Thursday, 13 December 2018

A country lane

When I came across this negative the other day I thought I'd print it just to see.  I'm glad I did, as there was one thing about it which genuinely surprised me when I saw the print.  The figure in the shot is my brother, back in the late 70s and it was taken just at end of the driveway to my parents' house, looking up the road.  The lovely Irish Setter in the foreground wasn't ours, by the way - I think it belonged to a neighbour.   My father had a dislike of dogs, having been bitten by one when he was young, so we had cats - lots.  All outdoor/farm cats, though, never allowed in the house.

Brother and dog, late '70s.  Printed 2018 on Ilford Fibre Classic paper.

The thing that surprised me was 'our' road - look how narrow it is!  And then I vaguely remembered there being a day when the council came by to widen our little country lane.  Nowadays it's about twice as wide as you see here - enough for large milk lorries, oil lorries and just about anything to get through - albeit with care.  And those verges - look how high and dense they are!  They look beautiful to my eyes.  Today there's not much at the sides of the road, just a bit of grass and then hedges which are clipped to almost nothing by the farmers.

I guess it's the detail that is most easily forgotten as time passes.  You think the road you drive along several times a day was always like it is now, but of course things change - everything changes, little by little, day by day, year on year. I realise that these days I'm in a minority - someone who still lives at the place where they grew up (after having spent many years living in England, I should probably add, before I saw the light and came home).  Looking at this simple photograph today gives me a lot of pleasure - but I wish our road still looks like it does here.

Monday, 10 December 2018

Library at DePaul University, Chicago

How’s that for a snappy title, eh? OK I know we're flitting back and forth some 40 years here at the minute, but sure it keeps things interesting.  I hope so, anyway.

As you know, if you've been following events, I went for a quick visit to Chicago this summer to see my brother.  Here's one of the shots I took on the Lincoln Park campus of DePaul University.  This is the lobby/entrance to the Library. So actually the title is misleading; it should read ‘Entrance to library at DePaul University, Lincoln Park Campus, Chicago’. Even snappier then, right?

The Library, DePaul University, Chicago.  2018. Ilford fibre classic paper, toned.
About a tenth of a second after I took this shot the guy there dropped to the floor in alarm. No, of course I jest, but the place was quiet and with all those tiles the mirror slap from the ‘Blad was, how shall I say, noticeable.

Anyway, isn’t the library entrance impressive? I thought it was. And the ground floor lobby of the library  was equally plush - all wood and expensive chairs and big computer screens and a sense of reverence. I got the impression it’s where prospective students - and, more importantly, their parents - would be brought on Open Days. Yes, folks, just equate the quality of the learning to the decor and By the way, sign right here...

It’s a business, higher education these days, don’t you know?

Thursday, 6 December 2018


I seem to be stuck in The Archives at the minute, having had a marathon printing session the other day.  As expected, there are lots of family shots from the mid-late 1970s, when I was a teenager.  This one is from 1976 and from the first roll of film through my new OM-1.  It's of The Brother, looking like a rabbit caught in the headlights:

The Brother, as he looked in 1976.  Printed 2018, Adox MCC paper

What's nice for me in this shot is not just my brother, but the bits&pieces which went to define the living room in my parents' house.  The Binatone stereo just behind his head, for example - I can remember my dad being very excited by that purchase.  He loved his music and was a tenor singer in the Church Quoir as well as singing in local festivals.  The same stereo is now housed somewhere in my mother's garage - it's not that she's a hoarder, she just can't bear to throw things out :)

There's a ton of books and reading material scattered around.  We did a lot of reading in our house in them days - there were no distractions like Internet or TV.  Well, there was TV - only just, mind.  I'll say more about that in a later post.

My mother still uses those same sofa and the same hardwood chairs that you can see to the right of the picture.  And that's one of my dad's oil paintings on the wall.  He was quite a decent artist and was planning to take up painting a bit more seriously in his retirement.  Unfortunately that never happened - cancer took him just a year into retirement and it was clear it had been working on him for a few years.  That's one of the reasons why, when early retirement became an option for me I jumped at it.

The edge markings indicate that this was shot was on Ilford FP4, by the way.  The developer information wasn't written on the glassine negative file, unfortunately - probably Paterson Acutol or something like that. Printed on Adox MCC fibre paper, by the way - 42 years later. That still tickles me!

Monday, 3 December 2018

My Martin Parr Moment

My first ‘Martin Parr’ moment came over 40 years ago...and yes, you’ve got it - I’m still waiting for my second.  Ah well - it’s all about the journey, right?  This is a shot from The Archives that I've been wanting to print for ages and finally got around to it.  It is, of course, a location which will be recognisable to many - Number 10, Downing Street, London.  It's the official residence of the Prime Minister of the Great Britain and Northern Ireland!

Outside No. 10 as it was in 1977.  Printed 2018, Adox MCC fibre paper

Now it's not the greatest shot in the world in terms of composition, light, subject matter or anything trivial like that.  I thought it was worth printing as it simply captures an interesting moment in time - that moment being sometime in the summer of 1977,whilst on holiday with my parents.  I would have been 14 at the time and that means it would have been taken on my OM-1, which I'd recently acquired.  The Olympus pretty much wiped all out my worldly savings from birthday and Christmas money etc built up over the years.  My finances recovered pretty quickly, mind you, once I got a Saturday&Holiday job in the photographic department of a local chemist, but that's a story for another time.

The policeman has his sleeves rolled up (it was summer!) and doesn't look too stressed considering he's guarding the offices of the most important person in the country.  No Kevlar stab-proof vest, no Taser, no gun - nothing really, apart from his radio.

And then there's the Asian couple standing proudly for their photograph.

Nowadays you can't even enter Downing Street if you're just a regular Joe or Jane - there are huge steel gates at the end where it joins Whitehall.  And usually about a dozen anti-terrorist, heavily armed police.  You don't really want to hang about there these days - not that would be allowed to anyway.

How times have changed, eh?  Ok I was a callow youth back then with nothing much to worry about except the spots on my face and whether or not I would ever be attractive to members of the opposite sex (and that's definitely another story for another day - growing up in the middle of the countryside in the far North West of Ireland with only a brother for company did not make me the world's most confident person in the company of girls) but looking from today's perspective it really does seem like a different world back then. Apart from the Carlos the Jackal, the Bader-Meinhof group and the Entebbe thing there didn’t seem to be too many threats about*.  Fast forward to today and - well, things are very different. What the heck happened?

* OK so I missed out the local shenanigans going on at that time - the activities of the Provisional IRA and various opposing groups, but where I lived seemed like the eye of the storm - it was relatively untouched.  Relatively.

Thursday, 29 November 2018

The three Jessicas

The best of the prints from last week's club modelling session with Jessica.  They're not mounted properly - I was playing around with different colours and so far reckon that black suits the mood best.

Jessica.  Foma paper, lith

The Foma paper in lith results in a very warm print naturally, by the way. And yes, the grain really is that big - even on these 9.5"x12" prints.  That's partly due to exposing HP5 at (or around) 3200asa, but the lith process helps to accentuate that as well, in addition to adding even more to the softness of print.  It suits the subject well, I think.

And just for completeness, the print you might have seen earlier, kind of half-mounted:

I've enjoyed making these three prints enormously.  I seem to get more out of darkroom work than camera work at the minute - sometimes I need a kick to get out and actually take some snaps but I'm always itching to get in to the darkroom and print something.

Monday, 26 November 2018


I’m writing this entry on Sunday evening whilst lying on the floor, just in case you were wondering. I lie on the floor most evenings, not just Sundays - it’s good for my aching bones. Today I spent all morning in the darkroom with Jessica.  I should perhaps explain that Jessica was one of two models our Photographic Club hired last Tuesday evening for a photo-shoot. I’m really not a studio photographer - hardly know one end of a flashgun from the other, truth be told - so I was way out of my comfort zone.  Everyone else was urging these off-camera flash triggers on the hot shoe of their pixel-snappers and doing lots of 'chimping'.  I brought the NikonFM3a and an old Vivitar Series 1 35-85mm lens. I had to sharpen the elbows to get anywhere near Jessica but I got a couple of shots. Here’s one, not quite dry&flat and therefore expertly held up by Missy, complete with fresh nail polish:


I was rating HP5+ at 3200asa and just using what light there was without the studio flashes that were available.  There wasn’t much, mind you, but I was primarily interested to see what HP5 at this speed looks like - any decent shots would be a bonus.  But I screwed up a bit with RO9 at the developer stage. The MassiveDevChart app on my phone suggested 18mins@21 degrees for 3200asa but only 12mins at 20 degrees for 1600asa.  That seemed like a heck of a difference so I chickened out and stopped developing at 16mins (21 deg). That, my friends, was an error of judgment  - the negs were under-cooked.

Not only that, my focussing was off and nothing was sharp. But hey, since when did that matter? Times like this only one thing for it - lith, and hope for the best. In the first print the skin tones were way too dark so I reduced the exposure by a full stop. The second print is what you see above. Well - after a quick dip in PotFerri just to add a little something.

Thursday, 22 November 2018


Chicago is famous for many things - architecture, rivers, art and gangsters such as Al Capone.  And the Blues Brothers film, of course.  Once seen, the clip of Jake and Elwood trying to sleep in their 'compact and bijou' bedsit is hard to forget, with the constant noise of the trains as they rumble past at eye level.  The L, as its known (L for eLevated) is this city's answer to London's Tube.  There are parts downtown in 'the loop' which go underground but for the most part it's an overground system, which I much prefer.  I'm not a fan of going underground - it's years since I took the Tube in London and while I'd like to think it has improved a lot in that time all I remember is the dirt, the smell and the poor air quality.  That plus in an aging system like London's any major incident such as fire and you're lucky to get out in one piece - some of those London tube stations are seriously deep underground.

Anyway, we took the train from Oak Park in the West Suburbs downtown only once this trip.  It's just as quick to drive down the I-290 expressway if you don't hit traffic but parking downtown is pretty difficult and very expensive, so this time we went by CTA train (Chicago Transit Authority) and about 30 minutes later got off somewhere around State Street.  From there it was a couple of blocks to Michigan Avenue and a couple more to our destination - the Museum of Contemporary Photography, housed in Columbia College. Somewhere between State and Michigan Avenue I snapped up a bit of the L on the 'Blad with HP5+:

The L Metro system, downtown Chicago.  On Ilford Fibre Classic paper

So, why the Museum of Contemporary Photography, then?  Not for the contemporary photography, in this case - no, for the chance to see a few prints by Ansel Adams. Not often do I get that chance in or around the North East Liberties of Coleraine so it had to be done.  I wasn't disappointed.

In the small upstairs gallery there were a couple of dozen black and print prints - proper darkroom prints, of course.  And in and among them were about 8 by Mr Adams - all of them taken out in one or other of the National Parks.  What was great was simply having all the time I wanted to study the prints up close.  There were only a few other people in the place so it was perfect.  In no particular order, then:  the prints weren't that big, some were 8"x10", others maybe 10"x12"; the quality of the printing was as expected (good); some were signed, some were initialed, some had no signature; quite a few dust spots and blemishes were evident on close inspection (so it's not just me then);  some looked to be dry-mounted, others were mounted in see-through photo corners. It was great to be able to see them at such close quarters - I was very happy with my afternoon downtown.