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Sunday, July 5

Return of the Kodak Specialist

The Kodak Specialist or one of the alien tripod machines from
War of the Worlds?

Back in December, 2013, I won a half plate, British-made Kodak Specialist, a lovely old studio camera, at auction. I was quite smitten by it but, apart from a few paper negs to test the bellows, it never burned any film.

I had a stack of double dark slides in the half plate size for it but I think only Ilford in their once a year custom large format film run would be able to supply it with material. That meant it would have been necessary to buy 5x7 film and trim it to fit.

With one thing and another - including the fact that it's a big, heavy beast - I never actually took it outside at all. Early this year, when I was considering a deal for the Leica outfit I've been writing about in The Leica Diaries, the chap who had the outfit wanted to include the big Kodak as part of the deal. Since I wasn't using it, I reluctantly parted with it.

Then a few weeks ago, a Kodak Specialist owner stumbled upon my blog whist looking for information about his camera. He got in touch to say he was hoping to find a good home for it. Well, I couldn't resist and ended up buying the outfit myself.

Thursday, July 2


You'll have noticed that I've posted hardly any photographs in recent weeks having had to spend most of my time redecorating our home before putting it on the market. Finally, thank God, it's at an end and I can return to the important things in life - photography and, er, photography.

I had a couple of frames left in a film that had been sitting in a Nikon F90x for a while so I thought I'd take a photograph to celebrate the end of the DIY. I've been painting, sawing, filling, shelving, etc and had a few subjects around the house that would have fitted the bill.

Then I saw the shirt I'd been putting on almost every day for the past five weeks lying crumpled on the bedroom floor and decided to promote it from smelly rag to DIY icon. I'm a somewhat messy painter, it has to be said, and very likely to leave dollops of paint on whatever surface I happen to be passing at that moment.

I also get it all over my hands - hence the white dabs on the front of the shirt where I've been wiping my fingers on a daily basis. It's hanging against our bedroom door, one of about 17 that I've painted. If it looks as if it's a little F.B. (full-bodied), that's because it is. Some would say the F.B. stands for something else and I'm really not in a position to argue.

The funny thing is that I started off hating the decorating and ended up quite enjoying it. Well, to be honest, I enjoyed the last part where there were some jobs to be done involving wood and power tools. There's nothing like the threat of amputation by the crazed, violent blade of a circular saw to get the testosterone flowing.

Next week, I'll feed the M2 and see where my "photographic vision" takes me. But, for now, it's enough that I can sit down and watch Wimbledon without feeling guilty.

Tuesday, June 30

The Power of Split Grade Printing and Post Flashing

Some readers who frequent the Film and Darkroom Users' Group (FADU) may have seen this article on split grade printing by photographer Les McLean. If you haven't and want a detailed introduction to this particular technique then this post is for you. Les kindly gave me his permission to republish it here. Sometimes darkroom techniques can seem a bit of a palaver but they're worth it when you arrive at a print like the one below. So if you haven't tried split grade printing or post flashing then I hope this encourages you to give them a go. Many thanks to Les for his generosity.

Thanks also to David M. for reminding me about this article. While I've been redecorating my home, David has been getting through coffee by the gallon sitting in front of his laptop and sending me info, web links and suggestions for posts. It's been a huge help as I've had hardly any time over the past few weeks to think of things to write. Next time I'm down your way, David, I'll treat you to a sarsaparilla.

Finally, if you haven't joined FADU then please consider doing so. They're a great bunch of people and very friendly and helpful. You can register here.

The Power of Split Grade Printing and

Post Flashing

By Les McLean

The development of simple split grade printing has given traditional darkroom workers the ability to quickly and consistently produce high quality prints from well exposed and developed negatives. However, for various reasons, we don’t always get it right at the exposure and development stages, resulting in a less than satisfactory negative.

In the days of graded papers, making a fine print from such a negative could be a struggle and could sometimes end up in having to accept compromise, for the final image that was put on the paper tended not to live up to the original visualisation. Controlling the contrast in the negative is key to making the best possible print but when we mess up in making the negative it is the contrast that suffers, either too much or too little is usually the result.

For many years I considered high negative contrast to be an enemy but in the early 90’s the introduction of good quality variable contrast paper gave me, and all printers, an extremely valuable tool in this battle with contrast.

Sunday, June 28

The "decline" of film photography

“Employee Darkroom Area, Building 9, Kodak Canada,
Toronto 2009”

Here's a sad little item - not new but new to me and possibly some readers. It's a feature charting the decline of film photography through the closure of various manufacturing facilities and labs. Sometimes in quieter moments I think back to what film was like in its heyday and realise how much we've lost. This article, with 5x4 pictures courtesy of Canadian photographer Robert Burley, evokes similar emotions.

“Implosions of Buildings 65 and 69, Kodak Park, Rochester,
New York [#1] OCTOBER 6, 2007”

It's not just materials that have disappeared but the manufacturing capability. Let's face it, the plant being used to produce today's film stock isn't going to last for ever and once it's worn out it's never going to be replaced. It's possible that there are enough spare parts out there to keep some of the machines ticking over for years or decades to come but  …

Anyway, the feature is well worth a look and you'll find it here. Sensitive types might like to have a hanky or two to hand.

Wednesday, June 24

900 Reasons to be cheerful

♬ Heaven, I'm in heaven… ♬

You'll have noticed that my decorating/DIY/home improvement efforts have left the OD a little impoverished from a photo point of view. Thankfully, things are gradually winding down now and I'll have the house in best saleable (I hope) condition in a few days time.

Time for full disclosure now. It's not just the decorating that's side-tracked me: I also managed to locate a Saab 900 classic - the original version before General Motors' disastrous involvement. I've seen a few of them on Ebay and the like but they're usually either mobile skips or 400 miles away.

This one was neither, however, being just a 90 minute drive from where I live and in very nice condition. It was just too good to pass up even though it's not the model I was after. I really fancied a manual 900 Turbo but will have to settle for a bog standard auto 900i instead.

The Saab in front of the North Sea. Somewhere in the background is the land of
its creator - Sweden. Can't see it? Hint: it's hiding behind Norway.

I've already given it a suitable 21st century name. I've been running about in a 16-year-old Renault Clio (it's been in the family since new and has done only 37K miles) that we called Willit, as in "Will it start?" Given that the Saab is 26 years old and takes a little bit of cranking to get going it's known as Willit 2.0. It was actually my 16-year-old daughter, Freya, who came up with that one but she doesn't read the blog much nowadays so I'll claim it in her absence.

The car is going well at the moment but the auto box is a killer when it comes to fuel consumption. An average of about 25mpg is no laughing matter with petrol the price it is here in the UK. Just as well I'll not be doing too many miles in it. Mostly, I'll be staring at it through the window blinds in the moonlight and giving it the occasional wash and polish.

I've written before about my favourite Saab - a 1982 900 Turbo five-door I bought when I was in my early 20s and the car was just a few years old. Well, in the right light, Willit 2.0 looks just like my original when I catch a glimpse of it sitting in the drive.

Saabs - I've now had eight of them - are, for me, the motoring equivalent of the Olympus OM1 and OM2. They're a big part of my early 20s and have the ability to "transport" me back to my prime, the way all good mid-life crisis purchases should. My next door neighbour's son is a car designer in Germany and currently has his Porsche 911 sitting in his parents' drive. If he were to offer it to me, I'd gladly take it, sell it and then buy the best Saab 900 Turbo classic I could find. That's how much I love Saabs.

Crucially, for an old car, the electronics are kept to a minimum. There's no immobiliser to go wonky and leave me stranded in Asda's car park, no alarm to trip for no reason in the middle of the night, no transponder key that might break if I drop it and require a £150 replacement (I can get a key cut anywhere for a fiver) and no remote central locking that threatens to activate of its own account if I leave the keys in the ignition and leave the vehicle.

New cars do absolutely nothing for me. I wrote a weekly motoring column for about 15-20 years and have played with well over a hundred brand new cars, often for days at a time. I've forgotten them all except two - a cheap-as-chips Skoda Rapid from the mid-1980s and a £110,000 Mercedes 600 SEL. I've always preferred classic cars and that's never going to change.

Another fine summer's day at Arbroath harbour! You certainly can't confuse
the 900 with all those anonymous-looking boxes that populate today's roads.

I know there are lots of readers who won't get this car thing at all. For them, a car is an A to B machine and nothing more but that's like those photographers for whom a camera is just a light tight box. If you're the type who likes to work with an old camera for a particular reason - this should chime with Leica users - then you might appreciate why, for some of us, the type of car is as important as its capabilities as a form of transport. Jeremy Clarkson wouldn't understand it but he is the motoring equivalent of a photographer who is obsessed with pixels. James May, on the other hand...

My intention is to keep the Saab forever although it's always possible that the dreaded ferric oxide or some hideously expensive mechanical melt down will have a say in that. I've only had it a week and I'm still wary of something untoward and expensive to repair lurking beneath that distinctive Scandinavian exterior. But so far, so good. The bodywork seems practically rust-free and the mileage, although high for a newer car, is a very low 79,000 miles for a 26-year-old.

Hopefully, we will both have plenty of life left in us and go on to forge a lasting relationship based on affection, trust and loyalty - the way of all good relationships.

You might also like:

Project Saab

For The Love of Cars

Tuesday, June 23

A few interesting finds

Sometime last year I won an old camera at a local auction and the lot included a plastic box containing what appeared to be lots of empty film boxes from the last 50 years or so. I had a quick look at a few of them but I could tell from the weight that they had nothing inside them.

In the process of cleaning up my darkroom yesterday, I was about to tip the contents into a rubbish bag when I thought I should have a closer look. One or two old items were in there that made me glad I did.

Friday, June 19

Understanding swings and tilts

Another look at the possibilities and capabilities of view camera movements with regular contributor, David M.

Tings and Swilts

by David M. 

There are advantages to using a view camera. There is the improved aerobic health caused by lugging a small mountain of kit around. Any view camera easily outranks any kind of Leica in status, but that’s not important to followers of the One True Path, who are above any kind of camera snobbery. I merely mention it in passing.

And you get those lovely big negatives and the ability to control their development one by one. It’s true that you have to think a bit about what you’re doing, but thinking is no hardship. We are homo sapiens, not homo snapiens. Some of us even enjoy thinking.

Thursday, June 18

One more time for Ilford

US watch maker, Shinola, have shown particularly good taste by having advertising shots of their products produced on Ilford film and darkroom materials. Rejecting a digital approach, the company's CMO Bridget Russo, said,

"At Shinola quality and dedication to craft is of utmost importance. We value the process of making things and embrace analog versus digital in many things we do.  We love the emotion and texture that can be achieved with shooting on film. There’s a permanence that you don’t quite get with digital."

Shinola basically reached the conclusion that, since their watches are crafted by hand using all traditional materials, they wanted the photographs to be originated the same way. Is it just me or does it seem that this sort of statement is becoming more common?

Shinola approached Dallas fine art photographer Augusto Schillaci to do the business. Augusto, in case you didn't know, has similarly refined taste to Shinola. Not only is he devoted to film but he's a Twitter follower of mine. :)

Here's Augusto's take on the commission:

"I’m a traditional black and white film photographer. Film photography carries a very special place in my heart. I believe that there is nothing like the look of black and white film. 
"Shooting the photograph is just one step into the final look of my images. I enjoy every part of the process, from choosing the film, to developing it and printing it in my wet darkroom. In the end every step defines the look of my images, and that is what I love about film. 
“Shooting in black and white allowed us to focus on the shape, form, texture and light without the color distraction, not to mention that metal and reflections look great in black and white. Using film and wet darkroom printing was a way to continue their tradition of handcrafted products assuring that the final art will stand on its own."

I agree with Augusto that it's the whole process of film photography - right from the moment I crack open a carton of film to pulling a print from the fix - that makes it more engaging and compelling than digital for me.

Augusto stuck rigidly with Ilford products for the shoot using HP5 Plus in his Hasselblad 500CM and making the prints on Classic, Cooltone and Warmtone papers.

The fine art finished prints are being used for the interior and exterior displays at the Shinola shops in Detroit, New York and London.

Wednesday, June 17

Caution: Graphic Images

I was pleased to see that quite a few people seem to like the more graphic stuff I've been producing lately so I thought I'd post another few pics along those lines. I've included some of my favourite images in this style that I've taken over the last year so.

This post is largely in lieu of some fresh material. I've been hard at work redecorating more or less the entire house and it's left me with hardly any time for hobbies. It's probably been more than two weeks since I had a chance to do some "serious" photography.

Friday, June 12

The LEICA Diaries - Part Eleven

Of the five rolls I've shot using the Leica M2, this is without a doubt my favourite pic. I find it mesmerising, although it's a simple shot. Some of you may be sitting there thinking, "What the hell's this? What happened to the misty landscapes?" Well, all I can say is that I like it and there's no accounting for taste. I like the contrast between the hard, man-made edges and the natural, free form look of the water. I'll shut up about it now because praising one's own photographs is a bit sad.