Sunday, 31 May 2020

Isolation Projects

'Quarantine', 9x12cm paper negatives, first 28 days
In my post two months ago for 'Expired Film Day 2020', I referenced the current coronavirus pandemic, the full restrictions of which had come into force between taking the photographs, and then developing, scanning, and posting two weeks later. UK-wide restrictions were much less stringent than in other countries: even at the height of the pandemic, I could have left the house every day to take photographs, on my daily exercise or on essential shopping trips; in my post on Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day, I did reference that I couldn't go out to take photographs. The inference in this statement was that with a large format camera and long exposures, going out specifically to take photographs, with stopping for long periods with a camera on a tripod, would appear to be against the spirit of the rules then, if not the letter.

Unfixed paper negative, digitally inverted, Kodak Recomar 33
Instead, as with a number of photographers, I have been taking photographs at home for the duration. One participatory project initiated online by the artist William Arnold Goldstrom, 'Lockdown Living Spaces' uses the tag #covidobscura on Instagram. He invited artists to make long-exposures on photographic paper of their domestic spaces during lockdown - essentially, lumen prints, as the image below - which would then be scanned unfixed, digitally inverted into positives.

Unfixed paper negative lumen print, Kodak Recomar 33
I took part with a variety of cameras and formats - large format, quarterplate, 116 - with exposures ranging from one to three weeks, and for the two months from the 24th March, had at least one camera exposing at any one time. I also used three different types of photographic paper - Ilford Multigrade IV, Adox MCP 310, and grade 2 Ilfospeed paper from the 1970s. Photographing domestic spaces, for most of the cameras I used wide angle lenses or supplementary lenses: the image above, shot on Ilfospeed paper with a Kodak Recomar 33, used a Proxar supplementary lens; the image below, on Adox MCP paper, used a 75mm Dehel Manar lens on my MPP Micro-Technical Mk VIII.

Unfixed paper negative, digitally inverted, MPP Micro-Technical Mk VIII
Being fortunate enough to be able to work from home, documenting this time through long exposures of the domestic space as a work environment show traces of activity and the passing of time, while the human figure moves too quickly to register (although there is a faint indication of a blur in front of the monitor in the first image above). I found with slower lenses, as with the Kodak No.2A Brownie and the Cameo, two or three weeks were needed to give an image good enough for scanning; I also found that the scanning process darkened all of the paper considerably, as well as time outside the camera of course. I did fix some of the paper after scanning, but the images became much lighter after fixing. The best results were those using the Adox MCP paper; those using Ilford Multigrade produced a wider range of colours (on black and white paper) - not having much experience with lumen prints, this was a little surprising to me at least: the first two images below are on Multigrade; the Kodak Recomar shot is on Ilfospeed grade 2, while the other photographs use Adox MCP paper.

Unfixed paper negative, digitally inverted, Kodak No.2A Brownie
Unfixed paper negative, digitally inverted, Butcher's Cameo
Unfixed paper negative, digitally inverted, Butcher's Cameo
Unfixed paper negative, digitally inverted, MPP Micro-Technical Mk VI
The day after setting up a couple of cameras for the #covidobscura project, I embarked on another series of photographs under the provisional title of 'Quaratine'. Looking for a subject in that fourth week of March, I noticed that the tree outside my window was just coming into leaf: I have been photographing it every day since as spring gives way to summer, the clocks went forward, the evenings get lighter, the full leaves on the tree being followed by blossom, which has now come and gone.

'Quarantine', 9x12cm paper negatives, weeks 5-8
These photographs were shot on photographic paper, with the intention of developing the paper, unlike the #covidobscura images. I used a Rietzschel Heli-Clack 9x12cm large format folding plate camera for these photographs. Prior to the lockdown, I had shot some paper negatives with this camera using the same Ilfospeed paper stock that I'd used for the #covidobscura lumen images. One reason for using this paper was simply that it was 3 1/2 x 5 inches, 8.9x12.7cm, which meant I only needed to cut 7mm from one side of the paper to fit the 9x12cm plateholders (although in the event cutting the paper to 11.9cm fits the film sheathes better).

'Quarantine', 9x12cm paper negative on Ilfospeed grade 2 RC paper
Being grade 2, I shot the Ilfospeed paper rated 6, which gave fairly consistent results without flashing or filtering. The box dates back to the late 1970s, but the only sign of age with the paper appears to be a slight yellowing to the base, which is not unattractive. I decided to take two shots each day, to guard against any mistakes, and providing the opportunity to choose the best of the two; I quickly used up the remaining sheets in the Ilfospeed box. The next photographs were shot on Adox MCP 310 paper. As a variable contrast paper, the results were generally higher in contrast than the grade 2 paper, but the Adox MCP paper does seem to be good at retaining highlight detail, and I shot this at an exposure index of either 10 or 12.

'Quarantine', 9x12cm paper negative on Adox MCP 310 RC paper
However, the Adox paper was cut down from much larger sheets; this paper has been discontinued from the start of this year and there seemed to be little available online when looking for a replacement as this started to run low. I switched to using Ilford Multigrade IV paper, having bought a box of 8.9x14cm specifically for the project, which, again, needs just one cut to fit the film sheathes. Unlike both the Ilfospeed and Adox papers, I found Multigrade IV to be too high in contrast to use 'straight' in the camera. I made a couple of tests before using this paper for the project, having researched online the different approaches taken to shooting paper negatives. In the lower of the two tests below, the difference a green filter makes is quite marked; the green filter was used as a 'minus-magenta' filter. It would have been possible to use Multigrade filters with the paper to control contrast, but as the high contrast layers in the paper are sensitive to magenta light, using a light green filter worked perfectly well.

Ilford Multigrade IV RC paper test rated 12/6/3 right to left
Ilford Multigrade IV paper test with light green filter rated 12/6/3 (adjusted for filter) right to left
I developed the paper negatives in Ilford Multigrade paper developer, with dilutions from 1+9 to around 1+30 or even 1+50; I had thought that high dilutions of the developer might also have an affect on the contrast, but this mainly seems to affect developing time. What this does mean is that it was easier to pull paper negatives from the developer early if these appeared to be developing too dark due to overexposure. However, as a general rule, this often showed as uneven development, and in most cases, I achieved more consistent results from allowing development to complete, and attempt to get the best exposure, within practical terms, when shooting the paper.

'Quarantine', 9x12cm paper negative on Ilford Multigrade IV RC (green filter)
Initially, I hadn't made any conscious decisions about how these photographs were to be displayed when I began taking them, but after developing the first batch, the quality of the negatives themselves seemed promising: I liked the distance as photograph it provides, and it also meant that I could use a direct product of the camera, due to the relatively large negative size and the fact that it was shot on paper. If exhibited, these paper negatives would be presented as grids of images, their number marking the days of confinement and the passing of time evidenced in the changes of the natural world.

'Quarantine', 9x12cm paper negative on Ilford Multigrade IV RC (green filter)
Having decided to show the Quarantine photographs as paper negatives, rather than either make positives by contact printing these, or digital positives, this also affected the way I continued to shoot the paper. Having experimented with 'flashing' some of the paper, I preferred the look of this - although the image above would no doubt work well as a negative to obtain a positive, aesthetically, I find the shadow areas rather 'bright', and so used flashing to bring up the shadow areas, which also helps reduce contrast. I had been keeping a log of all the exposure details of this set of paper negatives, but, frustrating, the text file I had been adding to every day got corrupted 8 weeks in and I was only able to recover some of the information. It's easy to see the difference between the three papers I used, less easy to see which were flashed, in camera, in the darkroom, or before or after exposure. The image below is, I think, one of the flashed paper negatives: the shadow areas have just a little more density than in the negative above.

'Quarantine', 9x12cm paper negative on Ilford Multigrade IV RC (flashed?)
Having spent some time trying to get the best results from the Multigrade paper, I found a couple of boxes of Ilfospeed grade 2 paper online. of a similar vintage to the first box, with which to continue the project for several more weeks. As it was impractical to keep the camera set up on a tripod to take the same shot day after day, week after week, this has forced me to attempt different ways of photographing the subject each day, or, conversely, repeating compositions and framing specifically to show the passing of time. As previously mentioned, the restrictions of movement due to the pandemic have been much less strict in the UK than other countries, although the measures announced on March 23rd did provide a clear start to the 'lockdown'; what's less clear is what might mark the end, and so the end of this particular project. Tomorrow, June 1st, is the beginning of another round of restrictions being eased, but by no means the end of them and so I am inclined to continue with the daily ritual of photographing from my window for the time being.

'Quarantine', 9x12cm paper negatives

Sunday, 10 May 2020

Eastman Double-X - Part Two

In the three years since my post on Eastman Double-X film, observing interest online, the popularity of this motion picture film stock amongst still photographers has steadily increased. As a motion picture stock Eastman Kodak produce Double-X in 35mm and 16mm in bulk lengths, the minimum length being 100ft/33m in 16mm; since my previous post about Double-X, a number of companies now provide 35mm canisters ready loaded with the films for still photographers (I previously bought a 100ft roll of 35mm to load my own canisters); the film is marketed as CineStill BwXX, Film Photography Project's X2, as Double-X from Camera Film Photo, and Nik & Trick among others. My motivation for revisiting Double-X in this post came about through using the film with a different developer from those I'd used previously - D96. D96 is Kodak's recommended developer for black and white negative motion picture stock - which now comprises of just Double-X; comments on my original blog post recommended that I use D96 after my somewhat ambivalent conclusion to the film from using it in 35mm for the best part of a year. It didn't seem particularly fine-grained for its speed, and the speed itself didn't seem fast enough to make it a good all-round film in comparison with 400 ISO films on one side, or finer grained 100 speed films on the other.

Formulas for making D96 from its raw ingredients are readily available online, and it has also been available as a powder, but recently Bellini have produced a liquid version of D96. Evidently there are many advantages to the convenience of liquid developer, especially as a stock solution; my habitual developers are Rodinal/R09 and Ilfotec LC29, which I have used for a number of years: it makes sense, especially when starting out with developing black and white film, not to change too many variables at any point, one of these obviously being film developer. However, I recently shot two rolls of 2x8mm Double-X (reperforated for the format and repackaged by the Film Photography Project) in a Bolex ciné camera, and, wanting to develop the films myself, it seemed wise to try the manufacturer's recommended developer with the film, especially given the small size of the 8mm frame. The short film below was shot on 2x8mm Double-X and developed in D96; for reasons too complicated to detail here, I pushed the film three stops in development, which does account for the contrast, while the appearance of the grain is mostly down to the degree of enlargement necessary from the tiny 8mm frame.

Having used the D96 for a couple of rolls of 2x8mm Double-X, having a litre of D96, I wanted to test the film in 35mm with the developer and it seemed timely to revisit Double-X for a new blog post. For a first test with 35mm, I shot a roll with in a Canon A-1 SLR for a latitude test, rating the film at successive exposure indexes of 64, 125, 250, 500, 1000, 2000 for two sets of six exposures, as seen in the first and second rows below, and developed the film for 6 minutes in stock D96 at 21ºC.

Eastman Double-X latitude test, developed in D96
Eastman Double-X latitude test, developed in Ilfotec LC29
Comparison with the same film developed in Ilfotec LC29 (above) from my previous tests appears to show greater latitude when developed in D96, although the conditions with the Ilfotec LC29 were higher in contrast; the same film when developed in Ilfotec LC29 looks as though the shadow detail drops away faster. It's also possible that the test film developed in D96 is slightly underdeveloped: Kodak's published time for Double-X is 7 minutes at 21ºC (rather than the more usual 20ºC); my notes indicate I developed the film for just 6 minutes at 21ºC.

Double-X at EI 64 (two stops overexposed)
Double-X at EI 2000 (three stops underexposed)
I was a little surprised at the latitude range which this test demonstrated as evidenced in the two shots from either end of the scale above: scanning the film, I was able to pull out as much detail as possible from the negatives when underexposed. This was easier than the equivalent exposures with Ilfotec LC29. Overexposure did compress the tonal range from mid-tones to highlights, giving the images more of a flat look than the lighting alone. The latitude in this test is no doubt due in part to the diffused, low contrast lighting when I shot the the film to try D96, as well as the developer itself.

When I'd previously used the film, I did try pushing it one, two and three stops, with very uneven results at two and three stops. Published times for Double-X in D96 are very limited, but the Massive Dev Chart and Bellini's own data sheet give a time of 25 minutes at 20ºC when rated at 1600. I shot a roll at 1600 in (mostly) challenging lighting conditions. This test was possibly overdeveloped, using 21ºC for 25 minutes, rather than 20ºC.

Double-X at EI 1600
Most of these shots were taken under artificial light, in a low-lit museum setting, with spot-lit displays creating inherently high contrast subjects, the above image being a good example; the Double-X rated 1600 did give relatively good results in these difficult circumstances. There were only a couple of shots that I took under daylight conditions, and these on a fairly dark day in February, not enough to draw any meaningful conclusions, but the results look good enough, as below; generally, daylight would of course give enough light to rate the film at 250. Although the times for push-processing Double-X in D96 are limited, it would be possible to make reasonable guesses for one and two stops, perhaps around 12 minutes to rate the film at 400 and 18 minutes for 800, although I haven't tested for these times.

Double-X at EI 1600
As well as trying 35mm Double-X with D96, I also wanted to see how it would perform in 16mm for various subminiature cameras, notably the Rollei 16 camera (this has reputedly one of the sharpest lenses on any subminiature camera). The results on this post are scanned from the negatives; printing in the darkroom, it might be possibly to resolve more detail from the 12x17mm negative. The best of the shots from the Rollei 16, such as that below, showed D96 to give fairly fine-grained development: with the negative very nearly a quarter of the size of a standard 35mm frame, at a modest enlargement, the quality does hold up (albeit perhaps suggesting the grain of a faster film, but I think the general point holds true).

Rollei 16 with Eastman Double-X
As a motion-picture negative developer, fine grain is paramount. Grain is inherent to the film's emulsion, but obviously, the appearance of the grain is affected by a number of factors. D96 contains sodium sulfite, which acts as a solvent (as well as a preservative), softening the look of the grain; equally, some of the fineness of the grain in my results may be in part due to the developer's low contrast, particularly on a micro level, smoothing out the look of the grain. This also makes it a good choice of developer for using Double-X in half-frame cameras, as well as subminiature cameras. I did shoot some Double-X in a couple of half-frame cameras for this post, but, again, under fairly poor lighting conditions, which perhaps didn't provide the best conditions for testing the film.

Olympus Pen EE3 (half-frame) with Eastman Double-X
Belomo Agat 18K (half-frame) with Eastman Double-X
I had been fairly ambivalent about Eastman Double-X prior to using it with D96: it almost felt like a different film, testing it again with a more sympathetic developer. The grain appears finer, the film does seem to have better latitude, and, on my limited tests, it pushes better, with more consistent results. However, a few further reflections on using D96 might be apposite here. The developers I have mostly used for black and white films - Rodinal and Ilfotec LC29 - I have treated as 'one-shot' developers, Rodinal, which I've generally used as Compard's R09 One Shot clearly being so, but also Ilfotec LC29, which Ilford recommend using as a one-shot developer when diluted 1+29, or indeed for best results. At lower dilutions, 1+9 or 1+19, I've tended to use it for just one session, but have developed a number of rolls of film, one after the other. Using a stock solution such as D96 does provide some consideration, namely around temperature and exhaustion. With a highly concentrated one-shot solution, I get the water to dilute the film developer up to temperature simply by adding hot and cold together until these reach 20ºC, then add the concentrated developer. Even if this is cold, adding one 30th part at 15ºC for example, 12ml to 300ml, will not significantly alter the temperature. With D96, I found warming the bottle of stock solution took more care, especially when using this early in the year, when the stock solution might be at less than 10ºC off the shelf. Plunging this into a jug of water somewhat warmer than 20 or 21ºC to bring it up to a working temperature more quickly often meant it would get too warm, and then would need to cool before use. The other consideration, exhaustion, was more difficult to calculate. I bought my bottle of Bellini D96 from Nik & Trick; on their website, the suggestion is that a litre of D96 will process "about 100ft". Presumably this is 35mm film. I developed two lengths of 25ft 2x8mm film, 16mm wide, which probably equates to 25ft of 35mm; I also shot four rolls of 27-exposure 35mm film, and some 16mm film with both the Rollei 16 and Mamiya 16 subminiature cameras. In addition, I used the D96 for some Plus-X too, and the FP4 Plus that I'd shot in the Bolex. With the FP4 film, I developed half the film and the negatives were very thin. This might be partly due to user error of course - most of the roll of Double-X I shot with the Agat 18K produced thin negatives, but this was one of the first rolls of film I developed in D96. Returning to comments earlier in this post about not changing too many variables, obviously, using several different cameras, with different metering systems or none, and also developing different emulsions with the same stock solution of D96 made it more difficult to see when the developer was beginning to exhaust: the last films I was developing with the D96, I found myself having to double their published times in order to get good results - clearly, accurate record keeping would have helped here. Comments about developer exhaustion notwithstanding, using Eastman Double-X film with D96 has lead me to reappraise this film stock - and understand the enthusiasm that still photographers do have for it.

Rollei 16 (16mm subminiature) with Eastman Kodak Double-X rated 200
Belomo Agat 18K (half-frame) with Eastman Kodak Double-X rated 250
Olympus Pen EE3 (half-frame) with Eastman Kodak Double-X rated 250
Kodak Retina IIa with Eastman Kodak Double-X, rated 250
Canon A-1 with Eastman Kodak Double-X rated 250
Canon A-1 with Eastman Kodak Double-X rated 1600

Sunday, 3 May 2020

Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day 2020

Paper negative on Adox MCP 310 RC paper, inverted and flipped in Photoshop
Last Sunday was Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day. Being unable to go out to take photographs as in other years (although carrying around a large format camera, tripod and film holders could arguably be defined as exercise), I did want to mark the day and made four exposures in the garden using the MPP Micro-Technical Mk VIII camera with the 0.3mm pinhole lensboard I'd made for it. As the camera's focus moves the lensboard, the focal length can be changed: in the past I've shot pinhole photographs at a 'normal' angle of view for the 4x5 inch large format; here, I used approximately 100mm for the focal length, moderately wide. At longer focal lengths, exposure times start to get frustratingly long; the four photographs were taken successively over about an hour.

Having been working with paper negatives recently, I thought that I'd shoot a negative and a positive on photographic paper rather than use film or plates as on other years. The negative was shot on Adox MCP 310 RC paper, which I've used for some of the recent paper negatives and which, for variable contrast paper, has a certain amount of latitude. I did flash this to reduce contrast further, and used a light green filter.  I rated the paper at an exposure index of 12, and doubled the exposure time for the filter factor. Shooting on variable contrast paper, green is useful as a minus-magenta filter: the high contrast layer(s) in the paper are sensitive towards magenta. This seems to make sense to me; a similar result could probably be achieved by using a low-number Multigrade filter when shooting. The subject, raspberry canes, were lit with sun coming through the leaves of a tree, so this made for high-contrast subject to begin with. The positive was shot on Harman Direct Positive Paper. This is around ten years old, and the result wasn't as good as I had hoped. I rated this at 6, and flashed the paper. The highlights look overexposed, but the paper hasn't developed anywhere near dark enough. The shadows are all a mid grey, and there's the kind of texture running through it that one sometimes get when backing paper reacts with the emulsion on medium format film. The Harman Direct Positive Paper hasn't been stored with any care since I bought it a decade ago, so this might not be surprising, but I have had good results with other kinds of photographic papers of much older vintages. The image at the top of the post is the inverted paper negative, which worked well enough on its own.

Harman Direct Positive RC paper
Paper negative on Adox MCP 310 RC paper
I developed the paper in Ilford Multigrade paper developer diluted 1+20; the dilution of the developer doesn't seem to affect the contrast that much, but diluting it further than usual does make it easier to control the degree of development as it extends the time, although both papers in this case were left to develop to completion. This may not have helped the Harman Direct Positive Paper, but this doesn't explain the texture. I also shot two sheets of Rollei ATO 2.1 Supergraphic film, one of which was fogged, and developed these at the same time in the same paper developer; the negatives are high contrast, as one might expect. Currently without access to scanning for large format negatives, I made a contact print on Silverprint Solar Print paper - a form of ready-sensitised cyanotype paper, for which the contrast of the negative worked well.

Rollei ATO 2.1 Supergraphic film contact print on Solar Print paper