Writing a paper on the resurgence of film photography

As a sociologist I am interested in social change. This includes the way people spend their time and their various hobbies and rituals. One thing that is interesting in recent times is the growth of film photography. There is very little sociological analysis of photography either as a practice or as an art or craft. Many years ago the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu did a study of photography and there was a collection of essays put together in the book Photography: A Middle-Brow Art.

I am beginning to go through this now as a way of starting to think about how to approach the practice of photography in a sociological sense. This will aid me in writing a research paper on the resurgence of film in the digital age.

This will also contribute to the course I am designing on the sociology of photography. To the best of my knowledge there is no course on the sociology of photography in the UK.

Third foray into the darkroom

My third foray into the darkroom. I have now solved my issues with water spots and dust on the negatives so now it is time to concentrate on getting the printing correct.

I am using the Analyser Pro to get the initial test prints on Ilford MG Deluxe RC paper (glossy) and now need to work on the basics of dodging and burning the prints and making sure the negatives are actually developed properly so that they print well. One issue related to this that has now arisen is a lack of shadow detail in the prints (see below).

The negatives for this session came from two sources. First 35mm on Ilford HP5 developed at ISO 640 and developed in ‘liquid Diafine’ (i.e. Bellini’s Duo-Step developer). I used to use Diafine a lot, but it is now very hard to get hold of so I thought I would try this. They recommend an ISO of 640 or 800 with HP5. The second set of negatives were 645 medium format Ilford FP4 rated at 250 and developed in Duo-Step as well. They were both done on the same day and are just simple still life images once again.

The printing regime is basically Ilford Multigrade developer, stop and acid fix. I am using the newly acquired Minolta Rokkor f4.5 50mm lens in the LPL 7700 diffuser enlarger for the 35mm and a Minolta Rokkor 75mm for the 645 rill film negatives.

Dodging and burning

Firstly I made a straight print of a pear using the RH Analyser settings. It came out at grade 4 to retain all the shadow and highlights across the range. I thought that the border needed more darkening as some of the detail was getting lost especially at the bottom of the print. This looked even worse while the print was wet. It improved during dry down.

MG Deluxe RC paper. Ilford HP5 rated at ISO 640 developed in Duo-Step

I burned in the edges around the pear for half a stop using the Analyser to determine exposure. I dodged the pear using a circular dodging tool while exposing the print to another half stop of exposure. I think the result looks better.

MG Deluxe RC paper. Ilford HP5 rated at ISO 640 developed in Duo-Step

MG IV vs MG V?

While I was playing around with the Analyser I decided to see whether the settings for the MG Deluxe could be easily transferred to MG IV. I have an old box of MG IV that would be good to use up. By simply changing the paper setting for MG Deluxe to the default Analyser settings (which are calibrated for MG IV paper) theoretically you should get a similar print (albeit with different times and different grades).

This straight print on MG Deluxe was printed at grade 3. This is from the same negatives as the pear above. On MG IV it was grade 3.5 and a longer exposure.

MG Deluxe RC paper. Ilford HP5 rated at ISO 640 developed in Duo-Step

When transferring the settings to MG IV I got a longer exposure time and grade 3.5, but the prints looked almost identical:

MG IV RC paper. Ilford HP5 rated at ISO 640 developed in Duo-Step

At the very least this shows what a powerful tool the Analyser Pro can be when switching between calibrated papers. A test can be made on cheap RC paper and be transferred to another more expensive paper (say a fibre based paper) and the results should look similar.

Blocked shadows?

Finally I tried a print from one of the 645 negatives (FP4 rated at 250 developed in Duo-Step). On the negative scan I can see a little detail in the deep shadows cast by the two pears in the bowl. However, the Analyser settings just rendered this completely black. I am not sure whether the negative has enough detail in the shadows to make it to the print. Another option is to try dodging the shadow area which I will try next time or perhaps reducing the exposure altogether. It could be that the negative is underexposed by rating it at 250 so perhaps the true speed of the film is lower than the datasheet from Bellini. So this really shows the need for developing your own speeds and developing times for films.

MG Deluxe RC paper. Ilford FP4 rated at ISO 250 developed in Duo-Step

Dust and scratches solved

I think I have solved the dust and drying mark issue on my film. After several searches online I decided to do my final wash in de-ionised water. I also added a drop of LFN wetting agent and a capful of 99% isopropyl alcohol – which is supposed to enable the water to drain off the negatives much more smoothly and dry at a faster rate.

However, the first time I did this, although it improved matters, I was still getting some drying marks on the negatives.

So in the end I resorted to the squeegee method. Many people advise against this as squeegeeing the film can leave scratches on the negatives if there is any grit or dirt on the squeegee. I rinse the squeegee in the final wash water before using it and it seems to have solved my drying mark problem.

Another Nikon F90X

I snagged another Nikon F90X as a backup and to have two rolls of different film on the go at the same time. I really wanted a data back (mainly for automatically bracketing exposures which is not possible without it) and this came with the MF-26 back and the MB-10 battery pack all for around £70. I saw data backs separately for around £30 so to get all this kit for £70 seemed quite a good deal.

Second foray into the darkroom

Dust and scratches?

This is my second attempt at darkroom printing after several years away. I decided this time to use the RH Designs Analyser Pro to make the test prints rather than going with test strips. The Analyser allows you to take a meter reading using a probe on the baseboard under the enlarger of the darkest and lightest elements in the image and tells you the exposure time and grade of paper to use to get a full range of tones in the image on the paper. This assumes of course that you have calibrated the paper you want to use. I bought my Analyser several years ago and it came calibrated for Ilford Multigrade IV. 

The machine can be programmed with up to 8 different papers. I managed to get some data from photrio.com in this thread which has the numbers to enter for Ilford Multigrade RC V (or rather Ilford Multigrade RC Deluxe as it is properly known) which is what I have decided to use from now on as I get back into darkroom printing. The calibration numbers tell the Analyser the sensitivity of the paper to light at all grades thus allowing the user to bypass making a test strip. This paper also has the advantage that the emulsion is exactly the same as Ilford’s Portfolio and Fibre versions of the MG paper so no timing adjustments are needed when transferring from one paper to another. So proofs can be made with the cheaper paper and then the settings seamlessly transferred to the more expensive version. 

I had produced some new negatives using a Nikon F60 and Nikkor 28-80mm AF-D lens which I had picked up for £30 off eBay in mint condition. It was a good way of testing the camera and lens. The shots were window-lit still life shots of tulips and pears. I used Ilford FP4 film and developed in Tanol (a staining developer from Wolfgang Moersch). In the past I used staining developers a lot. The one I settled on (Prescysol EF) is unfortunately no longer made. These are usually developers based on pyrogallol or pyrocatechin and stain the negatives – which has various advantages in printing.  I misread the data sheet for the developer which suggests a time of 11.5 minutes at 24C for ISO 100. The F60 does not have ISO controls so I had used the DX coding on the film – ISO 125) so I gave the film 12.5 minutes. The negatives appeared to come out very well.

The problem now was though that I have a persistent problem with water marks on the negatives. I never had this issue the last time I developed negatives (and I am using the same water supply in the same house with the same methodology). Not only that, but some negatives seem to have dust and detritus on them as well which appeared during printing.

I do a final rinse of the negatives with tap water and a wetting agent (in this case Edwal LFN). So I do not know where this dust and water mark issue is coming from. Next time I will use deionised water with LFN and isopropyl alcohol and squeegee the negatives. The alcohol is supposed to speed up the drying process and allow the water to disperse better. The good thing was though that the Analyser performed very well and the prints tended to be pretty good right off the bat although perhaps the contrast was sometimes too high.

One final mistake I made was that I think I inadvertently splashed fixer onto the easel which has left white marks on one of the prints after development through contamination of the paper before exposure. I will have to move my final holding water tray onto the bench next to the fixer rather than having it on the other side of the enlarger. 

Other than that I am fairly pleased with progress so far.

First foray into the darkroom

I have revisited my darkroom for the first time in several years. It took quite a while to reacquaint myself with all the equipment and find my way around in the darkness of the red safe light.

I have an LPL7700 enlarger and an assortment of enlarger lenses. The enlarger has got some rusty patches on it, but it does work. Unfortunately the lenses have developed haze over the years and obvious signs of fungal growth. In any case I decided to start off simply with 35mm film so of my two 50mm enlarger lenses (both Nikkors – one f2.8 and one f4) the f4 one was the best looking so I went with that. I have just received another 50mm lens (only £10 from West Yorkshire cameras – a Minolta Rokkor 50mm f4.5). I’ll use this in the next session.

I also have an RH Designs Analyser Pro, but I have completely forgotten how to use it and need to re-read the manual. Again something for next time. I therefore proceeded to try and make a contact sheet after determining maximum black and make test strips in the more conventional way. The Analyser allows this step to be bypassed when it is properly calibrated to the paper you use.

I had taken some simple still life images of a sheep skull using my Nikon F90X and Nikkor 50mm f1.8 AF-D lens. This was using Fomapan 200 film developed in Rodinal. I had bought a box of 10″x8″ Ilford Multigrade V glossy RC paper and also have a box of Ilford MG IV paper that has been unopened but not stored very well. I used Multigrade developer.

I started with the MG V and managed after several tries to get a decent print although I had several that turned out too dark. I was trying to balance the very white areas of the skull against the deep shadows. This appeared to require some dodging or burning. Viz. dodge an overcooked print or burn in the shadow areas of an undercooked print.

It was difficult to decide, but I got there in the end. Also I don’t think I adequately accounted for the dry down effect (the prints get darker when they are fully dry). I am going to bleach back the dark ones and try toning them partially back using sepia toner.

I also opened the old box of MG IV which was a little curled straight out of the box. Because the analyser is set to this paper by default I gave it a go and got a half decent print on the MG IV. The haze on the enlarger lens did not seem to cause too much of a problem.

The Chicago zine has arrived

The zine  designed based on my photographs of Chicago has now arrived. It was designed with Adobe Indesign and printed by Digital Printing using their saddle stuitched option.  https://www.digitalprinting.co.uk/products/saddle-stitched/18/

The cost worked out at about £4.50 per copy, but I only had 5 copies made. If you get more the cost goes down considerably per zine. It took a few days to arrive.

Getting back into analogue

I have started to get back into film. I purchased a Nikon F60, F90x and Nikkor 28-80mm AF-D lens for just £55 to get going with 35mm. I also purchased some Ilford FP4, HP5 and Fomapan 200 and 400 film from Silverprint. I had good experiences with the Foma film in the past, but it seems to have a bad reputation for grain. I got some Rodinal which I have never used before and some Tanol (a staining developer from Wolfgang Moersch).

I also sorted out my darkroom which I have not used for about 6 or 7 years. The enlarger lenses have deteriorated and have fungus, but it is relatively cheap to replace them. At least with slower lenses like the Minolta Rokkor 50mm f4 which I picked up for £10 and a Minolta Rokkor 75mm for £30. These are lesser known lenses but have a good reputation. My LPL 7700 enlarger has some rust developing but still works. I have loads of trays, chemical containers, a print washer, a dry mount press, RH Analyser and a print dryer among other things.

There is also a lot of old paper from my last foray into the darkroom. Mostly lithable paper like Foma, Slavich, Kentmere Kentona and Adox. I hope it still works, but it has not been stored very well. Lith printing was one of my favourite types of darkroom endeavour.

Here are a couple of attempts at developing Fomapan 200 in Rodinal (or rather Foma’s version of it). These were scanned on my Plustek 8100.

Skull. Fomapan 200 rated at 200. Rodinal 1+25.

Still life with pears. Fomapan 200 rated 200. Rodinal 1+25.