The meanings in 2020: Images and Beyond
Another in my politicized/acculturated landscapes series – a new subset from local walks in the bleakness of autumn/winter farmland, with neither snow nor frost, but mostly fog and mud, for company.
Local fields seem to have been taken over by maize in recent times, a crop which feels rather alien to Oxfordshire and brings to my mind, for whatever reason, horror in popular culture; what is left behind after harvest certainly feels rather more desolate than the usual stubble. Coupled with extreme grain and small format via 135 Delta 3200, the ritual aspect of farming as process seems to take on a much bleaker, far more forboding connotation, helpfully added by ‘Ritual’ being the title of the original novel upon which the Wicker Man was based. Photography as both recording of time and interpretation of space always seems to convey some inbuilt sense of belatedness at odds with the immediacy of its visual appeal.
Leica M3 / 50mm f/2 dual-range summicron
Ilford Delta 3200 @1600 / 6400
Caffenol C-L/S (80 / 120mins semi-stand)
A couple of good things that have emerged from 2020! Me finding more time, with the right equipment, to make more photographs – via RZ67 Pro II (stolen in 2019, recovered in 2020) and new-to-me Leica M3.
While I now tend to reserve slide film to large format – 10×8 especially, alongside FP4+ – , I’m now getting along well in 120 and 135 with the combination of Kodak Portra and Ilford Delta films. I now process all my colour film at home using the recent Bellini kits, which I’m confident last longer and are more cost-effective than the Tetenal offerings.
For B&W other than the Pyrocat HD I use for 10×8 to make negs for alt-pro as well as digitising, I had previously been using Ilford DDX as my go-to. The drawbacks of DDX are that is expensive, relatively unsound for the environment, and comes from a shop(!). For both 135 and 120 I’ve now moved over to experimenting with Caffenol recipes, which are fun and produce results that so far – when I choose the right recipe – seem to work fine.
For Delta 100 and 400 I’ve had good results with Caffenol C-L/S, which is as follows:
21.6g of supermarket soda crystals in 115ml distilled water;
5g vitamin-c powder in 115ml distilled water
5g iodised salt in 115ml distilled water
20g instant coffee granules in 153ml distilled water
(all ingredients inc. water measured by weight on a micro scale).
Leave to stand for a few mins to dissolve while film is loaded into tanks.
With chemistry at 20º, before starting, prewash the film in the tank at 20º for 5 mins, then develop as follows:
Delta 400 @400 – stand development
total dev time 60mins, with gentle agitation for the first minute.
Delta 100 @100, and Delta 400 @800 – semi-stand development
total dev time 70mins, with gentle agitation for the first minute, and 3 inversions at half way.
Delta 3200 pushed at least one stop:
in 135 I’ve had OK-ish results with Delta-STD as below:
32.4g soda crystals in 150ml water
10g vitamin-c powder in 150ml water
22.5g coffee in 200ml water
developing time: 15’50”, with 5min prewash as before.
10 inversions initially, then 3 per subsequent minute.
However, my emerging sense is that Delta-STD doesn’t work that well with Delta 3200 – my rolls of 135 were still rather underexposed; I used this mix to develop a roll of 120 exposed at 1600, with a developing time of 10minutes. While I’m not convinced that the chemistry was at 20º, the roll came out blank.
So for 120 I’ve reverted back to semi-stand with the C-L/S recipe. For 1600 EI I developed a roll for 80mins, with 3 inversions at 40mins, and this looks like a solid baseline to begin from, since I have good shadow detail.
For all the above, I finished off the processing with a 1 min stop-bath of water, 5mins of fixing with Ilford Rapid Fixer, 3 sets of inversion-washes using the Ilford method, then a final Ilfotol rinse before hanging to dry.
Delta 3200 (Leica M3 / Delta-STD)
Delta 3200 (RZ67 Pro II / C-L/S)
100% crop of digitisation
I’ve recently added a Leica M3, with 50mm f/2 dual-range summicron, to my array of film cameras. This is intended to ultimately replace the Hasselblad 500C/M I bought last year to replace my stolen Mamiya RZ67, now that – perhaps the only good thing to happen in 2020 – the latter was recovered and returned to me by the police.
With careful processing and scanning, I’m fairly happy that for my purposes 35mm film on a Leica won’t short-change my results terribly if/when I sell the Hasselblad. Neither camera has a meter so there’s no difference there; I’m generally happy either to use my phone app for everyday shooting or use my Sekonic spotmeter for a specific project or film where I want to be extra-careful; the dual-range is a great lens for the M3 (or any film Leica before the M6TTL), the only practical way of getting closer than a few feet with the Leica system. For more crowded situations, e.g. street photography or wandering around London, having a meter with e.g. an M6 would be more ideal, but at the moment that’s… less of a problem.
Two potential surprises for non-Leica users are size and weight. The Leica bodies are generally even smaller than my Canon A-1, which is pretty small, esp. compared e.g. to a modern DSLR; and perhaps just smaller than e.g. a Sony A7. Second, the M3 is a solid piece of brass, and, with a traditional chrome brass lens, is quite heavy for the size. Not too much of an issue, of course, if you’re used to rather larger equipment…
But the great thing about the M3 is its simplicity. Compared with later electronic film cameras, such as my Canon A-1, it’s light-years easier to use, because it’s so simple. This means it’s also directly comparable, for me, to the pleasure of using large format. The simplicity is the thing – once you get over the terror of the fact that you have to do some (or, with large format, quite a bit of) work because the camera isn’t going to help you with any settings. Even loading/unloading film in the traditional way via the removal take-up spool reminds me of the experience of working with larger cameras, esp. medium-format. It’s certainly not difficult at all, and not time-consuming either (about 60 twiddles between thumb and forefinger to rewind a roll). If you like working with medium-format film cameras there’s no reason why you wouldn’t get on a with a traditional film Leica.
Another thing that I’m pleasantly surprised by is the rangefinder. The M3 is famous in Leica circles for having the largest magnification viewfinder, so it’s great to work with, with a 50mm lens or longer; shorter than this and you’d want to compose with an external viewfinder, but getting focus nailed with the rangefinder is easy. I’m happily surprised by this because my former experience with a Hasselblad XPan II was less favourable – composing was difficult (the rangefinder patch was a bit smaller), and as a panoramic camera it actually didn’t work that well for me for landscapes since I was forever craving more detail. Using the M3 as a walkaround camera is a much more pleasurable experience; forgetting about maximum detail in favour of the opportunities this camera provides is great.
Whether or not I take the M3 with me on 10×8 trips doesn’t really matter – the M3 can work as a scouting camera in more general terms: getting you out more, putting you in contact with the general kinds of subjects you might like to work on 10×8, and keeping the film-photography mind hard at work, and getting results and shots you could never get on 10×8 in a million years anyway. Very highly recommended.
Following recent argyrotype printing sessions, and an increasing sense that my prints were both rather dark in the shadows, and more particularly losing a lot of detail in the highlights, I ran a print test following the guidelines for silver gelatin in John Blakemore’s Black and White Photography Workshop.
I exposed two rolls of FP4+ 120 in my RZ67 Pro II, using a dark blue bath towel set up in full sun in my back garden.
I exposed the film at box speed, 125, and shot a set of 10 zones, starting with zone 5 and then moving from zones 1-4 and 6-10.
I developed the first roll at my currently set development time (Pyrocat HD 2:2:100, 12’ at 21ºC, 10’55 at 22ºC, hand-developed in Jobo 1520 tank, which ought to approximate the results I get with 10×8 in the Stearman with the same time and agitation steps), and then printed it as a contact sheet with my usual Argyrotype set up. The resulting print is set out below, with hand-written notes, clearly demonstrating overdevelopment in loss of highlight detail.
On this basis, I then developed the second roll at N-2, and produced a much more satisfactory result.
I put quick phone-grabs of both negs in the final wash (before dry-down) through photoshop to produce a pair of zone scales from each print, as follows:
A second image of this strip for film 2 indicates the position of the zones on the histogram (with zones 1 and 2 both on zone 1 and zones 8 and 9 both on zone 9), demonstrating that, before dry-down, my zone 5 on the second sheet is a little dark, more like zone 4, and that zones 1-4 are probably one zone lower than where they should be, representing underexposure of the film by one stop:
And here is the same strip when the paper had dried.
This also indicates that I should rate my film at 64 for argyrotype prints with full tonal values starting from zones 2-3. I’m more bothered about loss of highlight detail than loss of shadow detail, so dev time is more significant I think. An extra stop of exposure on 10×8 will be quite substantial, but for images where full textural detail will be important I will want to be as creative as possible and go with 64 as film-speed if circumstances allow.
Here is the original contact sheet, now dried, from the second film with revised development time of 8’05” at 22ºC.
So new N dev = Pyrocat HD 2:2:100, 8’05”, 22ºC, ideally rating FP4+ at 64 where possible. Film hand-developed in Jobo 1520, to replicate as closely as possible the time and agitation I use for 10×8 in Stearman SP810 trays.
(NB I made an error in making the original exposures here: I shot two at zone VII, forgetting to change the lens aperture between shots at that point, so the two images on the penultimate row represent the same tonal position – their different colour represents slightly different sensitiser coating depth; I ran out of exposures on the roll, so the test finished at zone IX, which has very minor texture, from the shadows on the towel surface; zone X would be paper white).
Shooting a test with a textured subject, as John Blakemore recommends, makes a huge amount of sense.
The peach mid-tones here are very pleasant, and are controlled by the amount of humidity in the paper at time of exposure.
Altogether a stimulating and productive test. Will now to try it out on some new 10×8 subjects.
Following further recent experiments with Agryotype, and from reading John Blakemore, I’ve been revisiting my developing times for FP4+ with Pyrocat HD 2:2:100. This has firstly allowed me to iron out processing errors I’ve been making lately. My original tests from last year had N at 10’30 and N-1 at 8’05 (a time reduction of 23%). It’s also reminded me to not be lazy with my metering, and to annotate the zonal placements when I make an exposure.
For some reason lately (reading from the wrong page of my notes / not properly updating my phone’s timer app) I’ve been processing at N = 12’, which represents virtually an N+1 overdevelopment, about 15% above N (in the ballpark that John Blakemore has for stepped expansions and contractions).
This is fine if I’m scanning my film but not great if I then want to make argyrotypes with highlight contrast, and is I think one (!) reason why I only managed one successful argyrotype from my last printing session: the white Clematis produced very little detail in the highlights at all (the other errors were because of overeagerness – I exposed the paper before it had sufficiently dried so too much subsequently washed off – I note that Mike Ware recommends drying for 1-2 hours at 20ºC; I had good results in warmer spring conditions with drying for 30mins at 28ºC room temperature, but no shorter than that). This sadly means I’ll have to wait another year to reshoot the white Clematis flower to attempt another argyrotype, while I can still enjoy the scanned version – I think I’d prefer to use a fresh negative than attempt to dodge a contact-print in progress.
Reading Blakemore also means that I’ve been reassessing my developing times. I’m happy with N, N-1, and N-2, but N+1 has now been reassessed given the white Clematis failure. So I’m now going to put N+1 and N+2 at 116% and 132% above N. These times are for developing at 21ºC. I add 9% for every 1ºC above this if I’m developing in warmer conditions.
What I’m also planning to test next is how Argyrotype reacts to expansions and contractions in developing, and how to read these with the zone system. I’m currently working with expansions and contractions as per silver gelatin defaults (using zone VII as the cut off point), and not as per Pt/Pd (I’m not convinced from my tests so far that Argyrotype can approach the tonal subtlety of Pt/Pd in the highlights, but have yet to work with a negative that really tests this).
(So my assumption is that this is more realistic than Platinum/Palladium according to some notes I have, for which expansions and contractions work as follows:
N-1 = zones 2-10, 8 stops
N = zones 2-9, 7 stops
N+1 = zones 2-8, 5.6 stops,
N+1.5 = zones 2-7.5, 4.2 stops )
During this Covid19 period I’ve been pondering still life macros on 8 x 10 black and white film. The challenge I’ve been facing has been to strive to get beyond the Edward Weston / Ansel Adams cliché. A pleasurable morning spent reading John Blakemore’s Black-and-white Photography Workshop has set off some light bulbs in my head for new creative explorations. Beyond his technical mastery of black-white developing and printing what is also so striking and suggestive about his book is his conceptual open-mindedness and free-spirited sense of exploration. What I found particularly fascinating this morning was reading the still lives section about the making of his thistle photographs, where he explores the different effects of exposure time in developing technique using the zone system; and also, even more impactfully, his ‘fictions’ series.
This seems to be a particularly useful point of departure from the ‘1000% percent authenticity’ approach of Weston / Adams. What Blakemore did with this series was to make double-exposures of the still life scene, the first exposure to include both ground and subject and the second exposure to just include the ground. This produced a wonderfully mysterious tonal effect where highlights in the subject were unchanged but midtones and especially shadows slowly melded with the ground exposure. This seems great to me because the whole point is to challenge the viewer to think carefully about what they’re perceiving, which is what all photography should be about; but still life is so often, especially in large format circles, totally dominated by the quest for authentic photographic reproduction; and this tends to cliché very readily.
There is also a very pleasing sense of craft in everything Blakemore does and this is all for the good in the enrichment of the sense of enjoyment that to me is the whole point of using a large format camera in the first place. To me this will also be an interesting experiment: it will be intriguing to see the extent to which a double-exposure technique can be made to work to make alternative process argyrotype prints.
Beyond these conceptual nuances it’s also been useful to read John’s discussion of the photographic toning of black-and-white prints. This is a book that is completely devoted to silver gelatin and darkroom work, but that doesn’t mean that photographers who use digital cameras, or photographers who use a blended workflow, don’t have much to learn from John if they’re interested to make the most of black and white imagery.
This book can teach you all you need to know about toning I think! – not simply as a technical exercise but fundamentally as to do with the aesthetics of the final print or image.
I’ve been reminded of the benefits of split-toning for warmth and contrast and tonal depth / richness. So I thought I’d try to replicate this quite straightforwardly for the digital part of my workflow in Photoshop. The natural place to go to do this is the gradient map tool. Paring back the aesthetics of toning, selenium produces depth and warm to the shadows whereas gold toning producers a cooling in the highlights; combining these two can add texture, depth, and richness.
To achieve this effect in photoshop is quite straightforward. You just need two gradient map layers at very low opacity e.g. 5% or less, and use the colour picker to select a dark red tone for the shadows in one layer and a light blue tone to the highlights for another layer. You can also add a darkening and contrast curve to add a bit more richness to the image as well.
Here’s one I made earlier!
I’ve also added a new little section on my 8×10 film-holder tapes, where I can annotate very succinctly but clearly the precise zonal metering decisions I took. This is very much overkill for work intended for scanning, but will be useful for the techniques discussed above, and will also help me to further hone my technique for the traditional alternative prints I make. Here’s a mockup of a new-style film-holder tape.
I’ve been meaning to get this sorted for a while – a new portfolio website for my work, concentrating on my large-format film photography work since 2016.
Go to: davidfearnphotography.co.uk
I’ll keep my WordPress account running as a source of information, resources for large format, and musings, but will no longer be updating the galleries here.
Hopefully I’ll be able to focus my attention increasingly on new creative directions with large format.
So yesterday I finally got out for a walk, to recce Whichford Wood with the Hasselblad, and I shot a roll of Portra 160.
I got back home and, after 10 months, Thames Valley police have recovered & returned my RZ67 Pro II – stolen from the boot of my car while I was out with the 8×10 at Wayland’s Smithy on the Ridgeway at the end of June last year. I’d tipped them off after a week re. a suspect ebay site… I’m happy but frustrated – everything seems to be working, and a few of the accessories that I’d taken a while to collect for the camera – a spare Pro II back, covers for the backs, strap, cable release, rare but excellent Really Right Stuff QR plate – had come back with the camera. Sadly a few key items were not recovered – the lens hoods and front caps, and in particular the 110mm lens. I did though get the 50mm wide lens back, so that’s a start.
This allows me to directly compare the systems – and I have to say that the RZ comes out favourably. Here are a couple of pics of them side by side, with the wide-angle lenses on both cameras (the 40mm CF Distagon on the 500C/M).
I never got to play with a Hasselblad before buying the Mamiya, and all the positives of both systems may also feel like negatives depending on one’s outlook. But having now used both for quite a while independently and now bringing the two together for the first time, I do think the RZ wins.
It is unquestionably the case that the Hasselblad is more hand-holdable, and marginally more user-friendly; it’s also entirely mechanical, which still astonishes me.
However, the things on the RZ which I notice today are things that really make me love the camera more. These are: focusing, lenses, and the back.
Focusing on the RZ is I find much easier than on the Hasselblad. This is for two reasons: first, the bellows focusing, and second, the size and brightness of the viewfinder. These are noticeably different. The Hasselblad viewfinder feels a lot smaller than it is by comparison, and helical focusing on this kind of system feels really odd now that I have the RZ to compare it with. The focusing on my 80 Planar is a bit stiff, and even with the 40mm I find this a bit unintuitive esp. when handholding – the fine-focusing side knob for the bellows seems so much more obvious. The only thing the RZ doesn’t have which the Hasselblad does is the EV interlock. The RZ stop-down lever is a much better design than the Hasselblad too.
Though I only currently therefore have the wide-angle lenses to compare, it seems to me that the 40mm Distagon is a bit too big for the V-system. It’s bigger and heavier than my RZ 50mm, and unbalances the camera. It’s probably a slightly better lens with better micro contrast (I have the standard 50 not the floating lens version) but this is offset by the size of the thing. It’s pretty cumbersome, and comes with a massive front lens cap which is a loose fit, meaning that the whole lens has to be stored in its own pouch in my bag, adding further to the bulk.
Of course this feeling that the lens overbalances the body is partly because the RZ body is such a beast compared with the Hasselblad. But this is for a very good reason – the rotating back system. Loading film into each is very simple, but the RZ backs are so cool and the system is brilliantly designed.
I’ve noted down some weight stats to compare the two two-lens systems, and the Hasselblad comes out favourably, obviously.
500C/M Body with WLF, 2 backs, 80 CF Planar and 40 CF Distagon = just over 3kg (NB 40mm lens weights double the body)
RZ67 Pro II Body with WLF, 2 backs, 110 and 50mm lenses = 3.8kg
Why I originally felt that the RZ was such a beast was the bag I bought for it (also not recovered). This was a lovely Billingham 307, but it was probably too big, and at 2kg by itself, this meant that a total weight of more than 6kg, which was no fun.
What I have to do now is fine a nice 110mm lens, and a replacement bag that weighs the same or less than the bag I use for the Hasselblad – a Billingham Hadley Pro. The Billingham bags are lovely designs and are waterproof – essential for shooting in Scotland, should that ever materialize any time soon – but they are expensive and heavy. Something more modern might fit the RZ style a bit more neatly in any case.
In essence, then, I’ll be keeping the RZ I think. What happens to the Hasselblad is not yet clear.
Porth Meudwy, Aberdaron, North Wales
2.45pm 16th February 2018
Linhof Technikardan S45
Nikkor-W 210mm f/5.6
Fujichrome Velvia 50
245mm bellows extension
5º front tilt
Home-developed with Jobo CPE-3 and Tetenal E6 (FD 7mins 10secs)
Digitized with 4-frame stitch on lightbox with D800E/85PC-E
From a trip where I wild-camped on location in the carpark. The advantage of doing this was that I could stay on location across the whole day until the sun was low, instead of having to pack up for the 4hr drive home again. I was able to watch the light change around the cove, and discover a range of different scenes and subjects across the different tide levels: this was the last subject I found I think before heading back.
This is a sheet I successfully rescued last week, one of the very few which I managed to incorrectly develop at home (I think I mixed the colour dev in the E6 incorrectly, never again!) and came out with a slide of Velvia 50 that looked like an inverted sheet of colour neg – horrid cyan cast. Happily, I managed to redit this very successfully in photoshop – and, along the way, even learning some new post-processing tips from Alex Burke’s e-book for slide (something I didn’t think I needed but learned a lot from).
And it’s making me want to shoot some more colour film on large format, maybe even 8×10!
I’d probably – at least for wider landscape views if not for intimate or macro scenes – not want to shoot Velvia, instead looking for a more contemporary look, possibly with warmed up and de-saturated Provia, or Portra 160. But if I shoot colour neg, I definitely need to up my confidence in inverting negs for a consistent result.
I’ve also recently been enjoying thinking with other contemporary large-format film photographers, such as Alex Soth and Bryan Schutmaat, and have one or two new projects lined up, both for colour and b&w. The problem is that the bigger you go with film, the more absorbing the process, so I might give 8×10 colour a go as well as B&W. I have Stearman SP810 trays as well as jobo tanks for 5×4 and smaller, so can process any size of film at home up to 8×10, so that’s not a particular issue – though I will have to run some tests with colour dev temperatures across the process with the stearman first, esp. without a temperature controlled water bath. I’m thinking thermos flasks for controlling warm water temperature, and one simple water bath for reusing the chemistry for a second batch. Fingers crossed!
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