How Do You Price Your Work?

 

 

We are in the final stages of preparing for our annual holiday photo open house, which begins tomorrow evening and runs through the weekend. Once again the issue of pricing our prints has come to the fore with its conflicting values and complications. Because we do not work as commercial photographers, but rather as fine art photographers, we do not get an income from our love for the camera and the darkroom, but instead hope to sell prints through gallery and open air exhibits during the year. We had what we considered a major show this Summer from twenty-five years of photographing in an around Spokane, had plenty of visitors to the museum gallery where it was presented for about two months, but didn’t make any money at it.

 

Viewer enthusiasm is great, but it takes real money to buy film and paper and chemistry, and especially as Kathy and I are both using 8X10 cameras, the costs are pretty hefty.  Our open house, in which literally our house becomes a living gallery, has been a pretty good source of financial relief. This is our tenth year doing it so we have our hopes up.  This brings me to the point: setting prices, a dirty business full of angst and stress.  I am a firm believer in the democratic nature of photography as a medium.  Even apart from digital, a photographic piece of art is reproducible. We work with film negatives.  A printmaker using a copper plate to produce her images will print an edition, and no more.  Having a negative means I can always go back and print the image again.  There are two ways of seeing this: Because I have a negative, every print becomes less valuable due to the law of supply and demand; Because I have the negative, I can make prints available to a broader and bigger group of patrons, who may not, for example, be able to afford having an original etching made in an edition of 50. This second is what I mean by photography being democratic.  I once was a painter and as a hopeful artist I took slides to galleries in Chicago to see if I could find some interest in my work.  What I found was the gallery people and the patrons were from a different world than mine. I lived in a lower middle class neighborhood growing up, in a factory town that smelled of the smokestacks. The folks in the Chicago galleries were not the people I knew, and it seemed to me at the time, unlike them in so many ways.

 

Everybody responds to photos.  I want as many people as can to be able to enjoy an image I made and possess it. But this means that I have to be very careful not to price my prints beyond their means. I also have to consider what it takes to produce my work in terms of time and knowledge and experience, and all the years I have put into perfecting my skills and my knowledge of the techniques required.  Then there is, as I suggested earlier, the costs of supplies.  Some people tell us we don’t charge enough.  We have photographer friends who charge, what we think are outrageous prices and there is no way I could afford to own a piece from them.

 

Thus this frustrating and anxious process of setting our prices for the open house.

I thought I’d throw in this quick little blog to see if some of you have some thoughts on it.

 

Bill Kostelec, December 5, 2019

Art and/or Craft?

ART and/or CRAFT?

 

How do we distinguish fine art from craft? That question is loaded with presuppositions that are sure to create controversy and disagreement among practitioners of the various arts and crafts. In the history of photography and its place among the arts those presuppositions combined with the question of whether the camera was an automatic machine that mechanically produced images or whether it was a tool more akin to paint brushes and paints led to decades of photographers striving to make their photos look less like photos and more like drawings, etchings and paintings.  For photographers who wanted to be artists, that was a source of anxiety well into the 20thcentury.

 

 

We went to see the Group f/64 show at the “MAC”, the Northwest Museum of Art and Culture”, in Spokane and walked through the big room with prints from Edward and Brett Weston, Willard Van Dyke, Imogen Cunningham and Ansel Adams.  Group f/64 represents a collective of West Coast photographers who purposefully took up that battle to gain photography’s reputation as art.   There were many images I had seen before in books and in films and there were quite a few, especially by Edward and by Willard Van Dyke that were new to me.  I was especially interested in seeing Edward Weston’s contact prints as the bulk of his work was presented in that form and he remains one of the divinities of the American photographic tradition and his prints are very valuable in the art market.

 

I had read that people are sometimes surprised at how dark he printed and knowing this I was still surprised.  There was a photo looking across a body of water to another section of shore that I would have tossed in the trash can and reprinted.  I say that with a lot of discomfort.  Though Weston was never financially successful he had many admirers and collectors in the 1930s when the bulk of the work in the show was done.  Weston was a pioneer of sorts as he explored forms probing the universals that tie all that exists into a mysterious commonality.  Sometimes a nude looks like a piece of fruit and sometimes a fruit looks like a nude. His artistic conversations took place with some of the Mexican expressionists and muralists and with American painters like his friend Florence Henri, with other photographers like Stieglitz and Charles Sheeler, with dancers and poets: his work represents the evolution of the searching, creative mind.  In his Daybooks he talks about his artistic revelations with excitement, and he talks as well about his technical developments and growth.

 

He was very mindful of being an “artist”.   Two of his most famous pieces, the Nautilus Shell and Pepper no. 30 were beautifully photographed, subtle, soft, delicate and mysterious.  In 1930  photographs like these were opening the minds of other artists like some kind of magic mushrooms and were eagerly collected by painters and poets and others in his circle of friends.  Today it is more difficult to see beyond or behind their celebrity, to understand why they stunned his admirers.  That’s one reason that seeing his original prints really helps to understand his value and place in photographic history and why I wanted to see the originals.

 

One noteworthy thing about the Weston’s exhibited at the group f64 show, however,  is that at the most, two prints bore Edward’s signature, a signature which affirms that he printed it, nor were there prints with his initials, a sign that it was an approved print made by of his sons.  It could be that the Bank that acquired these prints gathered them from the many apparently circulating but unproven as Weston approved master prints. In other words, many of these images might have been rejected by Weston, throw aways!

 

In the Adams section there were again several images I was unfamiliar with and that is always a welcome thing.  A large print of blowing snow and clouds on a ridge in Yosemite was masterful in its capture of the brilliance of the sun lighting the clouds and falling on the rock face and yet retaining the dark hard solidity of the rock itself.  As a printer, I know how difficult this is to do and yet Ansel did it again and again.  The image that we really found incredible was the biggest in the show, a very large Moonlight over Hernandez that seemed to find its perspective when we stood back about fifteen feet.  Standing close, however revealed the perfection of the printing, the brilliance of the white crosses in the foreground grave yard, the subtle tones of the desert ground, the not quite full moon glowing in the dark sky above silvery clouds.   I suspect that even if Adams had inadvertently exposed an unbalanced composition, the beauty of the printing would have still captivated us.  Still, one would be disappointed in a weak composition.  To put this again in a different form, the technical quality of Ansel’s printing is in itself a performance of extraordinary beauty.  When one recognizes his mastery of the craft,  and then couples that with a perfectly balanced composition, that makes the viewing of his original prints a necessity for the full appreciation of his work.

 

Looking at Edward and Ansel, two of my favorites like this leads to the topic of art and craft, a topic which has frequently come up between Kathy and me and with other friends in the arts.  I once was a fine arts major in a small Illinois University, for two years before I’d had enough and dropped out.  What I had enough of was instruction such as this from my first painting teacher;”Ya just gotta be creative man, just gotta do your thing…” What I was looking for was some technical knowledge passed along, like what brushes to use for what, how to lay ground most effectively.  I recognized even then that there were certain technical keys to excellent work in any field.   This middle-aged hippie painter had a different idea of art, one in which the key was unlocking the hidden genius and letting it pour out like, perhaps, Pollock’s paint drippings.  In his scenario, the history of art was pushed along by the work of individual geniuses and their influence on contemporaries and artistic descendants.   But it is not some mysterious spiritual quality called genius that makes an artist, at least not in and of itself.

 

I just finished reading a biography of sorts of Carleton Watkins, who was doing straight photography in a career that spanned the last 40 years of the 19thcentury. Watkins is less well known by moderns simply because his life’s work was all located in San Francisco in 1906 when the earthquake came that broke little Ansel’s nose! The quake and the fire that followed eliminated all of his holdings of prints, his cameras, his 40 years of glass plate negatives and for a long time, his reputation.  There are still many Watkins prints that were sold over the years including some with the royal family in England,  but when it came time for the first historians to try to document a history of photography, Watkins was absent from the discussion.

 

Most of his career was spent with the wet plate process. His images of Yosemite, starting in 1861, informed the nation and the western world of the spectacular beauty of the place. The early history of American California is chronicled in his “mammoth plate” prints.  It used to really irk me when the twin boasters Stieglitz and Strand would claim that no good photography was done between Hill and Adamson and themselves. It was the arrogance of the East Coast club, that ignored the artists of the West.  Knowing now that so much of Watkins was lost to the earthquake  I can more generously attribute the Stieglitz/Strand claims to their ignorance of a master craftsman and artist.  (Still, the work of the Civil War photographers like O’Sullivan was available if they had simply cared to research it.  These photographers, I suspect, would not have neatly fit into their personal narrative.)

 

Watkins claimed the mantle of artist. It was an important part of his self-understanding.  And the late 19thcentury community that bought up his prints, and the galleries that showed them and the prizes that were awarded his work all understand him as an artist without hesitation.

 

There were no gum bichromates, no scratching on his plates, no soft fuzzy lenses.  Watkins amazed other wet plate photographers with the pristine excellence of his images. He had mastered the difficult craft of wet plate collodian and albumen printing but even more so, Watkins mastered the mysteries of composition, and the language of his medium, with its syntax and visual codes to produce images that can still stun an experienced photographer with their perfection.

 

Group f64 represented a struggle to claim the superiority of a photography that left behind the manipulations of the Pictorialists who ran the camera clubs, but perhaps they didn’t understand that it was really about re-claiming photography and the straight tradition that had already had a long and healthy run in the 19thcentury.  Still, that isn’t quite enough to explain and inform the other thing they craved,  recognition as artists!

 

Artists like Watkins had to master the craft, the technical issues related to their work.  For Watkins, that was a wet plate negative without flaws, clean and even and well exposed.  That is mastery of the craft. But even before his exposure of the plate, Watkins, the artist, studied the scene, moved around, thought about how to include light and shade, contrasting values, energy lines of motion and a sense of depth in order to perfect the composition.  He went to sometimes extreme measures, climbing a thousand feet with hundreds of pounds of equipment to find the right spot for his tripod. Only when he had perfected the composition and when the light was just right, would he expose.  He knew that the camera lens was an eye that had its own perspective on the world before it and the photographic artist had to be able to see with that eye.

 

Where does the craft leave off and the art begin?

 

It’s a false question. When you read Weston’s Daybooks, you see him struggle and strive to perfect, through frustration to frustration to elation.  This is the work of the artist. For the photographic artist this requires a different way of seeing than the painter or sketcher.  The process is seeing through the camera and then producing a two dimensional image that is seen again, or re-seen, with the binocular vision of the human eyes. It is not capturing what the photographer saw with his or her own eyes looking at the scene, but what the photographer saw through the camera’s eye.  Successful art in any media requires finely honed craft.  The best photographic artists had mastered their craft but also learned the mind of the camera lens, if you will forgive this attempt to conceptualize.  A perfectly exposed and focused negative of a boringly bad scene will never be art.  An automatic camera cannot make art.    An artist, however, could make art with an automatic camera.

Bill Kostelec, December 1, 2019

 

Carleton Watkins: Making the West American. Tyler Green, University of California Press, 2018.

 

December 2019

 

 

F-22 and Holding

 

 

We are back from a successful trip to the Olympic Peninsula and also from a one day outdoor art tour which was not so successful, but it’s over. In my two printing days this week I got four images finished and ready to mount for our annual open house in December and Kathy today finished two new images for the same event. I say this not because it is exciting news to anyone except us, but to give context to my absence from this blog and as a prequel to what is really exciting to us, an upcoming exhibit at the MAC, the Northwest Museum of Art and Culture in Spokane.

 

As part of the prequel, we attended the exhibit just closing, a set of images from Edward S. Curtis on the North American Indian series he burned up his years and moneys on. The Spokane Public Library was one of the early purchasers of Curtis’ set and a couple Summers ago I served as a technical consultant to a library series that publicized the set and exposed weekly groups of visitors to some of the books and images.  This last exhibit was, in itself, a powerful revelation of the role photography has played in out cultural history.

 

The next exhibit, opening in a couple days  is even more pertinent to the work Kat and I do: “Museum Masters: Group f-64”.   This show includes work by Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, Willard Van Dyke, and Brett and Edward Weston.  A long time ago in a land far away (Atlanta) I saw an exhibition by Ansel and Edward Weston at the High Museum.  At the time I knew next to nothing about Weston and as they were in separate rooms, I spent most of my brief time looking at Adams work, while strolling through the Weston exhibit casually, walking past the cases that held his cameras and giving cursory glances to his 8X10 prints.  Every time I recollect this I try to kick myself.

 

Group f-64 was probably formed at some California potluck with a lot of vegetarian food and plenty of wine.  Credit for the name goes to Van Dyke and although the group exhibited together perhaps just once, one gets the notion that most of the members did not take it as seriously as Adams did.  He wrote a manifesto on straight photography.  It has an earnest quality and semi religious overtones.  As with most religious tracts there is an air of self-righteousness as well.

 

To get a sense of what Group f-64 was about we must mention Pictorialism of course, and specifically one of its California evangelists, William Mortenson, who taught photo classes and worked in and about Hollywood.  I have several Mortenson books, which go from informative and thought provoking to insufferably maudlin and, given some of the illustrations, more than a bit icky.   Pictorialism is a broad term for the general thrust of late 19thand early 20thcentury photo club kinds of photography.  The Salons, as they were called, involved a sort of culture of contest in which one submitted prints before the “judges” who might give helpful advice but also might be critical to the point of humiliating budding photographic “artists.”  There were salons in both the U.S. and in Europe, and photographers submitted works across the seas.  Many good things came from these clubs but the overriding theme of creating art in general caused photography to develop an affection for imitating painting and drawing, where, in that era, art was supposedly best expressed.   There were early exceptions among the salonists, like Peter Henry Emerson who developed quite a following among what is sometimes described as the “naturalist” photographers. The Stieglitz circle, i.e., the photo-secessionists, made an early but incomplete break from that predilection to make a photo look not like a photo.  Ansel Adams began photographing in the pictorialist mode, soft focus lens, dreamy landscape etc.

 

There were technical contributions to the revolution that was to come.  The anastigmat lens was one component, sharp and decisive.  There was the Kodak and Kodaking among the masses who could afford the camera.  We have a 1903 annual printed by Eastman Kodak of winners of their contest, all photos made with an Eastman camera, and lo and behold, when amateurs got a camera they did not go for warm and fuzzy but did their best to focus and hold still. Arguments may have been going on in the darkrooms of the New York Camera Club but the Mother of the family in Iowa just wanted sharp and properly exposed pictures of her children!  Then came, of course, glossy gaslight and enlarging papers.  Artist photographers tended to print on gum bichromate or Platinum and with those media details sunk into the fibers of the matte surface,  Glossy paper on the other hand showed what the daguerreotype revealed 60 years earlier, the sharp, etched detail that a lens could capture.

 

So when the history of photography is written, inevitably we hear about the theories and the personalities that argued them.  When one reads Edward Weston’s Daybooks, on the other hand, what comes out is Edward trying out some commercial glossy contact print paper, and almost immediately swearing off the matte surface platinum paper he imported from England. He then goes into a joyous frenzy of work trying out some older negatives on the new paper and the rest is history.

 

The California photographers all seem to have been moved by the same spirit and their personal friendships established a mutual support society so that the formation of Group f-64 seemed like a natural event rather than simply a way of formalizing an aesthetic ideology.   Nevertheless, there really was a significant ideological basis to what comes to be called, “straight photography.”  Adams’ manifesto tries to clarify what straight photography must be, but he was not a great writer.  He was a great photographer and a true believer.  And he was a vociferous opponent of the Pictorialist photo clubs and their soft and fuzzy salons of pretty pictures and a vocal antagonist to the Pictorialists’ advocate William Mortenson, his fellow Californian.  Group f-64 advocated for the presentation of the photographic tools and materials in their very best and most natural state, sharply focused images, cleanly presented printing with minimal manipulation of negative and paper, straight and not tortured into looking like and charcoal drawing or water color print.

 

They didn’t invent this way of photographing of course.  Timothy O’Sullivan, Peter Henry Emerson, Eugene Atget and Mrs. Alfred Donaghue of Baltimore, Maryland all practiced to the best of their abilities a form of straight photography.  The dominance of the Pictorialists and the photo clubs, and of Stieglitz and his coterie in New York made the 19thcentury straight photographers disappear from the discussion, and that New York group made themselves the genius of its reinvention without really knowing the mediums’ own history.

 

Group f-64, in that context thus becomes very important and even as it disbands and the photographers disperse to their own careers, their impact will reverberate for the rest of the 20thcentury, and in a sense they win the battle.  Mortenson, once a famous man is hardly found in the histories of photography.  Adams writes two photo series that establish the norm for a black and white photography that joins a workable scientific and technical base to a romantic approach to the American landscape.

 

What became of the photo salons?  They exist today in the photo clubs, like we have here in the Pacific Northwest, full of photo enthusiasts with remarkably similar high end digital cameras talking about converting medium format lenses to full frame bodies and the wonderful results. Kat and I have judged, at the request of the clubs a few contests and it was always an interesting but frustrating experience.  We looked at prints made by Walmart, for example, of a bug on a bright, bright green leaf that, we were informed, was made with 40 different exposures!  We looked at a panoramic view of the inside of a famous local old theater that, we were told, was stitched together from 7 different captures.  Kat has a 4×5 negative of the same angle but alas, she made it with one ¼ of a second exposure and the 90mm Angulon.  We turned down another judging when given instructions to watch some online lessons on judging, only to find the teacher showing when to advise a photographer to remove an object or person from the image file to better the competition.  We cringed.  That is not straight photography.

 

The name Group f-64 is interesting.  Although we do have a lens that goes down to f-128, these big numbers are not the norm for lenses after maybe 1935! Part of the change was the transition from the US system of numbering: 4,8,16,32,64,128, to the f system itself: 1,1.4,2,2.8,4,5.6 etc. It seems however, that a lot of very good photographers in those days worked with the assumption that a lens continued to increase in sharpness as the aperture decreased, so that Weston brags in his daybook of making an exposure at f-256 to get the very best detail. In truth, the image degrades due to refraction much earlier and even if apparent depth of field increases the resolution goes to pot pretty quickly.  For contact printers like Edward Weston, that never really reveals itself.  So the name that Willard Van Dyke suggested is based on that fallacy.  But no harm done. We are careful when we are shooting, nevertheless, to try to not go smaller than f-22 with most of our large format lenses, and definitely not with our medium format lenses.

 

It will be immensely enjoyable, in the midst of this land of miraculously stitched together ink jet prints from a dozen exposures with saturated colors as overdone as super-sugary pumpkin lattes with cinnamon sprinkled whipped cream tops, to take a slow walk through an exhibit of cool, calm black and white prints from a few of our favorite photographers and once more remind ourselves of our aesthetic foundations and inspirations.  We are, we laugh to ourselves and each other, lesser lights: group f-22.

 

Good shooting,

 

 

Bill Kostelec

 

McCain Rally, 2000

 

 

I was never a photojournalist, but I got a press pass to cover the John McCain Rally at Gonzaga University in 2000, by virtue, I guess, of being the only regular photographer on staff at the University. Gonzaga had a history of being oblivious to the needs of a full time photographer even though photography had played such an important part in the history and work of the Jesuit missions in the West. G.U. is, in fact, home to the Oregon Province Jesuit archives which holds an incredible collection of images from the 19thand 20thcentury missions. The public relations wing of the University nevertheless had a habit of hiring outside photographers in for special events, but I worked for Media Services in the Foley Library as a photographer and graphic artist.  So I got a press pass.

 

I had 2 Leica M3s, one a gift from a Jesuit friend, Bill Yam, sick with emphysema who had worked as a photographer in the Phillipines in the 60s, and the second, a weak sister that had seen its better days and had a dim rangefinder that I had picked up locally for 500 dollars.  But still, 2 Leica M3s! So I waited outside with the crowds for the bus with John McCain to arrive, scouted good locations and had one Leica with a 35mm Summicron and the second with a 90mm Elmarit.

 

There was a lady military vet in the crowd that caught my eye and so I slipped through the mix of students and older visitors in what I thought of as photojournalist aggression, polite but determined.  When she caught my eye she smiled and I got the shot, what I still think of as my supreme “decisive moment” photograph.  McCain Rally

There was a man with a big sign in the street out front of the COG, where McCain would speak and I positioned myself, he saw me turned and smiled and I got that. signman

When the bus pulled up I moved again close near the entryway I was told he would use and got a half dozen shots when he came through shaking hands with his wife Cindy close by.j9hnandcindy

 

pressingpalms

The best shot of McCain was, I think when he stood above, waving to the crowd and gave them a big thumbs up.  McCain was an interesting candidate that year and a lot of young people seemed to be drawn to his ‘wild horse a little out of control’ reputation.thumbsup

 

I photographed part of the speech and was leaving the COG, walking down the steps. People were still coming in, including a guy with 2 cameras with straps identifying the newspaper from Cincinnati that he photographed for.  He was very professional looking and he stopped on the stairs smiling at me and said “A real photographer eh?” I looked closer and saw he carried 2 Leica black bodies.  “Yep.” I said and we went our ways.  Though it was not that long ago press photographers were still shooting film and Nikons and Canons were ubiquitous.  The Leicas were already becoming rarer on the scene.

 

I shoot with a lot of older cameras. Today I have a Kodak Pony 828 around my neck with some film I spooled from a bulk roll of 35mm TriX and even an amateur camera like that can produce a good image.  Nevertheless, for me, using the M3 always feels special and I know in advance that the negatives will have a certain quality from the Leitz lenses.

 

McCain himself seems now like a leftover from the days when national politicians sometimes rose to the status of statesman and when mutual respect across party lines made it possible for good things to happen in the Halls of Congress.  His empty seat will be hard to fill in our current social scene.

The smoky air has cleared today after a morning rain, first time in a month. So on to

Good shooting

 

Bill Kostelec

 

 

 

 

For the Love of Old Equipment

 

 

 

Recently a friend offered us some old cameras because she knew that we appreciated such things.  We have had several contacts in the last months from people we didn’t know who heard we might be interested in film equipment they wanted to have a home for.  It’s a sign of the times and the cameras almost always come with family stories related to them, so it has been a worthwhile experience meeting people and talking with them.

 

This last was pretty out of the ordinary as our friends Dad had been a physicist working in the Eastman Research laboratories in Rochester.  She said many of their family photos were made on experimental films that staff would shoot in the R&D process and her Dad also brought home new cameras to use.  Her cameras came in a big cardboard box, as most do, but in this case the box held treasures for which it was unworthy to carry.  First off, and the oldest, was a Premo D, a 4X5 folding camera with a red bellows.  Premo was from the Rochester Camera Company that was bought up by George Eastman early in the 20thcentury, a common practice of his. It is a cherry wood box camera that opens front and back, has three shutter speeds plus B, and a meniscus lens enclosed in brass. 20180730_103503 With the camera came one plate holder, as the camera was designed for dry plates, and one plate holder altered to hold sheet film, the alteration done by sliding in glass plates so that sheets of film would tuck in above them. The camera was from about 1896, before the company was acquired by Eastman.  It came in its own case with an instruction manual for “manipulating the Premo D” and an 1896 publication on the basics of photography.  The lens was full of fungus but I carefully got access to it and cleaned it.  The ground glass image looked sharp so I loaded a couple of my holders, found that the Premo accepted them perfectly and shot an image , a time exposure at the smallest aperture. 20180730_103529 The camera was intended to be a hand camera, meaning to be used without a tripod.  I used a tripod.  Using this Premo increased my respect for early photographers even more.  I have a 4X5 Graflex D SLR from the 1940’s and its weight and bulk make hand held work doable, especially with its focal plane shutter.  The Premo is very light and I doubt I would ever try to handhold it for a shot. The negative, shot on a light table with a cell phone, is surprisingly good. This is a camera worth using.20180730_131118

 

The second camera of note is a Kodak Recomar 33, a 9 by 12cm. folder from 1935.  20180801_105654It was manufactured by Nagel Kamera Werke in Germany.  Nagel designed the Recomar in 1928 and Eastman bought the company in the 1930s, and it was Nagel who designed and built the Kodak Retina, the nice little 35mm folder.  This model of the Recomar is marked Kodak and has a Kodak Anastigmant 4.5 135mm lens in a Compur shutter. 20180801_105750

20180801_110014_001

20180801_105939 It came with a single sheet film holder and I already had a plate holder and a pack film holder that fit the sliding mount of the Recomar.  The ground glass screen slides up and off the camera and the film holder slides into its place.  Not very convenient for a hand camera, but the body has a nice focusing scale and a triple extension bellows.  The camera is in excellent shape but where would I get 9X12cm. film? In our camera case I have had a couple packs of Agfa pack film that came with a collection, both films expiring in the 1940s.  Pack film holders are dime a dozen and mostly useless these days.  When I realized these old Agfa packs were 9X12cm. I thought I’d give it a shot.  I had never used pack film.  It was before my time but it seemed easy enough. I loaded up the Super Pan and tried it.  It was difficult to process, being thin and curly, let alone being 70 years old. Originally rated at 200, I tried ASA 50 and then exposed very generously.  The one negative that sort of turned out from the half pack I shot was fogged of course, but also showed some mottling and flaking.  But still, I had an image.20180801_140631_001

 

About 20 years ago a woman I knew asked me to make copies of some old small prints she had.  They were very interesting.  Her Dad, who had just died, was captured by the Japanese on Bataan in 1942 and survived the Bataan Death March. The photos were taken inside a POW camp!  The story is that one GI smuggled in a small 35mm camera but had no film.  Another GI had smuggled in a roll of film, probably 620 or 120, and together they managed to secretly get into a dark place, slice the roll film down to size and get it to work in the 35mm camera and then secretly, and very dangerously take pictures in the camp.  The photos were not the best but they were there! Whenever I think of that effort and ingenuity it makes me feel rather humble and lucky that I can take photos so easily.  So every time I work with one of these old cameras and get a picture I feel excited and gratified.

 

A third camera I tried out was a little Kodak Bantam, again from the 1930s, with a Kodak  Anastigmat Special lens.  The pop up viewfinder was broken and had black tape on it, but I had another Bantam with a bad lens and I switched out the viewfinders.  The complication here is that the Bantams were made for 828 film, a paper backed roll film made on 35mm stock without the sprocket holes, which of course no one makes anymore.  Because I had a couple 828 spools I was able to spool some 35mm TMAX in the darkroom onto the paper backing from a Kodacolor roll and get my 8 shots.  These were surprisingly good considering the guess focusing.  This turns out to be a fun camera, slipping into my pocket, easily opened and ready to go.  A drawback is the 7 or 8 shots per roll and of course the image area bleeds deeply into the sprocket holes of 35mm.  It’s a nice special effect but I wouldn’t want it on every photo and the advantage of the 828 was its larger image area.

 

We are just back from a one week trip to the Olympic Peninsula where we used 2 1953 Linhof Technikas IIIs and a 1939 Eastman Commercial 8X10 equipped with a 5X7 film back. 20180812_153230

20180815_090644

Our newest lenses were from the early 1960s. After 3 days in the darkroom we have all the sheet film processed with happy results.  So using older equipment is not a hobby with us but our “sitz im leben”, and our normal working procedure.

 

Try it, and good shooting.

 

Bill Kostelec

Photo Economics: Multiformat Large Format

Getting the Most out of Camera and Lenses

The equipment for large format film photography can be very expensive. While this is true for 4X5 equipment, it gets even more so for 5X7 and 8X10.  Modern lenses and shutters for the bigger formats go for the amounts I am more inclined to pay for a car, and I have worked carefully over the years to avoid investing that kind of money into photo equipment.  The quality of my negatives has not suffered for that avoidance however and I am quite satisfied with my camera kits.  I’d like to talk about that and offer some suggestions on getting the most out of a limited set of equipment.

paragon
Protar VIIa and Ilex Paragon 12 in 4.5

I have a C-1 black beast 8X10 camera that I bought about 15 years ago that came with two reducing backs and an extra 8X10 back for about $250.  The 34 inch bellows was full of pinholes, hence the price.  Still, after about doubling the price for a custom bellows and installing it myself, I had a camera with three film sizes for not that much money.  It takes a six inch lens board and I had one lens, a 12 inch Ilex Paragon 4.5, uncoated and unshuttered.  I found a dealer in Spokane who had the big Compound shutter #5 and who made a reducing ring and mounted the Paragon in front of the shutter.  Mounting it in a wooden 6 inch board got my camera working.  The shutter and mounting cost me 75 dollars.  The lens was free as it was in a closet having spent 20 years demonstrating what aperture leaves looked like to photo classes.  The reducing backs set me on the path of photo economics as a 12 inch lens on 4X5 is very different in aesthetic and technical qualities than it is on an 8X10 inch piece of film.  Combining that with a 34 inch bellows gave me a camera and lens of awesome versatility! My second lens was also someone’s throwaway and I found it dusty and uncovered in a cardboard box, and when cleaning it up recognized the name Protar VIIa, and doing a little research got me very excited.  It is a 7+ inch lens with combined elements, 11+ with only the rear element, and 16+ with only the front element, mounted on the rear.  This lens combination was meant for 5X7 work, but the rear element covered at least 5X8 and the front much more than 8X10.  As the coverage area increases the closer the focus, and as these anastigmat components increased coverage are as they were stopped down, I had a 1920’s lens that gave me wide angle coverage to ultralong coverage depending on which film I was shooting.

the black beast
BlACK BEAST  B&J C-1

I have said before and will repeat that these old lenses prove themselves in both sharpness and contrast, and that I have found no significant loss of negative quality in their use.  In the meantime I had picked up a 5X7 Eastman 2D complete with tailpiece from a friend in California, a donation as he was going blind and couldn’t photograph any more.  This camera takes 4 inch lens boards while the C-1 takes 6 inch.  Over several years I found an 8 ½ inch Commercial Ektar and a 254mm Ilex Calumet Caltar, both in Ilex shutters, for the 5X7. I wanted to be able to switch between cameras and extend the use of my lenses.  The solution came through my friend Johnny Coffey who is a locksmith and machinist extraordinaire.  I took slider parts from a defunct Speed Graphic 4X5 Pacemaker, showed him what I wanted and he created a 6 inch anodized metal lens board with the sliders mounted at top and bottom of a 4 inch square hole.  The 4 inch wooden or metal boards dropped into this ridged slot and the Speed Graphic slider fastened them into place.   Now the 8 ½ inch Ektar and the 254mm Caltar fit nicely onto the 8X10 C-1 with its abundance of camera movements.

reducing lens board
Modified lens board, 6 to 4 in.

What it boils down to is that one of the virtues of a view camera is the flexibility of its front and rear standards, and with the combination of reducing backs and the reducing lens board, and throwing in the convertible nature of the Protar VIIa, I have six different lens possibilities on three different film formats.  I know that the Commercial Ektar doesn’t quite cover the 8X10, but with that long bellows I can do all kinds of in-close work with that lens on the largest film size and it has made beautiful 8X10 negatives in that mode.

 

If I had to do this all again I would look for an 8X10 camera, not a monorail, but like the C-1, or like the Eastman Commercial 8X10, folders that are easy to transport without a big long case, and the reducing backs. One added advantage of having the biggest camera body is that the big bellows can significantly reduce the in-camera flair caused by lenses with more than adequate coverage.  The wider bellows doesn’t reflect light and bounce it all over the inside of the camera like a narrower 4X5 bellows might.  Most photographers who would shoot large format in the first place would tend to have other cameras and multiple formats. Reducing backs simplify that. Reducing lens boards is not a new idea and having acquired one I have found it to be a great one.

 

The biggest drawback is of course that a big camera is a big camera, and an 8X10 is, generally speaking big. It can also be heavy, although the new custom built cameras of carbon fiber and nice thin wood have reduced the weight but at a price far more than I could justify paying (both to my conscience and my wife and partner Kathy.)

Commercial 8X10
Eastman Commercial 8X10 B

Speaking of weight, I now have an Eastman Commercial 8X10 that is manufactured from magnesium, and it is considerably lighter than the C-1.  It doesn’t have the wide range of movements, especially at the front standard but for field work it proves itself fully capable.  The C-1 on the other hand is the studio camera of choice.

 

Good Shooting

 

Bill Kostelec,

July 5, 2018

 

 

Using C-41 Black and White Film

adventures in processing and printing black and white chromogenic film

 

 

 

Today I was printing some 35mm black and white negatives I processed this morning in the kitchen sink. Printing negatives in the afternoon that were processed in the morning is not that unusual; the kitchen sink part is.

 

I have a good supply of Kodak c-41 process black and white film, mostly 120 but a half dozen rolls as well of 35mm.  A couple years back a good friend gifted me with his refrigerated stash as he had gone digital in his portrait business.  I was my usual skeptical self and didn’t shoot any right away, and then when I did, sent it off to The Darkroom in San Clemente, CA.   It looked OK, pretty good, not bad.  Still, sending it off was a pain, and expensive for someone used to just going into his own darkroom and processing.  I found a video online from the Film Photography Project about using their kit to process C-41 at home and ordered a kit.  I was intimidated by the temperature requirements but, Heck, I have six or seven thermometers and the kitchen has hot running water so I tried it.

 

It works.

film

A chromogenic film, the image structure is made up of dye clouds rather than silver clumps, and the first thing I found out from the 120 rolls was that it scans very well.  The second thing I found out was that it requires long exposures when printing on variable contrast paper.  I have been using this film in 2 very different ways: the first is an ongoing portrait project, very informal, in which I photograph individuals or couples upstairs in our gallery during a once a month food and music party we host. So often enough the subject lugs up a guitar or fiddle. I have 2 cameras that I use for this, my Mamiya C220 and the baby Linhof, 2X3 with its 6X6 back.  I use one white lightning flash with a shoot through 42 inch umbrella aimed at the subject and within two and a half feet of the same. This light is very soft and the 400 ISO film gives me plenty of flexibility with f-stop and shutter speed if I need a little more depth of field.

joshnmnlisa
Josh and Monalisa

 

The Linhof is blessed with a 105 Xenotar.  It is a happy camera.

Kat2
Kat and the Xenotar

The second way I have been using this film is in the 35mm camera as I roam around public events.  I haven’t been using it exclusively but have been alternating it with traditional silver films like Delta 100 and TMY.  In the last month or so there have been several of these events in town and I finally got around to processing the C-41 films this week.  To be more accurate, I finally accumulated enough rolls to mix my batch of chemistry, a Unicolor kit that has developer, blix, which is a combined bleach and rapid fix, and stabilizer.  A friend who was in the business of custom color printing until the digital revolution told me that in the past there had been a Kodak process that divided up the bleach and fix and had some other differences that made it a superior process, but now we have what we have.  So I use it.

2bitches
Two “Bitches”?

 

 

 

westand together
At A march against school shootings

Some technical notes: I follow my thermometer to develop at 102 degrees, with the Blix about the same. I immerse the bottles in a hard rubber 8X10 developing tank in the kitchen sink, get the water bath at about 110 degrees and monitor the chemistry till it is just right.  My negatives are punchier than my commercially processed rolls and when wet make me wonder if I have burned out the highlights.  But no, they print easily with no filtration under a cold light head on Seagull VC or Ilford Cooltone multigrade paper.  The chemistry is reputed to be short lived so I will want to process some more film in the next week and after that call it good. The instructions say 3.5 minutes at 102 degrees.  For the second batch I do 4 minutes.  The Blix calls for 6.5 minutes and I stick with that but I have doubled the wash time to six minutes at about 90 degrees.  The reason I did this is that I had a persistent magenta runoff after the washing and the stabilizer, dripping down into a white tray, and I was getting ugly white splotches from the runoff.  The stabilizer is supposed to make the film more permanent I guess but I don’t understand the process it does for that.  The video showed these guys wiping down the wet roll with a folded paper towel and my friend the old film processor and printer about had a fit when I did that in front of him.  SO I stopped doing it and started getting these ugly splotches.  Hence, two changes I made; I doubled the washing time and then I made a photo flo final bath in distilled water.  Now they come out nice and clean.

 

When our garden is in full bloom I sometimes load up a roll of color print film and it is nice to be able to process that as well.  For printing however, we have to rely on our scanner and an ink jet printer, and it is hard for me  emotionally to wax enthusiastically about the chugging of the machine.

pjammersinrain
The PJammers at a protest against school shootings

A couple of days ago we had a nephew here with his old Miata, newly painted a light blue.  His Aunt visiting from back east was ironically wearing a matching light blue jacket.  The black and white C-41 film rendered both the car and the jacket white! I’ll try out the next roll with a K-2 filter and see what happens.

 

I also picked up some Kodak Portra 400 B&W 120 rolls and I look forward to trying that out.

 

Good shooting.

 

Bill Kostelec

July 3, 2018

https://thedarkroom.com/product/film-developing/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI8Y-OrZ6J3AIVEJl-Ch1New71EAAYASAAEgIhpPD_BwE

https://filmphotographyproject.com