Attending a party in borrowed clothes by way of an abandoned railroad

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Over at Emulsive HQ, they do these happenings called film parties, and this month it was time for the #fp4party which stars as you likely guess Ilford FP-4. I find January a great month to join in on a party as I find I need a little extra motivation to get out in the cold and grey Rhode Island winter to make photos. Saying to a group of folks on Twitter “sure, I’m in” seems to be just enough to get me out and get something done. And so I did.

FP-4 is an excellent film full stop. But rather than further my winter of discontent with a cold tripod I decided a more sensitive film would be better suited to my conditions and purpose. I skipped over my usual Tmax 400 and went to the fastest 120 film there is, Ilford Delta 3200. Using which does mean that my images will not be eligible for consideration in the viewer voting at the end of the week but as my dad used to say “we’re not here to win a beauty contest” so I’m good with that. For the tech fans: my film was Ilford Delta 3200 in 120 which I rated at its “data sheet speed” of 1000 and developed in Kodak T-Max developer diluted 1:4. The camera was a Fuji GSWIII 6x9.

As for my subject, I went to my list of desires to find a walking photo meditation along the rail line of the former Moshassuck Valley railroad in Pawtucket, quite close to home. I first encountered the MVRR without realizing it when I walked the river of that name. After doing a bit of research, I discovered that the diminutive railway had a rather interesting and long history. Although at 2 miles it was one of the shortest in the country it retained its independence from its start in 1847 right up to 1981. It ran passenger service until the 1920s and fought and won a rate dispute with “The Company” the mighty New Haven Railroad. When I learned that an extension was planned (a crucial move in winning the rate dispute) that would have brought the railroad right by my house, I was hooked, and I knew I had to explore this bit of neighborhood history further.

This is just a first effort, but I am encouraged that there is more I can work with. In the spirit of the party and my virtual notebook I’m sharing here every picture from both rolls in the sequence I made them.

The MVRR was folded into the Providence and Worcester Railroad in 1981, and this branch is actually not wholly abandoned. It sees some occasional service. I note evidence here of recent tie replacement and brush clearing, perhaps indicating that the P&W’s new owners still see some value in the line.

For more info:

And here is a cool home movie of the railroad in use from 1970.

Photograph as a time machine: Emulsive Post

In case you missed it, I had a post on Emulsive about the enduring power of a printed photograph. Check it out.

Photo story: the photograph as a time machine - by Erik Gould | EMULSIVE

I don't make very many prints. Relatively speaking that is, considering how many pictures I make for myself and as part of my job. Even the ones I do make mostly end up sitting in boxes and bins waiting for the next show or that wealthy collector who never seems to arrive...

Don't Take Pictures feature

Photography and Baseball

Excited for the baseball season? Nope, don't really care about that. I get excited for the photography season. When I was young and could indulge in such fanciful notions, I had this idea of aligning my photo season with the baseball season.

In case you missed it, the lovely Don't Take Pictures magazine did an online feature of my piece on baseball, photography and getting out of a rut. Take a look:

Darkroom Printing Form PDF

By demand and for my own necessities I have recreated my tried and true printing form. I made this years ago in some graphic program that no longer exists and have been making copies of copies all this time.

In use it's pretty self-explanatory. The diagram represents the enlarger with a line for the negative carrier (glass, full neg etc.) and a line for the lens used. I write the image size in the trapazoid shape, and there is a line for the enlarger height.

The boxes on the right are space to doodle the image (if necessary, mostly I just draw key features if at all) and most importantly the burning and dodging pattern. I found out quickly that the back of a print is a really bad place to store this information. I collect these sheets project to project and store them in the negative file, or if the print isn't part of a project, they just live in a file I keep in the darkroom. Not fancy but it works for me. Maybe for you too.

Having issues: defeat streaky development in 2017

Develop your own film? Here's a common development issue that can pop up from time to time. It's a streak of extra density running across the short dimension of roll film, visible especially in light areas such as the overcast sky seen this example. It can happen with both 35mm and 120 size film, this one is on some 120 Ilford FP-4+. I've cranked up the contrast a bit in the scan to make this devil more obvious.

In the negative...

In the negative...

As a positive.

As a positive.

What is the cause? This problem occurs during the initial seconds when developer is being poured into the developing tank, especially with 4 or 8 35mm reel size tanks.  As the tank fills developer comes in contact with the film before the reel is totally immersed. The time between contact and full immersion is long enough for development to begin in the area of contact. This creates uneven density in an area where it should be uniform. Not good.

Happily I can think of many solutions to this problem. Let's dive in.

  • 1. Get fundamental. First thing is to to check your pour technique. You should be aiming to have the tank filled within 15-20 seconds. Tip the tank slightly as you fill to allow air to escape and then pour pour pour. Then cap the tank and agitate with vigor. If that doesn't work:
  • 2. Give up. Send your film off to a lab and let someone else worry about it. Upside: More time to do other things. Downside: additional expense and the loss of control over a crucial part of your work process.
  • 3. Give in. Accept that an occasional streak or spot, bleep or bloop is just a natural part of an organic process and just proves that your pictures aren't made by an unfeeling machine but by a flesh and blood person keeping it real. Downside: some people won't get it and will just think you're sloppy.
  • 4. Give over. Figure that it will happen once in a while so shoot only dark and busy images that will hide a random streak, or if you do wish to photograph some lovely light grey tone, take a page from your cousin the "professional" photographer and spray and pray. Downside: wasting film and becoming your cousin.
  • 5. Modify. Change something in the hope that the problem will go away. For instance try a different film type. Maybe HP-5 will be ok if FP-4 wasn't. Downside: giving up on a film that you otherwise like, creating limitations for yourself as you eliminate film types one by one, still experiencing the issue since in fact you're not actually addressing the problem.
  • 6. Slow down. Change your developer or developer dilution so it's less active. In theory this will give you more time before development begins. Downside: Development time is longer. There may be changes in image quality that you may not care for. Difficult to know how much dilution is enough before you risk exhausting the developer.
  • 7. Scale down. Develop all your film one roll at a time in small tanks. Downside: takes much more time that you might wish to use to do other things.
  • 8. Scale up. Get a processing machine like a Jobo. Downside: expensive, takes up more space, not very portable.
  • 9. Presoak. You will find a fair amount of debate over the efficacy of presoaking your film in water. On the one hand the manufacturers say it's not necessary as modern films have incorporated surfactants to encourage even development. On the other hand many people have had complete success using a presoak, including Ansel Adams. Jobo recommends a presoak for their rotary process. The theory is that a presoak will encourage even development as the water absorbed by the emulsion will be displaced by developer slowly, with the added benefit of bringing the tank to the process temperature.

Personally I used a presoak for many years (largely because of Ansel's recommendation) with little issue. Oddly, one issue I did have was with X-tol developer in a rotary Jobo processor, I was getting the dreaded "wagon ruts", bands of uneven development running the length of the film. Jobo support recommended skipping the presoak which did in fact eliminate the problem. But I digress. For many years now I've not used a presoak but I feel pretty safe in saying that there's little risk if you do. Downside: one more step added to the process, some small adjustment in development time may be needed. 


The handy lifting rod.

The handy lifting rod.

  • 10. Get a lift. This one requires the fewest changes, but does require that you develop your film in an actual dark room and have a second developing tank on hand. A lifting rod is very useful, but not completely necessary. For the big 8 reel tanks (and larger!) this is the best method to ensure not only even development but to be certain that the film on the top of the tank is being developed for the same time as the one on the bottom.

How to? Place your loaded reels into one tank, using the lifting rod if you have one. Fill the second tank with developer. Turn out the lights, open the film tank and lower the reels into the developer, smooth and steady. Cap the tank and agitate as normal. Now you can switch on the lights and continue as usual. Downside: you need a darkroom. 

Issues with film development can creep into the process of even the most careful worker, or lab. Hopefully one doesn't cost you a once in a lifetime image. If you take the time to understand the problem and to review the fundamentals you should be back up and running with confidence in short order.


A Christmas Eve post for all my friends at the FP-4+ Party & to good people everywhere.

Providence, RI December 2016


Erudite Vulcan, quondam forger of alliances, uniter of distant lands, close confidant to power brokers and the crafters of contract, acquisition and merger. No boardroom portrait was complete with out you, shoulder to shoulder you stood with the principals, yet discreet, name never mentioned. There was a time when no wheel could turn on the nation’s rails without you, but that was long ago. 

Now you find yourself struck from the masthead, unwelcome in the corridors of power, banished from the corporate style guide. You’ve been done in by the manufactured word, the brittle acronym, the awkward portmanteau. Reduced to sleeping rough on a park bench and to endure the worst indignity of all: spelling your name out in full. 

How the mighty doth fall.

What is the 21st Century Essay? Reflections on Silvered: Tracing Gorham at Mashapaug Pond

A weave of sounds—voices that emerge out of distortion, looping over and over, and grow clearer before disappearing—float across the images like fog. It’s a scary movie, a movie about a haunted house.
— Jane Gerhard

Jane Gerhard wrote a very thoughtful review of our performance of Silvered for the RIHumanities blog. Read the full post here:

Blog post for the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities by Jane Gerhard.

Holly Ewald, Erik Gould and Erik Carlson discuss "Silvered" after the performance on 9/23/16   

Holly Ewald, Erik Gould and Erik Carlson discuss "Silvered" after the performance on 9/23/16