Friday, August 23, 2013

Rise Of The (Junkyard) Robots Part Two

I, Herman Sheephouse, being of dodgy mind, and sound body, do hereby declare that from now on, I be known, formally, as Herman Sheephouse.
There, that's that out of the way.
Well folks, last time (and if you haven't read it here, you should as it is pointless carrying on otherwise) I said I could show you how 'junk' photographic equipment could help you produce good results if it was used with care . . . well, that is a far-reaching and pompous statement, however whilst not exactly 'junk' the prints below were produced with things that the photographic trade would prefer you not to use so you can spend your hard-earned pennies on something shiny and new!

The Culprits.

A 1958 Minolta Autocord - it has no leather and a highly scratched lens. In other words a pretty old and 'junky' camera infiltrating, like a tramp at a Prom, the lands of 'mint' and 'minty', where true art can only be produced by the best gear money can buy.
Sorry that makes me sound like I hold my prints with some regard, like they are high art or something.
Well, I do, but they're works of craft produced for me - they aren't being exhibited at the V&A . .
Despite being scruffy and for a long time unloved and rejected by society, the Minolta does however work like a dream, with a film advance smoother than my Rollei and a Seikosha shutter that is really something else.

Old paper - basically fibre-based photographic paper from stock produced prior to 2007.

A lens from a widely laughed at manufacturer's enlarger lens range (Vivitar) which actually compares favourably with a Rodenstock Rodagon and actually could well be one of the sharpest enlarging lenses I own.

Kodak Polymax developer, mixed and stored in a plastic bottle for 3 months and gone brown. Wait a minute - who the hell seriously uses Polymax, and aren't you supposed to use mixed chemicals within a short space of time?

Home-made fixer, cheaply made from Sodium Thiosulphate and Sodium Sulphite. Wot, you can make fixer?

Ancient 'well brown' Rodinal.

The Culprits in detail.

The Camera?

Well, if you check the first part of this article here, you'll see that the lens on the Minolta is in terrible condition - a result of decades of cleaning abuse. It is a great shame really. When I first got the camera, I was a bit appalled by its low contrast, however, there is a trick to getting round old lenses that could possibly be in shite condition.
It is a three-fold method:
Firstly, be careful where you point it (this also applies to hosepipes, guns and the male member).
Direct light sources are just going to emphasise everything, so try and avoid if at all possible.
Secondly, use a lens hood. A Rollei Bayonet 1 lens hood fits the Minolta perfectly, and it works. No hood and you are asking for flare, even in overcast situations.
Thirdly, use a robust (er, OK then . . contrasty) developer and film combo. Pan F and HC110, Tri-X and 1:25 Rodinal are good ones. The denser the negative the better really. Increased negative density results in increased micro-contrast, which in turn makes you photographs look sharper too. It does. Honest.

The Paper?
Kentmere Fineprint VC - Finegrain. It is a fibre-based paper and I believe they no longer make the Finegrain surface.
The story:
Back in 2007 I purchased some Glossy Kentmere Fineprint. It is a very nice paper actually and I would say if you have never thought about Kentmere, give it a go.
Anyway, that was back in the day when it was still manufactured in the Lake District. I had some faults on a couple of sheets, and phoned them up. They said send us some samples of the fault, so I did. They got back to me. A fairly disgruntled employee (who I think had worked there for years) told me Harman had bought the company, were moving production, and that was that . . .
So I contacted Harman and sent them some more examples. They looked at them, kindly agreed with me and sent me a replacement box. However, it was the Finegrain surface, not Gloss. I thought 'Och well, give it a go' and by the time I had decided I didn't really get on with the surface, I'd used about 10 sheets. So I chalked it up to experience, sealed up the box in late 2007 and haven't opened it since.
So that is roughly 6 years out of date for a start. And of course, always assuming that the box I had sent to me was fresh in the first place . . . who knows!
Here's a pic of my two boxes of Kentmere and their production codes:

Paper is supposed to go off isn't it? The perceived wisdom of most photographic paper is that it is good for a couple of years and then starts to exhibit signs of base-fog, necessitating an addition of a 1% solution of benzotriazole which helps to keep some of the mud at bay.
Well, all I can say is that the average exposure time for the prints below was 12 seconds at f16 . . none too tardy I am sure you'll agree.
Not only that, but the blacks are nice and crisp and there's little sign of Cap'n Fog - ol' mud-flaps himself.
That's an extra 90-odd sheets of paper . . smiles all round.
I've no idea what the Mobberly produced Kentmere paper is like - but I did like the old stuff. Kentmere Graded Glossy and Ilford Galerie were my college staples.

The Lens?
I felt I needed a 100 or 105mm lens for enlarging 6x7 negatives, but being financially spread a little too far, I did some research, narrowed down my options and went cheap.
It arrived (£24 including delivery). I'd bought it off eBay and it had been described as mint. One man's mint is another man's paperweight. On cursory examination it certainly looked mint, however when I actually removed it from the polystyrene keeper and took off the rear lens cap, I discovered massive strands of fungus - and when I say massive, I mean it - this was lens fungus but not as we know it Jim.
And it wasn't just inside either . . it was outside too!
Oh chuff, I thought, but carefully, with the aid of some lighter fluid for the metal parts, ROR for the glass (marvellous stuff) and some silica bags to remove moisture and some serious sessions with the good ol' Sun and the lens in a patch of hot sunlight, I have removed the smell of decay (yep - the same smell as the described in the Leica Sniff Test) and have a gem of a lens.
Actually scouting around, the history of the VHE lenses is super interesting.
They were made by Schneider (you can tell - mine has Schneideritis - a curious 'white' spotty stippling of the black around the lens elements - no detriment to pictures though)
This particular example is a 100mm f5.6 - it is a 6 Element lens..
Hmmm, you'll be saying, wot is so interesting about that?
Well around the time of this lenses manufacture, Schneider were also manufacturing a certain renowned Focotar II 100mm f5.6 for Leitz. Yes, hmmm, interesting . . The Focotar's production range dated from 1974 to 1981. The serial number on the Vivitar is SB 330/79 . .so can I assume that is 1979. Certainly their respective barrels bear no resemblance to each other . . but I would love to see a cross-section of a Focotar 2!

Focotar and Vivitar

I have no pics of the Focotar's construction, however here is a scan of the Vivitar's box so you can see the construction of the VHE.

Roadkill Vivitar Box

I also happen to have a El-Nikkor 80mm (the second version with the rubber ribbing on the barrel) which is regarded as one of the better 6 Element MF enlarging lenses and to be honest, the Vivitar knocks it into a cocked hat. I know enlarger lenses vary enormously in batches, so maybe I have been lucky and got a nice example - if anyone cares to comment please feel free.
It was quite a surprise when I made my first prints with it. Strangely it isn't apparent when focusing on the easel, however I think the prints speak for themselves.
Must do a test some day.
Anyway, for cheap lens, ex-fungal, basically could be considered as a piece of 'junk', it performs exceptionally.

Print developer.
Well, Kodak Polymax is the liquid equivalent of Kodak's famous print developer Dektol, described by Sir Ansel of the Adams as 'exceptionally clean working'. And it is. But when it has been mixed, it will obviously (like all other photographic chemicals) start to oxidise and will eventually lose its potency and have to be chucked out. Well, this particular mixing is 3 months old, has been used quite a number of times, is brown (very) but works beautifully! The only other print developer that I have seen beat Polymax for mixed longevity is Wolfgang Moersch's Eco Print, which I actually thing is one of the finest print developer's ever made. It is neutral to cold, but just keeps going and going. It is also exceptionally economical too, and like Wolfgang's other products should be considered State Of The Art.
Yes I know if you are reading this outwith Europe you'll find his stuff difficult to get . . and when you do it is expensive, however, what do you expect. It is a dedicated product range from a very small manufacturer, but a manufacturer who has dedicated his working life to the beauty of silver-based photography. As such I think he deserves to be supported.
If you are in the UK, you can get it all from Silverprint.
But back to Polymax. Try it. I always use a pin to pierce the plastic film at the top of the bottle (after the screw cap comes off) and that sort of reduces it's oxidation process, however it will start to go brown in its unmixed state too, but again, it keeps on going and is reliable.
Home made fix.
Basically I used Lloyd Erlick's Plain Fix recipe - full details here. It is a mildly Alkaline fixer and requires less washing than prints treated in Acid fix. It too imparts a slightly cool/purple-ish tone to a print. This can be semi-neutralised with Selenium. It has decent (but not huge) capacity, and will discolour through use (slightly purply).
On the safe side I reckon I can get around 25 8x10 prints out of it. I use a 2 bath fix regime. Basically two identical fixing baths. Fixing times to be safe are around 3 minutes in each one, though I've found you can usually turn the lights on around 2 minutes, however best to do your own tests should you mix some.
I did this because I have run out of Acid fixer which I often use for speed purposes.
But what I am trying to say is that it is easy to mix your own chemicals and do your own thing.
Cost £6.99 in 2003. Not carefully stored, loads of air space in the 500ml bottle, but works perfectly. I am sure some people would have just chucked it away.

The Prints

I'll preface these with some words about physical vs web viewing.
They look better in the flesh, but you can't all come round to mine . . we haven't enough tea bags and the space in my study is limited . . also, the buses stop at 10.50PM, so web viewing it is.
Web viewing is fraught with difficulty, because your monitor and my monitor aren't the same or even set up the same.
One man's perfect is another man's coal cellar . . so accept the limitations and we can rejoice together . . .
A scanned print isn't anywhere near the physical beauty of a print - no way.
They can digitize our photos and our prints etc etc etc . . .

SHEEPHOUSE: And if this is your army of enthused Amateur Photographers, why does it go?

AMATEUR PHOTOGRAPHER: We didn't come here to fight for them.

SECOND AMATEUR PHOTOGRAPHER: Home, the Digital Establishment are too many.

SHEEPHOUSE: I see a whole army of my country men, here, in defiance of tyranny. What will you do without freedom? Will you fight?

AMATEUR PHOTOGRAPHER: Against that? No, we will run, and we will live.

SHEEPHOUSE: Aye, fight and you may die, run, and you'll live... at least a while. And dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willing to trade all of that from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take away our silver-based passion, but they'll never take our freeeeedom!

And on that note, here they are.

Print 1: Kentmere Fineprint VC Finegrain, Grade 2, Kodak Polymax, plain Fix, Untoned
Print 2: Kentmere Fineprint VC Finegrain, Grade 3, Kodak Polymax, plain Fix, Untoned
Print 3: Kentmere Fineprint VC Finegrain, Grade 4, Kodak Polymax, plain Fix, Untoned

Hunt The Sections
All taken from the above prints - as you can see the texture of the paper has scanned quite well.
Considering the film combo is Tri-X and Rodinal, the grain is pretty incredible.
I love the tones too.

Self Portrait In Dirt #2
Kentmere Fineprint VC Finegrain, Grade 2, Kodak Polymax, plain Fix, Untoned

Again, paper surface has come up well.

Nice Wall
Print 1: Kentmere Fineprint VC Finegrain, Grade 3, Kodak Polymax, plain Fix, Untoned

This is from the bit below the diagonal slashes in the centre white bit

Oh yeah, and they were all taken hand-held, which I suppose tells you the versatility of a TLR in low-light situations. You can brace them pretty well, and the leaf shutters are just perfect.
And that's about it folks - I am chuffed with all these prints, and it just goes to show that with a bit of conscientious application you can please yourself with results that are pretty alright, for really not very much money at all. 
I suppose the term 'junk' was a bit inflamatory, but what I am trying to say is that where there's a will, there's a way. 
Photography is one of the most stupidly expensive hobbies around, but you can produce results with a bit of creative thought and the use of stuff that your more 'advanced' hobbyists wouldn't even sniff at.
The Minolta is a prime example of this - check out the lens 

and tell me you would have given it a chance had you seen it in a dealers . . .
Thanks Minnie - can't wait to take you out for a wander again.
Anyway, enuff zee snuff.
Next time a tale of derring-do, camera lugging and a failed experiment. 
The odds were stacked with me, and I managed to kiss the dice goodbye! 
Take care, God Bless and thanks once again for reading.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Rise Of The (Junkyard) Robots - Part One

Well folks - if you've read enough of these posts you'll know that I am a fan of a certain old camera - my Rolleiflex T - or Olly as he is known. He's a cheaper Rollei with the Tessar lens as opposed to a Planar or Xenar.
He is the camera I chose when I decided I wanted to start making photographs again - I bought him some, Oooo, ten years ago from the now defunct (and sorely missed) MXV Photographic. Olly cost me the not inconsiderable (at that time and even now) sum of £249 and that included a case and a proper scissor strap too.
Prices on T's have wildly fluctuated, and I have often wondered about that - I think a lot of people just see the name Rollei and are then underwhelmed by the results from the lens, but actually, the lens is rather good, you just have to know how to use it properly.
Forget the world of shooting wide open all the time (it just shows that you have little imagination as a photographer)- on the T, the results will be OK, just not stunning.
Mix it up for close-ups with some Rolleinars and you will end up with a photograph as sharp as any you could ever wish to take. Rolleinars are a close-up accessory and come in 3 sizes, ultimately going from face filling frame, to super-close.
When you have played enough with them, take them off and then stop down to the Tessar's optimum aperture of f11 and you have a different beast altogether.
For years I had stopped well down for landscapes and so on, and it was only latterly that I read about the Tessar being designed to work at its best at f11, so I tried it, and bingo! It took me a long time and a lot of film to try this - surely, I thought, stopping right down will give me the maximum DOF and detail . . surely ? ? ? ?
. . . in other words I was too pig-headed and stupid to try anything other.
Well I was wrong.
At f16 and f22 it is a good lens, don't get me wrong, but, simply put, at f11 it is pretty wonderful.
I've scanned a couple of photos made at that aperture for you to look at below; they were made on Ilford Pan F, developed in HC110.
I wonder if you'll agree with me.
Oh and I used a tripod for those too.

Ilford Galerie - Grade 2, Kodak Polymax Developer, Rodenstock Rodagon, DeVere 504
Don't Fence Me In.
I loved the fact that someone had trimmed this derelict garden, but had left the greenhouse.
Hard to tell from the web, but the detail goes on and on - none too tardy for an 'amateur' camera.
Rolleiflex T at optimum aperture f11, Ilford Pan F, Kodak HC 110
Ilford Galerie - Grade 2, Kodak Polymax Developer, Rodenstock Rodagon, DeVere 504, Untoned.

Ilford Galerie - Grade 2, Kodak Polymax Developer, Rodenstock Rodagon, DeVere 504
Primitive Landscape.
I've made a lot of landscapes over the years, but this is my favourite.
There's a strange 'plasticity' to the image which I find quite 'painterly'.
It happens every now and then with the Tessar and I have no idea why, but can you see what I mean?
This was made on a small foray along the Southern Upland Way - wish I had the time to do the full route.
Rolleiflex T at optimum aperture f11, Ilford Pan F, Kodak HC 110
Ilford Galerie - Grade 2, Kodak Polymax Developer, Rodenstock Rodagon, DeVere 504, Untoned.

In a lot of ways, thinking about things recently, I am almost wondering whether the TLR isn't just the most perfect travel camera. It is small and light enough not to be a pain, and yet you'll have a large negative to give you all the enlargementness you could want. Certainly using a slow film like Pan F (as used above) there is all the detail you could want . . the only hindrance being a tripod.
Anyway, wot's the upshot of me writing about Olly the Rollei?
Well, he's gone.
The film advance has decided to return to a state of shiteness (this happened when I first bought the camera) whereby you can wind a film on and in, expose a frame, and another and then the camera locks, the advance refuses to turn. This is quite upsetting - you hate to see an animal in pain and the same is true of cameras.
The problem is, rather like getting my Nikon F2 serviced and refurbished (£180 from Sover Wong - he will return it to a state of newness, but for someone with limited funds like myself, I simply can't even go there) the cost of a Rollei service from someone decent (not a tinkerer) is going to be prohibitive - you see the shutter is a tad slow too, and I'd rather like the taking lens cleaned of a little bit of haze.
I'd estimate at least £120 and probably more, which is getting into the grounds of, why bother.
You can still (just about) get Mamiya TLRs or Rollecords for not a whole lot more, they're newer too.
So I find (found) myself in somewhat of a dip, and then I remembered . . oh yeah . . years back . . that sub-£50 spontaneous purchase . . a 1958 Minolta Autocord . .
Yeah, you remember . . the one you ripped most of the leather off, took the lens apart, cleaned a bit, sorted out the extremely gritty aperture and shutter setting controls, put back together, thought you'd done it wrong and have meant to get sorted ever since . .
Oh yeah . . that camera!
From this dear reader you will imagine me having piles of old cameras just lying around . . I don't, and I hadn't totally forgotten about the Autocord, it is just that Olly was my main MF camera . . . 

1958 Minolta Autocord - Special Risqué Export Model.
Eagle-eyed readers (and those who can see around corners) will see it is sans most of its leather.
To the right you will see a mug handle poking out of its back . . .
Of course it doesn't have a mug handle attached - don't be daft.
Oh and don't worry - it isn't a Nuclear Bomb going off  -I couldn't be arsed with colour balance.

I was sure that in my disassembly of the lenses I hadn't set focus properly, but having a tootle around, I discovered that the taking lens is actually very simply set . . it either has a spacer behind it, or it is screwed flat into its mount . .no tinkering. I had reassembled exactly as I found it. Ergo, unless it had always been a taker of out of focus pictures, the focus must be correct . . but I had to find out . . . .
So I dragged him out of the cupboard, marvelled again at how the shutter and film advance are a million times smoother than the Rollei, stuck a roll of TMX 100 in and proceeded to use him over the holidays.
A couple of the results are below.

Lights, Camera, Action!
For some reason my son has taken to dressing like a 1930's film director.
This was at Dunnotar Castle, after an extreme rain shower followed by 80 Degrees of unusual heat.
Man that guano can't half pong!
As you can see the Autocord has imparted a nicely vintage feel to the image.
Kodak TMX 100, Agfa Rodinal 1:25.
Kentmere VC Select Finegrain, Kodak Polymax, home-made Hypo, Untoned

Into The Unknown
Again, a nicely vintage feel from the lens.
Kodak TMX 100, Agfa Rodinal 1:25.
Kentmere VC Select Finegrain, Kodak Polymax, home-made Hypo, Untoned 

Just to see the quality of the lens.
Individual hairs are very apparent on the negative.
The mottled stippling comes from the surface of the paper.
Kentmere Finegrain is a Matt paper, with a slight surface texture.
It is really lovely stuff.

Now you'll be thinking to yourself . . what?
Sub £50?
That is a bargain!
Well there was a reason for its bargain price . . the taking lens had been cleaned for nigh on 40 years by a nefarious collection of ties, hankies, jacket sleeves etc . . in other words it is well sandpapered!
Here are some pictures of it backlit, just to give you a shock.

I know - it looks like fungus, but in reality it is a good ol' example of
that famous lens affliction of old - Tiekerchiefitis

And of course, what do you get with a lens like that?
Yep . . .flare . . lots of it, so a hood is a prerequisite.
My initial results with the camera when I bought it weren't great, but neither were they bad, however I dunno, I just never clicked with it.
But now?
Well, needs must when the Devil drives . . and not only that, I can counteract the low contrast from a flarey lens by using a stronger/more contrasty film and developer combo . . . the things you learn eh?
The TMX 100/Rodinal combo from the above photos was good (and very smooth - I'd also had good results with the now sadly defunct Neopan 400) but nothing prepared me for the next bunch - TRX 400 and Rodinal.
Grain as crisp as a freshly starched and ironed pair of underpants.
Greys like God's hair.
As I get older I find myself drifting away from the zero grain option in pictures, simply because (and with T-grain films especially) it is getting so fcecking hard to focus a negative onto the baseboard!
My eyes aren't what they were . . even with my Peak focuser . . so grain it is . .
I don't mind, just bring it on!
And flare?
Blasted into oblivion! The negatives are so dense that anything flarey just wimps out and runs off to the corner to hide.
Happy days indeed.
Don't you find it surprising that a lens that looks like it is worthy of being nothing more than a paperweight, can actually produce any images at all, let alone the ones I am going to show you next time.
It brings to mind tales of aerial recon. lenses from WW II, where, hit by pieces of flying shrapnel, the offending chips, gouges and missing chunks of glass were simply painted over with a matt black paint, and photography resumed, with little effect on the images.
I have a 150mm Symmar-S which has a decent sized missing crescent of glass on an inner element - I used a Mattel Matt Black model paint on it (it dries matt-ish, not totally flat, but not bad) and it is absolutely fine - a Sharpie would do the trick too.
Anyway, back to the Minolta . . . it was a Saturday afternoon and having been self-scuppered by not getting out early morning with the Wista, I had to take some photos, so thought I'd have a wander down the Hawkhill.
I loaded her (Minnie . . doesn't everyone give their cameras names???) up with TRX 400, and this time took my meter, which I set to EI 320 (which seems to be a nominally accepted EI for Tri-X 400 - though possibly not quite enough for this combo - should be more like EI 200) got my stomping shoes on and went out, mind alert and eyes open.
And now a  brief aside into the fun world of dimensions . . .

Woooooooah, man, did he just say dimensions?

Yep, I certainly did Space Cadet, so hand me my Cormthruster and make sure the Space FogBluggy has its stabilisers fitted . .it could be a bumpy ride!

I have been thinking lately about photographic satisfaction.
You know what I mean:

There's a lovely scene.
I'll take a photo.

It often doesn't end up how you wanted it at all.
So I thought, well that's because you are trying to stuff a lovely 3-Dimensional scene, into a 2-Dimensional object (the print).

Below is an official communication I received from the NAOTLRP (National Association Of Twin Lens Reflex Photographers). I was a bit surprised when I opened the envelope, not least because there was a thrupenny stamp on it. Anyway, after I recovered, I thought it best to pass it on in the interests of all things photographic.
It reads a bit weird, so you are best to speak it aloud (preferably to someone else) in your finest 1947 BBC English accent. It makes perfect sense then.

I say chap.
We've got some bad news.
Corners have to be cut, departments shaved, budgets adjusted, bits snipped off, weight lost . . etc etc . .
So why not make today a happy-chappy sort of day, grab a nice handful of Capstans, adjust your tie properly and head off out and photograph something proper.
You know, something for all intents and purposes Two Dimensional, like an interesting wall.
See what you can do.
That's a good fellow.

Runciter Barking (President)

Quite a strange thing to receive don't you think - I do wonder why I was singled out, but there y'go.
Anyway, this rule of flat-earthness is of course a well-known get-out-of-jail technique that has been used by pretty much everyone from the dawn of photography - name the photographer and I will almost guarantee that somewhere in their pantheon, there's a picture of a poster or graffiti or something very flat . . It is seemingly simple, and I always thought something of a cop-out, however I have now come to rethink that actually it is a valid bit of your self-expression (but maybe that's only 'cos I've just taken some photos of something similar).
Anyway, the other thing to remember about photographing flat surfaces is that really for the photo to work you pretty much have to get your film plane parallel with the flat surface (hence all the talk about converging verticals and all that stuff).
This is a strangely obvious thing which it has taken me a loooooong time to understand properly and it probably explains why the majority of my LF photographs are so terrible.
Your film plane equates to a picture frame if you think about it.
It is what your film (and ultimately, barring any darkroom trickery, your print) is positioned against (in a manner of speaking) no matter what you are photographing.
I think if one thinks about the film planes' position when making a photograph, it can help you get an idea of the final image. I certainly did that with the following photographs and it made me more careful and choosy. Obviously I have subconsciously been doing the same thing for a long time in that I like my verticals vertical etc etc, but I'd never thought in terms of film plane positioning before (at least not consciously and conscientiously whilst photographing). And I had certainly never made photographs with a thought in terms of the 2-Dimensional world that is The Print, and how this cross-dimensional challenge might work.
On the other hand, am I reading too much into it?
Isn't a photo, just a photo, just a photo?
I'll leave that for others to discuss - meanwhile Sigismund and his Treens are attacking and I need to defend my borders . .
Zooom, Whoooosh, Blat, Blat.

So where does all this get us?
Well, here's the Contact Sheet.

Contact Sheet

The keen eyed amongst you will notice that the film rebates are not printed to paper black, and that is for the reasons that:
A./ I buggered up the print, and
B./ you have to balance contact prints when your aren't being totally consistent, also web-viewing isn't the best for these things, hence it is lighter than it should be.
All rectifiable in the darkroom though as you will see below.
The images which struck me most were 4 to 9 inclusive . . that central portion.
Yes there are two of my own style of self-portrait in there . . .sometimes when you are wandering around looking down onto a TLR focus screen, you are struck by something, and that was the case with those two, however the others were conscious efforts.
The only problem I found with these, was the Minolta's lack of parallax compensation . . so it was down to my own style of compensation: basically when you are in very close, compose your image, and then lift the camera a few centimetres . . it sort of works actually - it is a bit trial and error, but these things are.
You don't have a parallax problem with Rolleis though - clever and expensive design and all that . . .
But no Rollei, and as I said before Needs must  . . .
Oh, and I used the Rolleinars on frames 4, 5, 6 and 10.
The Tri-X was developed in 1:25 Rodinal at 20° C for 11 minutes. it always amazes me that people don't put their agitation sequences into the equation when they write down what their development times were - agitation can make or break a roll ,and it is quite an organic thing, not the slosh around that most people think it is. My sequence for this was gentle (as always) for the first 30 seconds, then a 10 second sequence every minute and a half, so:
0 (start the 30 second sequence at 0)
then 10 seconds at:
1 minute 30 seconds,
3 minutes,
4 minutes 30 seconds,
6 minutes,
7 minutes 30 seconds,
and then at 9 minutes I gave another 30 second agitation sequence and let the tank stand until 11 minutes.
It could have actually done with slightly more agitation, but I will save that for next time!
And on that (hopefully) tantalising note I am gong to call it a day for the noo.
In the next post, I am going to put on my Mr.Pompous Trousers and round this off by showing you how equipment that could easily be regarded as junk, can actually be employed (with some judicious thought and care) to produce work you can (possibly) be proud of.
Be sure to check out Part Two - loads of people have read this one, but hardly anyone the next one - most perplexing!
There, you can have a break now - bet that feels better already doesn't it!
Take care, God Bless and thanks for reading.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

The Transformed Man (And Other Tales)

Well - what can I say folks except, I am sorry to have neglected you, and hello again. It has been rather a long time hasn't it, but I'll put it down to a necessary need to pull back from writing this every week - it was too much and I felt my creative juices being squeezed dry - for me, when something creative stops being enjoyable then I have to immerse myself less. 
But anyway, that's enough of lousy excuses - I am not going to be publishing this on such a regular basis, simply from the fact that there is only so much one can write about and continue to stay interesting!
So, onwards.
I met someone on the bus a couple of weeks back - I hadn't seen him in a long time (nearly 8 years) - time had changed him - he looked old, and yet when I tickled his memory it was surprising what he was capable of recalling. His name is Malcolm Thompson and he was (and is to an extent) someone who has made their entire career from photography, which is no mean feat. In recent years he has been a printer and processor, as well as doing course work on a monochrome photography course at Dundee's famous DCA.
I like Malcolm - he can appear curmudgeonly at times and yet, underneath that surface is a passionate and experienced photographer capable of not just superb images, but some of the best printing I have ever seen. I asked him how he was doing and he said he'd retired, though he still held an informal portfolio session at the DCA (has asked me to go along . . not sure whether I will or not . . I am not a great fan of these things) and also still had his wee darkroom going at Meadow Mill, and then he said, 'Well, I can't do anything else.' And it struck me then, that his commitment to the photographic image was so total that any other way of earning a living had never occurred to him . . 
Oh Lucky Man! I thought, for that has never been the case with me, but that being said I am still rather proud of my 'amateur' status, because, strangely the only thing amateur about it is that I don't have to earn a crust from my efforts. I can just about do anything I like and the only people apt to comment are myself and my wife, and, should there be any of you left after such a break dear readers, yourselves.
Anyway, back to the grist.
Before I took my break, I had a roll of Delta 400 in the M2. 
I'd broken it out for a trip to St.Andrews extended that to a Sunday wander and then decided I would finish it off on my walk back home from Ninewells Hospital where I had had to have a cytoscope examination (surely the most strange feeling that one can ever inflict on one's urethra and bladder . . short of trying to stuff peanuts up there . . but I digress). 
I had a marvellous time on the walk back, just snap-happy snapping away at anything that took my fancy.
The walk took me through Balgay Cemetery, a place I have walked in ever since I arrived in Dundee some 33 years ago. It never ceases to surprise and that day was no different, with a drear mist popping in and out off the Tay. There was something strangely beautiful and silvery about it, so I went and took some photographs in a place I have walked past millions of times, but never entered . . a waiting room for funeral services.
It sounds quite formal doesn't it, but is in fact just like a wee rural bus station waiting room!
The light and the windows though rendered it magical and rather surreal, so I set the LeicaM2/5cm Elmar at 1/125th of a second and approx f16 and started shooting. 
I even did the unheard of and went and asked a Parky if I could take his portrait . . .anyway.
Now actually from this film something happened which I haven't really found before . . 
I entered the realm of sequences. 
However these were simple, two photograph sequences, rather than elaborate narratives. 
When I developed the film I was rather struck actually by how they seemed to group themselves together on the film, and so have paired a few of them below in what I think are nice little duets (and one triptych) of light and form.
Sequencing is an art, that I have long felt I should pursue (and as you can see below, I definitely haven't got there yet, but it is a start).
A sequence, no matter how loose, separates your precious creations from being 'just' a collection of photographs and takes them into the world of visual narrative. Now if all this sounds a bit artsy-fartsy, worryeth not, I am not going to go all pseud on you (I hate 'art-speak' more than most, having been on the end of it at college) but a sequence isn't artifice, it is a genuine and valid photographic principle, and one which is all the more valid in these days of a billion-images-everywhere-you-turn-anyone-can-take-a-photo-innit.
I mean, face it folks, we (that's you and me I am talking about} have become about as relevant to the modern world as Catweazle.

Spot the difference - both now irrelevant to the modern world (though Catweazle always was . . I suppose that was the point of the program!)

Catweazle discovered the telephone . . or 'Telling-Bone' in a particularly memorable episode, and Mr. W.Eugene Smith created sequences of photographs (and remember a simple sequence can easily become an essay) that are lyrically beautiful and masterworks of craft and an advanced visual perception.
But now everyone carries a camera wiv 'em, innit.
We as photographers are seemingly redundant, because we have nothing to say to anyone except other photographers. Who gives a monkey's nuts about the fine monochrome photograph and print these days? Other photographers. That's about it, or so it seems.
This hit home to me over the holidays when, whilst photographing around the DOJCA building, a back door popped open and out came this young cove and we started chatting. He was awfully nice actually - I believe his name is Phillip Vaughan. Anyway, we talked for a while about cameras and art and it turned out (as far as I could tell) that DOJCA no longer has anything to do with 'traditional' photography. It is all digital and they don't use film, this being said, he did say there was a hunger amongst students to explore film . . but (and this is my own take on it) it is considered as arcane to the practice of art, as a plate camera would be to your average smartphone toting man or woman in the street.
Anyway, rant over, the whole point of what I have just said is that the art of sequence is vanishing, and I for one feel it is a great and solid shame.
Sorry - had to get that out - onwards with the shiite now.
I'll apologise in advance and say I am sorry to say that the images below aren't from prints - I have run out of chemicals and need to stock up and have spent all my recent pocket money on camping gear (more of that later) - so they are scans from my schiite scanner (verticals on the negs are correct, verticals from the scans are not . . grrrrrrrrrrrrr . . some tweaking in Irfan was necessary)
Anyway, comments welcome. Oh and the Delta was developed in good old (very) 1:25 Rodinal. Quite a remarkable lack of grain for such a supposed 'fierce' developer (the scans look rough because the scanner is simply incapable of dealing with anything remotely contrasty, without making everything look lumpy and flat).
The thing about the duets is that they weren't conscious at all, my eye just seemed to pick out similar things at relatively concurrent pieces of time and ordered me to make the photograph. 
This is actually where the method I expounded in 'The Ralph Gibson Experiment' came into play. I won't repeat it again, but knowing that you can pretty much count on the film's latitude to deal with everything except the grossest errors of exposure, you can set up at (in Scotland and on 400 EI film and with decent daylight) 1/125th of a second and f16 and just concentrate on composition and things come out pretty much OK. It is a weird thing actually, because by the rules, it shouldn't work, and yet it does.
I think Mr.Gibson should actually be lauded for his discovery, because not only does it work, but it works well.
Anyway, see what you think.
Here's the contact first of all - heart on my sleeve and all that . . warts n'all.

1934 Leitz Elmar, Leica M2, Ilford Delta 400, 1:25 Rodinal
Contact Sheet

And here's the duets - I rather like them, even though they are a diverse bunch.

1934 Leitz Elmar, Leica M2, Ilford Delta 400, 1:25 Rodinal

1934 Leitz Elmar, Leica M2, Ilford Delta 400, 1:25 Rodinal
Delta Frames 2 & 4

And on

1934 Leitz Elmar, Leica M2, Ilford Delta 400, 1:25 Rodinal

1934 Leitz Elmar, Leica M2, Ilford Delta 400, 1:25 Rodinal
Delta Frames 12 & 13

And on

1934 Leitz Elmar, Leica M2, Ilford Delta 400, 1:25 Rodinal

1934 Leitz Elmar, Leica M2, Ilford Delta 400, 1:25 Rodinal
Delta Frames 18 & 19

And then a little tryptich

1934 Leitz Elmar, Leica M2, Ilford Delta 400, 1:25 Rodinal

1934 Leitz Elmar, Leica M2, Ilford Delta 400, 1:25 Rodinal

1934 Leitz Elmar, Leica M2, Ilford Delta 400, 1:25 Rodinal
Delta Frames 20, 27 & 21

I am sure that every single man-jack of you has at least two or three photographs that could go together to make something more than just a single photograph. The above aren't great, but I enjoyed making them, and the fact they are on the same film was a surprise to me - they could be better arranged, but if I start farting around I'll never get this FB posted. So how about doing yourself a favour on a rainy afternoon when there's nothing better to do. Lay out a selection of your bestest prints on as much floorspace as you can allow,and grab a coffee or tea and have a mull over them and see if you can't come up with some duets or trypti or something longer and more narrative. It will set you apart from the also-rans, and might just get your brain thinking about the images you make in a less random, clearer fashion. Not nagging . . but give it a go.
Then see if you can't pursuade a loved-one to comment.
It isn't a skill learned overnight (or in my case at all) but it is something worth doing. Let me know how you get on.
And at the end of it all, wondering how I was going to use up my final few frames I had another go at a 'Leica snaphot' except this time the camera was in it's open ever-ready case around my neck, and all I did was set focus and surreptitiously release the shutter. I am not very good at this though, because shake came in again and yet it led to the photograph I like the most from this session and the one I named this Blog after - The Transformed Man. And no, this isn't a nod to William Shatner's album, this is a title from a 1950's Sci-Fi book, but unfortunately I can't remember the author's name (Alfred Bester?). 
Anyway, the pic suits the title.

1934 Leitz Elmar, Leica M2, Ilford Delta 400, 1:25 Rodinal
The Transformed Man

And that's it folks - FB over and out - hopefully it won't be as long next time.
Take care, God Bless and thanks for reading again