Saturday, February 26, 2011

things for which one pays way too much

Boy, do I love a bargain. Case in point: This well-used yet still functioning GraLab timer. I've not much use for it since the new enlarger arrived, but it was a sweet deal--one that was really hard to pass up, in fact. I got it, along with an old Polaroid Land Camera for 3 bucks (yup) at a yard sale last spring. This is definitely not a thing for which one paid too much.

But bargains aren't always there for the having. Some junk sellers just don't want to part with their old stuff. Case in point: We paid roughly 15 bucks too much for this assortment of photo stuff yesterday. Put otherwise, for 15 bucks we got an old Kodak handbook, 5 film clips, a cut film holder (might be for 2.25 x 3.25" film), a cool-looking shutter release grip, and two glass measuring cups. Not pictured here were a handful of old graduation negatives in a Kodak sleeve and three rolls of expired film.

Okay. So maybe this stuff shouldn't have been free. These, after all, were what I really had my eye on--the glass measuring cups, especially the one marked "Kodak." But 15 bucks? C'mon. 7 bucks might have been fair.

But like I said, some junk sellers are just really tough to bargain with. Truth be told, the only reason we went back to this seller is because we happened to be in the area and because last time we were in, he had a couple boxes of photo stuff that he'd yet to unpack or price. We hoped that in the 5 months or so since we last visited, he might have had time to unpack and price. Nope. The boxes were more or less in the same place we left them months ago.

The seller invited us to offer a price for the boxes and/or to combine items from both boxes into one and offer something for that. Sounds good, but most of the stuff was, well, junk. Broken plastic measuring cups, used paintbrushes, gummed-up funnels, a 4x5 film holder that was rusty and missing one of the dark slides. You get the picture. He had a lot of old photo books that he seemed really keen on selling, but I explained that I had plenty of books and really didn't want to bring more stuff into the house.

Interestingly enough, he had a couple of old GraLab timers that he said he'd be willing to part with for 80-90 bucks each. I explained I already had one, but he kept on, reminding me that new, the timers go for 140-150 bucks. I explained that I paid about a buck for mine, thinking that this would give him a sense of what I like to spend on used stuff in good condition. He seemed not to hear me, or chose not to believe me. I went about looking through the boxes, compiling a few items that I might want, but only if the price was right. [It wasn't, as I said to start, but Chris popped for the stuff anyway--perhaps in hopes of making some kind of connection with the man in case he came across more photo stuff, stuff we actually were eager to own.]

The most interesting aspect of this particular bargaining session (and it pretty much went like this: Chris suggested a price and the man said that "that wasn't going to happen") was that the man seemed to assume that the stuff he had on hand was not only more valuable than it was, but that it was also in better condition than it was. He was also operating from the stand point that we were necessarily going to flip the items, selling them for a much higher price online. Huh? I explained that I don't purchase anything with the intent of reselling, but with the intent of testing or re-using them.

And we probably would have paid a bit more for the misc photo stuff had we not bundled that stuff with the item in the shop that I really, really wanted: This old wonderfully bizarre, wonderfully ugly carnival toy. It's not in much better shape than a lot of the stuff in the photo boxes and it kind of gets to the condition of most of the stuff in this particular junk shop (overly-worn, grimy, badly in need of cleaning). My general rule of thumb is that if I'm in a place and can't find things to take or develop photographs with, I try and find something cool to photograph. And I love this thing. Last night I had it pose for the oatmeal pinhole cam and today it's posing for the Zero Image 45 and the newly-made Paintcan pinhole.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

testing papers

Beginning with the winter break Michigan/Illinois trip (it was at this time Chris and I scored three sealed 500-sheet boxes of Kodabromide F2D postcard fiber paper and two sealed boxes of 11x 14" Kodak Polycontrast paper), we've continued to have good luck with acquiring reasonably-priced (at times they've even been free!!) boxes of expired photo paper. One of the best scores to date involved getting three sealed boxes of 500-foot rolls of Ilford Multigrade paper. Not only was it had for a song (25 bucks a box), but it's an AMAZING everyday paper. Sure, sure, there's a little extra effort involved with cutting the paper to size, but it has been well worth it. [Or so says the person who hasn't had to do any of the cutting thus far!]

At the time we got the Ilford, we also got (for free) some leftover Panalure paper. Otherwise put, the box and packet of Panalure we were given weren't full nor were they sealed. More on the box of Panalure later. . .

One of my most favorite recent finds--and by this I mean a "holy-sh**!-pinch-me-as-I-must-be-dreaming" kinda find--resulted in our acquiring: one sealed box of expired Panalure (8x10", 100 sheets); one sealed box of expired Kodak Polycontrast Rapid RC paper (8x10", 100 sheets); two questionably-sealed boxes of expired Agfa-Gevaert Portriga-Rapid paper (11x14", 50 sheets); two questionably-sealed boxes of expired Agfa-Gevaert Brovira paper (11x14", 50 sheets), and one definitely-not-sealed box of expired Agfa-Gevaert Brovira paper (8x10", 100 sheets). I've not yet tested the sealed boxes we got from (and this is the pinch-me-I-must-be-dreaming part) the flipping local thrift store(!!!!), but I did have the opportunity to test the definitely-not-sealed box of Brovira and one of the questionably-sealed boxes of Brovira. The image below features an inverted scan of a paper negative made with a sheet from the questionably-sealed box on the left. On the right side appears an inverted scan of a paper negative made with a sheet from the not-sealed box. Go figure. The opened box of paper was still okay.

And it wasn't simply that the 8x10" box of Brovira wasn't sealed--it also didn't have any paper or plastic protecting the paper. Again, simply amazing that the paper was able to produce any kind of image at all. A true photo miracle. The first questionably-sealed box of Brovira that I tested was one that Chris and I actually opened (albeit very, very, very carefully) in the thrift store. [I know, I know, a huge no-no.] We felt fairly confident that the thick paper wrapped around the film hadn't been messed with, and so, with the box itself being in pretty good shape despite having been opened (i.e., the tape seals on three sides of the had, in fact, been broken before we even picked the box up), we decided it was a $4.92 risk we were willing to take. Again, the results--though not as great as those obtained from the not-sealed box--were ones we were happy with. We were simply thankful that the paper didn't turn black when it went into the Dektol developer.

During that same testing session, we made some paper negatives with one of the questionably-sealed boxes of Portriga-Rapid paper
(see image left). In this case, "questionably-sealed" means that we weren't sure if the orange tape that appeared on three sides of the box was part of the original sealing job or added after the fact. Clearly, the tape appears to be part of the original factory sealing job. The image here is a bit under-exposed, but again, we were just thankful that the paper hadn't been exposed to light and, thus, ruined.

The final paper tested during that session was some of the expired Panalure (see image left) that Chris obtained for free when he bought the rolls of Ilford paper. Ironically, I hadn't at all been concerned about this paper. Unlike the Agfa-Gevaert thrift store finds, these boxes came from a photo store and had been refrigerated. I felt confident that we'd get pretty good results from this paper. hmmm. Wasn't the case at all. I mean, since I tend to like less-than-perfect photo results (and since I still really miss being able to smoke), the messed-up, smokey look of the image itself has begun to grow on me. That said, I am cognizant that other people achieve much better results from expired Panalure. It's not typical, in other words, for the paper to go almost to black within seconds of being put into the developer.

To be fair, my results might have had less to do with the paper itself (i.e., being compromised in some major way) and more to do with my general confusion over Panalure and safelight conditions. I thought I had read somewhere that you needed to use a red safe-light with Panalure (which we did) but in other instances, I've learned that the safe-light must be dark amber. [As an aside, we took the Panalure from the box and protective sleeve in total darkness, but it was cut and later developed with the red safety-light on.] In an attempt to determine if the problem with the Panalure had to do with that particular box of paper (versus, say, having to do with the safe-light conditions or other variables we've not yet thought of), I had Chris cut (or prepare for testing) a sheet of Panalure from the sealed box we got at the thrift store as well a sheet from the other free package of Panalure he got when he purchased the Ilford rolls. I also asked him to cut up a sheet of paper from the other 11x14" box of Brovira. This was one that we didn't open in the thrift store--one that appeared to have all the original factory seals. I'm eager to learn if the results from this box will be a bit better than the results from the other 11x14" box.

I'm hoping to test both kinds of paper this weekend. In terms of the Panalure, I have the highest hopes, of course, for the sealed box we got at the thrift store. But if either sample's results mirrors those found in the image above, we'll definitely have to work on alternative safe-light conditions.

a bad case of G.A.S.?

I was just getting comfortable with but a fraction of what the Omega B22 enlarger (an incredible 30$ flea market find, by the by) could do, when Chris met a man who made him an offer he [Chris] apparently just couldn't refuse. Long story short, as of Sunday night, the B22 was moved out to the front room (where it now functions largely as a ready-made objet d’art) and the study/darkroom was revamped (yet again) to make room for the [new-to-us] Super Chromega D Dichroic II color 4x5 enlarger. Most happily, the room actually looks bigger since the revamp--my fear had been that the study/darkroom would end up being a space in which we'd be forevermore sentenced to bump into things as we sideways-walked through the space.

But here's the real deal: One of the many Flickr groups to which I belong asks the following of current and potential group members: "Are you addicted to cameras? Do you have the dreaded "GAS" [gear acquisition] syndrome?" Hmm. Provided that the category of "gear" can be extended to darkroom gear, as well as to acquiring and testing various kinds of film, paper, and chemicals, then yeah. I guess we have a really bad case of G.A.S.

Case in point: I was just kinda-sorted getting comfortable with what my (not-so-newly-acquired) Zero Image 45 pinhole was able to do when this puppy arrived late last week. [Needless to say, I was just kinda sorta getting used to what this camera could do when the new enlarger arrived and directed my attention away from photo-taking/making and toward study/darkroom redesign.

. . .oh yes. and this too. I was just kinda-sorta getting comfortable with the potentials of the revamped oatmeal pinhole cam when I decided that I needed one that was capable of making 8x10" paper negatives. [It may well be worth mentioning that this decision was, in fact made, just hours before we began the study/darkroom redesign.]

A busy couple of days? Indeed. And, again, I ask: Am I suffering from a bad case of G.A.S.? Indeed, I most certainly am.

At times like these, I think it helps to prioritize--to start cobbling together a to-do list of things I want, need or simply hope to do sometime in the near future. The trick is trying to stick to that list while resisting the urge to acquire still more stuff--especially stuff that I've little idea how to use. So, in no particular order, here is part of my [too much] to-do list:

1. finish the 8x10 pinhole. [I spray painted the insides of the box flat black last night. All that's left to do is to cut the hole for the pinhole, make the pinhole, affix photo corners to the inside of the box (this will help the photo paper stay in place during the exposure) and work out the exposure times.]
2. learn how to make contact prints (or positives) from the paper negatives I've been making
3. mix more Dektol [I've been going through this pretty quickly with all the paper negatives I've been making]
4. experiment with various techniques for toning prints [I've acquired but not yet found time to work with different kinds of toning chemicals]
5. experiment with making lith prints
6. experiment with various techniques for successfully achieving the sabattier effect [I've experimented a bit with the chromoskedasic chemicals but my results weren't at all consistent or, for that matter, very good. To this end, I'll need to add to my list mixing up some Solarol or something like Select Soft to facilitate the process]
7. familiarize myself with the new enlarger [the most daunting prospect on the list]
8. familiarize myself further with the Crown Graphic and making 4x5 film negatives [I've admittedly been in paper-negative-making mode]
9. familiarize myself further with developing 4x5 film negatives [I kinda sorta scratched the first batch of negatives while pulling them out of the new tank]
10. familiarize myself further with the new 4x5 developing tank
11. test the rest of the expired photo paper we recently acquired [realistically speaking, this will probably be the only item on the list I'll actually accomplish in the near future]

Monday, February 7, 2011

the learning curve

It occurred to me recently that I might as well have titled this blog "the learning curve" since nearly every entry is tagged as such and since the blog has largely to do with what I don't yet get, what I don't yet know how to do, about where I'm stuck, what's gone horribly wrong, etc. Then again, even if I had titled the blog "the learning curve," I'm guessing the tag I'd use most frequently instead would be "on the process of" since that's really what I'm trying to illustrate here--whether or not things go swimmingly, predictably or no.

I developed my first 4x5 negatives last night and I was surprised by how strange, awkward and unfamiliar this process proved to be. Or maybe I should say, instead, that I was "surprised by how strange, awkward and unfamiliar this process proved to feel."

To explain. Just recently I had been talking with one of my classes about antecedent genres and practices and what came first to my mind was how, having had experience working with, modifying, testing, working with, and developing film taken in 100+ 35mm and 120 cameras, it's fairly rare that I run across one that completely confounds me. Sure, sure, they all have their differences but I can, for the most part, figure out what's what or where's where and determine rather quickly if they work. That said, I did run across a Yashica TRL last fall (one that I eventually bought) that required an opposite advance of the film crank to set the shutter. That took me a good while to figure that out and I figured it out pretty much by accident.

All this said, I was really ill-prepared for how clumsy and clueless I felt while working with the 4x5 film. Aside from knowing that I'd still have to use developer, stop, fixer and to do a final wash, little else felt like it really translated from one format to the next.

Certainly, I had had a lot of guidance, and with this, practice loading the film holders, thanks to visual/verbal resources such as this and the time I've spent working with paper negatives. Still, my hands were all shaky and I felt sick to my stomach as I loaded the film holders with the 4x5 film. Part of this was fear of dropping the film, not being able to find it in the dark, loading the wrong side of the film, forgetting to close the box again before I turned the light back on, etc. But part of it was that I was reminded again of how my bodily memory for this particular practice was lacking or at least greatly limited. For instance, I can inspect and practice loading film holders (i.e., with scrap paper or imaginary film) with the lights on. I can practice loading film holders with photo paper with the help of a safelight. But with film, well, it felt like a pretty different game.

But this much I knew. I had to go through the same kind of bodily memory learning curve when I began spooling up and developing 35mm and 120 film. And to be fair, sliding the rectangular-shaped, single-exposure 4x5 film into the holder is much easier and goes much more quickly than reeling up 12 or 36 exposure strips.

The element of the overall process that was hardest to master, or hardest to get a feel for, had to do with loading and then working with this bad boy:

Yipes. In this instance, I simply wasn't prepared for the difference involved between working with a circular, reel-based vs. square, single sheet developing tank. I can't bitch too much here though, given that the tank is in mint condition and was practically free. That is to say, it came as part of the large box lot of odds and ends I bought for 25 bucks last Spring along with all those wonderful negatives of Carl and Nancy. Thus, when I pulled this out of storage and gave it a washing, I was thankful that I didn't have to devote funds to a sheet film daylight tank.

But back to the learning curve: It was surprisingly difficult to think about working with this tank. That I wasn't going through the motion of winding film around a spool and then agitating the film in a circular fashion seemed really bizarre--like part of the process was left unaccomplished. [It reminded me a bit of how I felt when moving from working with vhs or cassette tapes to dvds or cds--not having to rewind the movie or music also seemed to violate my notion of what a proper completed process should both feel and sound like.]

I had also grown very reliant upon seeing my liquid levels with the circular tank. I knew that I needed 500 ml to develop a roll of 120 but I could also see when I was getting there. Not the case at all for this new square Bakelite beast. I really only knew it was full when it began overflowing. Zoinks. Admittedly, I might have actually practiced filling the tank, measuring out chemicals, getting a feel for the agitation process, and pouring chemicals back out of the tank before my first real run.

And now if I may, a word about the scratches. Holy cow. I have a new appreciation for what they mean when they talk about the softness of emulsion. I'm not sure if I scratched a good number of these negatives while loading or unloading them from the tank (or maybe it was that something evil was stuck in my squeegee?), but I definitely need to take more care next time. The tank does come with a plastic guide for inserting the sheets (again, hard to see what you're doing in the dark!) and everything felt like it went swimmingly with that. My sense is that when the process was done, I pulled the sheets out of the tank backwards or against the curved plastic rails that keep the film sheets from touching each other in the tank.

So I've begun to build a bodily memory for this process, for working with this tank. I wonder how many times I'll have to load, go through the development process, and unload the films for it to feel as familiar as working with the circular tank does? I'm guessing seven? Well, provided that I do this more than once a year.

oatmeal redux

Ahhh. What a difference a little patience, a bit of reflective thinking, a few minutes and a whole lot of electrical tape makes! Ta-da: Meet the new, far-less-attractive oatmeal pinhole cam. In fact, I begin this entry with its before and after shots.

From my perspective, the real miracle is that I actually took the time to tweak the oatmeal cam--this, as opposed to just pitching it, as I had planned to do after seeing my first results. [In point of fact, shortly after seeing those results, I pulled out of storage a large, circular chipboard box I bought some time ago and started making myself a new pinhole cam.]

Since I had some time to kill while waiting for the spray paint on the new chipboard pinhole camera to dry, I decided to see what I could do with the oatmeal cam to see if I could actually get the results my pinhole camera making book suggested I would. And guess what? I may well have to rethink my top five cameras!

As a reminder, here were some of my first results. [no bueno]

But like I said to start, after a few minutes, a little tweaking and a whole lot of black electrical tape, here is what yesterday's session brought--the negative is on the left, the positive on the right.

Not bad. In fact, I really, really like the results. To tell the truth, I was beside myself when I saw the negative start to reveal itself in the developer. "Well, flipping finally!" I thought.

Too bad the process of loading and unloading is so complicated and slow-going. Or maybe I should say instead, "Too my black bag isn't bigger." Anyhoot. If the process of loading and unloading this camera worked like the AE1 Program (36 shots before reloading), the Diana 151 (16 before reloading) or even the Holga (12 shots), I'd seriously have a new go-to cam--never mind my worrying about it getting squished in the camera bag.

I especially love working with the curved film plane. The Zero Image 45 also results in some kick-butt distortion (at least when using the single 25mm frame), but that's a flat film plane. This oatmeal cam provides something different. Still cool, but different, and to my way of thinking, muy bueno!

By way of example, here is a sampling of some of yesterday's shots. All images were taken on 5x7 sheets of Ilford Multigrade RC Express paper (what I've come to term simply "the gift that keeps on giving) and developed in Dektol for about 90 seconds. The outdoor (landscapes) images were all about 45 second exposures whereas what I'll call the close-up, still-life images (those featuring close-ups of cameras, phone, keys, lenses, etc.) were 6-7 minute long exposures. I think I like the timing for the wide/landscape shots, but I might increase slightly the times for the still life images, especially when I'm shooting subjects that are dark. I'm thinking that I'll boost things to 8-9 minutes and see what's what.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

while you were out. . .

I have to say, the Zero Image 45 is finally starting to grow on me. As is the idea of doing paper negatives. Admittedly, I had gotten off to a rough start with both. Part of my difficulty with the Zero Image, was, I think, the fact that I had been using a 120 rollback with it. I was having frame overlap issues when I'd use the 6x6 mask and there were also light-leak issues when I was using the rollback with the single [25mm] frame. A bit of adhesive-backed felt placed on the metal of the roll back and used as sealer helped this a bit.

As for the paper negative process, my problem was largely figuring out how to meter the paper. I've decided to go with 6-10 ISO until I find I need to adjust that. In terms of what this means for the Zero Image exposure, I've tended to go with 60 seconds when I'm outdoors and the sky is bright but without direct sun.

Times for indoors exposures have proven to be trickier to figure out. But I decided to set the camera up in my office the other day and just let it run while I was out teaching. The first exposure I took in/of the office (see first image in the sampling below) was started at 8:10 am and ended at 11:30. The second office exposure (above) was started at 11:30 and ended at about 2:08. Pretty cool to think (as I was teaching, in fact) that I was simultaneously teaching and taking photos and doing so in two completely different locations.

Speaking of things happening while one is out and about: Chris and I decided to go to hit the snowy, snowy park again yesterday--partly so that we could walk D, and partly to enable me to finish off the 4x5 paper (see images below) that had been loaded in the holders before the order of 4x5 film arrived. We ended up crossing paths [quite literally] with someone with a Contax rangefinder (and as it turns out, lots of darkroom and photography experience) so we ended up talking to him (asking him questions, really) for quite some time. A very, very cool connection to have made!