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

 

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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

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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.

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Josh and Monalisa

 

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

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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.

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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

 

 

Film Photography, One Foot-Candle at a Time

 

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Last weekend Kathy and I had a booth at the annual art fair in a park a few minutes away from the house. Operating a booth for three days, eight to nine hours a day is a lot more work than it may sound like.  We don’t do many of these but we sell some prints and get into a lot of conversations about photography with people of various ages and backgrounds. The conversations are the most interesting part of the event.

There are invariably those who “used to do darkroom and film”, who have either converted to digital cameras (and many of these often say so apologetically or with a tinge of sadness) or had done it in their youths, which was decades previous, and talk about it with nostalgia and sometimes surprise that there is still film available. It surprises us that so many people believe that film is no longer made.

 

There are young people who have been exposed only to digital photography and who are often really impressed with the look of black and white silver prints, and as I usually carry a camera, intrigued by one of the 1960’s film cameras that we use at such events.

 

Last weekend was especially interesting as I talked to several people who wanted to, or were planning to get into film photography and asking questions about darkroom requirements and where to get materials and equipment.  I gave a primer this morning for one of those contacts, on 4X5 film including loading holders, using a spotmeter, focusing and camera controls and processing negatives.  This was for a man living in Mexico who has already purchased a Beseler enlarger and is picking up equipment here in the states to take back to Mexico.  This evening another new contact came by and we took him to the darkroom and showed him what he needed to get.  His Leica M3 arrives on Monday and he is eager to start a new phase in life, taking black and white images and learning to print them.  For a rainy and cold Saturday, it was very busy.

 

While these two guys were, I guess, in their late 40s or early 50’s, another contact from the weekend was a thirty something with background in 35mm film processing and printing but who wants to renew his photo work in large format.  Once he gets his equipment he will get in touch and we can give him the basics of shooting and processing large format film.  There was another young guy who was, I think, a war vet who expressed interest in a platinum print we displayed and had a friend who was already working in platinum.  As Spokane is no major metropolitan area these folks, with others who asked about how difficult it would be to set up a darkroom has me thinking that something is in the wind.

 

And it smells like stop bath.  In the last six months or so we have had 4 students from our photo workshops who have committed to setting up black and white darkrooms.  These were all women.

 

The sweet irony of the so-called collapse of film photography is that this is a great time to set up a darkroom at home because there is so much used equipment available. First of all, there are the darkrooms of those who were printing in the 1960s and 1970s who are either feeling too old to continue, or who have switched to digital, or who are dead! Widows have been a good source of photo equipment, and I don’t mean that to sound macabre.  We have heard from widows whose husbands loved photography and their cameras and just wanted to find a good home for it all, and who tearingly talked of their husbands devotion to the media.

 

Places like the local “craig’s list” have been good sources for often complete darkrooms for very little money.  Sometimes the darkrooms have included camera outfits like the one of our students found that included a Mamiya TLR outfit.  My response to enquiries this last weekend was just like that: “This is a great time to get a darkroom together.”

 

Just to add to the point of how much equipment is available locally, I have a Beseler 4X5 enlarger under a blue tarp outside up against the darkroom wall and a Beseler 6X7 enlarger under another tarp sheltered on the front porch! I did not have to purchase either of them. Our home’s storage areas are full already, hence the tarps. We have set up 2 darkrooms for two boys in our family, a freshman and a sophomore in high school.   Just a couple weeks ago two ladies who run a junk-recycling shop called us in to help them sort a bunch of darkroom materials that had been donated; two complete darkrooms and more.  The plethora of equipment may look to some to be a sign of the demise of film photography. To me it looks like so much potential. And after 3 days of conversations at the art fair I am even more convinced.

 

Good shooting.

 

 

Bill Kostelec

June 2018

 

Photography as Memory: part 2

 

 

markiepipe in rinardfixed
Markus and his Great Grandpa

Memory Making

 

Photography is not always about making memories, but sometimes it is just that.  That’s the part the KODAK emphasized in its concept and in its advertising. We have a flyer on our kitchen wall, a water color image of a couple on a sailboat, the girl with a postcard sized folding Kodak.  The text reads in part “there’s all this and more for those who keep a record of their outings with a Kodak.” This was an important part of the cultural revolution energized by making cameras for the masses.  Few people were immune to the allure. Avant garde painters in Paris bought Kodaks and snapped each other on the boulevards.  And even before the Kodak working people found the quarters to pay for tintypes from small studios and street photographers. Workers carried the tools of their various trades to the camera and paid to get a record, a memory of themselves and their liveihoods.

 

The tintypers did a great business in the army camps of the American Civil War and their thousands of quick informal portraits not only gave families at home memories of the many who did not return, but they instituted the public affection for cheap portraits, cabinet cards and so on.  They also made an incredibly important contribution to the National Memory.

 

The tin type photographers of the era remain, for the most part, anonymous and forgotten.  Most of the individuals photographed for these one of a kind images are also lost as identifiable individuals.  So what remains?  The little photographs, dull in color and found in junk shop bins, these remain.  There was a day, an afternoon, adequate light, the excitement of the one being photographed, the photographers hand on the plate, dipped in developer and fix, rinsed off, the sitters first look, blowing on it to dry it, showing it to spouse or parent or friend, or slipping it into an addressed envelope and handing it over to a postman.  All the participants, all the witnesses interested or not, are gone.  Now the image is anonymous. Then why does it compel us, interest us, fascinate us?

 

Many people are fascinated with Vivian Maier, a woman who died in obscurity but now garners public interest because her unprocessed rolls of film were discovered. As it turns out Maier was a good photographer, and not only technically competent but with an excellent eye that sought out images rather obsessively over decades in some very photographically interesting places; the streets of the city.  People are fascinated with the story of her obscurity, that she was a complete unknown, in the world of photography. It is her photographs, nearly all have been printed by others after her death, it is these photographs that are of much greater interest, and it is their subject matter clearly presented with her command of exposure and focus and skills of composition that remain what is most important in the Vivian Maier story.  Through the 40’s and 50‘s and 60’s she recorded city life in New York and Chicago and that city life has been so transformed, that her work chronicles that which was but is no more, i.e., converted it to memory.

 

We value images from an earlier time.  The Ken Burns documentary on the American Civil War used a lot of literature, letters, newspaper articles, books to fill in layers of detail and nuance, but the popularity of the documentary, and its inherent power would not have been the same if instead of photographs there had only been artists renderings available.  The public sense of authenticity of the photograph, and even more so the common perception of the photograph as captured reality and captured moment made the images of the era almost time travel vehicles for the imagination. This, the artist, sketcher, painter can not do.

 

 

Other Peoples’ Memories, Other Peoples’ Photographs

 

I suggested earlier that when I was looking at the little print books of family gatherings that I was looking at other peoples’ memories, as I had not been present, had not existed at the moment of exposure. Now I am not so sure of the characterization.  If I read a memoir of some time or event I am reading the author’s recollections, interpretation, of his or her memory of the time.  A skillful author can convey even the impression of his emotional state at the time in the retelling. Language has the potential for nuance and subtlety that would be very difficult to express in a photograph. The creator of a photograph might, on the other hand, feel the welling up of such subtleties and nuance in looking again at her photograph, and in this case the image serves as a catalyst for recalling these things in the form of memory revisited.

 

Is it possible that someone else’s photo could stir up in me such subtleties of emotion?  This is the supposition behind the long held idea that the photographer should try to express in a photograph the emotional response the scene evoked in him at the time of its taking. This classic Ansel Adams take on artistic photography goes back to Stieglitz and his “equivalents” and is especially noted when it comes to landscape images.  The artistic skill here is beyond the technical achievement of exposure and focus, and represents the supposed ability to control the subtleties of the medium as to gain control of the readers’ emotional responses.

 

Stating it this way makes it seem like a far-fetched and rather presumptuous notion of a photographer’s ability.  This is not to say that a photograph does not itself have the potential to stir emotional responses and memories.  It is just that one must be very suspicious that a photograph can serve as a channel between the emotional response of the photographer and the same of a reader.  If one’s memory is stirred by another’s photograph, whose memory is stirred?  Not the photographer’s.

 

If not another’s memory, then what am I seeing in the other’s photograph?

 

We learn the language of our family and our community and that makes it possible to communicate on many levels.  The common language is the basis but not the whole of the community grammar, which includes norms for politeness and respect, recognition of common meanings to traffic signs, all kinds of rules for behavior and so on.  There is even a more fundamental body of understanding: such things as lighter in color usually suggest higher in elevation, from the basic awareness of sky and ground, or that reflections of the sky on a surface suggest wetness, or water.   We know that shadows tend to fall under things rather than over.  Much of this kind of innate knowledge is applied by us to the photographs we make.   So we have a basis in this common grammar that helps us to convey in our photographs things that the reader will understand and if we were to turn down the expectations of those photo gods a bit then there is some truth in that sense that “artistic photographs should convey something of the photographer’s emotional response to the scene…”   I cannot, however, read another’s memory in a photograph.

 

It’s not what you look at that Matters, It’s what you See!

 

That’s a loose quote from Henry David Thoreau, who was not a photographer.

 

In this last section I want to imagine a large retrospective of a photographer who worked with a camera his whole long life.  I don’t want to pick out a famous photographer so you can just imagine that it was you that I am imagining.  It’s all the same in any case as the principles will apply.  To do this I have to exclude the images made, let’s say, by a portrait photographer who toiled for 40 years in his studio on Main Street, already tired and struggling to stay creative after the first decade. I do this because what I have in mind is one who roams about, a lover of photos, if not obsessed with taking pictures at least warmly passionate about it. So you see, it’s not the same as it is with a commercial guy who went to school and into business initially because of his love for cameras and film, and then spent decades always on the verge of burnout.  For my photographer he or she should be one who would rather die with a camera in hand.

 

So in this retrospective we begin with, of course, the early years and as critics we look for signs of what is to come. Are there hints already that our photographer prefers certain themes, times of day, lighting qualities and so on?  Is a youthful exuberance and optimism, even naivety present in the prints on the wall? Or is there something darker that will manifest itself more strongly later on?

 

Into the second room of this big exhibit: here the photographer has reached some new level of energy and awareness, out of school and into the world, the real world.  Can we note the photographer’s take on the social realities of adult life?  We fully expect something of that sort, don’t we? We expect to be able to, ought to be able to gain something of the photographer’s take on the world.  Why is that? Why should we have such expectations?

 

As photographers we know that the process of making images has much to do with choosing, with selecting, with excluding or including, with deciding whether to make an effort or not, with looking through the viewfinder and making subtle adjustments and so on. We understand the process.  The walls of this imaginary retrospective would be blank except for the choices the photographer spent a lifetime making.  So we can walk through these rooms and gain some sense of this photographer. It’s inevitable.

 

Here we are in the middle age room.  Each image represents now 30 years of taking pictures.  What can we see from that 30 years of shooting?  Are there things that this person is now photographing that were not being photographed in the first ten years of work, or the second ten?  Yes, we say, look at the difference here.  See the shift in emphasis.

 

And then we are in the final room.  Critics often note in viewing this room, the later years room, how there is a darkness not before present, that there are notes of mortality present. Critics love to get into that drama.

 

When we walk out of the hall, what have we seen?  Did we just go through the photographer’s lifetime of memory or memories?  No, not memories, but what?  The first level of the answer to the question, what did we see?,  is that we saw the collection of what the photographer chose to look at and the moments he or she captured.  The first answer to our understanding this photographer is to learn what caught his eye, captured his imagination, captivated his vision.  The short answer to the question is the photographers question back: “What did I look at?” Thus the photographer responds when we ask, “Who are You?”  That is, according to Thoreau, not enough, not sufficient.    It is definitely the right direction to take though.  The photographer after all, is keenly visual in his or her approach to life, if in fact, this person with the camera is really a Photographer.  Thoreau’s question that seeks to clarify, “What did you see?” represents a deeper understanding of how the photos reveal the person behind them.  Seeking that deeper understanding of another is a valid quest, but it might be even more useful to turn back to face the self, an inward turn to self-revelation. The question then becomes: What do I look at?  What do I see?

 

Photography for me is full of mysteries.  I wanted to find in my fascination for looking at old family photos an ability to connect to other peoples memories, but found ultimately that I could not.  My memories are my own. The photos still hold power over me and they become part of my memory but only as photos, not as the moments in time.  The process of photographing on the other hand is partly in capturing moments from the flow that stops for no man. In some ways, the photograph represents a stubborn resistance to that flow of time.  The movie line, resistance is futile, applies here. When my box of my Dad’s photos and paperwork disappeared, all the efforts at preserving those moments proved futile, and thus I felt a death had occurred.  When the family of the Civil War soldier got the tintype in the mail, they somehow could feel as if they had their son and brother back, but when his corpse was thrown into a battlefield mass grave, the reality of the flow of time prevailed.

 

Is photography about the struggle against Death?  Perhaps it is more about preserving moments of Life. That doesn’t explain so much of photography and so many genres.  It doesn’t directly throw light on why one spends hours photographing inanimate objects or setting up still life images. But then one thing cannot be expected to explain everything, can it?

 

Bill Kostelec

May 30, 2018

 

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