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

 

35mm film and Everyman’s Camera of an Age Not Quite Gone By Part 2

 

 

Of all the film formats, for me 35mm is the most fun to use. It can be spontaneous and quick, it can be carried without burden, even when taking an extra lens and film and because the film is the least expensive of any, I can be more aggressive when something catches my eye than I might be with a TLR or 4X5.  I can use it even when I’m taking our dog Bella on a long walk, as long as I pay attention to her and let her know to sit and wait.

 

As my shooting is not limited to family gatherings and special events, or to put it positively, as I am always on a quest for a new image,  throwing a 35mm camera over my shoulder when leaving the house is more the norm, “just in case.”   If I decide to carry a Mamiya TLR and a tripod, on the other hand, it is because I have something specific in mind, i.e.,  I am going to a particular place with a photo or photos in mind. The opportunity to switch film formats in such contexts is a real blessing.

 

So has been my ability to try out a variety of 35mm cameras and I will offer some things I’ve learned in doing so.  There are, after all, so many used cameras available one way or another that it can be a kind of adventure to try them out.

 

I bought a Realist 35 on eBay for about ten bucks a couple years back and did my usual cleanup when it arrived.  It was made in Germany, very early 50’s.  It’s a rangefinder camera with a fixed lens in the between the lens shutter.  The lens does pretty good but the rangefinder image is rather dull.  So one roll through was enough.

 

A student gave me an AGFA Karat, a pretty little bellows 35 a bit like the Kodak/Nagel Retina, with a very nice and bright rangefinder, and although this one does not have a Tessar lens it does just fine, single coated, made in about 1951. The Karat is really nice to use, especially with its great rangefinder. My version does not have any issues with gummy rangefinder shaft that some of them have.  I was walking downtown with it around my neck and some guy starts smiling really big and stopped me, saying, “That’s a rangefinder!” . He was an Associated Press guy from the Spokane office and when he looked closer he said, “Man, that was my first 35mm camera.”  These kind of fun things happening carrying around nearly 70 year old cameras.

 

Another of the rangefinder cameras that was given to me is a Petri Super 28 with a pretty blue-coated lens that looks suspiciously like the Zeiss Tessar 28s, and on its first run it produced  flat dull negatives.  I got ambitious and pulled the front off the lens.  It too has a built in shutter on the front with a fixed lens.  When I looked close with a loupe I found an interior lens element thick with dirt and what was probably grease.  Though I know you are not supposed to do this, I got deeper into the lens and by holding the shutter open with B I was able to clean the lens element with a Q-tip and some lens cleaner, reassemble it all and shoot a roll with fingers crossed that I hadn’t upset the delicate and precise lens setup. Bang, nice sharp, contrasty negatives! So the Petri is a keeper, like the AGFA Karat 35.

 

Kathy and I bought a Minolta SRT set from a couple who were junk collectors several years ago and thrown in the bag were a couple Contaflexes, SLRs from Contax, both with fixed lenses and as they were pretty early neither had an instant return mirror. Press the shutter and the viewfinder goes black. Wind the shutter knob and it comes back. What initially struck me about the Contaflexes was that the cameras finish was perfect, no scratches, no dull spots, as if they were brand new.  Both cameras have 2.8 Tessars with a blue/purple lens coating and one of them came with another front element, a 35mm Tessar.  For this camera the lens was designed to change focal lengths by unlocking, removing and replacing the front elements.  Though I was skeptical, I found both to be very useable lenses. Though both Contaflexes have built in light meters I get much better results using my hand held meter.

 

I did an equipment swap with a friend a couple years back and ended up with a Minolta ST 202, a SRT 101 and lenses, good lenses.  The 135 Rokkor is excellent as are the two 50mm and the 28mm Rokkors. Kathy uses the 101 with the 25mm Rokkor non-focusing auto-bellows lens on her copy stand work and results from the Minolta equipment have been outstanding. My camera repair tech did a clean-up on the 202 body and was very enthusiastic on the Minolta equipment in general but especially the SRT series.

 

Finally, There are the Leica screw mount cameras, interchangeable lens rangefinder cameras produced after WWII and based on the pre-war and postwar screw mount Leicas. There are the Russian cameras, some of them made on the same tooling snatched from the Leica factories.  I ended up with a couple for under 20 dollars apiece with mixed results. The better way to go is with the Canon cameras from the early 50’s. I had bought the IVSB2 with the Leitz Elma but like most of my equipment it was burned up in a fire in 1992. Much later we agreed to help a lady inventory the equipment her father had collected over a lifetime as he was suffering from Atzheimers symptoms.  We had just volunteered but when she saw I had some nostalgia for a CANON III she gave it to me as a present.  The shutter was shot but I sent it off to get new curtains and 400 dollars later had a very beautiful rangefinder.  The really nice thing, and the reason I am highlighting it, is the availability of LCM lenses, including Nikon, Canon, Leitz, and Minolta, all compatible with the rangefinders of the various cameras.  The color image at the close of the last blog was made with the Canon III and Serenar 50mm 1.8 lens.

young couple color at empyrean

The photo of Larry and his Sax was made with a Leica III from the late 1930’s with an uncoated 50mm Elmar, wide open at 1/25thof a second in a very dark club.

larry W SAX

I got that Leica III from a friend who had been born in the Phillipines just before Japanese occupation and the camera had been his Dad’s, a civilian working for the U.S.government.  It was old and dirty and had some of the internal signs of salt air.  The peepholes on these older rangefinders are very small by contemporary standards and take some getting used to. But isn’t that part of this great adventure?

 

That concludes the series on film formats and their effect on the way we photograph.  Here’s to Good Shooting.

 

Bill Kostelec

May 2018

35mm film and Everyman’s Camera of an Age Not Quite Gone By

 

 

When I was still a kid, maybe 8 years old, I got to take some pictures with my parents Kodak Duaflex 620 camera, flash bulb and all. It was at some big family gathering and when the photos came back from the drugstore a family joke came into being as I had taken a picture of the bare legs of three of my Aunts sitting on the couch, cutting off their heads.  What did I know of parallax, or women’s legs for that matter!

 

Sometime later, my Dad bought a used Argus C-3 from a man who came to the house, and paid 25 dollars, which was probably too much.  That was the family’s first 35mm camera.  As a high school yearbook photographer I used a Yashicamat twin lens reflex a couple of times but when I graduated,  bought my own camera, a Pentax Spotmatic II with a super multi-coated Takumar 50mm 1.4 and a 35mm Soligor 3.5 lens.  I also bought a table top Durst 35mm enlarger with a Schneider Componon lens, all new. In the camera store there were all kinds of cameras, but somehow, it was in my mind that a camera WAS a 35mm, and the 4X5 monorails and medium format cameras on the shelves never even caught my attention.

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As I was growing up the National Geographic photographers shot 35mm Kodachrome and the Life Magazine photographers were mostly 35mm shooters.  Gene Smith and Leonard McCombe, Cartier Bresson and Robert Capa, Garry Winograd and Lee Friedlander, and Robert Frank made the 35mm the camera of choice for all those younger shooters who wanted to be photographers with a capital P.  In the days before Canon and Nikon became dominant, there were plenty of choices: Ricoh, Petri, Exakta, Contaflex, Agfa, Werra, Asahiflex, Argus, Mercury, even Kodak with its Retinas and Retinettes.   Because I had grown up in a house with a regular procession of foster babies and kids, and had been crowned the movie maker for them all by my parents, I came to the still camera rather late.  Thus the Spotmatic became my first regular still camera and I read photo magazines to reorient myself to it.

 

old man chicago for john
Old man on Michigan Avenue, 1977

 

The virtues of the 35mm were obvious.  Film was affordable and it was easy to process without an elaborate darkroom.  Instead of hand processing 616 film from my Dad’s Kodak Folder in the dark in an open tray, I could load the film on a reel and use a daylight tank.    A half dozen years later, hanging the Pentax around my neck I was able to roam the streets of Chicago on long lunches with free rolls of Ektachrome when we switched at the studio I worked in from E-4 to E-6.   The Pentax Spotmatic with three lenses (I had acquired the 100mm telephoto) was not much of a burden for a 20 something dude in a denim jacket and blue headband!  Back at the office my friend Bill would process the slides and I’d mount them and take them home to roll a tube on the kitchen floor making Cibachrome 8X10’s.

 

forsythe county
Forsythe County GA 1985, still segregated

 

Years later when I taught photography at Gonzaga University, the modus operandi of 35mm played a big role in my instruction.  “Carry your camera with you everywhere and if something catches your eye, even if you don’t know why, shoot it.”  The Spotmatic finally fell apart around the time my youngest son was born, which is the main reason why there are fewer photos of him.  I had my second (used) Spotmatic when I studied in Israel in 1986 and if I had known more about photography at the time, especially light, I would have shot negative film instead of the usual Ektachrome.  The contrasty light frustrated me and my failures from that trip convinced me to relearn the whole business of photography. The 35mm camera, on the other hand, was a perfect tool for walking the streets of Old Jerusalem or hiking up to the Mount of Olives in the Summer heat.  Without a tripod to burden me, I could whirr around to take a photo of something happening behind me, and when I photographed three old Arab men in traditional headdress deep in the shadows of the Via Delarosa, and the one in the middle whacked at me with his cane, I was mobile enough to miss the force of the blow. Quickness of use is dependent on a lot of factors beside the camera however.  In a memorable encounter on Michigan Ave in Chicago one Winter,  I heard an explosion of female laughing and chattering behind me.  It was the days of “the Dodge Boys wear white hats” and I turned around and at the curb two white Dodge vans had pulled up and pouring out of them were about 20 girl models in hot pants and white cowboy hats rushing towards me into the Tribune Building.  I had the camera in my hand loaded with film and as they ran past me waving and laughing, with their legs, I would suppose, goose bumping in the frigid Chicago wind, I could not take a shot.  Some other factor had interfered with my photographer’s instincts.

 

McCain Rally
John McCain Rally, Gonzaga

 

I still regret that during the Spring of my first year of college when I went with 3 friends to Washington, D.C. to see for ourselves what was going on with the peace demonstrations and the Nixon White House, I went without the Pentax.  Because, I suppose, of all those years of making Super 8 baby movies, I left the Pentax in the dorm and took a Canon movie camera and all I have of a major historical experience are two 50 foot roll of movies film and not a single 35mm negative.  The Pentax would have been a wonderful tool for the marches and the police lines and the camps at the Jefferson Lagoon with the Viet Nam Veterans Against the War and the Welfare Rights Organization and Black Panthers in black leather jackets hawking their papers.

 

I got my first rangefinder camera by trading a 4X5 monorail someone had given me for a Canon IVSB2 with a Leitz Elmar lens (uncoated).  I had become convinced that my best photos had been made with a 35mm and I wanted to move up to what I thought would be a higher level of equipment.  The Canon was an aesthetically beautiful camera and the Elmar was a nice clean cutting lens. Meanwhile I was learning photography on my own with a voracious consumption of library books and lots of film.  Then my friend John Iacula handed off to me for a few hundred dollars a 2 body Spotmatic set with three lenses, a Minolta SRT set with 4 lenses, a Leica IIIc with a 90mm Elmar and a broken Nicca rangefinder body with a shiny chrome Nikkor 50mm 1.4 lens, the kind that David Douglas Duncan made famous during the Korean war.  I still use the Nikkor.

 

larry W SAX
Larry of the Working Spliffs and his Sax

 

Using a rangefinder camera reduces the bulk of equipment even more and I can throw a couple lenses in bags in my vest and with the camera around my neck I can walk miles just keeping an eye out for whatever might catch it. Nowadays I have newer equipment, a 1962 Leica M3 and a 2001 Voigtlander R2 that has its own meter!  Because I shoot a lot of large format I tend to be very careful with composition, and because I wear eyeglasses, the rangefinder can be a little difficult in getting my edges true.  The pleasure of shooting with the M3 overrides for me any of the difficulties.

 

markiepipe in rinardfixed
Markus and his Great Grandfather, Rinard, IL

 

One thing I’ve learned is that even though I can get a shot with a slower shutter speed handheld, image quality improves with a faster shutter, even with the rangefinders and no mirror. Because the small format comes with naturally bigger depth of field, this isn’t much of a problem.  While the gritty look of the 50’s and 60’s when magazine photographers push processed their Tri-X to extremes had a certain charm, I make too many big negatives to want that for my 35mm shots and I’d much rather use a cell phone with its dinky flash in those situations.  So with 35mm, image quality remains for me just as important as it is with a 5X7 inch negative.

 

Kathy is shooting a series on a copy stand with an SRT body and a Minolta 25mm lens intended for the auto bellows attachment.  She photographs objects that can be no bigger than a dime with this non-focusing lens on Tmax 100, and then enlarges them to 16X20 prints and they are sharp and finely detailed.  The idea that 35mm cannot produce image quality is just nonsense.  It produces under the right circumstances excellent quality but with a different feel than large or medium format film.

 

young couple color at empyrean
At the Old Empyrean

 

Today, one can get hold of a 35mm camera and lenses inexpensively and easily either at an online auction or from a local listing.   Millions and millions of cameras are out there and there is still plenty of film available.  It’s true that the cellphone has replaced the 35 as “everyman’s camera”, but then, that means that it is the cellphone that has become ordinary while a 35mm hanging on your shoulder will catch the attention of passers by.  And if you really crave the attention, get one from the 50’s, shiny and solid and no plastic!

 

Bill Kostelec

 

May, 2018

 

Photographers at play

This latest blog is a rough transcript of a talk I gave at the local community college photo club, when my wife Kathy and I exhibited our alternative process prints there. It represents our overarching philosophical take on being film photographers in the digital age. The members of the club were all working on degrees in professional photography, and hence were destined to be commercial digital photographers, future competitors with each other.
Photographers At Play
Photographers at Play, a rather trivial and playful title, at least on the surface, it makes me think of children. Once, at a concert, we encountered an acquaintance who told us of a scientific study, following a dozen children from when they first entered school until they graduated from high school. They asked these kids, in their initial encounter, Can you dance? Can you Sing? Can you draw pictures?, Can you make up songs? And the overwhelming percentage said “Yes I can.” Following these kids through the school years always asking the same questions, the percentage of “No I can’t” increased every year, until by the graduation day from high school only a very small minority could say “Yes I can” to any of those questions.
We are socialized out of our creativity and our self-confidence. Maintaining that feeling of creative power is and must remain a life-long struggle. I remember when I bought my first platinum kit from the Formulary in Montana. It sat in its white cardboard box for six months, because I kept thinking, “I can’t do this, I’ll screw it up.”
Meanwhile, the Modern Art ethos evokes the image of the solo, struggling, genius, who has the power to transform the world of art through manifesting the inner genius into a body of work. And thus, SUCCESS, which is first Recognition, And second Wealth.
Play/Work
Now in this context Photographers at Play might begin to show a bit more of its serious intent. Play is the realm of children. We adults, are supposed to work. Indeed, early 20th century photographers referred to themselves as workers, a phrase that was sometimes political, in identifying with the working classes and progressive movements, but also a phrase very descriptive of the process nature of photography. There was chemistry, optics, the physics of light, the elements of handiwork in repairing broken wooden cameras and building the structure and apparatus of all the things required in the darkroom. But then in the 20th century many people in this country considered themselves to be workers, working class, and they were, in keeping with that class, keepers of workshops and tool benches and in those golden days of film photography, personal at home darkrooms. They were crafty people, a crafty generation and very self-sufficient in their skill sets.
But they were not necessarily very good at developing and maintaining the playful creativity of childhood. After all, times were hard, there were wars, big wars, Depression, and when times got superficially better in the 1950’s these crafty people managed to raise a generation of children that had their creativity stuffed deep into the holes of their bomb shelters and their suppressed joy of life.
Photographers at Play is, in this context a statement of protest, a repudiation of the great and overbearing weight of that socialization and even, Repression. Note that there are two terms, Play, of course which is both a verb, an action, and a noun, a process. Then there is Photographers, plural, not singular. If we were intent on maintaining that Modernist manifesto of the singular genius, then Kathy and I would be in perpetual competition and self-doubting. So we are saying 2 things. First, that Play is the proper attitude in which to work, and second, that photography is a communal enterprise, that it is an idea and a process which is well served in the context of a community of workers.
Tools.Toys
When we were children we played with toys. As adults, we have our tools and even if we call it Work, which it certainly is, nevertheless our tools can be sources of playful energy. There is a certain joy I get with picking up a camera I have not used recently, or a camera which I have repaired and maintained, and taking it out on a shoot. There is another great pleasure in standing in the darkness before the darkroom sink and hand processing a sheet of 8X10 film, and waiting until close to time and flipping on the little green light to make a quick inspection. There is a satisfaction in watching a palladium print suddenly and dramatically appear as I pour the hot potassium oxalate over it in the developing tray. This is play, this is fun, this is work.
The variety of processes available to us as photographers right now is greater than it has ever been. This year we have begun doing gum printing, using water color pigments to make the image on paper. And one of the things that makes us more inclined to do that kind of work is our availability to shoot film, scan that original negative, and then print out a digital negative, usually an enlargement, with the increased contrast and density needed to make most of these alternative printing processes work at their best. Using the digital negative is also a sense of security in that an original film neg pressed up in a contact printing frame against a damp gum bichromate paper would make us very nervous for the health and well being of that film neg.
The variety of print possibilities increases for us all the time as we delve into one more process for the first time. I have been enjoying whipping egg whites up in a bucket with a little acetic acid and some sea salt, then letting them age, rot, ferment, or whatever for a week or two to make albumen paper. It’s a new game for us.
Worker/Craftsman
The worker part kicks in here, because all of this involves developing a sense of craft, and a growing mastery of the various processes. One of the most exciting things about photography is that it is a life-long learning process; there is always more to learn, more to grow. Craft is a word that takes us back to that earlier generation of people with workshops in their basements. All of this requires a very serious attitude towards the materials and the processes. You have to do it right.
So does this help us to attain to a high degree of creativity?
We shoot film only. That’s because we love film and we love the processes. Film requires focus of attention to detail, patience, and a keen awareness of its limited potentialities. The constraints of film, especially sheet film emphasize the requirements for attention to detail and patience, things that I don’t naturally come by. But if you think about how children play, especially when they are very young, you will note that they seem to have a great availability to focus on little details, and they can be very patient on completing some little creative project. We adults on the other hand are so easily distracted by all the complication that life brings, especially adult life; so many responsibilities, that it is hard for us to practice the craft. But it is the mastering of the craft that transforms it from TASK to PLAY. In achieving a level of competence, we then find ourselves feeling the freedom of play.
Working as a photographic community
One more thing, back to that Modernist definition of Artist as solitary genius. It was B.S. at the beginning of the 20th century and it remains so today. In the arts one is supposed to always be doing something new and different, to become the creator of trends and movements. It is as if the artist is only a dress designer, working on creating the next years hot collection that continues to feed the marketplace of consumer culture. Is that what you want from your work? In fact, more often than not you will find in the historical sketches of the 20th century photographers a great deal of collegiality, even in the midst of competing colleges; so you find in California, in the 1930s, gatherings of working photographs drinking and eating together and talking about the aesthetics of the camera, in response to and in distinction from the Pictorialists of the West Coast who seemed to work in the aesthetics of paint and brush with their cameras. These gatherings, fueled by conversation produced an organization , f64, and several exhibitions, including group exhibitions, that impacted photography here and abroad for the next 70 years. And this group was full of individuals with their own genius and powers, and their pictures did not all look alike. They were not producing little boxes made of ticky tacky. They were the Westons, Adams, Imogen Cunningham, Consuela Kanaga and Willard Van Dyke. But they talked, and drank, and argued and ate with and exhibited with each other and with poets and writers and critics and painters… This collegiality, in repudiation of the competitive isolation of the myth of the individual genius, is I think, a key and missing element of much contemporary art.
It is craft which the photographer must have in common with other photographers, the attention to detail, the getting it right. There is no need to worry about “finding one’s individual genius!” The key to uncovering it is the process, the craft, the skill with the tools, that one develops with discipline and patience.  The enthusiasm required to maintain that work ethic is nurtured by the energy and empowerment that comes from working with your colleagues and sharing in their enthusiasm.  The seriousness in developing one’s craft must be matched with the playfulness of following one’s art.

 

Bill Kostelec,

April 2018

Using a Fungussy Lens

LADYINBLACKUsing a Fungussy Lens

I have a Canon screw mount lens from the early 1950s. It’s a Serenar 50mm f 1.8 in a shiny bright chrome mount. It came on my Canon III. It has a fungus on an internal lens element. My camera tech did not want to disassemble as far as it would have taken to get to the fungus, so we let it go. This is a lens with a very good reputation. It was created fast, sharp and contrasty. It still is.

The coating on the front and rear elements is in nearly perfect shape on the Serenar and I have used it happily from time to time. Still, it has a fungus. The other day Kathy and I went downtown Spokane to photograph the MLK Day march. It was cold, but bright and sunny. I decided to take two cameras, a Minolta SRT 201 with a 135 Rokkor, and my M3, with appropriate adaptor and the Canon Serenar. I wanted to see just what I could get out of the fungus, afflicted lens in bright, contrasty light.

I shot two rolls of film through it, a 24 exposure roll each of TriX and TMAX 100. Most of the exposures were made at f11 or between f8 and f11. The fungus is translucent and it is off center.  The set up area for the march was at the Convention Center with its high and brilliant white block long wall that faced the late morning sun directly. People standing up against or close to the wall threw distinct and sharp shadows behind them and the light made for some very interesting images.   Figure no. 1 is of a lady dressed in black, just a couple a feet away from the wall. I was standing straight on and parallel to her and the white wall. At 1/250th of a second between f8 and 11, the TriX negative is nice and sharp. When I printed the first copy of this I used a 3 ½ filter on Seagull VC fiber paper, and the first print was too light. What did reveal itself in this print was light from the wall behind subtly bleeding around the edges of the lady’s dark clothing and hat. Very subtly. I increased the print exposure by about 50% and got the good print, illustrated here. There is no sign of the flaring, no fog obscuring detail and I think of this as a successful exposure. Obviously the fungus had glowed in the brilliant wall light. My lens hood could not hold that back. Still, the quality of the negative is good and I printed without any burning or dodging.

FLARINGINMARCH

The second image is near the end of the march with a lot of brilliant backlighting. As my custom, I put myself into a shadow area, this time a multi story building whose roof just cut out the noontime Winter sky from the shot. Any light that could flare the fungus in the lens would have to come from the reflections off the street or windows or shiny objects on the marchers. In this case it was hair and pavement and a parked car. Here the effects of the fungus is more pronounced and there are several little bursts of white light on distant marchers where the sunlight backlit hair. The shadows and light on the pavement was very striking in reality and the fungus I think tended to emphasize that in a very pleasant way. If I’d used my Summicron 50mm instead perhaps the backlighting would have been cleaner and more controlled but I am really happy with the fungal glow.

So what is the lesson here? My Dad told me a long time ago, “Don’t throw it away. You could use it someday!” I learned my lesson. A photographer’s equipment does not have to be perfect, nor new. It just has to be used properly, and at the appropriate time. So, make some pictures.

Bill Kostelec

Processing Film and the Good Life

The Good Life of Processing Film

 

The other evening, Kathy processed her first 8X10 negs in my BTZS tubes. She had processed 8 X 10 in a tray before but I was the only one using the tubes. It was also her first time shooting the 8X10 Eastman Commercial View Camera that I spent a lot of hours getting into shooting condition last year.

She was amazed at her negatives. We did the first two at 6 minutes in Xtol at 72 degrees, thinking that we could alter the time for the duplicate negs if necessary. It wasn’t. The next afternoon she made contact prints on a Foma contact printing paper and now apparently, I am going to have to find a hiding place to stash at least some of our 8X10 film!

My favorite format for sheet film negatives is 5X7. As I have always enjoyed framing and shooting 35mm film, the aspect ratio of 5X7 seems ideal to me. It is a lot like 35mm in that way. Having a working Beseler 5X7 enlarger with a cold light head also helps to add value to that format. Still, when we want to produce a large body of work, as in last Fall’s trip to the Eastern Sierra, we both shoot a lot of 4X5 and medium format. Film processing, as well as cost, contributes to that choice. We both process 4X5 in restaurant trays, used for, I suppose keeping food hot, a brilliant innovation that Alan Ross showed us a year or so ago. We used to use hangars in Kodak rubber tanks. It is an easy and nearly foolproof method and being very hands on, also satisfying.  8X10 and 5X7 film has been more problematic and the acquisition of the BTZS tubes was, and Kathy will now allow me to say this, a rather good move on my part.

I enjoy processing film more than I enjoy printing. The moment a negative first comes into the light is like (well not quite) when the newborn baby first is wheeled into the room. There it is, full of potential, full of promise and hope! (I’m not sure if I’m talking about the baby or the negative. Sometimes I get carried away!)

In any case, whenever I use the digital camera to make an image, the act seems so prematurely done, and so incomplete in a way that I find very unsatisfying. Sitting at a computer just doesn’t feel like a photographic activity to me, partly because of too many years in a sedentary sitting at the computer job. Processing film, on the other hand, makes me smile and hanging negatives to dry and going into the house, where Kathy inevitably asks, “How do they look?” is what I call, “the good life.”

Bill Kostelec