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Sunday, June 25

What's gone wrong with Barry Thornton's two-bath?

The answer, of course, is that nothing has gone wrong with it but something seems to have gone wrong with me. I was a big proponent of Barry's tweaked two-bath years ago and produced negatives that seemed to fulfil the promise of well-controlled highlights, sharpness and fine grain.

Then, something must have changed as I stopped using it. We're talking probably 16-17 years ago so I can't quite remember what it was exactly that caused BT2 to fall out of favour but it seemed to have something to do with somewhat flat negatives. However, having used up the last of my D76 and with a few films to develop, I thought just the other week that I should use up my dwindling stock of photo chemicals and mix up some BT2 again.

With the lack of contrast thing nagging away at the back of my head, I exchanged a few emails with Phil Rogers, who also used to use it, and decided to go with his suggestion of upping the sodium metaborate in Bath B for some extra snap. Barry himself recommended this course of action. Bath A contains the developing agent metol and an anti-oxidant in the shape of sodium sulphite whilst Bath B provides the alkaline environment necessary for the developer to start working. The more alkaline the second bath then the more vigorous the development process.

Here was may recipe:

Bath A
Metol 6.5g
Sodium Sulphite 85g

Bath B
Sodium Metaborate 20g

That's the theory anyway but it didn't really work out for me in practise. You can see that I used 20g of sodium metaborate - a third more than the standard BT2 recipe calls for - but the negs still emerged looking on the flat side. Barry recommended 7g, 15g and 20g respectively for high, medium and low contrast scenes. I said to Phil that the negatives - a roll each of Tmax 400 and Tmax 100 -  just lacked "oomph" and he agreed that it was this lack of brilliance that persuaded him to stop using the dev as well and go to HC110 instead.

The raw chemicals I used were 20 years old but they're in powder form and looked exactly as they did when new. I'm not aware that raw metol is supposed to lose its potency over time or that any of the other ingredients would have been susceptible to ageing. So now I'm left wondering what's changed over the years with my photography. If BT2 was once OK but isn't any longer then it's maybe just a sign that I now have a tendency to photograph less contrasty scenes. That would fit in with my love of misty, dreich weather conditions. Perhaps a couple of decades ago I wasn't so fond of the old melancholy Celtic soul thing.

The negatives scanned quite well - as lower contrast ones usually do - and it was easy in Lightroom to set the black and white points and then fiddle with the contrast a little to oomphify them. I've posted some of them here - and, yes, they are all lowish contrast, quiet country scenes. It won't be quite so easy in the darkroom, however. They'll need grade 4 at least to get a decent print out of them.

I think it's fair to say now that I won't be mucking around with any more developer combinations if I can help it. There are differences to be seen between various types of dev but none are as great as the differences between different films. If you want fine grain just use a fine grain film and any standard fine grain dev such as D76 rather than trying to reduce the grain on, say HP5+, to something more to your liking.

With the BT2 unlikely to be used for anything other than night photography scenes (I'll do a wee test to see how that goes) I'm now back in my usual place of having no developer left. It's familiar territory for me as I never "stock up" on developer simply because it has a limited shelf life - at least in liquid form.

I've written about this before but the best negs I've produced over the years (from a tonal point of view) have been HP5+ in Perceptual 1+3, Adox CHS 100 II in Spur's HRX3 and Tmax 400 in Rollei RHS/Firstcall Superfine. Since I'm entirely happy with Tmax 400 (and Tmax 100 if I need it) and have a wee stash of the stuff then it looks like I'll be spending some cash with Firstcall Photographic.

Thursday, June 22

Some Rank photos

A while back I wrote about a wee Rank rangefinder that I picked up for sweeties in a charity shop. It's a nicely made camera and functions well enough so I thought I'd put a roll of Tmax 400 in it and snap away at nothing in particular.

I used it as a walkies camera rather than a walkabout camera. In other words, I took it with me when we were out with the dogs. Our mutts are a bit excitable and we usually have to find somewhere quiet and without other dogs if we're to have a hassle-free walk. When they see another dog, they make such a racket that it would waken the dead - something that was of no little concern to me when we used to walk them in the local cemetery.

For a time, we were going to a nearby industrial estate, not exactly the most glamorous of locations but at least free from distractions. So the Rank would accompany us on our journey round old warehouses, empty offices and tired-looking industrial units.

It wasn't too successful from the photography point of view as I'd take, on average, just one photograph per walk. There's no problem with that other than that it takes forever to finish the bloody film! So with the frame counter on the Rank sitting at 22 for far too long, I removed the film, swapped it over to my Contax 137 MD and got snapping in the countryside.

So about four months or more after I started using the Rank, I have some pics from it to share. Two things became quickly apparent when I started scanning the negatives. The lens is nice and sharp, particularly in the centre, but has more than its fair share of barrel distortion. Too much distortion, in fact, to make it anything other than a casual snapshot camera for me.

It also has either an intermittent shutter fault or is prone to flare from strong side lighting which you can see on a couple of the pics posted here. It's most evident on the bottom pic where the bright band slashing across the door isn't from the sun but from the fault. You can also see it in the second and third pics. All were taken in side lighting which makes me a little suspicious.

Surprisingly, the built-in CDS meter, which couples to an EV scale, is accurate so I ended up with some nice exposures. The subject matter was limited to whatever happened to catch my eye and it's nothing special. Still, for a camera that cost no more than a few pounds, it was an interesting wee diversion from "serious" photography and "serious" cameras.

Sunday, June 18

It's getting closer

The darkroom as it presently stands.

Before anyone says anything, I know I have too many enlargers! This will probably change in the near future now that my darkroom is taking shape and I have to make some decisions about what format(s) to concentrate on, what cameras to keep, etc.

From left-to-right above we have the Durst L1200, the Paterson/Philips PCS 150, a Leitz 1c and a Leitz Valoy II. The last is a recent purchase and just sort of arrived out of the blue. That's not entirely true, obviously, as I have various searches set up on Gumtree and Ebay for darkroom stuff, etc, and the Valoy popped into my email inbox as a result of one of them.

It was in Inverness and the seller wanted just £25 for it complete with a 50mm Ross Resolux lens. I suppose, with my sensible hat on, I would have let it pass but it's just such a great enlarger. Inverness is a 6-hour round trip from my home and I was reluctant to make the journey but the seller's son was due to visit him and he lived in Edinburgh just an hour away from me. Better still, the son would be passing Perth on his way home so I arranged to meet him there, a much more convenient 30 minutes away.

So after a pleasant hour in the car and £25 lighter I had in my possession a lovely bit of kit. The great thing about the Valoy is its simplicity. It's always in alignment, isn't too heavy, is beautifully made and doesn't take up a lot of space. I'm not too sure about the qualities of the Ross Resolux but it's in good condition and I'll find out when I make a print or two.

The icing on the cake was that the Valoy came complete with the frosted, anti-Newton's rings lower condenser surface. Not all of them had that feature and there are stories of some printers becoming frustrated with the appearance of the oily-looking marks on their prints.

I've been continuing to educate myself about some of the photographers I should already be familiar with and am fixated a little just now on the late Ray Moore. Wouldn't you know it that Ray seemed to have used a Valoy for all his later 35mm black and white output. He had a reputation as a very skilled printer and the Valoy obviously didn't get in his way. He was a hell of a photographer as well and I'm enjoying studying the little there is out there about his life and work.

But back to the darkroom. Three enlargers would have left me with a useful bit of dry bench space but the fourth has made things a bit cramped. I'm not sure the Durst, which does up to 5x4, will be around forever as my thinking at the moment is that I'll enlarge 35mm and 6x6 negs and maybe contact print the 5x7 output from the Kodak Medalist II but I'll make my mind up once I'm back printing.

I've painted two walls of the darkroom - those around the enlargers - dark grey (it's probably zone 4/5) and I'll be painting the other walls a lighter shade of grey. The drawers under the worktop came with the house when we bought it almost two years ago. The owner was an elderly woman and the decor and furnishings were very dated. However, the chests of drawers were certainly OK for darkroom use. I managed to use other bits of timber and cupboards that we inherited as part of my aim to build the darkroom without spending money on anything other than paint and plumbing in the sink.

And speaking of which, here is the ex-Duncan of Jordanstone art college sink in its new home:

That's the first time I've had a sink in a darkroom and I'm sure it will be a great boon. Just imagining that I'll no longer have to carry all the usual developing stuff down to the kitchen sink to develop a film is whetting my appetite. Cath has also realised that it will be brilliant for washing the dogs in! No more stooping over a bath for a start. The prospect of breaking a leg jumping out of it will probably keep the little buggers in check as well and stop their attempts at escape.

After I've painted the last two walls, I'll have to sort out a black out blind for the window and something for covering the glass in the door. A quick tidy up after that and I'll be ready to do some printing.

And finally, here's a slightly more arty shot of the darkroom as I was painting the walls. It was taken on the D700 at the wide end of a 19-35mm Tokina zoom. I quite liked the distortion in this shot and the general higgledy-piggledyness of the scene. Hopefully, I'll be able to keep it tidier than that in future...

Monday, May 29

Printing again in a fortnight?

The darkroom is getting to the stage where I can start fitting it out and then start splashing some chemicals around in anger. The long bedroom has been divided into two by a partition wall and I'm waiting for the plaster to dry as I write this.

The photograph above is taken from the non-darkroom half of the old bedroom - the darkroom is beyond the door. The joiner/plasterer work has all been done and the next step will involve me giving the walls on the darkroom side a coat of paint. Then I'll start attaching the various cupboards and kitchen units to the wall and get the sink plumbed in and we're almost there.

The two pics above are of the darkroom itself. It might seem slightly strange to divide a room with a window at one end into two and then base the darkroom at the window side but that's where the plumbing connections are and it's both easier and cheaper to black out a window with a blind than it is to run new waste and water pipes for a sink.

I'm trying to think of what to use the non-darkroom side of the room for. Cath has a quaint notion that it might be for listening to music in or a "library" and is strangely resistant to my idea of a darkroom annexe. I think it would be great for trimming, spotting and mounting prints along with housing my photography books, hi fi gear and computer. Basically, a man cave. I'm so alpha I make Trump look like Obama so there's only going to be one winner. Just please don't tell Cath yet.

Thursday, May 18

So I dusted off the D700...

Don't worry. This isn't the beginning of the end. Nor, though, is it likely to be the end of the beginning. I had great fun doing some colour with the DSLR and am even learning to like a tripod since switching to a ball head on the recommendation of Phil Rogers. So I'll probably be repeating the process from time to time.

We've got workmen in the house just now doing the bathroom and after being forced to listen for hour after hour to non-stop 1980s music on Absolute Radio (more accurately, it should be called Absolute Bollocks), I was desperate to get out so took the first opportunity to disappear for an hour to a derelict transport office that I visit whenever I get the urge for some "grotography".

I knew there were some interesting, faded colours in the old transport office and the goal was to try to capture them with as little intervention at the "post processing" stage as possible. Another way of looking at it was pretending that I had colour print film in the camera.

The pictures posted here are fairly unmolested. A few are completely untouched bar a little sharpening. Others have had their levels tweaked and I cured the barrel distortion from the wide end of a Nikkor 28-105mm zoom on another couple.

At the taking stage, I was a little concerned as the colours on the LCD screen looked brighter and sharper than I was seeing with the old Mk. 1 eyeball. However, when I opened the files up in Lightroom they were more like what I remembered they should be.

The office isn't very big. There's a convenience room/toilet that's about 10x12 ft and what must have been a social area of sorts for the drivers with a sink and worktop and fridge that measures around 15x20 ft. It's within an old stone quarry that fell out of use in the 1980s (it's a pity Adam Ant, Boy George and the like from Absolute Radio hadn't suffered the same fate) and is slowly becoming more exposed to the elements.

The transport office in question.

The convenience area has a hole in the roof and debris is just beginning to fall through onto the floor. Many window panes are broken as well and once the wind and rain starts getting in it's only a matter of time before it becomes so far gone that there's nothing much left worth photographing.

Some of the pics here might look a little familiar to regular readers as I've taken similar shots over the years. I was determined to come away with something more original, though, and looked hard to find attractive colours and interesting shapes.

My favourite is the shot of the backlit wardrobe doors (below). I was using the D700's self timer in lieu of a cable release and had to hang around for the sun to put in an appearance. When it was shining, it cast nice shadows onto the floor beneath the wardrobe doors but it was coming and going from behind some clouds and trees. My first couple of attempts resulted in the sun disappearing before the shutter had time to fire but it came together on the third shot.

I also took the same shot on a Contax 137 MA fitted with the 50mm f1.4
Planar and Tmax 100 but I think this is one of those occasions when the
colour version will be nicer.

The camera was stopped down to f11 for most of the photographs which, at 400 ISO, was giving me shutter speeds of around 5-10s. The office is surrounded by trees and not a lot of light reaches it. All the scenes here were as I found them - even the photograph of a square yard of floor covered with all sorts of stuff including old make-up tubes, a hairbrush, toys, etc. I can offer no explanation as to how they ended up on the floor of a transport office.

Overall, I'm quite happy with the look of these photographs. From now on, I think I'll take the D700 with the Nikkor zoom with me on photographic excursions to see what the results are like on dull, misty days. I still have difficulty in thinking of digital files as serious photographs, however, and given the choice would rather have shot the transport office pics on my Rollei SL66. It might be worth a roll or two of 120 just to see how medium format would handle this subject.

Wednesday, May 17

Barry Thornton Articles

I've added a page to the Resources section in the right side bar which contains some of the articles that Barry used to have on his old website and which are now no longer available (as far as I know) except through the Wayback Machine.

They're a good read with your morning coffee.

Monday, May 15

Learning about the masters

I think most of you would be surprised at how truly ignorant I am of the work of some of the past masters of photography. Even well-known names are, to me, a largely unknown quantity. This might seem a bit weird when you consider that I've been taking photographs for just over 40 years. But the thing is that, never having studied photography in any formal way or spent much time in camera club circles, I've had little exposure to the photographers who are recognised as "the" names nor those who are on the next rung down, so to speak.

This has its good and bad points: I've been able to bash on without worrying too much about fashion or style but I've also missed out on a lot of inspirational photography. I suppose the negative point could be turned into a positive by saying that I've got years of enjoyable studying ahead of me whilst many of you will already be up to speed on the masters and have less to look forward to!

The recent TV shows about photography presented by Eamonn McCabe were a bit of an eye opener. He kept on dropping names that I suppose I should be familiar with but had never heard of. Some, of course, I had heard of but knew only a little about their photography. Here are a couple of examples for you: Bill Brandt and John Bulmer.

Obviously, I knew of Brandt although only in a very superficial way. I vaguely remembered his nudes and the odd gritty shot such as Top Withens and A Snicket in Halifax. Some of his other photographs revealed in the TV series just knocked me out. Take the one below, Hail Hell and Halifax. As Simon Cowell might say, OMG!

And then there's Shadow and Light. We've all seen plenty of stairwell shots - I've taken some myself - but I can't remember seeing a better one than this. It could be a giant's double helix.

Even Brandt's obviously contrived shots are excellent such as Eaton Square (top) and Belgravia 1951 below.

And here's a special treat courtesy of Vimeo - a short video showing Brandt's A Night in London page-by-page:

Now that I've whetted your interest, you might like to know that you can easily pick up a copy from Abe Books - providing you have four grand burning a hole in your pocket...

I smell the all pervasive whiff of Phil Rogers' algorithm here. Read his
comments on this post.

And now we turn to John Bulmer. OMG doesn't really do it for this photographer - he's right up there with the very best in my opinion. What about BHHG? Bloody hell, he's good! He catalogued the disappearance of much of the old industrial north of England in the 1960s and 1970s. Some of his images are stunning and just the sort of thing to which I aspire. Moody, sombre, poignant, touching - there are all sorts of emotions in his prints. A few really knock me out, such as these:

The interesting bit - for me, that is, you've probably all fallen asleep by now - is Bulmer's colour photography. I do as much colour as I do digital which is to say, none. But after seeing some of Bulmer's work I started getting an itch which I might have to scratch a little. It's not the garish sort of stuff a lot of DSLR users seem to like but very muted colour with a restricted palette. How much of that is just down to the film stock at the time is something I can't really speak about.

Bulmer only photographed in colour on days when the sun wasn't shining, hence the white, featureless skies in a lot of his shots. I tend to agree with that approach: skies can be a real distraction and a destroyer of composition. Bland skies let the viewer concentrate on the rest of the photograph. Bulmer was one of the first UK photographers to use colour for documentary work. I'm delighted to say that John Bulmer is still going strong at the age of 89. Here's his Wikipedia page which is an interesting read.

Here's a selection of his colour work, much of which was shot for the Sunday Times.

BUT! It begs the big question: If I were to have a go at colour after years of black and white would it be film or digital? I think I've said in the past on this blog that I think colour is better tackled these days with digital rather than film. I've got a DSLR so it would save quite a lot of money in terms of both film and developing.

Having just had a look at AG Photographic's website, it seems you can get basic Kodak film for under £3 for a 36 exposure roll but I think I'd prefer to use medium format since it scans better and that's around £5.50 a roll for Ektar 100. AG will also develop the film and make 18mb scans for £9 a roll, 35mm or 120. It soon adds up, doesn't it? £14.50 per film, not including postage. 

Since my only source of income is an early retirement pension and Cath plans on taking early retirement in October, we're not going to be awash with spare cash. £15 a film isn't really viable for two pensioners, even if they're as cool as we are. So it looks like it would have to be digital. The key to making it work would be to keep it as real as possible and avoid "post processing" a file to death as I was fond of doing in my Photoshop days. The whole idea needs some more thought.

But back to Brandt, Bulmer, et al. I've enjoyed researching these two so much that it's made me determined to find out more about all those photographers I should already be familiar with. It would be great if readers could recommend some names in the comments that I can chase up at my leisure.