Here's an embarrassing confession to kick this post off: I exposed these sheets of 5x4 on January 2 and just developed them on Monday. In fact, I wrote about the process of taking these photographs in this post here on January 3. They've been sitting in their dark slides wrapped in a black plastic print bag all that time. What can I say? Not a lot really. Sometimes I have so much inertia that I can give the immovable object a run for its money.
You might remember (the post above explains the problem) that the scene inside these tenement closes was so dark and gloomy that I couldn't see much of anything through the ground glass of the Speed Graphic so had to resort to using my iPhone as a sort of remote viewing screen, holding it ahead of the lens and photographing what was in front. Some readers contributed possible solutions to this problem at the end of the earlier post - thanks for that - and I might have to look at them again if I want to do more of this sort of thing.
They're Tmax 100 negatives exposed at 50 ISO and developed in Spur HRX. I had my first go with a new sheet film developing process which involved the use of a 10x8 developing tray divided equally in four by rawl plugs glued to the bottom. Two other, unmolested 10x8 trays contained the stop bath and fixer. The chemicals were all poured in at the start with the lights on and the film was placed in each of the four wells in quick succession before the timer was started.
The plan had been to use a turkey baster - bought specially for the role at a cost of 99p - to tickle the surface of the negatives for agitation. I've used a soft-haired artist's brush successfully in the past when developing one sheet at a time in a small tray. I thought the baster, with it's rubbery "bristles" would be easier to clean and, therefore, less likely to retain dust or grit.
|Not exactly the most macho statement, is it?|
Unfortunately, brush agitation is not half as easy or straightforward when you're trying to do four negs one after the other in the dark so, after a minute or so of "basting", I ditched that idea and just rocked the trays as normal. The idea of brush agitation is to avoid the uneven development that can occur in a tray when it's rocked - the edges of the negatives sometimes emerging slightly denser because of the increased agitation effect of the solution bouncing off the sides of the tray. My tray-rocked negs were perfectly even. Whatever.
I also started the process wearing latex gloves as I sometimes get a skin reaction from the developer and 5x4 needs a more hands on approach than smaller formats. Well, after several abortive attempts to lift the first sheet from the developer, the gloves went the way of the baster and bare digits were thrust beneath the surface instead.
My 5x4 output is not exactly prolific. In all, I've shot a total of about ten sheets since I got the Speed Graphic just over a year ago. So I've been content to process them a sheet at a time in a 5x7 ceramic tray. If I were to start using more film then I'd be reluctant to spend so much time in the dark processing one sheet after another like that. I'd hoped that the four-sheets-in-a-tray approach might be the answer but I'd have to say after the first attempt that it isn't.
|The Mk27 - no less - version of the Mod 54.|
Reader and correspondent David M has some very good things to say on the subject of large format processing and I'm hoping he'll provide some advice (he's already contributed an article here and I've got another one or two to add) in the comments. Nasir Hamid speaks highly of the Mod 54 and might want to chip in.
Anyway, back to the photographs. Black and white photography, as far as I'm concerned, is all about light and shade and flowing lines and these elements come together in these old stairwells. The pics won't be everyone's cup of Darjeeling but I like them. The Tmax turned out very nicely in HRX with the highlights well controlled.
Here are the negs, propped against a light box and snapped using the D700. It's difficult getting the jpegs to perfectly match the negatives but these are quite close. I reversed the upper neg in the positive image at the t
op of this post just because I preferred it that way. They're a little on the thin side but there's just about enough detail in all but the darkest shadows and you've got to expect some empty negative space when the only light is from above and there's not much of it at all. The clear film areas look a bit fogged but it's just the way the camera has captured them.
To be honest, I'm really surprised I got anything usable at all, so dark were the stairwells. That's probably the reason I wasn't in any rush to develop the negatives: I'd subconsciously written them off already. Depth of field is lacking in a couple but that's down to the fact that the exposures, including an allowance for reciprocity failure, were hellishly long and stopping down another stop would have meant hanging around for another five minutes or longer on each shot. I'll try to use camera movements next time to overcome this problem.
Composition isn't too bad either bearing in mind that I could see bugger all really. My home town of Dundee has lots of tenements like these and there are plenty of opportunities for a lot of shots on a similar theme. If I could get half a dozen arty pictures I'd maybe try pitching them to a local art shop as they might be popular with my fellow Dundonians. The first and last photographs at the top of the post have potential and I reckon they'd look nice if printed quite large, matted and framed.
Having written recently about the big Kodak Specialist II - I've got it sitting on a tripod just now in our living room while I think about what to do with it - I'm really curious to see what 5x7 contact prints of the stairwells would be like - and, for that matter, nice, big prints. However, the Kodak's ground glass doesn't look much brighter - if at all - than the Speed Graphic's. Maybe the answer, ultimately, is a large format camera that isn't sixty years old.