Sunday, 28 September 2014

Old stones

The weekends are pretty busy family affairs, what with my lovely, ever-patient wife, our daughter 'Matilda' and everything.  The 'everything' includes The Hound (our 9-year old border collie) our 5 hens and a rabbit which came to us un-announced and ended up being called 'Rooney van Ramsey' (don't ask, its a football thing made up by The Lad and Matilda).  The Lad is away working for BT this year, doing 'billing' and other important stuff while he takes a break from Uni, so he isn't around much at the minute.  Matilda likes a swim, as do I (good for General Fitness as well as the A.S.) - it's a bit of father-daughter 'bonding' time as well, which is great.   So no, I don't get in the darkroom much at weekends - although I did sneak a little 35mm film into a tank of Infosol3 at 1:14 dilution for 7 and-a-half minutes early this morning when the house was quiet.  The film is hanging in the 'drying cupboard' as I type.  With a bit of luck I might get something printed tomorrow.

The mild spell continues and this afternoon we headed down to Portstewart to see the craic.  Today, the last Sunday in September, was a Big Day in times gone bye.  Known as Chaghera Sunday, it signalled the end of the annual harvest and presumably that meant a rare day off for the labourers, and to Portstewart they would head.  The name apparently comes from a mix of Cookstown and Maghera, two county towns a good bit inland from here.  These days it means everyone drives their car along The Prom, takes the air, gets an ice-cream and generally has a good gawk at everyone else, as is the local custom.  One lap of The Prom and that was enough for us - too busy.  But Matilda enjoyed it, entering The Hound for the Dog Show (didn't win - are the judges blind??) and getting an ice-cream, so all is good.

So for your entertainment here is a print I made of some stones and some wood.

Rock Castle Salmon House, c1600
These particular stones form part of a little cottage in Portstewart which was used by salmon fishermen and dates from around 1600.  Well, I'm guessing the mortar doesn't date from 1600 and nor does the wood where the window would have been, but you get the idea.  Of course The Brother would by now be instigating a philosophical discussion about what it is that gives a building it's building-ness, or some such.  All you have to do to get him started is ask a seemingly innocuous question, such as 'What is a thing?' and he's off, although he'll usually start by informing you (non-too-politely, it has to be said), that that is the wrong question and you should be asking 'Why is a thing?'.  Several hours later and you're trying desperately to cling on to what is by now a distant memory of something - anything - that is real, tangible and understandable in what passes for 'your life'.  That's philosophy for you.

Anyway, this particular cottage-thing lies just in front of Low Rock Castle - famous as the birthplace of Field Marshall Sir George White VC, himself of the Siege of Ladysmith fame.  That house was tumbled only recently and has since been converted into a gated community of expensive town houses and apartments.  Gated community?  In Portstewart?  At least the Salmon Cottage remains, although all boarded up as you can see.

Friday, 26 September 2014

A lovely view

Continuing my coastal journey, on round from Dunluce Castle that was so well photographed in yesterday's piece, lies the seaside town of Portballantrae.  Bhaile being Irish for settlement and Tra for beach it isn't hard to work this one out.

There's still a small harbour there today, mainly used for local fishing boats and for pleasure craft in the summer, when the whole of the North Antrim coast gets very busy.  Best to be avoided at all costs during the summer months if you ask me.  Anytime from October to March (baring Christmas Day and New Year's Day when everyone 'takes the air') is usually OK - you've only the rain and biting wind for company, much more preferable believe me.

To the East of the village lies Blackrock Strand, accessed by the Three Quarter Mile Bridge over the River Bush - although it's nowhere near 3/4 mile long, seems more like 50 yards to me.  Still, that's the Irish for you, never much good at the auld Mathematics - except for this lad, he was pretty good now it has to be said.  Anyone who can read LaPlace's Mecanique Celeste (in the French, naturellement) let alone find an error in it (at the tender age of 17) gets my vote.  I used to dabble in the old sums a bit myself, a long time ago, before I found something easier to do.  But that's for another day.  Perhaps.

Anyway, I digress. The beach is very popular with surfers as some pretty big waves roll in from the Atlantic on a regular basis.  There's the "quare view" over the bay to the imposing Runkerry House, once the home of Lord Macnaghten, member of parliament for the area in the late 19th Century.  Not to be confused with the infamous 'Half Hung MacNaghten' - and that's another story that must wait for another day or I'll never get this one finished.  Runkerry House has since been converted into a series of apartments and town houses, as is the norm.  Still, it manages to provide a decent backdrop to admire from the eastern end of the village and there are several viewing opportunities for those whose legs, like mine, can't cope with the walking.  Hence our photograph today:

For admiring the lovely view, Portballantrae
You see?  Not just one bench, but two, and side by side at that.  And bolted down into a lovely big slab of Blue Circle for good measure so as no-one lifts them.  Still, gives you an idea of just how "lovely" the "view" must be, doesn't it?

I know, I must stop teasing you all (Ed: Ahem - who, exactly?).  And I will post the odd image of our majestic coastline that floats my boat, so to speak.  Once I've taken them and done something to them in the darkroom, that is.  Speaking of which, I'm off there now!

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Dunluce Castle

One of the highlights of any coach trip along the North Antrim coast must be stopping off to photograph Dunluce Castle - a bit of a ruin, truth be told, but since it dates back to the 14th Century that's OK.  It's perched precariously on the cliff edge - indeed part of it lies in the Atlantic Ocean, having apparently 'dropped off' one stormy night in 1639.  Famously described as 'one of the most picturesque and romantic castles in Ireland', as you might expect there are a lot of photographs of it to be found if you go looking.  Sunrise, sunset, sunny, cloudy, misty, foggy, midday, midnight, even with the aurora borealis as the backdrop - yup, they've all been done.  You can even get an app about it.  Of course being a castle and being very old it has a fascinating history (with a ghost, of course) - more of that another time (maybe).

So there I was passing it the other day, having just dropped Matilda (as she will be known here) off to school, when I thought to myself I'd better stop and see if there is anything left to photograph here.  Being September and relatively early in the morning I reckoned there probably wouldn't be too many tourists about.  For once I was right - not a sinner about the place.  Keeping my eyes peeled as I drove down the lane leading to the car park I identified where might be a favourable spot to stand and point my camera from.  As I walked back down the road from the car park I half expected a shout from the obligatory coffee shop, informing me that the entrance to the Castle was in the other direction, but none came.  All was quiet as I approached.  Suddenly the sea mist seemed a little stronger than I remembered - an eerie silence descended all around and I realised with a shiver I was completely alone.  Slowly I edged closer, my senses heightened.  (Ed: Yes yes, we all get the message, you're about to take a photograph.  Edgar Allen Poe you are not.  Just get on with it for goodness' sake).

Oops, sorry about that.  Got a bit carried away there, as you do.  Well here it is: Dunluce Castle, my version (just visible in the background there).

Dunluce Castle
PS Don't get me wrong - there might be another photograph or two of this place in me.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Shelagh’s Head, Wishing Arch, Elephant Rock and Lion’s Paw

Around the coast from Portstewart and Portrush (just past Curran Head but before Dunluce Castle) we have an area known as the White Rocks.  A long sandy beach with a backdrop of Limestone cliffs which have been eroded over the years into a variety of shapes - some of which have been rather esoterically named as in the title of this post.

Now I'm not a great one for the classic landscape photograph of the North Antrim coast (as beautiful as it is), the like of which appear in their hundreds in coffee shops all around here, but sometimes your camera ends up pointing in a particular direction and before you know it your finger has twitched, the shutter has been opened for a fraction of a second, those silver halide crystals on the emulsion coated side of your film have begun to effect a chemical change and an image (albeit invisible) has been formed.  The good news is that after being steeped in some chemical solution ("developer") the resulting image is made visible and then made permanent and light-resistant by another chemical bath ("fixer").   If all goes well you might at this stage have a negative, from which, after washing and drying, you can make a print, as indeed I try to do from time to time.  Most times my negatives end up acquiring lots of dust and scratches along the way - which takes particular skill, I might add, in spite of my best intentions.

So on a good day I might take my negative into the room which has bin bags taped over the window and a curtain over the door, place it carefully in my 1970-something enlarger and shine a light through it onto a sheet of paper coated in some chemical or other.  This results in the image transferring itself (through the magic of light and chemistry) from the negative onto the paper - although it is not visible to us humans at this stage.  The paper is then washed in a developer solution which converts this image into something visible (more silver magic), and this can be made 'permanent' through a final fix, which converts all non-image silver into a soluble form that can be washed away.  And there you have it: the Silver Print...and what a thing of beauty is sometimes is.

Occasionally I might decide to steep the final (wet) print into a toning solution (e.g., tea, selenium, sepia) which will effect a chemical change on the silver image.  This might deepen the blacks and even cause a noticeable colour shift in the image, as well as making the image more permanent (if it doesn't end up in the bin, that is).

Blimey - I didn't expect all that, did you?!

And here we are...Ta-da! The masterpiece :)  FP4 on Fotospeed RCVC Oyster paper, Warmtone developer anf Selenium toned.  Was it worth it?  You tell me.

White Rocks, Portrush

PS Normal service will be resumed tomorrow, when I 'do' Dunluce Castle.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Postcard from Portstewart

I hope all is well at home.  Did I say already what clement weather we are having for the time of year?  It can be a little misty early on but the sun usually breaks through by mid-morning and the temperatures rise to a heady 60°F - uncommonly mild for September in this part of the world, I am reliably informed.  Portstewart is a quaint little seaside town with beautiful views over the bay.  Above the little harbour with its delightful array of boats I found our hotel - compact, bijou and full of authentic olde-world charm is how the local tourist office described it:

Our hotel, Portstewart
It may not look like much from outside but believe me it is positively Tardis-like inside.  The view from our balcony is usually something to write home about (!), but today of course the mist stayed somewhat longer than usual and hence the rather uniform greyness you can see.  Lurking somewhere behind all that grey stuff lies the majestic Atlantic Ocean.  If you look closely, just to the left of the main mast of our hotel you might be able to make out Malin Head, which is in Donegal and therefore administered by the Republic of Ireland, or just Ireland, or sometimes Eire, or the Free State, or the 26 Counties, or simply The South of Ireland, even though it's in the North, if you see what I mean.  It's all very confusing for a simple tourist like myself...

Well I must dash, dear and hopefully this card will catch the last post.  Besides which, the mâitre'd has just informed us that afternoon tea is shortly to be served on the terrace - all this sea air has given me quite an appetite! Toodle-pip!

Monday, 22 September 2014

Misty morning

Back to the woods - Mountsandel Wood to be precise.  Another misty morning and another moody tree scene for you.


Notice a difference?  There isn't much of a difference (even in the prints), but A has been toned in Selenium, B hasn't. Now in a double-blind, randomized control trial conducted here at home (!) 100% of participants (2) preferred A.  I'm not so sure - I think B might have the edge here - it's slightly colder in tone which befits the misty morning scene.  Both on Fotospeed RCVC Oyster paper in Warmtone developer.

Let me know what you think.

Sunday, 21 September 2014


Two posts in one day? I kind of wanted to explain, to myself at any rate, why I'm only showing scans of photos that I've printed in my wee darkroom and not scans of negatives or even digital.

My interest in photography started out in the 1970s when The Brother and I would head out over the ditches and hedges and snap away till out hearts were content.  And then came the darkroom which was great - all those chemicals to play with and maybe even a decent print at the end of it.

But along came University, involving a move away from the homestead, and then a career.  Photography became even more of a pastime and although I usually had a camera about it didn't get much use.  I have a lot to thank the rise of digital photography for - it got me interested again.  But I don't like the digital workflow - too much time spent at a computer, which doesn't suit my Ankylosing Spondylitis.  And I just don't get the same buzz from using an app such as Photoshop or Lightroom as I did from film and darkroom work, which is much more physical and involving.  So I persuaded Mrs North East Liberties to let me ring-fence a small unused room in the house and started building a darkroom.  And what a wonderfully creative space a darkroom is.  I love working with the chemicals again, the smell of the paper as you open the box and the feeling of accomplishment when you handle the prints at the end of a session.  It's so much more rewarding than digital - well for me it is, anyway.

Now I know it doesn't really make sense to have a digital blog and then not upload digital images, or even some hybrid scheme using scans of negatives.  But I fancy keeping this place sacred to the printed negative, even if I have to scan the print in order to upload it and show it to all my readers haha.  The downside is that it's more expensive to print than scan (once you have a scanner that is). And of course it's more time-consuming, so there'll be fewer blog posts than if I was posting digital images.  But if you keep the prints small (e.g., 5x7) it's not that expensive and it's just a very enjoyable activity.

It's also good to have a few prints dotted around the house.  With digital I rarely printed any photographs.  With film, I print a lot and so the walls are gradually getting filled with the results of my darkroom efforts.

You could of course argue until the cows come home (Ed: Eh?) about the 'quality' of film vs digital - and many people do.  Well I'm not too bothered about that particular argument - while it's important if you're a Tim Rudman or a Michael Kenna but for me that's not an issue.  I like the look of film and I would say I prefer the look of film to digital - although with digital filters like Silver Efex it's not always easy to tell the difference.  I would also say that I like the acquisition of skills acquired in the darkroom - from printing to toning.  As I said earlier, it's a much more physical and involving activity than the digital workflow and it's nice sometimes to think you are involved in an activity that harks back to the birth of photography, which went hand-in-hand with printing for many decades.

So there we are. For now I'm keeping this blog 'print-based only' - let's see what happens.

The Brother

There'll probably not be too many people appear on this blog, but here's one, or two to be precise.  This is The Brother and his minder, walking along our very own Portstewart Strand in July, when the sun was visiting.  Actually that particular day there was a bit of a fog coming in between us and Donegal.  FP4 in DD-X would seem to have got that about right by the look of things in this print  - on fresh Fotospeed RCVC Oyster paper via WT-10 warmtone developer.  Very fast paper this by the way - more than twice as fast as MG IV at the same grade.  I also gave it a few minutes in warm Selenium toner.  I had expected more of a colour shift in the lighter tones than I got - need to read up more on dilution strength and times.  I'm pretty happy with the result in any case - the contrast has increased very subtly.

The Brother and his minder
The quizzical look comes with the territory for the brother - he's very good at asking questions, not so good at answering them.  Well, maybe that's a bit harsh - he is, when all's said and done, outstanding in his chosen field.  Now usually round these parts that would mean a field of Dunbar Standards, or some other variety of potato (well, we are in Ireland) but in his case that means existentialism, Aristotle, Nietzsche and others of a general philosophical persuasion.  His minder, on the other hand, is very good at making large ice-creams disappear as well as getting the pronunciation of English words and phrases totally wrong.  She would dispute the latter, but as she's back home somewhere in mid-west USA I can get away with it on this occasion.

Saturday, 20 September 2014


(Ed: No sign of yer man today.  He's been holed up in his dark room ever since that delivery man came with a big box of stuff yesterday.  All I can hear is water running, silence, fissling of paper and from time to time an exclamation, although not in any language that I am familiar with.  No food or drink has entered (or left) the room all day.  Most likely he'll be back tomorrow as if nothing unusual has happened.  No explanation will be offered, of course - and none sought either, not after the last time.  In the meantime all I can lay my hands on is this print, which I retrieved from the bin when His Nibbs wasn't looking).

Wasted paper

Friday, 19 September 2014

Not working

The legs aren't working too well today - probably on account of all the metal, ceramic, screws and chicken wire holding them to my pelvis, or else it's just my ankylosing spondylitis playing up.  Either way I'll not be doing much today apart from a few gentle stretches to loosen things up a bit.

So for your amusement here's a couple more posts from my little trip up the Ballymoney Line the other day.  I liked this - window-box, Ballymoney style.  Unfortunately something happened in the darkroom that shouldn't have happened, hence the rather extreme white cloud thingy encroaching from the left.  For the technical-minded darkroom afficionadas among you the contrast filters must have been knocked out of position by someone (Ed: Hmm, I wonder who...).  But hey, I'm no Michael Kenna.

Window box, Ballymoney style

A wall in Ballymoney

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Cow Town

Got to wander around Cow Town the other day, or as it is affectionately known in these parts, Ballymoney.  Very friendly people in Ballymoney, although not too many about at 6.30 in the evening - probably at home having their tea.  And no, before you ask, I didn't see any cows.  Saw these guard cats, though.  Clearly doing a good job in front of the local barracks, or whatever that place is.

Guard cats in Ballymoney

I quite like this photograph.  It might be a contender for 'Photo of the Month', what with the yard brush and gas canisters as well as the cardboard box, which is probably home for the cats.

Ballymoney is a lovely little town with an interesting history photographically.  Once was the manufacturing centre for Corfield cameras, which was in fact the only company to manufacture cameras in Ireland, ever!  But unfortunately the business, which had moved from Wolverhampton in the 1950s, couldn't compete with the Japanese and production didn't continue past the 1960s.  Still, the local museum (which is well worth an hour of your time next time you are passing through) has acquired a few example cameras, lenses and accessories and a nice wee story it makes too!

Charlotte Street, or Piper Row if you prefer
I like the look of Charlotte Street in the town (or Piper Row as it used to be called), so here's a print for your eyes only, complete with meteor shower (sloppy darkroom technique, many apologies won't happen again...much).  A nice row of older houses, with a modern car thrown in for free (but no satellite dishes!).  Here is what it looks like in a balmy September evening, with the temperature hitting a very unseasonal 60°.  I'll be back here in a month or so when the coal fires are burning as I think it might make an interesting little photograph.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

No news

Didn't manage to get printing yesterday - was feeling somewhat fatigued to be honest after a dander about in the morning along the banks of the River Bann.  We're having some very clement weather right now for this time of year so it's nice to take the air.  Instead I thought I'd write a little about my plan for this place. (Ed: What's that? He's actually got a plan? That's a first then...)

Ah yes, the name.  Where we live used to be part of the North East Liberties of Coleraine, a divisional barony created in 1584 during the creation of the County of Antrim (although it was later moved into the new County of Londonderry).  More of that to come later but we quite like the term North East Liberties - evokes thoughts of freedom, separation, independence and all that. 

So the basic idea is to record my musings as I wander about in what is the early part of the 21st century, reflecting on my family&friends and our local culture.  All being well there'll be the odd photograph or two - mostly snapped by me on one of my little collection of film cameras and printed in my wee darkroom.  No digital stuff here by the way - apart from the necessary to get the images on here (which will therefore be warts, dust and imperfections and all).  And not much colour either, strictly monochrome!

Arthur, somewhere on the Bann, 1977

OK, couldn't go without leaving you something.  This is Arthur.  No longer with us, Arthur was a skilled craftsman when it came to working with wood.  And he liked to fish too, hence the boat which took us down the River Bann manys-a-time when I was a spotty youth, although I remember more fishing than fish, to be honest.  He's looking very bemused here, probably since he was having an OM-1 loaded with FP4 pointed at him by yours truly.  Taken in 1977, printed 2014!

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

More Ikonta

Hoping to get back into the darkroom this afternoon for a sesh, so in the meantime here's another couple of prints from Ikonta negs.  Mum's Yew trees are just fantastic - well over 100 years old now and looking in good shape (fogged film and all!).

Yew trees in mum's garden, in rude health

And speaking of mother, here's a rare sighting of her - captured on FP4+ steeped in DD-X and then printed on MG IV pearl with lots of added dust to boot.  She didn't know I was taking it (obviously, or she'd have hidden from view).  Engaged in her favourite pastime, which is sitting on her patio enjoying a good Irish cuppa - in a decent cup.  She's notoriously camera-shy, so there'll not be too many pics of her here - she's about the same age or even slightly older than the camera, which is a nice thought.  Both still in reasonable shape and working as well as can be expected!


Monday, 15 September 2014

Old Camera

Mum's Fushia, in full bloom
Well I managed to escape to the darkroom yesterday evening and was pleasantly surprised with the results.  These are my first prints from a charity shop find some time ago - a fairly rough-looking 1930-something Zeiss Ikonta 520 which delivers 6x4.5 negs.  I only ended up with about 8 negs as it didn't come with a manual, strangely enough, and I obviously wound on two frames at a time - d'oh!  It has these 2 red windows in the back to help you wind on to the next frame - and leak light by the look of things.  Next time I hope I'll get the full complement of 16 shots and remember to close up the windows using the shutters.  But things turned out not too bad for an 80-odd year old camera.  It has a nice 7cm 3.5 Tessar lens complete with push on yellow filter.  Had to guess the exposure and remember to set the focus manually (no rangefinder in this one!) but that was OK, well most of the time anyway.  I think there's more to come with this little folder but here are the first offerings.  Not the most contrasty negs I've ever had to print (partly down to my guestimate of the exposure no doubt) but not bad, acceptably sharp and nice depth of field to boot.

Portstewart Prom
View from our nearest seaside town, Portstewart, looking west from "The Prom", where folk go to sit in their cars and eat ice cream. The building in the background is the Dominican School, originally the site of O'Hara's Castle, built in 1834.  It was quite a foggy Friday morning and the Ikonta has captured that very well I think.

Sunday, 14 September 2014


You're probably going to see a lot of trees here.  This particular one was captured in late August morning sun on FP4+ which was steeped in DD-X, which seem to work well together although DD-X is not the cheapest dev on the block at 1+4 dilution.  I know there are cheaper developers out there - and some very interesting (including this one) so maybe I'll try something different when the DD-X is finished.  This one was printed on Ilford MG IV pearl and scanned, wonky borders and all, for here.  The scan appears somewhat softer in focus and contrast than the print, although I'm wondering if maybe that's not a good thing... Anyway, here it is for your delectation.  Taken at Mountsandel, if you're interested - one of the oldest known settlements of human-folk in Ireland, dated around 7000BC and just a mile or two up the road.

Tree bathed in late August early morning sun, Mountsandel

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Birth of a blog

Well that was pretty painless for a birth.  I thought you might like to see one of the oldest photos in our family. This was taken around 1900 and shows my grandfather as a fine upstanding young man and a lady who we presume to be his mother (Note: she's the one sitting down with a face like a fur hatchet, as they say round these parts).  Locals will know where this was taken - its now a World Heritage Site (and costs a small fortune to visit).  Bet they didn't think that folk from all over would be looking at them over a hundred years later?   Good job they were wearing their Sunday best.  Nicely toned, too - although that might be more to do with age than by design.  Still, hasn't it lasted well?

John McNeill with his mother(?), c1900