Friday, 21 November 2014

A short interlude...

Just to let all my faithful readers know there will be a short interlude as I take a break to see The Brother in Chicago.  The good news is I go armed to the teeth with HP5, so all being well there'll be a few darkroom sessions on my return.  The even better news is that I'll be loading up with film over there - as its about 60% of the cost over here, even though the stuff is made in Cheshire - there is a tour of the factory here.  I see others complaining on the FADU forum about the cost of film in the UK and there seems to be no logical explanation for it other than we're prepared to pay more for it here in the UK.  I've ordered a whole dose of 5x4 film as I'm determined to get to grips with the large and heavy camera known as a Sinar F1 which sleeps under a towel in my home office.  I've played a bit with it, but nothing serious.  Hopefully by burning through some FP4 I'll start to get more comfortable with it.  It's too heavy for field work really, but since I'm rarely very far from the car anyway I can't really use that as an excuse.  If I get really frustrated by its weight there's always the possibility of investing in a lightweight 5x4 field camera, such as a Wista, Shen-Hao, Chamonix or even Ebony, but I'm holding back on purchasing more gear for now.  2015 I want to be the year of film and darkroom - honing the basics and getting to grips with producing some decent prints from decent negatives.  I have a hankering for some fibre paper and also to try out some lith printing - some of the lith prints I've seen online have been really impressive and I can't wait.

By the way, FADU - Film and Darkroom User - is a great forum for all things film and darkroom related.  It has a proper traditional slant - no digitally-processed neg scans here - and I like it a lot.  The plan for 2015 is to engage in their monthly print exchanges, where members swap prints.  I don't feel I've got the skill to take part as yet but hopefully things will improve on the technical front with more practice.  There's about 15-20 serious users of the forum who are very knowledgeable and very helpful, plus a whole load of others who chip in from time to time as well.

So to leave you on a thoughtful note here's a scan of a print made sometime in the late 70s.

There's a lot of interest in 'non-sharp' photography which I must admit I have a certain something for.  This guy - Mr Titarenko - is a bit of a master at it.  Another blogger with a penchant for this type of stuff is Ms Andrea Ingram, and you can see some very nice examples on her wonderful blog - as well as very readable blog entries, mostly related to the beautiful isle of Lewis where she resides.

Not a Titarenko, taken and printed sometime late 1970s

The shot you see above looks like the Mersey Tunnel and was most likely taken through the back window of our car on one of our infrequent trips 'to the mainland' in the late 1970s.  I'd like to think it was the more famous tunnel in Monte Carlo, but from the cars visible (Cortina, Mini and Beetle) I suspect the Mersey Tunnel is more likely.  Now I'm pretty sure I wasn't trying to get the effect that I ended up with here, but all the same there is something about it, wouldn't you agree?

Here's another one where I was actually trying for such an effect - this one from the Ballymoney series taken earlier this year in 2014 (you can see the sharp version here - let me know which you prefer!):

Guard cats in Ballymoney - version 2

What is it that's emotive about these?  In the current age where everyone (well, nearly everyone) is obsessed about sharpness of the their lenses, MTF charts and the like it is refreshing to see work which is, well, just different.  There are two obvious ways to end up here - one it to deliberately induce camera movement (as in both the above shots); the other is to capture movement in the frame, so the main subject is moving but everything else remains still.

Here's another one and then I'm off to pack!

Someone I know, 2013

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Traditional Film Photography...or is it?

I found a FB group the other day whose title appealed to me: 'Traditional Film Photography'.  So I applied to join and suprisingly I was accepted.  But now I'm left feeling more than a bit let down.  Yes this is a group dedicated to those who use film.  So far so good, eh?  But wait, 99% of the posts are from scanned negatives which are then processed digitally before upload.  I've seen very few scans of 'wet prints' and I'm disappointed. I just don't get this hybrid approach - why would you go to the bother of using film to capture the subject and then switch to digital for the 'printing'?  I mean, where's the skill in that?  In tweaking a few sliders on an app designed by someone else?  Come on.  This just can't compare to darkroom work.

I know you can't expect the same volume of images uploaded if you do darkroom printing (hence the low number of posts on this blog relative to other photography-related blogs), but that's just the nature of the thing.  Sometime less is more, right?

Anyway, this particular group has over 10,000 members.  Wow.  That's a lot of people using film which is great, as it will help film will be around a while longer.  But I just don't care for all those digitally processed images - even if they are from film negative scans.  Give me a silver print anyday - that's what I call traditional.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Bann Estuary

There's a great walk starting at Portstewart Strand (No. 5, to those in the know ;) over the dunes, alongside the golf course and towards the Bann.  This would be view starting out:

Portstewart Strand, looking towards Donegal
I know my horizon isn't level on this one - just tilt your monitor or head and it'll be fine.  After a decent hike over the dunes you might end up here:

Bann Estuary, towards the west
Most times you can then walk alongside the Bann towards the Barmouth before cutting back inland over the dunes and coming out on the Strand about No 14.  Sometimes though the tide is in and this bit you see above is impassable, in which case you have no option but to turn inland and head back over the dunes again.  The Bann is at its widest here - a huge expanse of river, populated with Herring & Common gulls and lots of Cormorants.  On the other side is the RSPB hide and from there you can get all sorts on the mudflats: curlews, red-shanks and other wading types as well as ducks.  This side you mostly get driftwood.  It's a very peaceful area - sheltered from the wind and sea and quite beautiful.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Seashore after the storm

Today we have Portballantrae, or rather the Blackrock Strand to be more precise - or the Bushfoot Strand if you prefer.  'Twas a stormy day about a month ago and the beach was full of seaweed and stuff washed up by the waves.  Beautiful day, actually - and no-one else around to spoil it, just me and the Dog-Hound-Thing.

Blackrock Strand, Portballantrae
I know, I know - this is a poor print.  Wonky horizon and what's going on there on the top right?  And I burned in the sea&sky by 1/4 stop, probably slightly too much - those waves could be whiter.  Some days it just all goes wrong.  But on the plus side I like the effect of the strong sunlight on the seaweed in the foreground.  FP4+ on FS RCVC Oyster paper in brand new WT-10 developer, selenium toned if you are interested.  I might come back to this one another day, although I find it hard to go back to negatives unless I'm really excited about them - and that doesn't happen that often for me...

I think the main problem with the last couple of films is my developer was past its best - the results were low contrast negs which no amount of coaxing has managed to breathe any oomph into at all.  But that developer has gone now, so it's on to fresh (ish!) DD-X for the next few rolls and we'll see what gives.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Cows in the Mist

OK so it hasn't the same caché as Gorillas in the Mist, but we don't have gorillas in the fields, only cows - or cow, in this case.  This one was snapped one morning last week more or less from our front door - isn't she a beaut?

Misty Morning Cow, 2014 style
Cows are strange animals at the best of times.  Always look like their legs aren't strong enought o hold them up - at least that what it looks like to me.  Mostly very docile these ones are - even the Dog-Hound-Thing doesn't upset them that much when he makes a run for them.  Luckily the post and wire fence keeps them apart.  But when cows are riled there ain't much that will stop them.  A few years ago the farmer (David Cameron - but no, not that David Cameron) didn't get to give them their high energy feed one day.  Not a good move.  They spied some lovely green grass across the stone wall separating the field from Mother's garden and next thing we knew they were up and over the wall to get to the grass.  Not much of the wall left after several tons of hungry cow went over it.  And the garden wasn't in great shape either, hoof marks everywhere.  But no-one was hurt except a few stones, so it was OK in the end.  Still, a lesson for us all, eh?  

I use Ilford under-the-lens filters and used a G4 1/2 for this one, but I'm still not overly happy with the contrast - should be snappier methinks, no?  Perhaps the developer is on the way out - I'm not great at keeping tabs on how many prints I've used it for.  I love using the Nova slot processor - I mean, I switch it on to heat up the chems and 20 mins later I'm printing.  No fuss.  But the developer has been in there for a couple of months now and although I have replenished from time to time I think it might be past its best.  That's my excuse anyway.  I know I could have tweaked the contrast in PS, but that would be cheating, right?  I do a vanilla scan with the Epson, re-size it and upload it, that's all I ever do.

Anyway, the darkroom is due for a major renovation any day now.  It's been in the planning for a while and now the time has come to install running water.  It means building a frame and then a plywood sink before the plumber comes in and routes some water half way round the house.  Someday soon.  Perhaps. 

Monday, 3 November 2014

The Bann, the Big Cut and salmon fishing

Under the bridge over the River Bann at Coleraine, as it looks in August 2014

Here we have the new bridge over the River Bann at Coleraine.  While it may look like the stereotypical shopping trolley was placed there as a prop I can assure you it got there without my assistance.  The white horse you might just be able to make out on the opposite bank, having a drink.  The bridge was opened in 1975 to cope with the increase in traffic which went along with the expansion of the town at that time.

The bridge is just a few hundred metres downstream from the famous Cutts, or Salmon Leap, which was of primary importance when Coleraine was being planned during the Plantation in the early 17th Century.  Here's an old photograph of my mother, looking rather stylish - taken sometime in the 1950s when she was a lass.  Must have been winter judging from the trees across the river near where Mountsandel Fort lies.  I must take a recent picture from here just to compare.  I've a whole series of 'then and now' photographs brewing in my mind - with a bit of luck I'll actually get round to doing something about that...

Mother at The Cutts, c1952

Around 1600 the River Bann was between 300 and 400 feet wide at Castleroe, and a huge rock of basalt extended across the river which rendered it too shallow to navigate.  It was decided to cut through the rock, primarily so that timber could be brought to Coleraine from the woods to the south.  "The Big Cut" was started in 1611, paid for by The Irish Society at a cost of £1200.  Several cuts were required to finish the job, and so we have the local term 'The Cutts'.  Interestingly, the main use of this part of the river after that appears to be for the catching of salmon, hence the alternative name Salmon Leap.   In one day it was reported that 62 tons of salmon were netted here.  Most of the stone removed was used in Coleraine for building - at that time no quarry existed close to the settlement and transportation of rock was expensive and difficult.  Early 17th Century export records for Coleraine show the value of the work done - Salmon exports from 1612-1615 were second in value only to Hides, with a value of £1118.

The Lower Bann and its tributaries including The Agivy and Moyola still offer some of the best salmon fishing in the country - catches numbering around the 450 mark for the last few years, although a mandatory catch and release policy is enforced nowadays.  The Honourable The Irish Society, founded in 1613, still have a presence at The Cutts and continue to maintain their interests throughout the whole of the county of Londonderry - they will sell you day fishing licences, for example, should you fancy outwitting a River Bann salmon.

It's years since I went fishing - my grandfather and uncle used to take The Brother and me manys a year ago.  Mostly we went to the Roe, near Limavady.  I remember a lot of tramping up and down the riverbank and not a lot of fish being caught, although it was a very pleasurable day out in the fresh air under Binevenagh.  Of course the term 'fish' was reserved for the King of fish, a salmon, and catching one of those was a rare event.  Mostly we returned home tired and maybe with a few trout if we were lucky, or even a plaice or two.  If no fish were throwing themselves at us Grandpa sometimes managed to liberate a carrot or two from the neighbouring farmer's fields - oops!

Some not very large trout, as caught, weighed, snapped and printed sometime in the 1970s

Grandpa, probably after a day's fishing, snapped and printed in the 1970s complete with period dust