Film Development

…Or the next stage in the pleasure of slow photography.

One of the pleasures of working with film is the anticipation, the wait between what we see through the viewfinder and the finished art work, not forgetting the time and effort we put into that process.

I often leave weeks, occasionally months, between taking the film out of the camera and developing the negatives. That’s a luxury I can afford now that I’m no longer making pictures for a living. Even once I am ready to develop the film, time and patience is important.

This Sunday afternoon I’ve been developing films.

Changing bag ready to load the film.

The film we use these days is generally panchromatic, that means it’s sensitive to all of the colours of the spectrum so until it’s fixed, it has to be handled in complete darkness. I don’t have a darkroom at home at the moment so to get the film from the cassette into the tank I use a changing bag.

Once it’s in the tank and the light tight lid is in place I can continue with the rest of the process in the daylight of my kitchen.

Ready to start.

It pays to be prepared (time well spent as a Boy Scout), so I get everything ready before I begin. I make sure the clock is wound and I measure out 300ml per film of developer.

Checking temperature.

Then I check that I have the chemistry up to temperature. I want it to be 20C. Straight out of the bottle it is reading just under 20C. I am using D76 at stock dilution. I can stand the jug of dev in a bath of warm water to bring it up to exactly 20C and if I was diluting I would bring the water up to temperature before I mix. In this case the temperature out of the bottle is so close that I am happy to work at this.

I establish the development time by consulting The Massive Dev Chart If only we had this in the old days when we had to work from film and/or chemistry data charts.

The developer goes into the tank and I begin agitation immediately. 3 full inversions, turning the tank fully upside down and back, followed by a tap on the bottom of the tank. The tap is to dislodge any air bubbles that may have formed and, if left, will fail to develop underneath. Agitation (three full inversions) is repeated at each full minute until the end of the chosen time.

I use plain water to stop development. Once the developer has been poured back into the bottle I pour in the same quantity of water, again at 20C. I agitate continuously for one full minute.

The next step is to fix the developed images, to remove unexposed silver and render the negative permanently. Again I have pre mixed the fixer from Ilford Hypam at 1:4 with water. The temperature should still be 20C. I continuously agitate for 1 minute and then I leave it to stand for another 4 minutes.

Washing the fixed film.

At the end of the fixing time I pour the fixer back into the bottle so that I can use it again and run water into the tank for 10 minutes. I add a little hot water into the flow so that it is washing the film at around the 20C.

Wetting agent.

After I turn off the running water I add a couple of drops of wetting agent and let the film stand in the water for another minute. I then shake off as much of the water as I can and hang it to dry in my shower.

Films drying in the shower.

The films are weighted with another clip to prevent them from curling while they dry.

Clip weighting a film.

That’s pretty much it, once they are dry I cut them up and scan them…

That’s for next week.

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My Gear

What’s in the bag?

My turn to bag of kit.

When I was a young art student, my photography lecturer handed me a Yashica Rangefinder, a roll of HP4 (it was 1974) and told me to go out and take some pictures. It was my first time with 35mm, up to that time I had made some pictures on my parent’s Coronet that took 120 roll film (I still have that) and my Kodak Instamatic that took 126 cartridges. I remember that I quite enjoyed the process of photographing but the bug truly bit when I got back to the darkroom and experienced the thrill of seeing the image slowly emerge in the developing tray.

As a commercial photographer and throughout my art practice I have worked with most film and digital formats. At one time I bought a 1930’s banquet camera that produced 20″x8″ negatives with the idea of making platinum prints. Commercially, back in the day, it was all about quality, portability and budget with compromises being made according to need. On studio room sets it was 10×8, buildings on 5×4, portraits on 120 (6×6, 6×7 or 6×9) and for fast moving action, 35mm. I’ve always enjoyed the freedom of working with a 35mm camera though.

Equally, I worked with lots of different 35mm systems, the key ones for me were Nikon, Leica and Olympus. Nikon and Leica were seen as the main pro camera manufacturers, Nikon particularly was easy to get hire lenses for. My favourite system, that I have gone back to time and time again though is Olympus OM.

In the early days OM1s, through the nineties, OM2s and into the early years of this century it was OM4Tis that I owned and used. When I started wearing varifocal spectacles I decided to go back to the OM2n bodies. The extra large viewfinder means my eye can be a spectacle lens thickness away and I can still see everything in the viewfinder.

That’s pretty much it now then.

I don’t always go out with all of that in my bag, it all depends upon what I’m going to do. My last article was about using one camera and one lens, I do that often and I’ll not have a bag with me at all. In the picture (which was made on my phone) I have my Billingham bag, I bought that in 1990, bit scruffy but it still works. In which I can fit two OM2n bodies, the lenses, filters and 10 rolls of film.

From left to right, the first body is fitted with my 85mm f2, the lens in the middle is a 24mm f2.8, the next body is fitted with a 35mm f2.8 and the lenses on the far right are my 35mm f2 and my 100mm f2.8. I like to use a yellow filter for most of my pictures, it costs me some speed but darkens a blue sky and gives me the contrast that is so present in my pictures. The orange and red filters are just more extreme versions. The 35mm f2 is a fabulous, fast lens, great for low light but it is older than the f2.8 and takes a larger filter thread, my filters are all 49mm. I rarely use the 100mm but it gives me a little more compression when I need it. Same, in reverse, for the 24mm. As I post pictures on here or on my Instagram feed you’ll see the majority are made with one or other of the 35mms or the 85mm.

As for film, I’m very fond of Kentmere 400 and when I can get away with less speed Kosmo Mono Foto 100.

More next week.

Eighty-five Portraits

Ok not portraits and there are not eighty-five of them.

This is a little exercise I set myself every now and then.

On this occasion, I spent a couple of weeks with one OM2n loaded with Kentmere 400 and an 85mm f2 lens. That’s it. No bag full of kit, one camera, one lens and a brick of film. I also forced myself to turn the camera into portrait orientation. Get it now? “Eighty-five Portraits”?

It’s a discipline, restricting the angle of view and the orientation really forces you to use your eyes to search out images that suit the combination.

It’s a reversal of the way most of us usually work. Normally we select the angle of view and orientation to suit the subject.

I recommend trying it.

Lowestoft 2012

Olympus OM4Ti 35mm f2, Kentmere 400 developed in Rodinal. I scanned a print I made in the darkroom on Ilford MGFB Classic.

I find it hard to believe that I made this image nearly seven years ago.

I was spending a lot of time in Lowestoft, the town where I was born and lived for most of the first 30 years of my life. My father had just died and my mum, who suffered from Alzheimers was in care. It was Autumn but the weather felt more like Summer.

I wandered down to the seafront, ordered a coffee and sat at this plastic table. The chairs were tilted against the table so that the seats wouldn’t get wet if it rained, and there was a dark cloud rolling in with the waves.

I was on my own so I only repositioned one of the plastic chairs to sit on. It was early in the morning and the strong, low Sun was still in the East, it cast a deeply defined shadow of the chair back onto the table surface. The white plastic had an almost transparent quality and I thought the shadows and highlights created strong abstract patterns.

I’ve printed this several times and it has always been popular.

The Journey Begins

Thanks for joining me!

Steven Taylor 1

This is the first post on my new blog, celebratethegrain. I aim to post on a regular basis about my personal practice as a fine art, analogue photographer.

I make my images using Olympus OM2n cameras and black and white film. I used to be one of the Ilford Master Printers but I have no allegiance to any supplier these days.

I make my living teaching photography in the South of Scotland, it’s a full-time post so I do my personal work at weekends and holidays. I don’t put out a huge amount of work but I have been doing it for several years so I have quite an extensive archive that I will draw on for this project.

As I just moved home to take up the teaching post I have given up my darkroom and the only one I currently have access to is at work. I plan to build one in the coming months and my progress (or not) on that will contribute to a lot of the early posts on here.

Meantime, I have been developing and scanning at home and printing at work when I need to. I hope you will enjoy my efforts.