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.

Photography and Baseball [metaphors]

Today is the first day of the baseball season and although it's snowing and many games on the east coast have been postponed it still makes me excited. Excited for the baseball season? Nope, don't really care about that. I get excited for the photography season.

Graveyard, Douglas Ave, Prov. 1994

When I was young and could indulge in such fanciful notions I had this idea of aligning my photo season with the baseball season. Training camp opened and I would go through my gear, do some film testing and generally get myself ready to get out there. In these years I was doing most of my own work with a view camera, and I didn't shoot that often in the winter. (I don't really like snow pictures and don't often do them. Here's a rare exception, from 1994 4x5 FP-4)

So the baseball season would start and I'd get out there and start working. Hopefully by the All-Star break things would be going along well, shooting, processing, seeing the field. Going well or not it was a moment to reflect and to see what was needed to make the most of the rest of the season, knowing that the fall light lay ahead. I never made the payoffs and I never won the pennant but I kept at it until winter. I don't really know how that came about as I'm not really a baseball fan of any seriousness, but these days I don't let myself take the winters off.

Going year round can generate a lot of self-inflicted pressure, and that pressure can in turn put up creative blocks that need to be overcome. I've developed a tactic for that that seems to have taken the form of another sports metaphor: the change up.

The change up can simply mean picking up a different type of camera, or shooting different film. It can be changing modes all together, perhaps listening and recording audio or sitting down with a notebook and writing. Once when I was feeling especially frustrated and completely lost I gave myself permission to give it up and just write. Which I did for about three months. When I picked up a camera again it was because I was excited to do something with it, I was inspired again. I knew that photography would be there if I needed it and as it turned out I did and it was.

There are times I will shift from one project to the next and that can bring about a new set of problems but I'd rather that than feel I was pounding my head on a wall or just going through the motions. Identifying a habit and then doing the opposite can be a great change up. Avoiding people? Go shoot portraits. Only like sun? Go shoot in the rain.

Maybe photo projects have their own seasons, certainly they their own internal rhythms. Stay flexible and you can move with them too. So get out there, give it 110%, leave it all on the field, take it one picture at a time and bring home a pennant. Whatever that is.



The ghosts of edits past

Editing a project for a show or a book has it's stages, from shooting, which may continue well into the editing stage, to the initial selection from contact sheets, printing, sequencing, more printing and then on to book layout or exhibition hanging.

When it comes to sequencing, I've found no better way than working with actual prints, laid out on the table or the floor, shuffling and shifting until the rhythm is right. Digital or film, it doesn't matter, you need the space to see it all together flowing from one image to the next.

The hardest aspect of any edit is the cutting away of things you like and have become attached to. It starts out fairly easily but eventually you get to where it hurts, and you agonize over each choice. But choose you must and (hopefully) the sequence shows you what it needs most. The deadline looms, you convince yourself it's right and up it goes.


It begins...

Sequencing underway...

We have an edit...

 On the wall for all to see.

On the wall for all to see.

You pack up the outtakes, hang the show, make the book and move on. Sometimes those outtakes linger with you, like ghosts popping in unexpectedly until finally you go back to that box and have a visit. Some, you admit you still like. Some give you ideas for new work. Thanks to the miracle of modern digital media you can put them up and excise your ghosts. And so I shall. These are outtakes from Canonicus' Bow.