March 23rd, 2011


In For a Penny, In For a Pound

In a mildly unrelated vein I contemplated this proverb (for lack of a better term) during my drive into work one morning. I remember when I first heard this I thought it referred to weight, pennies not weighing very much but hay, might as well get a pound of something. I'm not sure when I figured out, without any other research, that it refers to the British pound as currency; thus, in for a small amount, may as well be in for a larger amount. As in invested, or betting, or some such.

The reason this is mildly unrelated to the rest of these meditations is my main stream of consciousness flowed around photography and the process of getting GinormoBeast up and photographing. Actual work on or with the camera is in a holding pattern while Herself and I work on other aspects of the overall photographic 'business' in and of our lives, and yet still percolating away in the grey matter there. Things (some of which may be mentioned) like well, I will need to scan these large negatives, and hey the old scanner here besides not sporting software drivers compatible with Win7 also is merely a 5x5 transparency adapter, that's not large enough. Thus on to investigating the state of scanner technology available out there for someone with my limited budget not being a giant mega-corporation or even with a regular Patron vis-a-vis the historical pattern for artists. Or so I fantisize, anyway, who knows.

It not being a digital camera (there are digital backs available. See previous comment about not being a giant mega-corporation.) means film, which is … well. Yes. Film.

I grew up on film. Silver is in my blood. My Dad told me he couldn't spend the time I did in a darkroom, he'd be claustrophobic. I took him at his word, though it is probably something like mal-de-mer, something someone who doesn't suffer from the problem can't truly understand even if they can empathise. I developed my first roll of film, followed by prints when I was 13 years old. There is magic in this. Oh, yes, chemistry, physics (at some level it becomes impossible to separate the two), and why does that change it from being magic? Even moving into the digital world, it is still magic. We expose a light-sensitive surface to photons under some degree of control, or lack of control, to see what will happen.

With film, first one needs to enter total darkness. Panchromatic film is sensitive to all light; the image of the dark red 'safelight' in a darkroom to process film is ancient in the world of photography. Total darkness is the only safe way to handle film out of the holder or camera. It is to enter the world of the Blind, doing things entirely by touch, hearing, smell. Even when one learns that a changing bag can be used, still the film and tank are in total darkness. One's eyes are in the lighted world, yet the world that counts, that is important, is there, hidden, totally black. One needs to forget the seen, ignore the light, and feel. Once the roll of film is loaded onto the reel, and sealed into the light-tight tank, only then is the changing bag opened, or the room light turned on. The film is still hidden from our site; the image recorded, still latent.
Then the precious object is bathed in magic potions, studiously maintained at relatively constant temperatures for measured times. One potion negates the activity of the first, and a third removes any further ability of the film to react actively to light, and then, only then, can we see what we've wrought.

The magic is even more evident when printing. We place the now secure negative into a machine which holds it fixed in space in relation to a flat surface, and delivers a focused beam of light for a measured time onto a piece of paper covered with a silver halide emulsion. There are other types of emulsions and surfaces that produce different qualities of printed image: cyanotype, platinum, daguerreotype, collodion. For most, though, it is possible to work in some filtered wavelength of light and see the process occurring. It's actually a mis-conception that many hold, that a darkroom needs to be 'dark', with black painted walls to decrease reflection. So long as the light source is covered with that specific filter, so long as the available light is only that colour, the walls may be white and therefore provide better, safer visibility for the photographer. Expose the emulsion surface to measured light, take the paper and place it in those similar magic potions – developer, stop bath, fixer. In the developer one sees the magic happen, as the latent image arises, becomes ghostly then solid. A picture, where nothing existed before.

I know how to mix these potions, the magic incantations, the proper hand and arm motions to invoke the energy. Still, the last time I personally developed any film is now on the order of 16 years ago. Even longer for prints. I've preferred to take my film to a lab, in no small part over the past 20 plus years that silver solutions possess antibiotic properties, and septic tanks rely on microbes to break down the solid waste placed there most people call sewage – their effluent, night soil, feces. However, that is a different magic, pertinent to this discussion simply because photographic magic is its nemesis.

GinormoBeast uses film, as I said. Big film. Film in flat sheets, 20 centimetres by 25, 8 inches by 10. Film which possesses notches cut into a standardised location, so that the photographer knows while handling it in total darkness what type of film it is, and which is the upper right corner so that it may be placed into the holder such that that silver emulsion will be vulnerable to time-measured light. What you may not know is that a 36 exposure roll of 135 mm film is about equivalent to an 8x10 sheet; 36 frames of 35 lay out on an 8x10 sheet of photo paper to make a contact print. A 12 exposure roll of 120 mm film (medium format) is as well equivalent to 8x10. Both of those, however, are indeed rolls, and are loaded onto reels for ease of management when developing. Not so with sheets. Sheets may be developed in trays, or in tanks, loaded onto their own style of film holder. Still faced with that need to keep my septic tanks healthy, the plan is Off to the Lab With It.

Sheet film is rather more available than many might think, since as digital photography grows large format gains some strength as the manner that photographers dedicated to silver halide imagery do their work. Large format, though, is defined as sizes of film starting at 10 x 12 cm (4x5 inches). Some may include film either roll or sheet which equates to the above mentioned 120 mm film, because of the manner the camera will hold it. Some of the panoramic cameras, designed specifically for landscape photography, use 120 roll film and create a negative or transparency 6 cm by 12 to 20 cm long (2.25 by 5 to 8 inches long). Or it may be sheet film 2.25 by 3.25 inches; that size comprises my first introduction to a view camera back in '72. That camera also leads to a short side-trip, memory of both my Father and Brother telling me I'd progressed much further then either of them in photography, and that I shouldn't want to obtain a view camera... different meditations.

At any rate, sheet film is available and I've located at least a half-dozen sources. It is also somewhat more dear in cost than 35mm or 120mm. And after some investigating it is not available locally, defined as no more than a 45 minute drive one-way. It is available by mail order. I moved along in my personal investigations after determining that to look into other things which need doing in order to get GinormoBeast up and running, until that morning driving in to work when I started thinking 'In for a Penny, In For a Pound' and I said to Myself, 'Myself if Flair Lab doesn't sell 8x10 film any more, maybe I shouldn't assume they still process it.' Myself replied, 'Right then, Self, stop by on the way home from work and ask.'

It appears I shall be developing film myself, again.

So I started boning up on the How. And looking for some of the tools. Tanks are out there. Chemistry, definitely. What I'm not finding easily are those film holders for 8x10. This isn't a stop drop dead factor. I can use the trays I used for 8x10 print paper. Simply need that Darkroom. There's even a room in Studio 318 which calls out to become a darkroom. The old full bath is large enough, and there's only one window to cover, and the door is quite easily protected from additional light leaking. There's a vent fan in the ceiling. Oh, wait, it doesn't work. OK, that will need replacing then. When replacing, check to see if light comes in through that opening; make a baffle if it does. Oh, and before doing any of that? Clear it out. Right now, it's a storage room. Oh, and film processing? Needs water. There's no water to Studio 318, courtesy of the Hurricane Season of '04 and the age of the plumbing there.

In For a Penny, In For a Pound.