Thursday, 12 December 2019

127 Day December 2019

Baby Box Tengor with Ilford HP5 Plus
For last weekend's 127 Day I chose to shoot with the Baby Box Tengor, a choice partly influenced I think by also taking photographs for the current #shittycamerachallenge. The Baby Box Tengor is capable of reasonable results, but it is just a simple small box camera with no adjustable aperture, focus or shutter, other than the choice between instant or time exposures. I used just two offcut ends of Ilford HP5 Plus: when cutting down a roll of medium format to 127 size, after rolling the right length for the format, there's always some film left over, around five 4x3cm frames, although it's hard to be exact when cutting the film in a dark bag (this operation would be easier if the film was unrolled on a worktop in the dark and some form of jig made to get the correct length). There were a few light leaks, but also one roll could have been better developed, more attention paid to agitation, with air getting trapped between the film and plastic spool; I wound up with ten shots in total, a couple of instances where I'd taken two shots of the same subject from similar positions, and two where the frame partly overlapped the end of the film - one of which was too slight to be worth scanning.

Baby Box Tengor with Ilford HP5 Plus
Baby Box Tengor with Ilford HP5 Plus
Baby Box Tengor with Ilford HP5 Plus
Baby Box Tengor with Ilford HP5 Plus
Baby Box Tengor with Ilford HP5 Plus
Baby Box Tengor with Ilford HP5 Plus

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

A fragmentary snapshot

“…the term ’snapshot’ dates back to the 1860s, when the instantaneous photo became possible, but it was not until the 1920s that the snapshot was professionalized via reportage and democratized via amateurism. It was then that it came to be understood as the very essence of photography, for a while at least. It was almost as if cinema, in colonizing the popular understanding of time, implied that life itself was made up of distinct slices and that still photography had the potential to seize and extract them.”
David Campany, Photography and Cinema
I’ve previously written a couple of posts about my formative experiences of photography, beyond the socialising uses of photography common within the family in the latter part of the twentieth-century that I would have experienced growing up; although I wrote about first learning to develop and print photographs while at college from a position that might appear to be largely describing these moments as technical exercises; one might also think of these experiences as gaining command of the means of production of images, especially as this was prior to the utter ubiquity of the digital photograph. In my youth, photography within the family, and I suspect many families, was used for the purpose of puncturing the calendar with holidays, birthdays, weddings and so on (a single roll of film might easily stay in a camera between a summer holiday, a birthday and Christmas). As such, there were only certain subjects and situations ‘worth’ exposing film for. Being given my first film SLR camera as a student, being able to develop the film and print the images (however inexpertly) opened up a new world for me, particularly through my experience in documenting the demolitions and protests of the M11 link road in East London. A student trip to Paris later that same year I might also identify as another early experience of this ‘opening up’, and being allowed to use the darkroom - without having yet had a workshop induction (which was to be the following spring) - to develop them myself (over the summer prior to this, without access to a darkroom, I’d shot a few rolls of film and had discovered the convenience of chromogenic black and white films with Ilford XP2).

Concurrent with learning technical aspects of the medium, there was also the beginning of an understanding as to what photography meant, what was the essence of photography - and what one could do with it. At the time, I was studying fine art, not photography itself, but photography felt intrinsically embedded in so much of the technical and theoretical background to my studies. At the time, Paris seemed to be the city of photography, in a way that London didn’t appear to be, for me at least, through familiarity, through a lack of mythologisation, having grown up there. Paris was the city of modernity, with modernity inextricably linked to photography, a medium that could represent the experience and speed of modern life through a rush of unmediated fragments thrown together without order or hierarchy. With modernist photography taking over from pictorialism (which itself was a strategic move to claim for photography the legitimacy to be considered as ‘art’ in part through appropriating the appearances of traditional forms in which the artist’s hand was present on the surface of the work), these new ways of seeing - the ’objective’, the surreal - were discovered through the camera: Paris as the city of Atget, Brassaï, Man Ray, Kertesz, and, of course, Henri Cartier Bresson.
“I prowled the street all day, feeling very strung up and ready to pounce, determined to ‘trap’ life, to preserve it in the act of living. Above all I craved to seize the whole essence, in the confines of one single photograph, of some situation that was in the process of unrolling itself before my eyes.”
Henri Cartier Bresson, quoted in Photography and Cinema
The street is conceived as a space where things happen, one is subject to contingent encounters, encounters with an aleatory quality which can be consumed, incorporated by the observer with photography: bound up with ideas of the objet trouvé and the readymade, these encounters-as-images present themselves to the photographer attuned to these possibilities. At the time, I would have imbibed these ideas perhaps unquestioningly: there was some notion that being a ‘good’ photographer was largely about developing an intuition, of knowing how everything would fall within the frame a moment before it did so (this required having sufficient technical facility that the apparatus of the camera became as near as being simply an external perceptual appendage as possible). It is always worth reflecting that ‘The Decisive Moment’ was the English title of Cartier-Bresson’s book, Images a la Sauvette – images on the run, stolen images, more literally, conveying similar ideas to the English title, perhaps, but not the same. Sean O’Hagan, writing about the 2014 reissue of The Decisive Moment, describes its impact on how the medium is or has been thought about:
“…for many people with a passing interest in photography, he almost single-handedly represents photography: what it is meant to do and – more problematically for a generation of younger artists relentlessly questioning its meaning in an over-mediated world – what it is.”
Contemporary uses of the term snapshot often seem to emphasise the disposable, the throwaway, lacking in value, with an implicit element of the pejorative, a commonplace definition that seems to have lost some of its original nuance as a metaphor derived from hunting, a split-second decision to shoot as opposed to the application of a careful aim (which itself implies skill and experience). In Camera Work, Alfred Stieglitz published a handful of his own photographs with titles prefixed by the phrase ‘A Snapshot’ - two of which, in No.41 from January 1913, were photographed in Paris - and two of those in Camera Work No.20 are titled ‘From my Window’ in Berlin and New York. ‘From my window’ suggests the contingent nature of the subject and view point of the snapshot: the description (by J.M. Bowles ‘In Praise of Photography’, Camera Work No.20) itself reads almost diametrically opposed to how one might conceive a snapshot today: “A man who will stand with a camera at a window for four weeks, driving all his friends and relatives to drink from watching him, in order to catch just the right moment for taking a snap shot, is an artist. […] But the long study of the subject before actually making the negative is the better way, I am inclined to think. It is more like the Japanese method of making their art- pupils study a flower, a plant, a blade of grass for days and days before putting pen, or rather in their case, brush to paper. After all, art is merely seeing. The function of art being to teach us to see; the artist who sees best and most thoroughly himself before making the record of an impression will be the one who will most vividly convey that impression to others.” The lying-in-wait here is much closer to the metaphor of the hunt.

The idea of the snapshot depended on faster emulsions to achieve an ‘instantaneous’ picture, these emulsions themselves creating the need for the camera shutter that could operate accurately with increasingly smaller fractions of a second. The snapshot metaphor is also apt in its analogies between camera and firearm, the development of the ‘magazine’ camera and the roll film and film packs readied the camera to be used without (re)loading for each shot. That  imminent readiness, impossible in the wet plate era, produced conditions that enabled the snapshot to appear (some of the first photographs which could be described as snapshots are those taken by Paul Martin with a magazine camera in the 1890s). These metaphors around the medium of photography relate to images being ‘out there’ in the world, not as something to be made, but taken.

There is little in my own photographs from that trip to Paris that embody such an approach. However, I could retrospectively locate this as the point at which, for me as an artist, the camera supplanted the sketchbook; I took a sketchbook (possibly two) and drawing materials with me, only to make a single drawing during the whole trip, a schematic notation of a detail from a Nancy Spero wall painting. Up to that point, drawing (and painting) from observation, was where I had located the essence of my art (this relied on images ‘out there’ in the world, but were something to be made, in selective ways, rather than taken).

Instead, I found myself taking numerous photographs of my fellow students drawing at certain points on the trip. I took five rolls of film for a five-day trip, using the Praktica BCA which had replaced my previous BC1, the standard 50mm lens (I did buy a 28mm lens a couple of months later). I shot both Ilford HP5 Plus and Kodak TMAX 400; many of the negatives were underexposed (or underdeveloped) and quite a few badly focussed. What I do remember, and the photographs bear out, is the particular quality of the light - thin, low winter sunlight on the pale stonework, leaded roofs, dead leaves and bare trees.

“Everything-houses, churches, bridges, walls,-is the same sandy gray so that the city seems like a single construction of inconceivable complexity, a sort of coral reef of high culture.”
Rebecca Sonit, Wanderlust
From the top of the Pompidou centre I took some photographs of what looked like a building on fire in the middle distance (making an association with Meryon’s etching of the morgue; Meryon’s etchings were probably where I might have got my earliest visual ideas of Paris); in my memory, I had conflated this with a building opposite the hotel in which we stayed in the Boulevard de Magenta that was derelict and burnt-out. Finding the negatives twenty-five years later, I’d photographed this building from the room of the hotel on the first morning, so the two events were only linked after the fact in my memory. Arriving by coach at the Place de la Republique the night before, I’d walked to Gare du Nord to photograph the then new Eurostar trains; it was another seven years before I took a train to Paris. Returning to the Boulevard de Magenta, I photographed the building - or a building in the same location - which might have been entirely demolished and rebuilt; it was still being worked on then.

The photographs that I took on that trip provided the material which I worked from for the next few weeks: photographic prints in which I overlaid text and drawings on tracing paper during the exposure, so these elements appeared in white on top of the images of sculpture I’d photographed in the Louvre and Père Lachaise cemetery. I also made some artists’ books, one from old zinc litho plates drawn on in marker pen and folded concertina-fashion (I’d seen Anselm Kiefer’s lead books at the Pompidou), others being made from cut-up reject photographic prints. I reused many of the textural pieces, along with photocopies, and other ephemera, to make temporary collages in low relief to be photographed - the photograph of the assemblage being the artwork - while at home during the following holiday and away from the darkroom. After the Christmas break, I made a series of modest etchings with words and fragments of sentences, using much of the same material but with much more empty space. I did later print some of the other photographs from Paris 'straight', on 12x16-inch paper, a scale I’d not previously worked at; all the work I made then suggests I wasn’t confident in my source material to let the photographs stand on their own.

There was a student on a different course with whom I shared a deep interest in photography, spending much time in the darkroom learning from each other, making (what felt like) the leap to medium format around the same time. He was a year younger, but seemed to have a much firmer grasp of technique and theory (and had a Canon A-1, which appeared very professional against my Praktica). His course went to Paris two weeks after we had, and stayed in the same hotel. He took some photographs of the burnt-out building on the Boulevard de Magenta, but close to, at street level, with workmen in action: everything, architecture, figures, light, falling just ‘right’ in the frame which seemed to embody those ideas of what photography was, missing from my own photographs.

J.M. Bowles ‘In Praise of Photography’, Camera Work No.20
David Campany, Photography and Cinema, Reaktion Books, London 2008 (2012 reprint)
Henri Cartier-Bresson, The Decisive Moment (first published 1952)
Sean O’Hagan ‘Cartier-Bresson's classic is back – but his Decisive Moment has passed’, The Guardian, December 23 2014 Retrieved 4/12/19
Rebecca Sonit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking, Granta Books, London 2014
Alfred Stieglitz, Camera Work No. 20 October 1907 and No. 41 January 1913

See also The Reisekamera

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Voigtländer Avus

Voigtländer Avus
The Voigtländer Avus was my first 9x12cm format folding camera. I initially bought it as a relatively inexpensive and compact large format camera; I did subsequently buy a 4x5 camera not long afterwards, but also found other 9x12cm cameras after the Avus: the Kodak Recomar 33 (which was extremely cheap); the Ica Trona; and the Photo Plait camera (as a format, 9x12cm sheet film is still made: it's essentially the continental European metric equivalent of 4x5 inch film, although not as common). The Avus was the mid-range option of Voigtländer's stable of plate cameras, between the lower-priced Vag cameras and the top-of-the-range Bergheil: the Bergheil cameras seem to have been entirely contemporary with the Avus, while the Vag was introduced later, as a more economical option. The Avus appears to be a relatively common camera, and presumably made in fairly large numbers; it was produced from 1913 to 1934 (some sources give 1914-1935, or -1936), with some minor changes throughout the two decades of that run. My camera is the 9x12cm version that appeared in 1927, clearly identified by the centrally-positioned brilliant finder directly above the lens, rather than offset to one side, as with most plate cameras of this date. Two different origins of the camera's name are given in different sources: one suggestion is that the name is formed from the initials A.V.U.S., as seen on the ground glass back on early versions, derived from "Aktiengesellschaft Voigtländer Und Sohn"; Camera-Wiki states that it was named after an early motor racing circuit in Berlin, the AVUS, also an acronym. This AVUS was under construction when the camera appeared, but not opened until 1921, so it seems highly unlikely that Voigtländer would have been deriving some name recognition from the racetrack's popularity.

Voigtländer Avus - side view
The Avus was made in a number of different formats: there is a horizontal 9x12cm plate version, a 10x15cm, one dual-format version for 9x12cm plates and 122 rollfilm, but the most common sizes are the vertically-oriented folding cameras for 6.5x9cm and 9x12cm plates. Like many folding plate cameras of its time, the Avus was provided with different lens and shutter combinations. My version of the Avus has a 13.5cm f4.5 Skopar lens, Voigtländer's own version of the Tessar, in a Compur dial-set shutter, which together would have been the most expensive options at the time.

Detail with Voigtländer Skopar lens in Compur dial-set shutter
The other features of the Avus are double extension bellows; limited movements in the form of front rise and cross; a rotating brilliant finder with spirit level, and a wire frame viewfinder. Focus is with a ground glass screen; the front standard is focussed with a rack and pinion knob, which pulls out to turn, pushing in to lock the focus. There is also a focus scale on the bed - which needed adjusting, as this was initially out of true: when first using the Avus, I relied on the infinity stop of the focus scale, and found most of the images out of focus as a result (the focus scale can be adjusted with a couple of small screws that, once loosened, can be moved backwards or forwards a small amount). The removable ground glass screen was missing from my camera; ground glass screens, unlike spring backs, have a tendency to get separated from their cameras. I made a ground glass screen from a 9x12cm film pack adaptor which came with the camera, and lacking a focus shade it does have the benefit of opening completely out, without a viewing hood, which I found useful when using the camera for night photography, but, for general use, I have tended to use the ground glass screen from the Recomar.

Avus with bellows extended
Over the years, I've picked up various 9x12cm plate holders, some Voigtländer-branded ones, a number of which came with film sheathes, essential for shooting sheet film with the camera. The Avus is compatible with all the plate holders I have, which is not the case with the Recomar. As the Avus was my introduction to large format, I experimented with paper negatives and Harman Direct Positive paper for ease of loading and development under darkroom safelights. I used a sheet of stiff card behind the photographic paper in the plateholders before I had acquired the necessary film sheathes. When I first started to shoot sheet film with the camera, I attempted tray processing, but found it too difficult to get even development with the negatives and also found it too easy to scratch the film: I had been using Foma film, which in my experience has a soft emulsion compared to others, very easy to damage while wet. I subsequently got a Combi-Plan tank to develop large format film and plates, which I have found much easier to develop sheet film with.

Voigtländer Avus - paper negative, digitally inverted
What drew me to the Voigtländer Avus was its compactness in relation to its negative size: the camera is the size of a fat paperback book. Using it handheld, my general procedure was to focus on the ground glass screen, then replace this with a plateholder or rollfilm back, and use the wireframe finder to compose the shot. I've remarked before on my preference for the dial-set Compur shutter over the later rim-set version for ease of use: when focussing with the ground glass screen, with the shutter speed set, the selector for the I/B/T setting can be quickly turned between 'T' to open the shutter and 'I' for taking the shot.

Voigtländer Avus with Agfapan APX100
I also invested in a Rada Plaubel rollfilm back for the 9x12cm format for the ease of using medium format film with the camera, with a much wider selection of films available, as well as being easier to develop.

Voigtländer Avus with Adox CHS 100 in rollfilm back
The Proxar and Distar supplementary lenses that I used with the Ica Trona - which I found at the time I bought the Trona - also fit the 37mm lens mount on the Voigtländer Avus; the Proxar lens can be used as both a close up filter and a wide angle one due to fact that it's possible to reduce the distance between the camera's lens and film plane in order to achieve infinity focus. With a full 9x12 frame, there is some vignetting and distortion towards the edges of the frame, as can be seen in the image below; a narrower aperture might reduce this somewhat.

Voigtländer Avus and Proxar with Fomapan 100
With the roll film back, the 6x9cm medium format frame, normally cropped of course, approaches an equivalent angle of view as the full 9x12cm frame without the Proxar: the two images below give a good comparison in terms of the difference the Proxar makes. On the 6x9cm frame, the vignetting and distortion lies outside the image area; it does appear to make the image softer however.

Voigtländer Avus with Ilford XP2 Super in rollfilm back
Voigtländer Avus with Ilford XP2 Super in rollfilm back and Proxar lens
In use, although the Avus is well-made, I found that the front standard on my camera had a tendency to hold the lens a little out of parallel to the focal plane, possibly due to tension or simply the weight of the bellows on the unsupported top of the front standard, with the result that the plane of focus in photographs taken with the Avus would often shift across the scene in front of the camera, less noticeable with smaller apertures of course. As well as this issue, the Skopar lens on the camera, uncoated of course, was very soft, prone to halation: this is clear in the image below with the sky backlighting the subject, creating a haze around the ruin.

Voigtländer Avus with Rollei Superpan 200 in rollfilm back
Although the Kodak Recomar 33 has a slower lens, and a simpler shutter, I have found this easier to use than the Avus. The Recomar has a triplet lens, the Radionar, which is around the same age as the Avus' Skopar, but on my cameras, it gives a better result, and so I've used the Recomar in recent years in preference: although it was my introduction to large format I found the Voigtländer Avus frustrating to use, and I never felt like I quite got the quality of the images from the camera that I felt it promised.

Voigtländer Avus with Adox CHS 100 in rollfilm back
Voigtländer Avus with Ilford HP5 Plus in rollfilm back
Voigtländer Avus with XP2 Super in rollfilm back and Proxar lens
Voigtländer Avus with Ilford Soft Gradation Panchromatic glass plate (label dated to 1947)
Voigtländer Avus with Ilford HP3 glass plate (1950s)
Voigtländer Avus with Ilford HP3 glass plate (1970s)
Voigtländer Avus with Fomapan 400
Voigtländer Avus with HP5 Plus
Sources/further reading:
Full range of Voigtländer Avus Models

Voigtländer Avus on Camera-Wiki 
Early Photography on the Avus
Voigtländer Avus on J. Noir Cameras
Voigtländer Avus on Collection-Appareils
Camaras sin Fronteras - Avus (with manuals and original adverts) (in Spanish)
Voigtländer Avus manual

Friday, 8 November 2019

Kentmere Pan 400

Kentmere Pan 400
When I bought a few rolls of Ilford Pan 400 earlier this year to test the film, following up my use of Pan 100, I'd been informed that Pan 400 was to be discontinued, and that the Kentmere films, made by Harman, Ilford's parent company, were to fill their budget niche. The Kentmere films had been introduced around a decade ago after Ilford had acquired the old Kentmere brand; in their recent rebranding the Kentmere films had been given a rather prominent 'Pan' to the name (I imagine that photographers are supposed to refer to the film colloquially as 'K-Pan 400'). There have long been discussions online as to whether or not the Kentmere 100/400 emulsions are the same as the Rollei RPX and the (new) Agfaphoto APX films in those speeds (not to forget the Fotoimpex CHM Universal films as well; but these seem to be less widely available). I have used Rollei RPX 400 quite frequently, but particularly in medium format. Kentmere Pan 400, like the Ilford Pan films is only available in 35mm currently, and, having been around for many years is unlikely to suddenly be offered in medium and large format, although this is not impossible: Ilford's Ortho Plus film, a niche sheet film emulsion for decades, has just been introduced in 35mm and 120.

I had used a few rolls of Kentmere 400 (as it had been known) before, but my experience with the film was limited  - and I hadn't tested it in any way. The relatively recent rebranding of the film, with the addition of 'Pan' to its name and the new packaging, as well as the rumour of Ilford Pan 400 being discontinued, suggests that Kentmere Pan 400 is a brand of film to be supported by Harman for the foreseeable future; this seemed to be a good opportunity to write a post about the film, as much as anything as a comparison to Ilford Pan 400.

For a first test with Kentmere Pan 400, as with other films, I shot a range of exposures for latitude, then developed the film as for box speed. On the contact sheet below, the first and second rows are rated, from left to right, 100/200/400/800/1600/3200; the third row is at box speed. This film was developed in RO9 One Shot diluted 1+25 for 6m45s at 21ºC.

Kentmere Pan 400 latitude test
My immediate impressions, which the contact sheet displays to some degree, is that Kentmere Pan 400 has better latitude than Ilford Pan 400, possibly with lower inherent contrast - to me, the two latitude tests certainly don't look the same. Although there would be some variability in the tests, both were shot with the same Canon A-1, of similar subjects, and developed in RO9 at 1+25; the Kentmere Pan 400 was developed at a slightly higher temperature, as this was done on a warm day, which would be more likely to increase contrast, which must have a bearing on latitude.

Kentmere Pan 400 rated 100, i.e. two stops overexposed
Kentmere Pan 400 rated 1600, i.e. two stops underexposed
At two stops overexposed, some tonal compression was evident but possibly acceptable; two stops underexposed also scanned well enough. Rated 3200, three stops under, shadow detail was clearly being lost to a greater degree at this point. This latitude test gave me some parameters for push processing; the current data sheet for the film only lists times for 400 and 800 (and 320 for Perceptol). The Massive Dev Chart has very few times listed for Kentmere 400 at 1600 - and none with developers I habitually use. Previously, when rating Kentmere 400 at 1600, I'd used stand development with RO9 at a dilution of 1+150 for 3 hours, which had been successful enough.

Kentmere 400 rated 1600, stand developed in RO9 1+150 for 3 hours
Obviously, three-hour stand development isn't always ideal. For this post, I used the Massive Dev Chart formulation for pushing two stops: multiply the given time at box speed by a factor of two-and-a-half. In Ilfotec LC29 at a dilution of 1+19, this gave a result of 18 minutes at 20ºC - long, but not too long (a shorter result would have been achieved at a dilution of 1+9 of course). The results demonstrated that the film was easily capable of a two-stop push - which the latitude test appeared to show would be the case.

Kentmere Pan 400 rated 1600, developed in Ilfotec LC29 1+19, 18m at 20ºC
It was logical to test the film with a three-stop push, rating it at 3200 to shoot - as with rating it at 1600, without any development times listed for this, I again used the Massive Dev Chart push-processing factors, which give four-and-a-half times for three stops. As the timings were in danger of getting rather long, I used Ilfotec LC29 at a dilution of 1+9, and a time of 19m30s at 20ºC, only later realising that my multiplication had been a little off, and it should have been 20m15s; I doubt an extra 45 seconds would have made much difference to the end result. The negatives showed a marked difference from those rated 1600 - with one further stop, in many of the frames, the shadow detail simply wasn't there any more. This was something that the latitude test bears out: at 3200, there isn't sufficient shadow detail to overdevelop. With scenes such as the one below, overexposure and underdevelopment would help to counteract the inherent contrast present in most urban night scenes; of course, it would not then be possible to take the shot handheld, as I did here. The second image below, taken in daylight, provides a better range of tones, but is still high in contrast with little shadow detail (mostly obscured by the choice of subject matter: the busy frame makes this less noticeable).

Kentmere Pan 400, rated 3200, developed in Ilfotec LC29 1+9, 9m30s at 20ºC
Kentmere Pan 400, rated 3200, developed in Ilfotec LC29 1+9, 9m30s at 20ºC
As I was following the same set of parameters as my post for Ilford Pan 400, I did also shoot some Kentmere Pan 400 at 200, as I had done with the Ilford Pan film, although I would very rarely pull film one stop (the one difference with this particular test was that I'd shot the Ilford Pan 400 with a Kiev-4 and the Kentmere Pan 400 with the Canon A-1 again). Here there were development times on the Massive Dev Chart which I did follow: 8 minutes in Ilfotec LC29 at a dilution of 1+19; the effect of pull-processing does appear to show a lessening of contrast in the frames. In the image below, with the near tree and foliage in shadow, and brighter highlights beyond, pulling the negative appears to have given the image more luminosity - although much of this might be through use of a yellow filter.

Kentmere Pan 400 rated 200, developed in Ilfotec LC29, 1+19, 8m at 20ºC
As a general comparison with Ilford Pan 400, despite looking as though it has better latitude, Kentmere Pan 400 does not appear to push quite so well when rated at higher speeds, although the subjects shot with both films on each post aren't strictly comparable. I would however, broadly echo my conclusions on Ilford Pan 400 on my post about that film: there's nothing about Kentmere Pan 400 which is distinctively characteristic to distinguish it from other similar films at the same speed and price range; at the same time it's a perfectly good, competitively priced, all-round 35mm black and white film with a certain flexibility in exposure and development.

Kentmere Pan 400 rated 200, developed in Ilfotec LC29, 1+19, 8m at 20ºC
Kentmere Pan 400 at box speed, developed in RO9 One Shot
Kentmere Pan 400 at 1600, developed in Ilfotec LC29 1+19
Kentmere 400 rated 1600, stand developed in RO9 1+150 for 3 hours
Kentmere Pan 400, rated 3200, developed in Ilfotec LC29 1+9, 9m30s at 20ºC
Kentmere Pan 400 data sheet:

Thursday, 3 October 2019


'Heatwave' installation in Undertow at Sluice HQ
Last Summer, I was shooting some digital video on the very outskirts of London. It was a location where I had once drawn the scenes in front of the camera in a sketchbook many years before. While recording the landscape, I noticed smoke rising from the near horizon.  It was close enough that I abandoned what I was doing, and, following the footpath I knew would take me towards the smoke, I emerged onto a large field of stubble beside the path to find the far edge of it and the field beyond on fire. Fire engines had arrived, and were arriving, the flames were being beaten out while leaping up elsewhere, creeping across the field to where I was standing. This encounter with the present made me think that the project I had been engaged on - looking back at the landscape through the drawings years ago - lacked the immediacy of the present: that present, last Summer, was the most sustained heatwave in the south of England for forty-two years, and had, at that point, continued for several weeks.

At the time, I had been looking at early cinema, and had come across accounts of observers, amongst the very earliest viewers of films, remarking at how the camera captured the movement of inanimate objects, and that this was a revelation. This led to the piece called Paper Cinema in which the idea of a film responding to these accounts was paired with the earliest observations of the formation of a projected image - that of the image of the sun during an eclipse projected through gaps in the leaves of a canopy of trees - and in my initial conception of this piece as a film, there would be a voiceover describing these two phenomena as they appeared on two screens. Having written the text for that voiceover, I realised that this was sufficiently conveyed without the necessity of the image to move: I made the piece as a two photographic prints, with the text as an integral part of the prints. The viewer could read these texts and their internal voice became the voiceover for the photographs they could imagine moving. In thinking back to that earlier piece, I visualised a static shot of uncut dried grass moving in a slight wind. This would be the content of a short film, a moving photograph, whose subject was the continuing heatwave.

I filmed this with the Canon Cine Zoom 512 on part of a roll of 8mm Orwo UP15 film with a ‘develop before’ date of March 1976 - the same year as the most prolonged heatwave before that of 2018, and which last Summer was inevitably compared. I had already used some of this film previously: despite its age, it only needed a small increase in exposure to counter the loss of sensitivity with the passage of time to record a visible image.

The process of filming had to take into account the technological constraints of using this film stock from 1976 to record the scene. I used a short length of film rather than all that was left on the reel, long enough to fill the universal developing tank's reel - and documented the process itself on the same film stock with the Mamiya-16 Automatic. One of the reasons for using this, beyond just being able to shoot the 16mm-wide 2x8mm film, was that the frame size with the Mamiya-16 Automatic is designed to take double-perforated film - as with the 2x8mm format. Other subminiature cameras use single- or unperforated film which would therefore show the perforations in the frame. For the 8mm ciné camera, I spooled around five feet onto a reel to use in the camera to shoot the scene, and a second, shorter length for the stills camera. As the 2x8mm film is passed through the 8mm camera twice, I framed two adjacent views for each pass of the film. In between, the film is removed from the camera and turned over to shoot on the other side; it is possible to do this in the dark so as to not expose the film to light, but the format was designed for this to be done out in the light, albeit subdued light; on a whole roll of film, the beginning and the end of the reel are treated as a leader and trailer and not intended to be used for filming, but with a much short length of film, I shot from the point of loading until the end, leading to the image being bleached out by the light at each end. The film could have been loaded, reloaded and unloaded in complete darkness, which would have meant taking a black bag with me while filming, but I wanted this bleaching-out to occur as it felt appropriate to the subject. I panned the camera between this two shots; with a small overlap, the two framings show adjacent views of the dry, uncut grass.
Documenting the process of the film’s making, I realised that this documentation perhaps revealed more than the film itself. When taking the still photographs, I had broken down the process into five components: the film stock; the lightmeter; the camera; the scene or location; and the film itself after development, hanging up to dry. Having documented the process on the same film, these images were printed in the darkroom. Each of these images required a caption. With the 2x8mm film from the Canon Cine Zoom camera developed as a negative rather than a reversal or transparency film for projection, I could also print images from this in the darkroom and made a sixth print of two frames from the two different shots of the film. This was scanned as a negative unsplit along the middle of the film, as would be the case if reversal development was used to produce a transparency for  projection. For the Undertow exhibition at Sluice HQ, the texts for each caption were shot on photographic film and were also printed in the darkroom to the same format, both images and texts being made from the same physical material and would, in format if not attention, have an equality when displayed. The text was first laser-printed to A3 size then photographed with a Canon A-1 with a 50mm lens and a close-up filter using 35mm Rollei ATO 2.1 Supergraphic film. I rated this at an exposure index of 6, and bracketed the shots to two stops over; this film I developed by inspection with RO9 One Shot at a dilution of 1+200.

Printing the frames from the 2x8mm film in the darkroom required a mask with a folding baffle to expose one frame first, then rotated 180º to expose the second frame before development; the scale of the 8mm frames - a tiny negative of 4.8x3.5mm - was entirely dependent on how high the enlarger head could be extended. I had first printed a section of the film without the mask to determine the size and format of the mask that I subsequently made (as with negatives of the still photographs, I used the subminiature film adaptor which had come with the Kiev-30M camera, designed to fit into a 35mm enlarger tray, and keep the negative flatter than would be the case using it unsupported within a 35mm tray).

Making the film was a gesture at the contemporary, but became about the process, about the near-obsolete technology used. This technology has a relationship to the physical world that the digital lacks, and the caption texts reflect this: light sensitive material, the measurement of light, clockwork motion, the grain of the film. In exhibiting the photographs at Sluice HQ without the film, the descriptions point to something viewer is not actually seeing - and this admits the inadequacy of the medium to convey the physiological aspect of the heatwave. A narrative account in some form might have been able to use metaphor, description, a montage of visible signs but would still be inadequate. Again, with reference to Paper Cinema, this would have to be created in the mind of the viewer.

A shorter version of this post was published on the Undertow Research blog earlier this year. The Undertow exhibition was held at Sluice HQ London March-April 2019.