I am having a show. New work loosely inspired by Star Wars, Cameo Cafe (Edinburgh), 6/12/15 to 16/01/16. The show is supported by New55.
I realise that my work is a study in calculated risks.
Following a theme and working to a deadline, shooting half the images outdoors in a particularly melancholy SCOTTISH AUTUMN, and choosing to work with 25 year old film, prototype New55, and WWII cameras and lenses has made this particularly obvious. And yet I always give myself handicaps. This is my way of making my work easier for myself. I am a perfectionist at heart, but find that the only way I can work freely is by working around issues and clawing back at chaos until I am satisfied that something is acceptable.
I love the fact that photography lets me touch upon the abstract with a means that can only mechanically reproduce a concrete reality. This is partly why I work with CHEMICAL rather than digital tools, as there are fewer opportunities to break the path of realism between subject and image. I choose to work with 4×5″ film and BIG BRIGHT LENSES because they are better at describing fiction than current designs, which are almost exclusively sold on the basis of sharpness and resolution. I had ten shots of New55 to produce eight images. I have one shot left.
I’ve been working with myself as my main subject for 20 years. This started due to availability of the model, and I have become interested in exploring my EGO AND INSECURITIES through the interpretation of abstract characters. This—in turn—feeds back as an excuse/motivation/inspiration to continue to produce work.
The long now and close to here… is loosely inspired by StarWars, seeking alien lands and faces within our nearby surroundings, and making FAMILIAR CHARACTERS out of close friends.
I chose to shoot the landscapes on rolls of FP4 220, forgetting they are about 25 years old. The developer I’ve been using for the past few months is a bottle of Rodinal that’s been precipitating its Hydroquinone. I’m working mostly with a Graflex Speed Graphic and a Sinar Zoom back to shoot the 6x12cm landscapes, and I had packed a Kodak Aero Ektar, Zeiss Tessar 165/2.7 and a Dallmeyer 12”/4.5 Telephoto in my backpack.
A compact 35mm camera would have given me all the resolution I need, but the relationship of scale between subject and film makes a big difference to the perspective of an image: my head is about twice the height of a sheet of (4×5”) film, yet around seven times the height of a 35mm negative. Most digital cameras have far smaller sensors than the 35mm format. My old lenses are generally uncoated, which means that they don’t have treatments that limit reflections between the glass elements inside the lens. Modern lens coatings increase fine detail and line-sharpness, which is not particularly useful when I am trying to persuade you that a grassy hill is a desert landscape. There is also the matter of depth of field, and the quality of things which are outside of it and out of focus. This is commonly referred to as bokeh. The Aero Ektar was designed for aerial reconnaissance in WWII, so it was designed to photograph a flat plane focussed at infinity. When I use it for a portrait, its depth of field is so shallow that it is often hard to get a whole face in focus, which means that my painted backdrop and a single houseplant can make a convincing forest on Endor.
You may wonder why I wouldn’t just do it in post. Working with digital image processing may offer many possibilities, but none of them are risks. Manipulating an image leaves little to chance, and little chance of something unexpected happening. You pretty much need to have a clear and literal vision of how something will look before starting. I simply don’t have the time nor the mental clarity to work this way. With too many options and iterations, I struggle to declare something finished.
I haven’t worked with New55 since before the Kickstarter campaign was funded. Though I was intimately involved in the early stages of the research to produce the film, it has been an entirely new experience to just open a box, load film, and have a print and negative in a handful of minutes. This was our goal, and it is magic. I had ten shots of New55 and needed to make eight portraits for the show. I have one left. It reminds me of when I saw Andrzej Zulawski talk about the making of The Third Part of the Night  here at the Cameo, and how he had to write ‘one take’ and ‘faster’ on each hand to make sure he could shoot the film.
I shot the Aberlady XT Class subs with a WWII German lens, though an American camera, onto British film.
This show is supported by New55 (www.new55.net)
and the Cameo Cinema, Edinburgh (@CameoCinema).
April was an interesting month indeed. The New55 Film project ran a Kickstarter campaign, and we got funded!
Bob Crowley and I have been working on the New55 project for well over a year now. I forget even when it started. His blog has been visited heavily by eager fans of Polaroid Type 55, and criticised widely by some less-grateful citizens of the photographic community.
So how far have we got? Bob made the initial jump, by creating a first monobath reagent. He chose Kodak’s HC-110 as a developer base, as it has a long lifespan. He was using Ammonia and Ammonium Thiosulphate to boost pH and fix, but I got poor results from his mixture, and could not stand the smell, even with a respirator and ventilation (yes, my workshop is also the kitchen, so this mean the window and balcony door being open). So now that we knew it was possible to process a 4×5″ B&W neg in one pass, I moved on in my own direction. My first aim was to make the soup odourless, so I moved towards Sodium Thiosulphate and Sodium Hydroxide. My 8th mixture is what I started calling Reagent 4 beta 8, but now it is just R4. In under 5 minutes at 20c I was able to obtain negatives from Efke PL25, rated at 25ISO, that had a density and balance that is close to the delicacy that we like in T55. I was pleased.
The next step that Bob had been making over in Boston at the N55 “labs” at Soundwave Research were in assembling prototypes of pod-developed film to be field processed in a Polaroid 545 back. So I tried to figure out what the minimum amount of water needed to dissolve the solid chemicals in R4 was (not easy for a trial and error chemist like myself), and then added some Methylcellulose to the mixture to thicken it. I had made up about 2 35mm film canisters of reagent, and popped them in the film fridge. My first test was rather spartan, taping black paper and scraps together in a changing bag.
So what we have here is a control image developed in HC-110 dil-B as per normal, then a similar exposure (I was exposing 4 sheets at a time for tests) from my kitchen window in R4(b8), followed by a composite of my first p/n pod processed test (using fixed-out MGIV paper as a receiver), and finally the test that I did last night: the goop has been in the fridge for over a month, but my getting a heat sealer meant I could make pods, so I had to give it a shot, and it seems to work just fine. I taped things together in the changing bag, and using electrical tape as a light seal means that it has a tendency to buckle and thus break even contact between the surfaces. Oh well. But it proves the validity of my R4 even as a pod processed p/n. I can’t tell if the apparent contrast is to do with the concentrated chemicals, or just the fact that the chemicals were ‘mottled’ on the surface of the film, thus developing unevenly. The image was stable when I peeled it apart, but of course the anti-halation was still there, so i popped it in some fix to clear this, which is also less hassle than the Sodium Sulphate to clear T55 goop.
Now to order some Shanghai 4×5, get some receiver from Bob (via the 20×24 studio scraps corner), and some other bits, and I am curious to try and work with an all-raw chemicals mixture too.
I have been experimenting with monobath processing for a few months now, as part of a research project with Bob. His R3 used Ammonia and Ammonium Thiosulphate, but I found the odour levels too much to work with, so I developed my own R4, which is currently in its 8th incarnation, and is odourless by using Sodium Hydroxide and Sodium Thiosulphate. Since I am no chemist, the whole process has been rather fun, and involved my adding more of one and less of another component until I started to get results that I like. Since the aim has been to get close to the ease and quality of Polaroid Type 55, I made adjustments to my monobath until I got similar midtones.
The other evening, just before my parents left Edinburgh, I took a few shots comparing T55 to Efke PL25 in my R4, and the results are most pleasing.
On the left you see the Polaroid Type 55, and on the right my monobath test, then below the FP100c45 and the DTR positives from the T55. I think the slight difference in density is more due to the 1/3 stop speed difference of the stock, as I was unable to adjust exposure that little on my Pacemaker.
These were shot with the Dallmeyer Pentac 8″ f2.9 (interesting lens).
My current monobath uses HC110, boosted in PH, buffered and fixed, also with a buffer. the PL25 was processed for 5′ at 20c, but the process terminates before that time.