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October 18th, 2021

Weekend Of Nostalgia, Ten Minutes Of Terror

Well…serious doubt. I have a bunch of undeveloped film I need to get to, but which I’ve been putting off because Kodak mucked with the formula for HC-110, my go-to developer ever since I was a teenager. I know this developer. I get exactly what I want out of every film I commonly use, and I am comfortable enough with it that I don’t worry about using it with a new film I’m trying out. I adore this product. So when Kodak fucked with it I was pissed off. Then I worried.

Allegedly they made the change to make producing it more environmentally friendly. And it just happened to take away another virtue of the developer some of us loved: the nearly limitless lifespan of the concentrate. For decades we ignored the expiration date on the bottles of concentrate because we knew it would probably still be good for years afterward. From now on we would have to pay attention to that date.

And there was more. You use HC-110 by first making a “stock” solution from the concentrate. Then to develop, you dilute the stock further. Dilution ‘A’ is one part stock to three parts water. ‘B’ is one part stock to seven parts water. The more it is diluted, the longer the processing time, which works better for some films. Dilution ‘A’ gives you a very rapid development time. I always use ‘B’ as a “one-shot” developer. That is, use it once and discard it. That gives you consistent results over re-use which slowly exhausts a developer.

Kodak insisted that nothing regarding dilutions and processing times had changed with the new formulation. But the chatter on the photographer forums was full of doubts about that, especially when you actually mixed up some of it, because whereas the original formulation was syrupy and with an amber tint and a very distinctive (and unpleasant) odor, the new formulation seemed just to be water.

But from the photographer forums I heard that it was all good as far as dilutions and processing times. So I bought a bottle and for months it just sat in my basement darkroom while I worked up the nerve to try it. And thus, my backlog of undeveloped film grew.

And I dawdled. This happens to me when I have to shift gears because something’s changed that I didn’t expect to change and now I have to adapt to this sudden change, but first I need to overthink how. 

Then one day on a Facebook group dedicated to memories of growing up in Rockville, someone posted a shot he’d taken of a train wreck that had happened in the early 1970s on the main line out of DC. I’d covered that wreck with my Mamiya Press Camera for a local county newspaper. It took 120 roll film and had swappable film backs which came in handy when you’re in the middle of something. Plus, it gave me large 6×7 negatives which provided lots of detail with very little grain, even if I was using a fast film like Tri-X Pan.

So I remembered working that train wreck. And there, in that guy’s photo, to my delight, was I, walking back up the tracks and presumably to my car after getting some close in shots of the wreck, the Mamiya slung over a shoulder. 


Photo by Tom Lockard
From the Facebook Group “You know you grew up in Rockville if you…”

It was like seeing a window into my past, into a happier time…when that great big beautiful tomorrow really was in front of me…or so I thought…

I still have that Mamiya Press Camera. It is one of only two cameras I still have from back in my teenage days when I was aspiring to be a newspaper photographer, the other being the Canon F-1 I bought after a summer flipping burgers at a local fast food joint. The lens on it had frozen up and so I’d consigned it to the top of my camera cabinet, along with my first camera, the little Kodak Brownie Fiesta. But it had nostalgia value to me. I took photos with it that got into the local newspapers. We’d worked together back in the day. So even if it was no longer functional, I was keeping it.

It sat for a couple decades up on top of my camera cabinet, reminding me of a happier time. Now I had to see if I could get it working again. 

I looked online to see if I could buy another lens for it, since I doubted anyone would repair the one I had. As it turned out, someone had a nearly mint condition lens for it and I snapped it up.

So I had my Press Camera working again, now I needed to run some film through it to see if everything was still working. And also admittedly, to revisit the feeling of being a teenager again, working with that camera and imagining that someday I would be a professional newspaper photographer. As it turned out what I revisited is it’s actually somewhat difficult camera to work with since the viewfinder really doesn’t give you a good idea of where the frame is, and the rangefinder is very dim, which makes focusing it something you have to be careful about. But having those swappable film backs, like the Hasselblad has, is very nice when you’re in the middle of something. 

The trip to York turned into a two day affair. I went back with the Hasselblad and the Canon F-1N, and I knew I had stuff I really wanted to get developed and scanned. So now I had more film to develop, and today I dug into it with the new HC-110. Almost immediately I began to worry. The stuff really did look like it was just water.

Worse, although allegedly the concentrate didn’t expire until late 2023, some small amount of something had crystalized out of it while the bottle had been sitting there, and I didn’t notice until I’d emptied the bottle into a mixing bucket and felt something rattling inside. I tried adding water to get whatever it was back into solution but it wouldn’t budge.

Now I was really concerned it was a bad batch. But I pressed on and decided to test it with the two 120 rolls of Tri-x Pan I ran through the Press Camera, which were themselves a test of the camera. I had images on them I didn’t want to lose, but which I wasn’t entirely happy with either because it’s difficult for me to compose to a “normal” focal length lens and that’s all that camera has. I reckoned that if nothing came out of the tank I could always run another couple test rolls through the camera and try a different developer. After venting to Kodak about what they did to my go-to film developer.

So I mixed up my chemicals and did the thing I’ve done so often I probably do it in my dreams too and just don’t notice that its dreaming. I have a nice Weston thermometer and the old Kodak Darkroom Dataguide and it looked to be five minutes of developer, followed by a splash in stop bath, and four minutes of Rapid Fixer. As I poured developer into the tank I was nearly convinced I would only see blank film when I opened the tank up again.

But when it was time to pour the developer back out of the tank it came out a dark rose red. Not exactly what the old formulation did, but close and I was encouraged. It meant Something was going on in there.

After the fixer I took the tank to my utility sink where I had the film washer going, and opened it. Success. Exactly the density the negatives were supposed to have.

Whew!

Now I can get to the other stuff. I have some good ones in those rolls. Post some of it maybe this weekend after I’ve got some of it scanned.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Weekend Of Nostalgia, Ten Minutes Of Terror

July 20th, 2020

That Feeling Of Wholeness

…or at least somewhat. I don’t have a boyfriend, I probably never will. But I have a full paper darkroom now…sorta…and you take the feelings of completeness where you can find any.

So…following up on my post a while back about finally establishing a paper darkroom at Casa del Garrett…I did some of this over the weekend…

 

These are the first fiber base silver prints I’ve done in decades. Fiber based photo paper gives, in my very strong opinion, much Much better dynamic range in terms of darks versus whites than RC (Resin Coated) paper does. Although I’ll grant that RC paper, and mult-contrast paper, have improved immensely since I was a young man finding his way around the darkroom.

But I’m still hassling the details. This one would be perfect except it’s got a rust spot on it from a clip I used to weigh it down in the wash. A second attempt is in the print dryer. Because glossy fiber base prints must be dried in a print dryer, roller squeegeed face down on an absolutely clean and smooth chromium plate.

Photo-Flo makes an acceptable substitute for Pakosol, but I am still unhappy it isn’t made anymore. Nothing put the gloss on glossy paper like Pakosol.

I think I have that “first good print” now that I promised the co-worker who gave me her granddad’s Beseler 23c, but I’m still deciding.

I’d forgotten what a chore cleaning up after making silver prints is. Let alone the entire process of washing and drying fiber paper prints. I’ll be very surprised if my water bill isn’t a bit more next month.

I need to think about this for a while…now that I’ve done some silver prints, and against my experience with digital printing. Digital printing is no easy peasy thing either if you want everything just perfect. But the difficulties in getting to what you want are different in each process.

Sometime next week I want to set down my thoughts about it. Now that I have a paper darkroom set up I reckon I’ll keep doing silver prints. But it really is an altogether different thing. Each individual print is its own work of craft and art. You have to work each print as though it’s a custom, one-off work, even if you are printing dozens off the same negative. I suppose this gives the silver print its value. If the negative is a difficult one…needing lots of dodging and burning to get it right (I had to do some on that Grand Canyon shot, but it wasn’t extensive), and some delicate touch-up work with a spotting brush afterward, you might really have to sweat each and every print you make.

Again…I suppose this is what gives the silver print its value…provided the print maker is good at it. At the moment I rate myself above average…but that’s mostly coasting on what I learned back when I was a young man. I think I can get better the more I work with it…and I reckon I probably will if only for the personal and artistic challenge of it. The only thing that’s changed for me since those days is I have a Much better enlarger now. Well…and multi-contrast and RC papers have apparently improved immensely. I was actually stunned at how much dynamic range these have now.

But the computer can make so many little corrections, spot touching, tonal adjustments, dodging and burning masks, that sort of thing, plus sharpening algorithms that correct for handheld blur you might not have even noticed until you got into bigger enlargements, that it’s probably going to remain my primary tool going forward, even now that I have the paper darkroom I’ve always dreamed of having. Both of these media make me think about the final image differently, in their own ways, and that’s a good thing. But it’s the paper darkroom I realize now, that makes me a better photographer. That is why I’m going to keep doing this. But…not routinely because…whew…it IS a mess to clean up afterward let me tell you…

I remember long ago, when I got my first really nice German enlarging lens, a Rodenstock Rodigon 50mm. I remember how shocked I was at all the flaws in my negatives it revealed. It made me a better photographer. Likewise, I’m seeing things now that I would have otherwise just written off after I looked at the scans with a thought of “Oh I’ll fix that in the computer”. Everything starts with the initial photograph, whether it’s digital or film. Get the focus right, keep the camera steady, get the exposure right, and what the camera gave you won’t fight you every step of the way when it’s time to make a print or pull off an image file to post somewhere.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on That Feeling Of Wholeness

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