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December 31st, 2023

The Kodak Doesn’t Live Here Anymore Blues

I took a fancy to my cameras a few days ago, went to York to visit some favorite places, finished off a roll of film which give me the urge to start working on the backlog of film in my darkroom waiting to be developed. But it had been a long while since I did any of that and I knew my chemicals were past their expiration date. So I went to my local photography store, only to be told (rather coldly by a young staff member), that Kodak was no longer selling chemistry, and they weren’t interested in ordering the raw chemicals I needed to make H&W Control developer.

(Fuck!) So I began scrambling for any unsold stock, only to find that it was already gone. Now I need an alternative source. Well, long story short I think I’ve found one (two) but it was stressful. I have a black & white workflow that’s worked for me since I was a teenage boy and I really Really didn’t want to have to spend a lot of time and waste a lot of film experimenting to find a new one.

My Go-To developer is HC-110. You make a stock solution from a concentrate and then dilute it further to process film. I used the dilution ‘B’ as a one-shot developer. I have a copy of the Kodak Darkroom Dataguide that had the development time calculator wheel on it instead of the table later editions had. Over those pages I’ve stuck a bunch of Post-It notes with data for Fuji Neopan, 35 and 120, and Agfa Rollei Retro film 35 and 120. I stick a Weston thermometer into the developer, then using the dial I align whatever temperature I see on the thermometer with the number for the film I’m processing and the bottom of the dial gives you the time to develop. Then it’s a brief stop bath, then into a solution of Kodak Rapid Fix. Then wash for thirty minutes.

I found a source for an HC-110 substitute at The Film Photography Project, tried it out on a single roll and that came out to my complete satisfaction. So there’s that. But I still needed a good substitute for Rapid Fix. I took a chance and developed a couple rolls of film using the Kodak product I had which was a year past it’s expiration date, and the result was not wonderful. It worked but I had to fix for twice as long to get the film cleared. So no more of that. I needed fresh.

To that end I ordered some Ilford Rapid Fixer, which came oddly without a top cap (the bottle was sealed). So I made plans to use that, but first I did some research because I wanted to be sure it worked enough like the Kodak product I could just keep to my standard workflow. That’s when I saw it wasn’t a hardening fixer.

There is religion about that. A hardening fixer hardens the emulsion has it removes the unused silver nitrates. You really want to use one of these only on film, it does nothing much for paper. But some people think a hardening fixer is bad for film. Long story short: I don’t. I think it’s Good for film. So now I need to find a hardening fixer that works like Kodak Rapid Fix.

I found a source at the Photographer’s Formulary. They also had and were willing to ship to me (unlike B&H) the raw chemistry to make H&W Control developer (more about that some other time). So I ordered their Rapid Fix with Hardener. Days later they still hadn’t shipped (apparently) so I ordered it again from B&H, which resells chemistry from Photographer’s Formulary (just not all the raw chemicals to make H&W Control developer (later…later…). That came yesterday as I type this.

And it’s…interesting. What I was expecting was the usual two-part concentrate and little bottle of hardener. What I got was…this…

By the way…that’s my basement chest freezer, or as I say when that part of the basement is my darkroom, the table where I put my paper developing trays. Next to it is the dryer which just happens perfectly to be the same height as the freezer, and between them that’s my workspace for doing silver paper enlargements. The enlarger is in the shower stall in the bathroom next to the freezer. When you grew up in a series of small garden apartments you learn how to make every space server multiple purposes. I don’t have enough space in my little Baltimore rowhouse for a dedicated paper darkroom, but I can make that corner of the back basement work as one.

So what I got from Photographer’s Formulary isn’t a hardening rapid fixer, but the raw ingredients for making hardening rapid fixer. All packaged in precisely the right amounts…

…to mix up some hardening rapid fixer if you follow the included directions. I’ve no idea why it comes like this instead of packaged as ready made concentrate, other than maybe with them it’s The Way. But this is good, it gives me some practice for when I get the raw chemistry to make some H&W Control developer.

The end result is you get concentrate and hardener which you then mix together to make a (nearly, they measure in metric) gallon of working solution. I’m going to mix it all up today. I’m told when I add the acetic acid fumes will result, so I’ll mix it up in the kitchen where I can open some windows. Progress report later…

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