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.





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.


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?
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.


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
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.