Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Fresh Faces, Broken Dreams And Hope

If you live in Dundee, you can't miss it - the signs are everywhere, however if you are outwith the town, then:
'Here Ye! Here Ye!"
For it is time for that ragbag of hope, dreams, talent and waffle; of concerned artists and total art-speak psueds . .
Yes folks it is none other than time for Duncan Of Jordanstone College Of Art's Annual Degree Show!

Drunk N'Disorderly was where I was 'educated' in all things arty and whilst I came to loath handling pencils and gouache, I actually think that now I received a really solid education. So, I thought well, I effectively self-publish FB, why not do a nice thing and promote it.
Because, strangely, despite a working life not spent being an artist, here I am, 30 years down the line from that fresh-faced fellow, still creative, still making images, and definitely more of a concerned 'artist' (alright you regular F'ers, you can take the imagined 'piss-' off the front of that) than I have ever been.

I left college in the mid-80's, with a degree in one hand and the wish to become a fine art photographic printer in my heart - I knew I could do it, but unfortunately this was the end-time -  Thatcher's Britain of the '80's and I didn't have a bike - so whilst I was enthused, there was simply no employment for work like that in a tiny little place called Dundee, let alone in a a seemingly tinier place called Scotland . . nope it was London or nothing.
Not having the wherewithall, gumption, the aforementioned bike and especially funds to head to t'Smoke, I hunkered down, set up camp and ended up drifting into music retail . . and (incredibly to me) that's what I still do.
So those were my dreams broken-up like so many stale biscuits and swept under the carpet of evil reality.
OK, stop sobbing at the back.
There's no need, because with the wisdom of age, I am now of the opinion
Was it such a bad thing?
Typically me, it is a perverse thought. However when I really think about it, I think that the disillusion and pounding contact with reality was actually a boon.
What's that at the back?
Well (backed by I triumphal trumpet refrain) I can relate a story of triumph!
I am my own man, of independent finances, so I can commit my time (the most valuable commodity in the world) whenever I feel like it.
I can print whatever and whenever I want to - there are no deadlines, no angry customers, no rent, no worries of financial downturns, none of the normal distractions to creativity.
I can do what I want, when I want to.
I have my own darkroom - it's a mess, but it is MINE. It contains my 2 enlargers, 5 lenses and decent supply of paper, chemicals and negatives.
I can have fun and pleasure in the dark (stop sniggering) and emerge with results I am happy with.
Yes of course it's selfish, but it is my selfish.

But let's rewind for sec,
to a time of tight trousers, big hair, angular guitars and pints of snakebite . . .
After College, my dreams languished in the doldrums . . it was a total pisser, but what could one do? So, in a light-bulb moment, I totally put photography aside in favour of trying my darndest to play the guitar at a (hoped for) semi-pro level . . .
Oh the laughter . .
I did try though, really really really hard, practising for hours and days and months on my own initially, and then with my bandmates Mr.Charles Black Esq, and Sir Donald of The Currie . . or just plain, Chic n' Currie (geddit?) for short.
We had fun, we made monstrous noises, we deafened ourselves permanently.
We spent the equivalent of the GDP of a small African nation on gear!
But it was for naught.
The ghastly efforts can be heard here but please be warned - it isn't easy listening - it's also rather embarassing, however though you will have heard better, you've probably heard worse too . . .

And then in 1991 something truly significant happened to me - I met my wife, Alison.
I know that people poo-poo the 'it was meant to be' thing, but honest, it was.
We hit it off like a mouse and cheese, and it was this total realisation that there really was something more to life than practising the guitar, that led me to shut up my guitar cases pretty much for good . . . there was just simply so much more in the world than 6 strings and a plank of wood.
After a semi-legendary gig at Dundee Uni, Chic n' Currie (and Dr. Steve Gurling - our 'newish' singer) and me sort of felt like salmon in the upstream moments of life, and our little band fizzled out like a fizzly-out thing. We'd rocked, we'd created and someone (one person) had danced . . that was enough for us and we rode off into the sunset leaving behind altered minds and a changed musical reality.
We're still friends though (though no Gurley . . where are you?) and drink and laugh together on semi-regular nights out,  so all was not lost

In the meantime, Alison and I made a life together.
We did up an incredibly ramshackle flat, had a child (Alec Turnips . . just search the blog . . he's there), loved, laughed, talked, drank wine, got enthused, moved into another house no one else wanted, did it up slowly, laughed more, got even more enthused, drank more wine and generally LIVED.
And I was still a creative creature.
I might have been up to my eyes in 14 foot drops of lining paper, with a paintbrush behind my ear and a curse on my lips, but the olde creative rumblings continued.
I initially diverted them (by accident) into short story writing . . which, whilst I enjoyed it, wasn't really enough. I didn't think much of them to be honest, they were alright, but . . . and then one day, as often happens, out of nowhere during a conversation with my brother this statement came out:
"You used to be good at photography Phil - you could have done something with it."
A massive light bulb exploded in my head - of course!
The thing I used to love.
The thing I still did badly on holiday with an original Olympus MjU, the results being processed by TruPrint (! - honest).
As if by coincidence, at the same time, my pension provider went belly-up.
I had some money in the bank which was aside for my pension . . I spoke to Alison and in typical fashion she said 'Go For It.', so I did.
A couple of weeks later, there I was with a 1960's Rolleiflex T, a Gossen Lunasix S and a roll of Neopan 400! Ready to rumble.

Now incredible as it may seem for someone who had studied photography, I was incredibly nervous, both in using that first film and in processing it . . so after I'd used up all 12 exposures, what did I do? Yep - I outsourced it to a local processing company, for the grand charge of £5 (this was about 2002 - that was a lot of money) and I didn't even get a contact print. The film was pretty poor actually, but I could see the potential, and became determined to do it myself. This I am afraid folks has given way to the process monster who writes for you these days. No step too fearsome! No film/developer combo too daunting!!
Fortunately I still had my Paterson tank from College days and also had a larger Paterson which I had bought for the grand sum of £2 at a car boot sale.
I quick visit to Jessops bought me a bottle of Rodinal, Bromophen, Ilfostop, Hypam and Ilfotol, 3 8x10 trays, and 25 sheets of Jessops RC - I was good to go.
Now of course all I needed was an enlarger . . however, because of our financial impunity that wasn't to happen for another 2 years!

Can you imagine- all these 120 films and only contact prints? I tried contact printing 6x6cm negs on 6x7 paper for a while, but again, not a great idea at the time!
I learned to be a bed-fellow with frustration - I've been used to scrimping and saving all my life, but man, that wait for an enlarger was super-frustrating.
The enlarger (a Meopta Magnifax) arrived the day of our 10th wedding anniversary - and it was nirvana, happier than a pig in you know what as I flexed my muscles in trying to carry the massive box somewhere I could assemble the contents.
I coupled this purchase with a blowout (courtesy of my ever-understanding missus) on a 80mm f4 El-Nikkor, a battered, bruised (but still good) Beard easel and a Scoponet.
I was ready to go.

It was hard though - those early days of re-learning all the techniques and skills I'd learned in college were difficult. All I had to judge my efforts was my eye and my heart - no handy aesthetic judgements from Mr.McKenzie; no Sandy (the erstwhile and highly knowledgeable darkroom technician) to advise on dilutions. No Safelights (!) Nope it was me and me alone . . oh and my dog-eared copies of 'The Negative' and 'The Print'. But it was funny - I wonder do any of you lot ever get a feeling of spirituality whilst printing? Just asking really, because I quite often do - you can almost feel the ghosts of all the darkroom toilers of years gone by, clinging to the fabric of your darkroom, willing you on, guiding your instincts, blessing your efforts because you (and the precious few left like you) are the last-ditch defence against the loss of key craft skills. When we're gone, we're gone my friends.
I was speaking to a print-maker and photographer last weekend and she said that the darkrooms at DCA (in Dundee - a public art facility with exhibition space and workshops . .and darkrooms) seem to be little used these days - bloody sad! I often wonder whether I am the only living darkroom in this small City on the East Coast of Scotland.
Anyway, yet again I get sidetracked - back to the real meat and potatoes - my early efforts. I've still got most of the prints - they're pretty dodgy with the occasional gem thrown in, but they were produced by me, for me and nobody else - they were pleasurable to make.
As I've said before, darkroom work is fckecking hard. There's simply no easy fix and if anyone tells you otherwise, they're not being truthful. But you know what, with persistence, and a bit of faith you can get there.
For me, having an incredibly understanding family and remembering the feelings I had in my old college-days about printing and the making of lasting images, helped.
I think I have sort of got there. I say sort of, because one is never finished with making prints.

I like images like this where reality is distorted.

So how does this tie in with all the fresh-faced hopefuls stumbling out of creative institutions all over the world clutching their little bits of paper, with hearts full of optimism? And it doesn't matter whether they've studied photography or not . . in the case of DJCAD not as film is no longer taught there . . .
Well, some sage advice, not that anyone will be reading this, however this is my island in the internet sea so I can say whatever I like:
To be a total creative creature you have to make sure that it is an immersive thing - it truly can be a hobby and not a profession, but it still has to be done with every bit of juice your body can muster.
This isn't easy. You have to love what you are striving to do.
You might well come out distraught and dazed, because a lot of those self-same institutions are like the mincers at the end of the promo film for Pink Floyd's Another Brick In The Wall . . people in, but you just get mince out.
For myself, I encountered nepotism, hierarchies, dictatorships and down-right laissez-faire at DJCAD.
It turned my (up to that point) lifelong love of drawing, into something which I haven't done since . . it was that bad.
And yet, a refined sense of the creative process, and a love of being able to create freely was awoken in me too - it's a weird juxtaposition, and I can't help feeling that it was actually good for me.
So, if you are a fresh-faced young fellow of either sex, please bear this in mind - you might well not become employed in your chosen creative endeavour . . you probably won't make a bean from it . . . however, isn't that exciting.
You (young, creative person) are FREE!


The following is a short program from the Ministry Of Truth And Freedom.
It's a dull little exhibit that will probably be of little interest to anyone, however, we, the boffins at the Ministry believe it is an egg-on example of someone making images they are quite happy with, with no constraints on them whatsoever. Moreover, in the case of two of the images, it is an example of determination in the face of a squinty printing easel. 
The chap who made these images is apparently vastly happy, chooses what he wants to photograph and print and produces them accordingly. 
We tip our tifters to him in the obvious face of his inability to produce a photograph of anything even remotely interesting
 We suppose that's the spirit of the thing.
Isn't it?


Winter Tree - Water Of Saughs

Battling a squint Beard Easel, our hero overcomes all, to rise triumphant. 
The photograph was made on a Pentax 67, which I no longer own; is printed on Grade 2 Ilford Galerie and is heavily Selenium toned.

Summer Tree - Glentrool

In a punch-out between age and physical ability, our hero lugged a very large camera bloody miles to make this image for you. 
The lens was a Kodak Ektar, film Kodak TMY2 400. 
It's printed on Adox MCC, which was from a faulty batch.
Yes it is fairly boring, however it pleases me, and isn't that the whole point?

The Pool

Again, the old Pentax 67.
What I like about this is the distortion of reality.
I filed it away for years, but encountered it again recently and rather like it.
Paper is Grade 2 Galerie and it is Selenium toned.

University Building
I would never have made an image like this at DJCAD . . the creative process to make it took years to distill, but I got there in the end. 
The camera was my Rollei T with the 16-on kit. Film was Foma 200, and it is printed on Grade 2 Galerie, but untoned. 
This was made as part of an exercise suggested by John Blakemore in tonality. 
I like it. 
A lot.

Over and oot!

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Old Lenses And Long Stories (Part Two)

Greetings folks! I trust you haven't scratched a worry-patch into your hair with waiting to see how I got on with the Canon 28mm f3.5 lens and pushing film.
Phew, that's alright then.
Well, yes, it might well have been a worry, however worryeth no more, for Saint Sheephouse is here to asuage your ills and make all well with the world, whilst the meadow of your life is filled with happy bunnies, beautiful flowers and an endless supply of your favourite film.
Oh yes, there's precious few that get to revel in the golden glow of Saint Sheephouse's bounteous gifts, however today is your lucky day, because I decided last week that if the Pope could canonize people then so could I - so I canonized myself and hence my new title.
I mean no offence by this (honestly, I don't) it's just I feel that maybe we should all be a bit more Saint-like in all things . . y'know, just try and live better and happier and be kinder, more thoughtful and respectful of other people . . it isn't difficult y'know.
Besides, just to prove to myself I did the right thing, Saint Sheephouse has rather a regal ring to it dontcha think? I like it, but I don't think I'll be signing anything with it just yet.
Anyway - the premise for this weeks post:

1950's 28mm, f3.5 Canon Rangefinder Lens
1960 Leica M2
Kodak Tri-X, pushed to EI 1280
Using Garry Winogrand as inspiration.

I'll confess to you now, the last thing didn't work
You see for all my good intentions, there are a few factors which come into play. Firstly, making photographs in a small city like Dundee is difficult. People are deeply aware of you photographing them and it looks a little odd. Allied to this, I simply don't have the balls and lightning reflexes and proper gut-instinct, that Garry must have possessed. I don't know how he did it, I really don't - he moved like greased-lightning, made people smile and took great photographs.
However, I'll chalk this up as a possible new learning experience, as it's always good to do new stuff, and I also discovered during a conversation with a bona-fide ex-police dog trainer last week . . . ta-da:
Oh yes, that old chestnut is off the cards now, because dogs can be re-trained apparently. The bloke was fascinating and it would be nice to think he could help me with my reticence and lack of confidence in approaching strangers (I am only reticent with a camera . . not in general conversation) - but as I say that is for the future. In the meantime and for the purposes of this Blog, I took pictures my way and of objects I enjoy photographing.
So where to start. Well, here's some detailed pics of the lens, so that if you are so inclined, you can make some executive decisions about it and then go and politely ask your partner if it would be alright . . .

This isn't just a wide angle lens . . it's an 'Ultra-Wide'

Suitably  'Space-Age'

Front View Of Aperture Blades

Rear View Of Aperture Blades

Slight Distortion Of Viewfinder

View Through The Oblong/Curvy Window

And there you are - beautiful isn't it - I especially like the fact that the rear view of the aperture blades seems to resemble a machine-made version of Hokusai's masterwork 'The Great Wave Off Kanagawa'.


See what I mean? I wonder if that was intentional, seeing as the original name of Canon's rangefinder lens line was Serenar (apparently named after the Sea Of Serenity on the Moon) . . if you think like that, mix in a bit of zen-like happenstance, then you can sort of see where the designer might have been coming from.
Its handling it is a little different to yer bog-standard, normal-sized, muckle-fisted lens; it is very very small, and quite difficult to use quickly, but I've found that because of the great engineering and with the aperture and focus being really smooth and really positive, its smallness is no detriment.

So here we go then, film loaded, adventure trousers fully-primed and ready for whatever the world might throw at us!

1/1000th, f8

Well, it was a bad start as this was only time in my life I've been tutted when photographing.
I thought to myself I know I'll snap these two and try and go a bit Winogrand . . as you can see I failed dismally and was tutted to boot - that really put  me off, so I thought fceck it . . I'll do things my way . . so I did.

1/1000th, f5.6

This is more like it - definitely my sort of photo - incredibly this eyesore has greeted rail and road visitors to Dundee's Centre since Christmas 2013.
I've made lots of photos of this hoarding before and it has had a number of fantastic and vandalisable posters on it . . but this I think sums things up. Yes we have upmty-tump millions being spent on the V&A being built and the whole waterfront getting done up, however at the end of the day, you can't stop the vandals! 
Oh, and in the Canon viewfinder the edge of the hoarding was hard up against it's left edge optically, so I got a surprise bonus bush and a mental to-do note about approaching the finder in a Gumpian manner . ..
"Life With The New Canon Is Like A Box Of Choclits . . You Don' Know Watcha Gonna Git . . "

1/500th, f16

I've made it a semi-mission of mine to take pictures of Phone Boxes before they disappear altogether. Can people even remember back 10 years when they were everywhere? I like them- they're interesting and often vandalised. This one was in the University of Dundee Campus, and it contains no phone, just lots and lots and lots of poetry! It is hard to make out from the scan - as I said, a print would transform it, however I haven't had the time to make any.

1/500th, f5.6

Again, Dundee Uni Campus to the rescue. I initially thought this was a man acting all enigmatic, however I soon discovered it was a cardboard cut-out! Hard to make out from the scan, but again a print would sort it.
No idea who he is though . . .

1/250th, f11

Gumpian slip - that is my camera bag in the lower part of the frame. I just like this and I don't know why.

1/1000th, f8

That 'La-La Crew' have been super-busy of late. I really like this as it has the tonality I have been looking for for a while. It reminds me of Wynn Bullock and Paul Caponigro and Walker Evans later work.

1/60th, f8

This delightful looking piece of concrete is an abandoned building on the Uni Campus. I've made tons of photos of it and have never got tired of photographing it either. . however now, it will no longer be a grounds for inspiration as it is being boarded up after a particularly spray-heavy attack. That's progress!
I'd love to get inside for a few hours.

1/30th, f16

I have photographed these doors many times and I think this is almost the definitive photo of them - I'll be sad to see them boarded up. The tonality on this is outstanding to my eyes - there was a massive tonal range and the lens and film combo has done its best to capture it in a hard-edged way that I rather like.

1/30th, f4

Them doors again - the creativity of the spraying is quite something - I think a lot of these guys would be decent artists if they didn't limit themselves

1/30th, f5.6

Another Sheephouse Shpeshull. Just the sort of shot I enjoy making. The white stuff is polystyrene beads . . they used to be outside the doors but somehow made their way in over a long period of time.

1/30th, f4

Yeah . . me too. 
More details from my favourite corner.

1/30th, f4

It's refreshing to find a lovely unmodernised close in a tenement building and this is one of them. At one time, back in the days when secure entry systems only existed on posh flats, this was par-for-the-course in Dundee. Honest, when I first came here in 1980 it was truly the arse end of nowhere - everyone wore flared trousers (or seemed to); very real violence existed because of its teenage gang culture (gun-free of course, more a solid battering from about 20 pairs of boots); there were derelict buildings all over the shop and it's staunch working-class history was writ large everywhere. It was tough, and I felt like a right old softie.
It's greatly improved these days with a hard-edged charm, and soon to be mucho-improved with the addition of the V&A (hopefully).

1/15th, f4

It's hard to imagine anyone leaving a pram anywhere these days isn't it, yet here one was and nice little line of baby-things drying in the back closie, so I quickly nipped in, snapped my snap and nipped out again with a smile on my face.

1/500th, f8

This is weird isn't it, not least for the fact that the two guys on the 'Whizzzz' poster were looking my way. This is the sort of shot I love taking because it is unclear as to what is going on. The Canon has done a sterling job in cramming as much 'stuff' onto the frame as possible . . well done little chap!

1/500th, f8

The combo of underexposure and over-development has achieved a nice photojournalistic effect.

1/1000th, f8

Same as above - This is a little homage to Walker Evans - I have tried to photograph this setting in this way for as long as I can remember, but I have finally achieved it with the 28mm . . now I can rest!

1/1000th, f8

World's worst selfie!
Och well, some you win . . this is underexposed and not developed enough, so I have had to pump the lightness of the negative a bit so it looks pretty shite doesn't it. I should properly print this with some selective bleaching - that would work. I like the vignetting on the sky - reminds me of David Bailey's 60's stuff . . but poorly executed . . .

And there you go - the eagle-eyed amongst you may have noticed from all of these that there's vignetting on just about every one, however moving to f11, f16 and beyond it vanishes, so if you are trying to use this lens in a wide-open super-fast 'street' manner, bear that in mind. For myself, I like the vignetting - it will mean I no longer have to 'set' a print into its field by adding extra exposure to the side parts of every print - fan-bloody-tastic!
And now a word on processing:
OK - film (Kodak TXP 400 . . Och . . Tri-X then) was rated at EI 1280. It was developed in a small tank, in Kodak HC 110, Dilution B at 21° Centigrade. 
I gave the film a 3 minute water-bath prior to developing and started with gentle constant agitation for 30 secs, and then gave 2 very gentle inversions every 30 seconds up until 12 mins. At 12 minutes I gave it 4 gentle inversions and then left the whole thing standing still until 16 minutes. 
Stop, fix and wash were all bog standard.
You would think that 16 mins in HC 110 Dilution B would result in extreme overdevelopment but it doesn't - I think I got it about right actually.

Right so lets abandon the scans and do some stuff that film was invented for, namely making prints.
I had a good session with this lot, though didn't make as many as I wanted, however these will suffice.
They're all printed on Ilford Galerie, Grade 2.
Developer is Wolfgang Moersch's Eco, which is a very slow worker with most papers, but we're hitting the three and a half minute mark on Galerie; it is a lovely developer though and lasts for ages, so it is worth the effort.
They were fixed in 2 baths of Amfix, untoned and washed in my old Paterson Archival Washer.
Air drying gives Galerie the most incredible gloss, which unfortunately you can't see.
I'd be happy to exhibit any of these, not that that will ever happen, but one can dream.

Bike Shed. Dundee University, 2014

Self Portrait. Abandoned Building, Dundee University, 2014

Abandoned Building, Dundee University, 2014

Whizzzz. BT Phone Box, Dundee Waterfront, 2014

800 DPI Sectional Enlargement. Ilford Galerie Grade 2.
You can see from the above enlargement that the Canon is none too tardy with regard to detail - bear in mind this is Tri-X pushed to EI 1280 and developed in HC 110 - grain isn't half as bad as you would expect, and the texture of the backboard has been rendered nicely. Result!

And that's it. Hope you've enjoyed this half as much as I have in making it.
My hat is firmly tipped to those Japanese designers of the 1950's who got the backs of Leitz up so much that it set them about designing one of the world's all-time great lenses . . the Summicron - and if anyone out there wants to lend me one (a Summicron that is) I'll happily set up a shoot-out.
Until next time, look after yourselves, take care and keep taking the tablets.