Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Nature Of The Complainte

Morning folks and apologies to you if you were expecting Part 4 of the torturous Karavan Khronikles, however I have been beset by a modern problem . . lack of time. C'mon, Christmas is nearly here - what do you do when you have a few spare weekend hours . . yes you go and do normal things with the family, not lock yourself away in the dark and curse . . .
So, to that end, and being of the mind that I wanted to wish you all a Merry Christmas anyway, I thought I would provide a reflective theme for the end of the year.

Cap'n Bruce (Robbins) of the Online Darkroom fame and I have been having on/off emailed discussions recently - he's complained of little time and a wish to slim down his vision to something a bit more simple; I have expressed a desire to purchase yet another camera, or failing that, get something like a 50mm Summicron for the M2 just to see how far I can exploit the 35mm negative. Quite a difference!
To excuse myself a little I will say this - for many years I have wanted a Hasselblad - simply because they are beautiful and the lens quality is superlative, however they are not a cheap camera, and actually when I start to think about it, can I go back to ye olde square again? I've spent years making square photographs with the (currently in need of a service) Rollei T - I have beaten the format to death - can I really dedicate a huge chunk of money to it again?
Besides I find I like a more oblong format these days, however (besides 35mm) I do actually have two options in my arsenal with regard to that shape - the Koni Omega 6x7 and my Wista 5x4. "Great" you're thinking, "lucky bugger to have two nice cameras like that," however (and here is The Nature Of The Complainte) as a photographer, one is never satisfied! 
Weird isn't it? 
There's always a hankering for something else; these being, in no particular order:

Quality Of Negative
Quality Of Lens
Ease Of Use
Sharpness
Out Of Focus Characteristics
Fun Quotient

It's terrible really, because I believe that rather like that itch under the plaster-cast you got when you broke a limb at the age of 14, this photographic hankering is an un-scratchable thing.
Go on. How many photographers do you know who own just one camera and one lens? Is the HCB ethic of one camera/one lens really alive and kicking these days? I sincerely doubt it, and I am open to someone pointing me in the right direction of someone who does do it.
Bruce wonders whether he could just slim himself down to a rangefinder (yeah I know, they'll have to bury him with an OM2, so I can't see him getting rid of them) and a couple of lenses. He's even talking about selling his SL66 . . . and you know what? I can't see it - the man loves cameras!
Me? Well a new camera is always a rather nice prospect, but do I need one?
And here folks things get weird, because you will be hard-wired into my thought processes and it isn't pretty:


- = Bad
- = Confused

OK, so the pocket money is beginning to mount up nicely . . what do you fancy buying?

Well, the M2 is the one camera I could never get rid of, but one lens?

Bloody difficult. You couldn't live with just the 1934 Elmar, or the 50's Canon 28mm and 50mm f1.8. And superb though it is, could you really spend the rest of your life just photographing with the 90mm f4 Elmar? I think you know what the answer is.

OK . . M2 and 90mm Elmar . . that's a given.

Well, yeah, it's a start, so a 50mm Summicron? Would that satisfy things? Oh and on the wide side, a 35mm Summaron or Summicron?

You see what I mean?
It is impossible to be satisfied.
And then I go from there to:

Well, for all I know I moaned about it (a lot) but the Pentax 67 had a fantastic selection of lenses - maybe I could get one of those again, but wait a minute I've already got a 6x7 in the Koni and that is great.

But you haven't got a wide for it!

Yeah, a wide . . maybe a wider format would do the trick, maybe 6x9? 

Well yeah, so how about a 6x9 back for the Wista? 

Too cumbersome really, and I want something I can walk around with easily.

OK, so a Fuji 6x9? yeah nice, but a fixed lens - could you live with a fixed lens?
 
Nope - deffo couldn't, well the only option would be a Mamiya Press - you get a few different focal lengths for them.

Yeah, nice, but didn't Bruce say they were a little 'agricultural'?

He did, but those photos of his taken with them are really nice, and then there's John Davies and his UK landscapes, and also Don McCullin.

You've got a point there - stick it on the list. Of coures, the real deal would be AN ALPA!

Shit, yeah, an Alpa! But isn't that more expensive than a house?

Well, nearly, but you've got two good kidneys, and you can just survive on one apparently.

Go for it!

And I leave for work, bouyed by the thought that in a couple of years with one less kidney, I'll be traveling around taking amazing photos with God's gift to the photographer, The Alpa
However, this conversation is replaced a day later by:

You know, 6x12 is a bloody interesting format isn't it?

Too right. Are there any decent cameras out there? And how about a 6x12 back for the Wista?

Too cumbersome.

OK, so it's Linhof, Horseman or bust?

It certainly is, but then don't you think 6x17cm provides a greater sense of space?

Hmmmm - yeah, too right.

OK, so how do you feel about a Linhof or a Fuji . . or how about a Hasselblad X-Pan? You wouldn't need a bigger enlarger for that!

Anyone got a scalpel?

To be replaced a day later by:

You know I really like the look of those Eisenstadt New York photos he made with the old Rollei Standard.

Beautiful aren't they - and they're pretty cheap too! But then again a Zeiss Ikoflex is another option.

Yeah, I'd forgotten about Zeiss . . well how about a Super-ikonta? You can get them in 6x9 too!

You're brilliant, but of course you realise that the Voigtlander is more highly regarded, especially with a Skopar . .

Oh FECK, I forgot about that . . .


And that is The Nature Of The Complainte folks - it is a never-ending circular conversation that questions the use of every format and the quality of every considered camera. I even found myself discussing 645 and Sony NEXs with Bruce and that shows you the madness.
Basically every photographer wants to spend money on new gear and make that one photograph that, when the relations come to clear their house out, might cause someone to pause and say "that's a NICE photograph" before everything gets chucked in the skip.
We, as photographers, are afraid of death (to paraphrase Moonstruck) and we want to be remembered, and only by spending as much money as we can on gear, can we go some way to assuage our subconscious that indeed, our travail on earth as captors of light hasn't been a total waste of time!


Leica M2, 50mm f1.8 Canon



Leica IIIf, 1934 Leitz 50mm f3.5 Elmar



Olympus Trip, 40mm f2.8 Zuiko


Rolleiflex T, 16-On Kit, 75mm f3.5 Tessar


Rolleiflex T, 16-On Kit, 75mm f3.5 Tessar


Rolleiflex T, 16-On Kit, 75mm f3.5 Tessar

Rolleiflex T, 75mm f3.5 Tessar


Rolleiflex T, 75mm f3.5 Tessar


Rolleiflex T, 75mm f3.5 Tessar

Pentax 6x7, 75mm f3.5 Super Takumar


Pentax 6x7, 75mm f3.5 Super Takumar


Koni Omega 6x7, Super Omegon 90mm, f3.5


Agfa 6x9 Box Camera


 
Wista 5x4, Kodak Ektar, 203mm f7.7

Wista 5x4, 150mm f5.6 Schneider Symmar-S

Sinar 5x4, 90mm f6.8 Schneider Angulon

Sinar 5x4, 90mm f6.8 Schneider Angulon


All of the above are physical prints, printed by me - and blow me, can you see much difference?
Nope, me neither - truth be told, for the maximum print size I can make in my tiny darkroom (11x14 at a push) any format will suffice, and yet The Nature Of The Complainte dictates that I should still hunger after a camera/lens combo that is satisfying, sharp, easy to use, high quality, capable of capturing light with a unique signature and all round FUN TO USE, when in actuality, I have any number of them already!
Elsewhere it is known as GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) - I'll just call it MAD (Mental Acquisition Dither) because nothing seems to satisfy that need for more gear. 
I genuinely thought that when I bought the Leica M2, that would be it, but it wasn't . . same with the recent late-manufacture 90mm Super Angulon, a lens so perfect that it makes you want to cry . . . I've barely (sic) scratched its surface and I am already thinking about something else. 
Those rare beast photographers with refined vision and a sense that more cameras means more responsibility, are lucky, for they have no chains to bind them to the earth and can fly into visual legend, but in reality, do they really exist? Do you??
For the rest of us toiling away at the coal-face, the need for more stuff pretty much dominates the hobby. And why not. There's something about a camera, especially a mechanical camera that says This Is It. Mankind's ingenuity and engineering finesse distilled into one perfect machine. A thing to be admired, acquired and used; to be loved and loved again. 
In short it's just about perfection, and a desire to render the world in a perfect way. 
Aside from just snapping away at any old shite as the majority of photography seems to be, surely as a concerned and dedicated photographer half our ouevre is to render an imperfect world in a way which hopefully serves as a reminder to the rest of the herd that (under the right circumstances and with the right machine [and ultimately under our control]) the world can be a perfect and visually beautiful place. 
Like some lost ancient tract, impossibly discovered, a good and symbiotic camera can be that key to the kingdom we all desire.

And so folks for the New Year I fear the search, like some Biblical quest, will go on. But in the meantime, may I take this opportunity to wish you the best for the season.
God bless and thanks for reading. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

New Lands, Sleeping Bags And Big Cameras - Part Three (The Insomnia Special)

Well folks, it is back into the fray again!
Now, I am leaving a packet of pep pills, some matchsticks and a "help yourself to free recharges" jug of piping hot black coffee at the side of your screen, simply because we are entering the land of the dull. Well, it is dull if you're not into it, and look, I am into it, and even I find it dull, so like I said, help yourself to a coffee, get the matchsticks ready for your eyelids and pop some pills. Make sure you're not sitting too comfortably as well.
Right here we go.
Remember in the last installment I was going on about organisation? No? well you'd better go and read that first . . . .

There, that's better isn't it.
OK, well my organisation worked pretty damn well actually, with only one cock-up in the stacking department I was chuffed, and seeing as developing 20 sheets of 5x4" sheet film one sheet at a time isn't for the faint-hearted, I decided to break it down into 5 developing sessions of 4 sheets at a time.
This is all I can handle without going slightly mad.
And yes it does take a long time, but if you don't think about it too much then it's fine. I find the best thing to do is to imagine what your results are going to be whilst whiling away the long hour or two.
I use a metronome for timing in the total dark (as I am developing in open trays). The metronome was a cheap one, but it keeps good time, and at every sixty seconds I say aloud the time "One minute" "Two minutes" etc etc . .
Why aloud?
Well in the dark time takes on a curious dimension and one can honestly lose oneself completely. At least if you have heard the time aloud, you can keep a check on yourself.

Anyway, just to fly in the face of convention (but mostly for the wonderfully [relatively] short development times) the developer for this project was Rodinal, or Adox R09 as it is now called. I've come more and more to appreciate just what a versatile developer it is - it is VERY agitation dependent, but temperature wise, it isn't nearly as fussy as say the likes of HC110.
Dilution for this lot was 1:25 at a temp of 21° C.
I always do a water pre-bath of around 90 seconds for every sheet of film, which as you can imagine is fun, especially as, given the very limited space in my darkroom, the water tray has to sit on an entirely different shelf, well below the level of the shelves where I can fit my 5x7" trays . . and yes, I HAVE dropped one of the slippery buggers, emulsion-side down too . . .
As for agitation, well I use the 'Kodak' sequence for trays: Lift the middle of the tray, set back, right corner, set back, left corner, set back. That is the equivalent of one conventional 'tilt' if you are using a daylight tank.
With Rodinal, I do a whole minute of constant agitation, in that centre, right, left, centre, right, left, repeat etc etc sequence, and then one 'sequence' [centre, right, left] every 30 seconds. Now most people seem to agitate in a stupidly heavy-handed sloshing motion, and if you do this with Rodinal, you'll end up with heavy grain, whereas, if you are very gentle, you'd be amazed at how grainless it can be. And this is what I did, for on average a development time of 5 minutes 30 seconds - there were some variations, but the coffee is running out - I'll not detail them here, oh no, that would be too kind . . .

Anyway, here's a little light relief - the Wista with the Super Angulon in the thick of things - this was literally 200 yards from the caravan - it was a real pleasure not to have to lug my gear for miles.




OK. Ready? Good - slurp your last free cup of coffee, put the matchsticks in your eyelids  and listen to some pounding Doom Metal, because here we go - Instant Soma!


The wee scans below are nothing more than my exposure records (made, curiously, at the time of exposure) and my development sheet (kept, curiously, every time I developed some film). The reasoning behind this lot is simple - it provides a handy cross check to see what you did wrong and more importantly, what you did right. I would heartily recommend making as many notes as possible - it really helps.


1 & 2 First 8 sheets of film, exposed in two lots of 4 at different dates.
Note use of Zone system nomenclature. date exposed and date processed.

3 & 4 Second 8 sheets of film, exposed in two lots of 4 at different dates.

5 Last lot of 4 sheets

Development record.
The circled numbers correspond to the reciprocal ones on the Exposure Records, so you can sort of plan and know the why, when and wherefore of your developing process. 

As you can see from the above I've made a number of comments like 'Misload' and 'Lots of condensation' and my favourite 'Pulled slide without shutter closed'.
Why have I written this?
Nope, not nuttiness, but because it all helps as an aide-mémoire - the old brainbox never hangs onto everything.
Couple this with detailed descriptions of each day, written in a Moleskine notebook at the time and you have a fairly complete record of what you did. It can make amusing reading years later!

"Trousers caught fire after bad curry"
"Bellows infested with snails."
"Pink tracksuit attracting too much attention . . ."

That sort of thing . . .
Anyway, here's an example of how the negatives look in the .  . er . . negative:

Looks contrasty don't they.  They're actually nothing like that - I am afraid the scanner has not made a great job. Also, you get no idea of resolution, but you see the top left negative? I would say it is the most 'resolved' negative I have ever made - the detail goes on and on and on, it's also the most tonally balanced of them all.

Anyway, after a whole WEEK of developing, the results are below.
I know, I know - they look shite and I agree, but that's because I took another chance on the contacts . . I printed them at Grade 0, and gave them less exposure than they should have had.
Why? I hear you screaming, Oh God, WHY???
Well, I am fed up of chalk and soot contacts - I like to see the potential of a negative, and some of these are on the cusp of underexposure (I rated all films at EI 100 . . box speed . . call it a brain fart) so opening up the negative so you can sort of get an idea of what is on the negative seemed like a good idea. However, as you can see, they just look truly awful and utterly lacking in contrast and crispness. But I've made my bed and all that . . so even at the risk of embarrassment to myself, they are below.
Some of the frames are truly terrible, but there's a few photographs there that I think will print wonderfully.

1

2

3

4

5
I always find with contact sheets, if you put your computer on its side, you can get a better idea


So, until the next blog (Part 4 . . I know!!), I shall leave you to carry on snickering and pointing.
Next time, will be an exploration of my photographic methods and why on earth I took the frames I did, alongside a genuine (to me) tale of terror (well, it was a bit scary).
Till then, take care and keep taking the pills.
Oh and by the way, I forgot to add that due to some massive spamming, I have disabled comments, so if you like what you see please offer up a vote for any of these just to let me know someone is out there!

Monday, November 03, 2014

New Lands, Sleeping Bags And Big Cameras (Get your rubber trousers on - it's Part Two)

Well friends hopefully I whetted your appetite, and even if I didn't I am going to persevere with this shite simply because I have to get it all down and out of my system.
So to recap the last Blog:

Caravan Holiday.
Film Maniac with Large Camera
Lots Of Film
No Darkroom

As you can maybe tell from the above, film organisation was always going to be a problem. 
I took 8 Toyo Double Dark Slides with me, holding (obviously) 16 sheets of film, all of which I had pre-loaded in the proper dark of my darkroom. However, 4 of those sheets of film were TXP 320 from a previous load and I only wanted to use TMX 100 for consistency, so that was 2 DDS's knocked out for a start, but I took them anyway. 
My intention was to work my way through the remaining 6 (12 sheets of film) and using a recently purchased extremely very large changing bag change the film whilst there. 
And herein lay a problem.
Have you ever used a changing bag? I mean really used one as in it is all you had to use? Go on . . admit it . . you've got one, but you've never been brave enough to use it have you.
Well that was the predicament I found myself in.
Oh how I skipped out that first night to photograph. 
What a joyous time I had!
And then when I got back, had washed up and thought I must really get myself organised immediately so that I could stay on top of everything, how bouyant and enthusiastic I felt!
Ah, the innocence of youth! The naivety of the amateur!!
I had my changing bag ready.
I had my empty film box ready.
I had my rocket air blower ready to rocket.
I had my little interleaving sheets of paper ready to place over that day's batch, thereby delineating the end of the day . . .
I was good to go.

***
BOREDOM ALERT - DO NOT LISTEN TO CALMING MUSIC OR OPERATE HEAVY MACHINERY WHILST READING THIS NEXT BIT.

A brief aside into my thinking about keeping exposed film organised:
OK - it's pitch dark, or you're in your changing bag or whatever.
Stack you darkslides in the bag (before zipping it) in the order in which you will be placing the sheets in the box. A lot of people have several boxes for N, N+1, N-1 exposures etc, however I feel that it would be too easy to lose place of which image is which so don't use that method.
So say you have the following:

Darkslide 1:
TMX 100/1 (from your notes you know this to be a good exposure)
TMX 100/2 (from your notes, you weren't really totally happy with the composition on this one and you aren't really bothered about it)

Darkslide 2:
TMX 100/3 (from your notes you know this to be a good exposure)
TMX 100/4 (from your notes, a possibly difficult exposure - shadows placed on ZIII, but highlights well beyond ZVII)

[Now imagine the card inner sleeve that holds film in the plastic or foil envelope in a box of sheet film (Ilford ones are best here, because they are a folded sheet, not two separate sheets like a lot of other manufacturers)  - open that wide, put [in my case] 4 sheets of exposed film in, and then lay an interleaving sheet on top - that says to you in the dark that below the sheet is the first day's film.
Just as a double check, you have written on the sheet the day AND ALSO THE ORDER IN WHICH THE SHEETS ARE IN THAT PARTICULAR STACK (Obviously you can't read this in the dark, however if you get a bit lost you can remove it, seal the box and have a skeg at what you've done).]

Anyway, say in example to the above, you want to process TMX 100/2 first just to get a feel for correct development times. Unload that sheet first, place the film in the cardboard, fold it back down over the sheet, then say you want to process TMX 100 1 & 3 next. Unload and place in the card in the same way, then TMX 100/4 - that's the one which requires the most attention so you are going to process that last. Unload it last and place it at the top of the stack and place the interleaving paper on top of that.
Before you started, you stuck a piece of masking tape on the outside of the box with Day and Stacking info on too and also that the sheets are the first day's shooting.
So your strip of tape should read something like:

28/9/14 (Top - next to paper) TMX 100/4, 100/3, 100/1, 100/2 (Bottom)

You're going to ask why I've placed them in that order?
Go on, you are aren't you?
Good.
Well it's because it is easier to take a sheet from the bottom of a stack of film in my experience. Simple as that.

For however many days you are shooting (in my case 5) just repeat the above. And just because it is hard knowing what you are doing in the dark, you can always tell which way up the stack is, because the sheet of film on the bottom feels like film and not that sheet of paper you placed on top of the last sheet which is the top of the stack.

I hope this makes sense. It is a bit convoluted, however it worked very well for me apart from one cock-up in the stacking department, but I'll put that down to blind panic as detailed below.

***
IT'S OK - NO NEED TO CRY ANYMORE - DANGER IS PAST
 GO ON. GO AND GET YOURSELF A STIFF DRINK - YOU DESERVE IT.

Anyway where was I?
Oh yeah, bouyed up on a wonderful film-exposing evening, that's where I was!
All too ready to don a knotted hanky and raise a jaunty salute to anyone who might be passing.
I got everything organised as detailed above and with some trepidation and shaking hands (after all I had invested time and artistic effort into making these exposures) managed to unload my DDS's and get the film organised and sealed away into the box.
BTW - the picture of the tree from the last post, was from that initial batch of film.
Bongo I thought, job done (though it was getting a tad warm and sweaty in the bag [I am going to call it that from now on - The Bag - there, I've done it.])
So I pulled my arms out of The Bag, turned the light on, unzipped The Bag and got everything out. I was chuffed - it had seemed to work well.
I got my Rocket blower (essential if you ask me) and jetted out any bits of dust from the DDS's and organised them for loading, placed them back in The Bag alongside a box of lovely TMX 100.
Curiously I turned the light off (!), zipped both zips on The Bag, shoved my arms up the sleeves and prepared to load. 
And herein lies the problem with changing bags and DDS's - SWEAT
After I'd shoved my hands in I realised that for some unknown reason I was ramping up more moisture than a half-backs' Jock Strap. Are there such things as breathable changing bags? 
I've looked around and can't find them, but man it needs it, that and a small framework inside to stop the fabric draping itself over your hands at the drop of every hat. I know there's the Harrison tents, however one has only to look at the retail prices of these to realise that whilst they look totally the part, they are beyond the means of most enthusiastic amateurs . . ie ME.
In The Bag, the more frustrated I got with the cloth falling everywhere, the harder my fingers sweated. It was terrible - so much so that guiding the film into the slots in the DDS resulted in the film actually sticking to the plastic of the holders . . what a fckecking palava! 
It was a real nightmare and took me about four times longer than loading film normally takes. Allied to this, I didn't really know whether I'd ruined the film by getting moisture on the emulsion and said emulsion getting ruined by all the shite that was going on. 
I cannot emphasise enough how truly awful the situation was.
Several times the film stuck tight only a handful of millimeters into the slots in the holder and I had to scrabble with fingernails and swearing to free it, only to try loading it again, for the same thing to happen. 
The air was blue, and Ali wondered what the hell was going on.
After every sheet loaded, I put the film back into the box, took my soaking wet hands and arms out of the sleeves, unzipped The Bag and looked at the sheets of condensation which had formed inside The Bag's  material - it was like a greenhouse window on a frosty morning!
I then had to rocket air this to dissipate it, so I could carry on. 
I have never experienced anything like it, but I got there (in the end). 
And you know what, I knew I had to change tack, simply couldn't go through the torture again, so after a bit of thinking, the following two loads were made in conditions which most people would laugh at - they involved the following:

A bed.
A changing bag
Twilight/Night
A sleeping bag

Yep, I waited till it was pretty dark.
Shut the curtains (they were pretty much non-light-tight though).
Put The Bag, folded, on the bed (as a clean and easily made dust-free area . . well it was better than using a mattress that goodness knows how many people had slept in wasn't it!)
Laid out my film box and holders.
Draped a LARGE ex-army sleeping bag over the top.
And proceeded to unload exposed film and reload unexposed film into the holders underneath this makeshift tent. 
I had no idea whether the film would be affected, but I couldn't go back to The Bag alone. 
And you know what? It bloody worked! 
The sleeping bag was capacious enough to not keep draping itself all over my hands, but also of the right size to provide a nice light-tight seal where my arms entered underneath it. 
So all I can say, is if you ever find yourself without a darkroom, but with say a large coat and a darkened room, it is entirely possible to load and unload film. Of course you have to be careful, but it can be done! 


Schneider 90mm f8 Super Angulon, TMX 100, 1+25 Rodinal, Fotospeed RCVC
Hackneyed Cliché or Valid Artistic Statement?
Personally I'd go with the former


You have no idea how hard it was to make the above photograph. 
It was a cold and misty morning, my camera (lenses and ground glass) was doing its best to act as a condenser for the vast tracts of atmosphere surrounding me, as were my glasses and loupe. It was damn near impossible to see anything. Allied to this I knew there were several sheets of film in the holders that were totally fecked. However, needs must when the devil drives and this was one of those moments. 
Knowing that the film was possibly in a ruinous condition didn't help, but I had to use it - I couldn't just consign it to the junked sheets of history pile. 
And how do you think it has turned out?
Obviously apart from the composition (which is total shite) not half bad.
You can see there's a small mark about a quarter of the way up the print on the left side . . guess what . . that's it. For all my sweating and the film sticking tight, that was the only damage out of four sheets of film. 
It just goes to show that modern film is remarkably robust stuff. Bomb-proof is what I'd say. 
Oh and before I go, I'll also add that the combination of TMX 100 and 1:25 Rodinal doesn't get spoken about much, however it is as near grainless as a Warburton's bread factory!
Anyway, on that note, till next time I'll love you and leave you. 
It's deep into the lands of processing next time, so make sure you've got some fresh rubber trousers on, because I attempt something with regard to paper grading that is both foolish and interesting. However I'll try and make it a bit more interesting too and not all techie
TTFN and thanks for reading.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

New Lands, Sleeping Bags And Big Cameras (Oh No! . . . Part One?)

Greetings folks - well, I am (just about) finally back in the land of crazed blogs, comparisons of the action of photons on sensitized materials, expensive pieces of glass, mechanical marvels and all round madness . . . yes, you've guessed it, it's photography time again! And not only that, I recently buried myself so thoroughly in all things photographic, that I have only just been discovered by a rescue party who were off looking for a lost tribe along the deepest, darkest of wilds of the East Coasts of Scotland . . .
Oh yes, hard, tough, epic, but above all fun.
I'll blame my wife, because it was her idea whispered into my drunken brain that made us book a caravan at one of our favourite locations as our main holiday of the year, and boy was it perfect.


Leica M2, 90mm f4 Elmar, TMX 100, Rodinal 1+25
Ali in a quiet forest on a wet day - we were surrounded by a sea of mist. 
Leica M2, 90mm f4 Elmar, TMX 100, Rodinal 1+25
Line across centre of photograph courtesy Epson 'Perfection' V300 - GRRRRR!


When I started planning it, I got all excited like a small puppy and instantly thought "Oh boy! Oh boy!! 6x7, 6x6, 5x4, 35mm!!! Woof Wooof Woooof" and ran round and round in a circle until I was sick on the carpet, which was pretty stupid really. After I'd calmed down, and after a bit more thought I realised I had to make a stand against myself and rather than be led by the excitement of different formats, just take a leaf from my own words and limit myself. 
So I did.
Two formats only: 5x4" and 35mm - and even this was limited further with regard to lens choice: 90mm f8 Super Angulon and 203mm f7.7 Ektar (for the large stuff) and (God bless him - there he is at the back hauling his bones up that hill) The Right Reverend Ernst Leitz 90mm f4 Elmar-M (for the 35mm stuff).

I'll admit that I did take the 50mm 1.8 Canon Serenar too as back-up, after all it is scary heading off into the unknown without being prepared, and I suppose were I being really hair-shirted I could have slimmed it down even further from there, but I wanted to have some fun too - it wasn't meant to be all about self-flagellation, so the cat 'o' nine tails was safely left at home and after giving myself a stern talking to, I got everything prepared.
Ancilliary-wise all I carried besides the cameras and lenses, were 8 Double Dark Slides, a cable release and (boxes!! of) film, a light meter (Gossen Lunasix 3S), my ancient Gitzo Series 2 Reporter and a similarly ancient Leitz table-top tripod, oh and a large changing bag.
I would say this was fairly modest in real terms - I've often travelled with a LOT more, however, because of the need for bulky 5x4 film boxes (Kodak) for putting all the billions of sheets of film I was planning on exposing in, the whole lot took up THREE camera bags! 
But what did a little set-back like that matter to me - fortunately on this holiday there was only going to be the two of us as Alec Turnips has now started University and is in the midst of the longest hedonistic drinking spree you could ever imagine, so we had room and plenty of it in our venerable old Honda.
So, everything packed, we left with thoughts of coming back a week later to a smoking, vomit-stained pit in the ground . . and more on this later. 
And that was us, out first holiday properly alone for 18 years - it was exciting! 
And where did we go? 
Well, you know I am going to keep it to myself (selfish eh?) simply because I don't see the point in telling the world where it is. If you recognise it fine, well done, if you don't, well I guess holidays are what you make of them. To be honest I don't think anyone at mine or Ali's work would regard a caravan as an exciting prospect, but that's where they're wrong. A modern static caravan can be a luxurious experience and you haven't lived until you have experienced a full-on rain storm whilst being cosied up inside one. Remember when you were young, and it was pouring and your Mum or Dad let you put something like an old raincoat over your head and stand outside whilst thick, thundery droplets splattered off the top of it in loud torrents? Well, it is like that, except you are centrally heated (this IS Scotland after all) and can sit and read and drink tea and look smugly at the rivulets tearing off to eternity. It is (as they say in Yorkshire) Chuffin' Fantastic, and I dare the naysayers to experience it for themselves. 
There, that's my propaganda on behalf of the Caravan Club over and done with.


The Goode Captain Sheephouse on a particularly brutal day - it had been raining for nearly 24 hours straight.
Sometimes only the craziest garments will do - this poncho hides not just me, but a camera bag, Leica M2, 90mm Elmar and Leitz table-top tripod.


So where do we go from here? Well, to be honest, there's a lot more writing to be done, and the whole trip has to be cobbled together from snippets of crazed memories, drunken haze, the pleasures of quiet countryside, un-nerving experiences, rain storms, mist, curry and books!
So although I know you're thinking "not another of those crazy posts that spread over weeks and weeks and are dull dull dull", well, yeah I suppose it could well be. Sorry about that, but you know what? I'm going to read it, infact I've got a feed to my work so I can read it there too, because folks (and you'll either get this or you won't) I found the whole thing damn exciting - I was well out of my comfort zone of having a darkroom to do all the dark stuff and was operating on the edge of guerilla photography, loading sheets of 5x4 in semi-dark rooms, rolls of 35mm in sopping wet conditions, and the worst of the lot, trying to keep a logical track of the (ahem) 20 sheets of TMX 100 I did actually expose - that was a challenge all of its own . . but more of that to come. 
So do yourself a favour, don't get all excited about the forthcoming blogs and rush around like a puppy and be sick on the carpet . . you might well get yourself banned for life. No, take it easy, put your feet up and let your intrepid Captain do all the hard work for you!
So, just to whet your appetite (and hopefully keep you interested enough to follow up on this initial part) here's an example of what you can do with a 60 year old lens, a film that seems a bit 'Knightrider' these days, and a developer that is older than all of us . . . . .
Oh, and some exhausted Selenium toner too.

Kodak 203mm Ektar, TMX 100, 1+25 Rodinal, Fotospeed RCVC
Kodak 203mm Ektar, TMX 100, 1+25 Rodinal, Exhausted Selenium Toner (Unknown Dilution).
Fotospeed RCVC paper, Selective Pot-Ferry bleaching.

Interesting eh?
Basically I FUBAR'd the development and was left with a well-exposed, but fairly thin negative, and then a flashbulb went off!
Hadn't I read in 'The Negative' that you could expand the upper Zones of a negative by giving it a bath in Selenium? 
Yes I had, and so I did! 
And it worked. 
It's a weird technique, but the dark bits of the negative get even darker before your very eyes, resulting in a very nice 'vintage' expanded feel. The light bits (of the negative) remain the same, so you end up with lovely rich blacks and an expanded upper range - gorgeous.
The print was made on some ancient Fotospeed resin coated, developed in some even more ancient Moersch Eco tickled up with some Benzotriazole (thanks Bruce!) to overcome any fogginess in the paper. Grade was Grade 3 and I further enhanced the contrast by using a brush and Pot-Ferry bleaching on the highlights.
As a certain dead meercat used to say 'Simples!'
The one thing I would say about this negative is that tiny individual pine needles are totally visible and sharp, oh and that this was a limb off an Oak that must have been over 1000 years old - the old Kodak Ektar is an extraordinary lens and one of the real bargains in LF photography.

And so folks, on that note, I shall love you and leave you till next time - a dark and ghastly tale of poor contact sheets, sweat, changing bags and dust, oh and a real terrifying experience which had your author packing his Wista in double quick time and legging it as a quiet Scottish gloam descended on the land. Till then . . . TTFN.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Normal Service Will Be Resumed As Soon As Possible

I know, I know, but what can I do - I've only got so many hours in the day. I've been cat-sitting for 9 hairy weeks, so that has sort of hampered any film-based stuff, I had DIY hell, Flat-Pack HELL (a 12 hour shift to build a 3 door wardrobe with shelves and lights) and just generally have been doing a ton of things other than photographing and writing about it. Never fear though, because like that patch of dry skin that always comes back, I'll return soon with more tales of terror and triumph . . and to be honest, I've missed you all. So until that chance turn and a meeting on the trail I'll bid you adieu (to you, and you, and you . . and you too).


 Schneider 90mm f8 Super Angulon, Kodak TXP 320, 1+25 Rodinal
Part Number 1A~438895949939


OK - I have done a wee bit of photography - I love the above - it reminds me of an Industrial Fittings Catalogue from the 1960's.
Film was the exquisitely creamy Kodak TXP 320, rated at EI 320, developed in 1:25 Rodinal for 7 minutes. Constant agitation for 1 minute and then 2 gentle tilts every 30 secs.
It's a contact print, on ancient Fotospeed Multi-Grade Resin Coated paper.
The lens was a (cough, cough) newly acquired 90mm f8 Super Angulon fitted to my Wista DX - lovely.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Don't Hurry, Don't Worry, And Don't Forget To Eat The Chocolate

Greetings playmates . . . I know, I know . . . it's been a long time hasn't it.
Well, tbh, I've been busy, so blogging has rather taken a back-seat as I have been researching . . . ahem . . . and in no particular order: bedroom furniture, paint, how to repair plaster, plasterer's tools, how to repair render, pipe insulation, lime mortar . . . and in general all things DIY-based. 
It's been hell actually, and it still isn't finished - I havent been able to think a thing about photography . . but you know what . . . maybe that is a good thing.
Here's why.
I think, because you blog about photography, and because you are passionate about it, then people assume that you have to be taking pictures every day.
Much like paraphrasing one of the dead drummers in Spinal Tap 'Have a good time . . . all of the time' it is generally assumed that you are toting a camera with you everywhere you go and you are bringing back screeds of tasty negatives, and printing them off every day to an ever-growing pile of meisterwerks. 



The misrepresentation of what a photographer is supposed to be like. 


Hereoes are for boys aren't they? Well yeah, but in my case I can honestly say that as a fully-grown family man, I still have them too. Mr W.Eugene Smith (above) typically toting a mass of cameras. I prefer picture two which was his more typical set-up.


Anyway, back to the meat and potatoes - bringing home the bacon ALL THE TIME
Well, certainly in my case, this isn't the case. 
Photographing can be a struggle
Sometimes, it can be a pain
And then again (whisper it) much like injecting silica gel into your testicles, sometimes it can be the thing you least want to do in the whole world.
It's an art form and it's your art form, but like most creative processes, it can't be hurried. 
I've been there, wrote the book, made the film, set up the silk screens, mixed the ink and printed the T-Shirts . . really. 
I can say it from experience . . whilst it is good to practice your art as often as you can, sometimes, if you aren't feeling particularly creative, it is often better just to stay in bed . . or in my case, with my nose to the plasterboard, thinking about nothing in particular. 
You simply can't hurry it
I know, I know . . it's a super-competetive world. If you dont get out there NOW, you'll miss that shot. These things can play on your mind, but in reality if you are dashing around, firing off at all-comers when you don't really feel like it, I don't necessarily think you are going to get anything worthwhile.
You've got to make like the Cadbury's Rabbit (Jessica) from the 1980's chocolate ad for Cadbury's Caramel. And if you haven't got a scooby what I am talking about, go and look it up!

Anyway, whilst thinking about nothing in particular, I recently made a very reasonable acquisition for the grand sum of £56. 
It's a 1957 Leitz 90mm f4 Elmar. It's dog-eared and scabby, but the glass is really good.
Now normally I would have dashed around like a mad thing and tested and re-tested .  . . but this time I didn't, simply because of the weight of DIY upon me. Instead, I took it for a walk with my wife whilst we enjoyed some of the lovely Summer weather we had a few weeks back.
The photographs, now I've had some time to digest them, are not outstanding, but they have a quiet air to them which I am rather taken by.
The Elmar (possibly the cheapest M-Mount lens you can find) is a beautifully made, excellent performer and a great deal of fun to use.
Here's some of the results - they work well as pairs:




Numbers 1 & 3






Numbers 16 & 17




Numbers 19 & 26

And that's it folks - film was Tri-X rated at my usual EI 320, developed in 1+50 Rodinal for 14 minutes at about 21 C . . careful with that agitation Eugene - gentle and constant for one minute, then only one gentle inversion every 30 seconds. 
It's a good and Sheephouse approved combo.
Till the next time, wish me luck . . nearly there!


Thursday, June 05, 2014

Camera = Good, Film = Good, Photographer = Bad

Regular F'ers will know that I have been mad enough to tote a fully loaded 5x4 camera around all over the place - from near-death experiences carrying one (a Sinar) to a height of around 3000 feet (Dreish and Mayar), to my last exploit which involved the Tay Rail Bridge, driving rain and gale-force winds . . . oh yes, it's a man's life in the LF community.
If you are a LF camera user you'll be thinking:

"What a WIMP! Wot's he complaining about . . . I once paraglided with my dark-cloth over my head and 5x4 Canham accidentally hitched to my trousers during hurricane force winds in the foothills of the Himalyas."

Well, yes, I can appreciate that all over the world there are people using view cameras in all sorts of strange and exotic locations that involve more muscle-power and energy to get to them than running a marathon or three, however, everyone is different. I am finding that what is hindering me most of all these days, isn't the actual weight of the gear (because I have slimmed mine down considerably from the madness of a Linhof Twin Shank, Gitzo Series 5 head with fully-loaded Sinar F and 6 DDs's, to a nice little Wista DX and a Gitzo Reporter) no, it isn't that (which is a genuine consideration by the way) - no, the problem for me is my eyesight.
I really struggle to focus my camera.
In a word it is difficult.
Every LF photographer I have ever read about always mentions the whole zen/vision thing about the world being a calmer place under the dark-cloth, and composition being easier because the world is canted in such a way (upside down) that shapes become obvious and easier to deal with. I think what I shall say from here is that I haven't reached there yet - and maybe I should practice more, because it is a universal statement.
So not only do I find it a total struggle to 'see' my ground glass and the magical image waiting for me, but I actually find it difficult to SEE my ground glass. You know . . with my eyes!
Add in to the mix the sort of conditions found in some of my regular haunts (ie, mountainous areas, inclement weather or extremely 'orrible conditions) and the fact that a ground glass will steam up with only the heat from your face (let alone your breath) whilst the dark-cloth will do it's damndest to make you look like the Invisible Man, and you have a difficult exercise in image making.
Bloody difficult.

A Large Format Photographer relaxes after a particularly difficult session

And that isn't all - factor in setting up and tearing down time (even going quickly it'll take me around 20 minutes to make a photograph) and the fact that even in a slight breeze your camera/cloth/tripod setup will attempt to emulate a box kite and soon the whole process becomes extremely daunting and bloody hard work.
It is more than likely that because of these factors I have a ridiculous amount of sheet film left to use - it's embarassing . . . and it isn't going to change anytime soon.

I have also been having a think (Oh NO! Here he goes again) about suitable cameras for what is, these days (due to the ridiculous price of petrol in the UK) my staple subject matter - namely the Urban Landscape.

Ah yes, Watson, The Urban Landscape, a place of dangerous extremes, of horrible buildings, dirty alleyways, suspicious policemen and violent strangers. A place my Dear Watson, where, a young photographer with a large camera, if he isn't careful, is in danger of that most ghastly of afflictions, that curse of modernity, The Curious Bystander!

You see, trying to operate a 5x4 in a City, a small City, is like trying to peddle real pizzas in Pizzahut - it's a bit of anathema, because the moment you set up there's curious people asking questions and before you know it your swift 20 minute image, has become a full-blown hour of chat, more chat and lost inspiration. That's the main reason I started photographing with 5x4 in the very early morning. However again, you are up a shitty creek without a paddle, because, given that most people seem to be up and about by around 7 AM, you are limited to the hours before this. So basically Spring/Summer/Early Autumn early hours . . and even then . . .

Take for instance a few weekends ago - I arose and was ready by 5.10 am, however, looking out of the windows the light was how shall we say . . . total shit. Flat, grey, not even any mist or haze that could have sorted things out - in other words heading out with a 5x4 would be an exercise in futility. I sighed, swore and went back to bed depressed.
It is harder to use a 5x4 than people realise, and just to prove it (though you can't tell from the photographs) here's a couple of examples of images made on a 5x4 under extreme circumstances:
It was January.
It was pissing.
It was blowing a gale.
I was soaked.
My dark cloth was soaked.
My lens was covered in water drops.
However seeing as the railyard under the Tay Rail Bridge was wide open with no security I had to photograph there before it was shut-up again.
The lens was my old 90mm Angulon, and the film was TMX 400 developed in 1:25 Rodinal.
I guess these are examples of why 5x4 is popular - I think the tonality, especially of the second one, is outstanding.


Tay Rail Bridge. January 2014




Tay Rail Bridge. January 2014


Though I am very happy with the fine prints (on Grade 2 Ilford Galerie) to be honest, the whole exercise scunnered me - it was a real challenge to make those - so to that end I started thinking. And strangely the thoughts that popped into my in-box were about the Armada and Drake's overwhelming ability to outmanouevre the Spanish fleet. Apparently it was all down to vessel size; the huge and unwieldy Spanish Galleons being up against the more manouevreable English fleet.
A bit like photography I thought!
The huge and unwieldy 5x4 being a positive hindrance in the urban landscape, whereas something small . . . that might just be the ticket.

Well from there I started thinking I'd write a post about using the Leica M2 as a landscape camera, using tripods and cable releases and so on, rather like Lewis Baltz' work from the '60's, but time then became a consideration and I realised that trying to make 36 exposures like that would be a lengthy process of a morning.
So what did I do?
I grabbed the Koni Omega instead and headed out with a tripod, light meter, cable release, a roll of Pan F, a skip in my stride and bravura in my heart!

A Camera Aside: The Koni has been a thorn in my side since I treated  myself to it for my 50th birthday. It needed a complete overhaul, at a not inconsiderable expense, and then, just outside the guarantee period of the repairs, the bloody shutter started acting up - refusing to fire properly under 1/30th of a second.
I shouted, sighed and put him away.
And that was how it was for at least a year. and then I thought bog-shit - I now have nothing to loose, and I like the camera . . a lot, so I took my heart in my mouth and semi-stripped down the lens and shutter assembly, and have pretty much (fingers crossed) got him working all tickety-boo again.
The thing about the Koni is the lens - I have a Super-Omegon 90mm on there - the standard lens of later models, based exactly upon  the legendary Konica Hexanon, a lens renowned for creamy oofa's and bitingly sharp focus. I know it is a sharp lens, so partnering it with something like Pan F, on a tripod, with cable release, was going to be a treat . . and might even be the way forward for my urban stuff.

Back On The Streets: 
I was out and about by 5.30 AM and parked in Market Street, just opposite the Nynas Works on Dundee's Dock Street. There's a small bridge over the railway line - cross it and bingo, you're in Urban Decay Heaven!
Mounting the Koni on the Gitzo, I approached my first subject (a scrap toilet unit from an Oil Rig or Dock or something) and instantly realised one thing - getting the levels was going to be difficult as would be exact framing.
I like things to be exact, but with any rangefinder it is hard - damn hard, and with the Koni the framelines aren't exactly what you would call totally accurate. Through the viewfinder, there's a right hand one which is the main one to use, and then with the left hand one, you have to use the outer edge of the line, or else everything goes to cock. You get a very loosey-goosey form of composition, nothing at all like the accuracy of say a 5x4 or even a Nikon F . . but then again you're not having to peer at a fogged-up piece of glass whilst a large piece of material tries its best to wrap itself around your head, and obviously you have quality improvements over 35mm.
I hate to say this to myself, but when I used to own the Pentax 67 with WLF, I had a superb, but moody and unreliable (and loud and violent) landscape camera . . I still hanker after it actually, but then reason kicks in and I re-read my blog post on them here.
On the whole, I think that if I can get a handle on the frame lines I reckon the Koni is a superior camera.
But "What about the results Sheephouse?" I hear you cry . . 
Ah .  .well . . . them . . .
If you look at the title of this post, you'll see that I have scant regard for what emerged from this session - maybe it is just me (but it isn't) however they look pretty damn dull to me . . as dull as the light and the subject matter.
Just how much photographic wonder can you conjure from some concrete blocks, a toilet unit, and a scrapyard? 
Yes . . you've come to the same conclusion as me. Not only that, but I went and placed all my shadows on Zone III.
Now, recently I've said:
"Pashaw . . Zone IV shadow placement, that's for wimps . . gimme Zone III and over-development".
And that's all well and good, and works well with a lot of subject matter, but the Urban Landscape is a bit different, because aside from trying to gather some atmosphere, I think what you are trying to do first and foremostly, is to convey the dereliction of the subject, and only rarely can you do this with an exposure/development regime that is more at home with people and pleasant scenes.
So what did I do? Yep - you've got it. Slightly underdeveloped the film.
I'm annoyed with myself for making this mistake actually, because I should (and do) know better, but then again, working with Pan F and HC 110, I was in danger of increasing contrast to unuseable proportions . . hence my reticence.

Now unfortunately the contact is so shite, I am not even going to bother showing it to you . .
I know I know, here's a hanky . . wipe your nose . . . however for your amusement and delectation here's two frames that didn't and did work (well two prints of said frames actually) of a really dull wall and a really really dull wall constructed of concrete blocks.
Feel free to muse, rub your beards, scratch your heads and have a discourse whilst I go and make myself a cup of tea . . .


Really Dull Wall. Dundee May 2014



A tiny crop - detail is pretty damn amazing isn't it.

The print is an exrecemental proof print on Kentmere VCRC - tis ghastly sirrah, but there's nowt I can do about it now.



Really Really Dull Wall Constructed Of Concrete Blocks. Dundee. May 2014


I am super happy with the second print actually - it has turned out well and with this one, I incident-metered the concrete and placed it on Zone VI. 
It was made on some 10 year old Agfa MCC Fibre paper with some Benzotriazole (thanks Bruce) added to the developer.
The level of detail isn't half bad, though I have seen the Koni do better . . but I think it might well be down to the film/dev combo . . it is possible that Dilution B is a tad solvent.
However what I do think one gets from this, is how well a 6x7cm negative can emulate a 5x4" negative in terms of tonality - I guess that's why Mamiya RBs were the workhorse of generations of studio photographers.
You can however see quite clearly that the Koni framelines have made me a bit squint . . but it isn't too bad is it. I am determined to continue!
Could the Koni be my 5x4 substitute?

Well that was all written a few weeks ago, and guess what I've been back and tried the same experiment again, with Pan F, the Koni on a tripod . . . and, I've very nearly had a successful time. I say very because I stupidly took some 'online advice' with regard to the development timing of the developer I chose (Rodinal 1:100) and to be honest, the resulting negatives are as thin as Bobby Charlton's comb-over.
However it all isn't doom and gloom, because the negatives are actually ragingly sharp in places and the tonality is pretty good. But as every darkroom worker knows, hell is either an underexposed negative or an underdeveloped one! 
I had to put something on this post though, so consequently with time against me, I have made an RC print . . and it was difficult to make. 
There's just no guts in a thin negative is there?
Sometimes, despite the latent image you can see, it is just best to pack up and walk away, because it is frustratingly difficult to get anything resembling a print you are happy with out of the whole mess. 
And a lesson learned from this to pass on? 
Proceed with caution when using unfamiliar developer regimes (especially off credible websites) and if possible try and initially follow the recommendation of the manufacturer . 
I underdeveloped the film by a whole 3 minutes and it shows.


Altered Dundee. Self Portrait. June 2014





Sectional Enlargement - Hardly Any Grain




Sectional Enlargement - Hardly Any Grain

This is the one frame that I am totally happy with from the whole film - had I developed it properly, I would have been happier, but that's one of the perils of traditional photography - the elements of chance.

And that's it folks - I will continue along these lines. 
I sorted out my squintness with a small spirit level from B&Q! 
As to the Koni being a 5x4 substitute . .  .well yes - using the Koni like this is easy-breezy - it is liberating and very easy. If I had had time to make some more prints, you would have got some idea of the levels of detail the Super Omegon can reveal. It really is no slouch.
More soon.
Till the next time, toodles and thanks for reading.