Monday, 13 August 2018


Capri, in the early morning mist, from the hills above Sorrento:

Capri, Ilford Warmone RC paper, toned

Monday, 6 August 2018

Up Vesuvius with David Hurn

We were away for a bit, as you might have guessed from the lack of posting recently.  I'm not an easy traveller these days, but we did a bit of searching around for destinations from our local airport (Belfast) and decided a direct flight to Naples would be do-able.  We stayed just outside Sorrento, about an hour's drive away.  A very nice part of the world, the Amalfi Coast.  Yes it's fairly busy at this time of year, but since the whole region lives for tourism it never really felt uncomfortably crowded - the infrastructure is geared to cope.

Although I carried the Leica with me I didn't really snap that much.  It's been a tough 12 months in the McNeill household and for once I was happy just to relax and enjoy being in holiday mode. I did press the shutter a few times, though...

One of those times was as I ventured up Vesuvius.  I didn't make it all the way to the crater - the cinder path was slippy enough in places so I chickened out and stopped with Missy for a while, doing a bit of people watching.  As this shot composed itself in front of me I was reminded for some strange reason of David Hurn:

Up Vesuvius, Naples down below, David Hurn in my head.  HP5+ on Warmtone RC paper, 10"x8" print.

David Hurn, if you don't know, was the guy who did the Barbarella shoot with Jane Fonda.  Yup, you know now!  And he also did the famous Sean Connery shot as James Bond.  A nice story to that one as well.  The shoot was all set up, everyone in place ready to go but no-one had remembered to bring a gun. Not just any gun, of course, James Bond's gun, a Walther.  As luck would have hit, Hurn had in possession a Walther air pistol, which was subsequently used for the shoot. He told the director that the art people would be able to shorten the barrel before final printing so no-one would ever know it was an air pistol and not a proper, James Bond-style gun.  Of course that message got lost in the post, so to speak - hence the abnormally long barrel on the gun that ended up on the poster. I wonder how many people realised....

A Magnum photographer, at the height of his powers David Hurn gave up the London life to live in Wales, where his roots lay.  For the next few decades he set about documenting ordinary life in that part of the world and a fantastic job he did of it, too.  Along the way, he amassed an amazing collection of photographs by well-known people, including Henri Cartier-Bresson, Eve Arnold, Bill Brandt, Bruce Davidson, Martin Parr.  This was long before photographs were deemed to have any monetary value - he says he simply knocked on the doors of photographers he admired and asked for a print.  OK so he had a calling card but even so that's a great story.  Anyway, next time I'm in Cardiff I'll be heading to the Museum of Wales, since that is where he has donated his collection.

Oh, you can see the shot of Hurn's that I was thinking about, when I was nearly at the top of Vesuvius, by clicking here.  It's the second image on the page, at Tenby.

Monday, 9 July 2018

A confession

I have a confession to make: I've had enough of Mr Blue Sky.  I'm longing for rain and clouds.  Well, maybe not the rain bit but the clouds, yes. I know in a few months I'll be regretting that statement but I find the current weather so unsuitable for the type of photography I like to do.  So I'm digging around in the negative files for something interesting to print:

Portstewart Strand, via the 'Blad.  Ilford Warmtone Fibre paper, 11"x14"

I'm also finding myself moving away from RC paper towards using fibre papers more.  Agreed there are some very nice RC emulsions out there - like Fotospeed VC Oyster, Adox MCP, Kentmere VC Select and Ilford Warmtone.  These all tone rather well and the short washing times are a real bonus - as is the cost compared to fibre paper.  But every time I use fibre paper - particularly the one used here, Ilford Warmtone - I find the prints are just so much nicer to look at. There's a depth, or subtlety to the tones that draws me in.

While we're at the confessions, there was a ton of spotting to be done on this print, which I haven't completed yet.  So I cleaned this one up using the power of software.

Monday, 2 July 2018

A wave of heat hits The Liberties

Yes folks it's official: there is a heatwave in Northern Ireland.  Not often I can write that, now, is it?  We've had the most clement weather since the start of May - temperatures reaching a heady 30 degrees the other day (86 degree Fahrenheit if you prefer) and very little rain.  As a result, we have a hosepipe ban in place - the first since 1995, apparently.  The upshot is that we're not allowed to use a hosepipe to water our gardens, clean our windows, wash our cars, or clean our boats (eh?).  Some rail services have been cancelled as the tracks are so hot they are in danger of buckling.  Things are, it would appear, rapidly descending into chaos.

The good people of The Liberties aren't used to this fierce heat - seriously, we're not.  We can (obviously) handle rain, wind and storms but heat? - no.  Tempers will flare.  There will be road rage and probably fights will break out over shopping trolleys.  We're in for a tough time until the weather breaks - which, I guess, will not be that far away...

Now the restrictions on water usage don't, surprisingly, make any mention of washing fibre prints in one's darkroom but it would be a tad irresponsible to do so at the minute.  So it might be RC prints for a while, I think.  Not that the darkroom is a particularly pleasant place to be in right now, mind you.  I did venture in the other day (just before the hosepipe ban came into effect) and the ambient temperature was well over the magic 20 degrees, so the chemicals were all a bit livelier than usual.  Still, I managed to get one print made - just to remind myself what clouds look like:

Sunset over Inishowen.  Ilford Warmtone Fibre paper, 11"x14"

Monday, 25 June 2018

More lines and shadows on lith

The other day you might have seen this same shot, of the stone steps leading up from the small beach by the Portrush Arcadia where Missy does her Pilates on a Monday evening.  The same Portrush Arcadia where I saw manys a band back in the day.  A few years ago the concert hall at the back of the building was demolished, but they kept the front, which was most surprising for this part of the world where preservation of old buildings would appear to be the exception, not the norm.  So, we have to be grateful for small mercies, don't we.

Anyway, here's another print from the same 6x6 negative.  Slightly closer crop, but still Foma paper in Moersch lith developer although this time two stops over-exposed under the enlarger, which as we all know means less contrasty...but a whole lot more colourful:

Untoned, in case you were wondering - the colour is solely due to the action of the lith developer on this particular paper.

Friday, 22 June 2018

Rocks in the sea

Just off the seaside town of Portrush lie a group of rocks in the sea (just visible on the horizon in the print below).  The Skerries.  A bit of research the other year indicates the name is derived from an old Norse work, meaning 'rock' or 'rock in the sea'.  Appropriate enough, it would appear.

Portrush, HP5 on the Hasselblad, Foma paper, lith

It was part of the lith printing session the other day - the usual 9.5"x12" Foma paper and some oldish Easylith developer.  I haven't played around that much with different lith formulae but when my solutions of Moersch Easylith are finished I've got some Fotospeed to try.  Usually I mix 20ml of solution A with 20ml of B and about a litre of water but you can vary the concentration of both A and B to have softer/harder tones or lower/higher contrast. 

This print ended up being particularly colourful, as you can see - appropriate enough as it was taken in the early evening in warm summer sunlight.  I'm thinking it might be worth dunking the print into some weak ferrycyanide bleach to lift the highlights a bit - but on the other hand I might just leave it alone.  Sometimes I find it pays to leave a print lying around for a while and eventually it either grows on me or I decide to do something different with it (before putting it on the wall, in a box or throwing it in the bin).

The one useful thing I do nowadays is put the negative number on the back of every print so it's easy enough to find it should I ever want to print it again. 

Monday, 18 June 2018

Just some lines and stuff

Another lith print from the walkabout in Portrush.  Early evening sun casting interesting shadows on the steps:

HP5 on the 'Blad, Foma paper, lith developer