very well.
I am also happy with the fact that it looks kind of weird because of the composition.
Printing-wise, I tried to get as Gibson-esque as possible with this. It was printed on Kentmere Fineprint VC fibre-based paper at Grade 5. Now that is a nominal Grade 5 simply because the paper is really old. Filtration was 130 units of Magenta on my DeVere 504. The lens was the El-Nikkor 50mm f2.8, new version. It looks quite contrasty doesn't it. I think it has almost transformed the look I get from the Elmar, and yet at the left of frame, there is that lovely Elmar OOFA (out of focus area).
I was pleasantly surprised.



Next up was a grabbed shot in St.Andrews of a Saturday morning. It was one of those things - a whole bunch of people were gathered around this bloke applying window stickers to a bank. It looked quite surreal, so I just set a hyper-focal distance on the Elmar and went in like a sniper, one shot. The chap on the left looks like he has been stuck on, and strangely the shadow inbetween the two men looks like it is something out of Peter Pan, if you know what I mean.
I love the super-cheesy look on the model's face, don't you? and also the fact that someone has smeared the remnants of a 'kerry-oot' over the window near her face . . .
The world's (nearly) richest students?
Come on guys . . . keep yer lovely town clean.
Again, this is on Kentmere and a full-on Grade 5.


The next frame I am saving till second last as I am very happy with it. So I'll substitute in this one:

Cardboard Cat
Cardboard Cat

Why on earth someone would have a cardboard cut-out of a cat in their window, I have absolutely no idea! But they did, so I took a not very good picture of it. As you can maybe tell a bit, the film/dev and lens combo have made sterling work of the tracery of the curtain.
Old Elmar's seem to work very well in the medium/close range . . in other words, really, I believe they were optimised for people photography. Too close can be a bit mushy, infinity too, but in the 5 to 10 feet range, marvellous!
This was a Grade 3 print, but I reckon could have done with more, so I gave it a sharpish bath in Potassium Ferricyanide to tickle the highlights up a bit, and it has sort of worked. As I say, I don't think I am getting the full range of grades from the Kentmere paper as it is a number of years old.


Self Portrait With Dirt
Self Portrait With Dirt

OK - another one of my dirty window pictures. I tried to get in as close as possible with the Elmar, but I have just mucked it up as the dirt isn't as crisp as I wanted it to be.
This being said I rather like the ominous look of my reflection in this - it suggests something 'other-worldy' if you get my drift. This was a Grade 4 print.


Now I am going to shove in the print which should have come before the cat. I love this. 
It was one of those photos: I saw the shop display of the girls whispering, saw the street reflected in the window, and waited till the woman was walking in the right part of the frame and bingo.

Have You Heard About Her?
Have You Heard About Her?

What I just love about this is that you can see the girls whispering to each other "Have you heard about her?" and there she is reflected . . Walls have Ears etc etc.
I did actually print this a tad too dark, so have had to selectively pot-ferry the faces. This was simple enough to do - about half a teaspoon of crystals to about 300 ml of water; mix well; remove print from wash, let its wetness stick it to the back of an empty developing tray and use a shower head to wash the print as you are doing it; then paint the solution onto the areas required and almost immediately wash off - keep repeating till desired lightness is achieved; give print a good final blast of water and pop it back into some film strength fix for a minute or so. 
If results aren't still to your liking, then repeat the procedure. 
It is important to return the print to the fix, and the reason I use film strength is so that the print isn't in the fixing solution for a prolonged period of time..

Sectional Enlargement - 800 DPI

The sectional enlargement of one of the girl's eyes gives you an idea of how big the grain can be with this combo . . it isn't alarming. Also bear in mind that scanning isn't an actual substitute for seeing a print. In the print, the grain is super-crisp and quite a delight.


And onto my final frame, although it was an extra one, so number 37.
This was taken at Vision - Dundee's 'digital hub'. 13 units to rent, and only 3 occupied. It is a beautiful looking building inside and just the sort of place that should be rethinking its strategy and using its great space for exhibitions and workshops and things. I was so taken by the light and the reflection in the window and also the look of the window through the window and the tree in the car park that I had to make this. It was made by bracing the camera against the window and taking things down to 1/15th. This is easy to do with a Leica as there is no mirror flapping around making a nuisance of itself. I will happily say I love it.

By Evening's Light
By Evening's Light

I made the print darker than I should have and again there has been selective bleaching to the window and the highlights, but I feel it works. It is sort of a 'nature is just waiting to reclaim all this' picture, and I am fond of making such images.
Again, Grade 5 on Kentmere, oh and I forgot to mention - all prints were developed in Kodak Polymax and fixed with Agfa Agefix.


And that's it folks - hope you enjoyed it.
I suppose it does take a modicum of courage from me to stick the contact sheet at the start - my heart is on my sleeve . . . you can see my rubbish as well as my decent bits, but hey that's walking around with a camera!
Again, any questions or anything, please feel free to ask!
You should have a go at using Ralph's regime - it is surprisingly flexible and gives results which can surprise and please.
As usual, take care, God Bless and thanks for reading.


  1. Nice work Phil. Is it true then that you shoot everything at the same 1/125th at f16 as long as it's out of doors? Presumably the film's lattitude comes to the rescue?

  2. It does Bruce.
    Frames 1 to 3 were 1/125th at f16
    Frames 4 to 11 were 1/250th at f16
    Frames 12 to 34 were 1/125th at f16
    Frames 35 to 37 were 2 at 1/60th and 1 at 1/15th respectively . .all at f16.
    Suprising really.
    You know the weather we have round here, so 1/125th seems to work in decent light.
    On a day like today though . . hmm . .probably 1/60th!

  3. Today we had 1/250th here :)

    I quite enjoyed this series Phil. Thanks. For me, the last shot works best. You're looking through a window frame, which makes one think you're inside, yet there is the reflection at the top, which puts you again outside. I guess you're shooting through another window. Nice riddle...could've been a double exposure as well.

  4. Thanks Omar - I am sort of thinking about doing a similar thing with other photographers too . . .we'll see. It all depends on time and energy!

  5. Exploring the exposure and development practices of famous photographers would make a very interesting series, Phil. Good luck when you get to Ansel Adams!

  6. Well curiously Bruce . . I do have some 5x4 320 TXP and some HC110 . . . .

  7. How's your densitometer working for you? Haha.

  8. I'm going to get a T-Shirt done with "I'm Dense" printed on it