Thursday, 31 March 2016

Another oldie and a rant

Another of those 6x4.5 negs that I printed the other day:

Apart from the obvious mis-alignment of the neg and the big white spot thing in the water I quite like this one.    There's something going on there, anyway.  Certainly something going on in the water, that's for sure, but I've no idea what created that vortex.  There's only ducks there at Downhill, even in them days.

Downhill has two sides to it - separated by the road that runs from Coleraine to Derry/Londonderry along the coast.  We don't go to the side you see here so much any more, on account of it being 'owned' by the National Trust.  The NT is also custodian of the Giant's Causeway and even Portstewart Strand, where I walk the Hound.  It doesn't really own these places, of course, but it does own the car park and the visitor's centre at the Giant's Causeway, the entrance to the beach and also this side of Downhill, where the remains of the Bishop's House and Mussenden Temple are.   In the good old days we could visit all of these places for free and we did, regularly.  During the good weather we would be at Downhill a couple of times a month, every month - it's a big estate and plenty of different walks to do.  Nowadays it really is a small fortune to go any of these places.  If there was a concession for locals I'd be happier about the Whole Thing, but there isn't, so I'm not happy about it at all, as you can probably tell.  I do get the fact that these places need looking after and that doesn't come for free, but from what I read these days the NT is more concerned about the income from their coffee shops than any real conservation.  This was reinforced by a conversation I had recently with Liam, one of the NT volunteers on the Strand, who is there every day of the year.  He informed me that every NT location has a 'recruitment target' for the season - theirs is 500 new members signed up before the end of the season. 500, just for Portstewart Strand!

So here's my proposal to the National Trust, who I am sure read my posts regularly (Ed: You sure about that?).   Offer a nominal rate to residents who live within a 20 mile radius of your properties.  Allow them to visit as many times as they want to without paying full visitor rates every time.  After all, you rely on locals for volunteers as well as for general goodwill with regard to maintenance, planning issues, historical research etc.  There.  Rant over.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Some time ago

This one wasn't taken yesterday.  1978 probably more like it, I would think:

Yes, that's me at The Bishop's Place in Downhill...probably when I was about 15 or 16.  As you can see, flares were indeed all the rage in the 70s.  I'm holding some sort of camera - most likely an OM-1.  The Brother was behind the camera - and a rare camera it must have been too, since it was a 6x4.5 neg that I had to deal with this morning in the darkroom.  I suspect it must have been one he borrowed for a time, since I don't remember either of us owning anything other than a 35mm in those days.  I was mostly into action photography anyway - cars, bikes etc so 35mm was the only way to go.  The Brother was more into nature, although his first love was birds and he needed some long glass for that, so again 35mm was the weapon of choice.  He had a 500mm mirror lens for his Contax RTS which got a lot of use, I seem to recall.

You see, we tramped around Downhill in them days, too.  We were country boys, really.  Still a grand place to go for a day out, is Downhill.

I must get out and take some new snaps, but at the minute I'm spending more time in the darkroom than anywhere else.  I have to admit I'm starting to like these medium format negs...a lot.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Same old

One you might have seen before, but on Kentmere paper this time:

I dived into the darkroom last night to print this neg, which was from the Sinar.  These are pretty much the full 4x5 negative printed onto an 8x10 print.  Like a lot of things, I've found it works best when you have a plan.  The Nova processor takes about 15mins to heat the chemicals up and then I'm ready to go - all in all it was only about an hour from switching on the Nova until everything was washed and the prints were drying on the rack.

Now the interesting thing is I couldn't wait to get this one toned in sepia, as I thought the subject would really take it well.  But I'm not convinced.  Perhaps the Sepia is past it's best - I have no idea how long it lasts before you need to make up a new batch, and this one has been around a while, to be fair.  Anyway, as you can see, the non-toned print has a lot more punch that the toned one.  I'll take a wee look at Tim Rudman's Toning book to see he has to say about it. 

By the way, if you haven't seen it, this video of yer man in the darkroom is worth a look.   I like watching other how other people work in the darkroom - it's kind of a personal/baring-your-soul thing to invite the world inside... 

Friday, 25 March 2016

More Parklife

No not the Blur sort of Parklife, the Hungary sort:

I've probably said it before, but these portraits draw me in.  Look at the girl on the left there above...her expression is just fascinating.

When I see these, I remind myself how fortunate I was to be in education all my working life.  There is something intrinsically rewarding about learning and I like to think the young people I was involved with were helping me learn as much as the other way round.

I wonder which of these kids became mechanics.  Secretaries, doctors, managers, shop-workers, nurses.  What were their dreams at that age?

There's something about the energy, the expectation, the enthusiasm, the interest in things around them that young people have that is very infectious.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Second attempt

OK so here we are then...the next instalment:

Yes, I know, not much different from the first attempt.  But this was the best of the next few sheets of Kentmere that I wasted this morning.  It's still all a bit overpoweringly dark.  I might try again, via a combination of light and contrast.  Spring is getting in the way of all this darkroom work, though - there's grass to be cut, raspberry canes to be sorted out, spuds to be planted.  Well the spuds are in, so that's a start.  We've had a decent spell of dry weather here in The Liberties - cold, but dry.  Rain is forecast though - no surprise there, right?

Oh, just for the record, we didn't get swimming.  By the time Missy got herself ready, it was afternoon and the pool was full of weans getting lessons.  So we went to Asda instead, which was pretty horrible.  Not as horrible as Brussels, though, which was on a completely different level of horribleness...

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

It's a start

I wasn't sure about this one - it's been lurking in my neg file for a while.  And on my hard drive.  But I got it out the other day and played around with it in software and thought there might be something in it.

And then since I had a free hour this morning I dived into the darkroom to see what would happen.  After wasting a bit of paper this one came out:

It was taken sometime towards the end of last summer - from Binevenagh, overlooking Lough Foyle with Inishowen there in the distance.  The light was pretty amazing for about half an hour that evening - when the sun came out from behind that cloud it was like a super trouper (I think that's what they're called - thanks to ABBA of course for that one).  Anyway, it was one of those evenings you were glad you'd driven the half an hour or so and brought the Sinar along.  Although since the light was changing rapidly, and by a lot, I was lucky that anything printable got recorded at all.

I don't think I'm done with this one yet, though.  Sometimes you have to look at a print for a while and run through a few What ifs? in your mind.  I reckon it's a time thing - I need some time to pass and keep looking at it and then the answer, or maybe just a different answer, comes.  With luck I'll get back in tomorrow for another go at it, although I've promised Missy we'll go swimming tomorrow, since there's no school this week. Mind you, if today's anything to go by it'll be lunchtime before she surfaces.  She's a bit of a reader, is Missy and is currently burning through her pocket money by buying Kindle books and then reading half the night.  Long may it continue...

Monday, 21 March 2016

What do I do?

I bumped into an ex-colleague from my lecturing days today.  That doesn't happen as often as one might think in a small place like The Liberties - mostly I guess 'cos when I'm out and about my ex-colleagues aren't...they're still doing something important. Indeed. But today it happened.  He said the usual stuff that people who are still working say to those who aren't - told me I was looking well and asked how many years I was out of it (3...I think).  Thankfully he didn't ask me what I'm doing with myself these days.

I mean, what can I truthfully answer to that?  What have I done in 3 years?

I took this photograph - that's one thing I did. And then I scanned it so I could post it here for your delectation.  You see, I didn't even enter the Dark Place and print it on some nice paper.  I'm pretty sure it's not worth printing, mind you - nothing's in focus, it's all low contrast, grey and horrible.  Like the weather in it.  It's not going to win any awards.  But then again, awards aren't all their cracked up to be, right?

Friday, 18 March 2016

More ParkLife

More from the Portraits in the Park series - they're just too good to keep in a neg folder:

Thursday, 17 March 2016

The Day Today

Well it's a Happy St Patrick's Day to one and all.  In Chicago, where The Brother lives, they dyed the river green last Saturday ('cos they just couldn't wait).  All around the world millions of people are Irish for the day and sure if you're not Irish, well have a Guinness anyway - it's good for you, or so they told us back in the day.

So in celebration of Yer Man, here's a Celtic Cross for you, Sinar-style, on Kentmere VC:

This was inside the old ruin of Ballywillan Church, just outside Portrush - I liked the way there is ivy on the cross and ivy growing all around it.  If you look closely, you'll see where I dodged a bit and maybe where I burnt some in.  I think I was down around 1/8s and there was a bit of wind swirling around so you've got a nice bit of motion blur on some of the ivy leaves there for free.

And just for the record, it was absolutely freezing that day inside the church ruin.  It's hard to remember to do everything in the right sequence when you can't feel your fingers...but it goes something like this:

Take gear - tripod and rucksack containing 'The Camera' - from back of car, which you have parked as close as humanly possible to the desired location.  Lurch to the required place (which ideally you have recce'd previously).  Set up tripod.  Take front standard out of rucksack and mount on rail fixed to said tripod.  Similarly for the back standard.  Take off the back lens cap and stuff in pocket.  Remove bellows from rucksack and fix to both standards.  Attach remote release to the shutter.  Take off front lens cap and stuff in different pocket.  Open the lens up fully (otherwise it's difficult to compose on the ground glass).  Check that the shutter is open (otherwise it's even more difficult to compose, right?).  Point the camera roughly in the right direction for the subject. Take out darkcloth (i.e., old towel) and drape over back of camera.  Have a peek.  Loosen appropriate clamps and move front and/or back standards to get the focus more or less right.  Re-compose - move camera if necessary.  Check levels against guides on the ground glass - if required loosen off rail clamp and adjust.  Also if required consider using front/back rise/fall to correct verticals/distortion.  Fish around in the rucksack for the 'loupe' - in my case, an old Practica 50mm lens turned back-to-front, which works perfectly well with a bit of cardboard fastened to it to avoid scratching the ground glass.  Adjust focus over the ground glass using fine focus wheel.  If necessary (and it usually is), complete the following steps:

1. Focus on near point
2. Zero the dial on back standard which will calculate tilt/swing angle and direction
3. Focus on far point
4. Check reading on dial and set tilt/swing angle and direction as indicated

Adjust focus again over the whole frame.  If you need to, check the depth-of-field scale on the focus wheel for the minimum aperture required for both near and far points to be in focus - or like I usually do stop down to f/22 or beyond and hope for the best.

Next, remove meter (i.e., the Nikon) from rucksack and take reading.  Adjust reading for film currently loaded in Sinar as it nearly always differs from that loaded in Nikon.  In your head work out the shutter speed for f/22 or whatever aperture you want to use.  If you're not at the edge of a cliff walk round to front of camera and stand on tiptoe in order to see what you are doing when setting appropriate aperture on lens.  Similarly, set appropriate shutter speed.  Flick switch to close the shutter.  Double-check shutter is closed by looking through front of lens.  Cock and release the shutter a couple of times to exercise it at the chosen speed.  Fish around in the rucksack for a film holder - ideally one with film loaded.  Check that you are inserting an un-exposed side to the lens. Cock the shutter.  Pull out the darkslide.  Breathe.  Wait for any wind to calm and then release the shutter via the cable release.

Enjoy the moment.  Congratulate yourself on another masterpiece in the making.  Think how wonderful life is in the world of Large Format.  Suppress feelings of superiority over all those other so-called photographers who have never experienced the rush that is LF photography.

Insert dark slide, remembering the code (white side visible=unexposed, black=exposed).  Swing clip over darkslide to prevent accidental removal.  Remove film holder - place carefully back in rucksack.  Make careful note of aperture and shutter speed settings in notebook, as these things seem to be important - personally I tend to leave this bit out.

Now dismantle the whole thing and put carefully back in the rucksack - essentially the reverse of above.  Spend at least 5 minutes trying to find the lens caps that you stuffed in different pockets about half an hour ago.

As you are carting everything back to the car, think again about buying a more portable field camera.  Then remember how expensive they can be.  Then think seriously about just being happy with the rangefinder, or at least the Nikon next time you go a-huntin'.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

The Usual Place

Portstewart Strand and those westerley winds blowing in the clouds from Inishowen.  Via the Franka Solida and HP5/ID-11 on Kentmere VC paper.

It doesn't look too bad scanned but the print is a tad soft - could be doing with a bit more contrast on that neg. Trouble is me enlarging machine stops at grade 5 so this is your lot.   Most likely a lens hood would have helped, as would stopping down a bit more. But probably also an operator issue, most likely at the point of snapping by mis-guessing the exposure...

And the trouble I had getting that flipping negative to sit properly and not show it's edges.  Still not great looking.  And then I rather cleverly managed to get the positioning of the paper totally skewed.  That's the thing when you print the whole neg rather than crop, which is the norm around here...for obvious reasons.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

First one of the year

I think it was last Sunday.  The sun was out and we were all in the mood for the first picnic of the year - even though it was pretty chilly.  But we are made of Strong Stuff in The Liberties and it takes more than a chill wind to put us off the notion when we get it, so undeterred we ventured forth.

As you can see we didn't venture forth too far from base - Portstewart did the trick.  There's a nice coastal walk between the Strand (where I have been known on occasion to go to with The Hound) and the Prom.  Half way along is this place, Port-na-happle.  Missy has been known to do a bit of snorkelling there but not today.  No, this day was a sit-on-the-rocks-and-munch-the-sandwiches-all-the-while-being-very-content-with-your-lot sort of day.

And very peaceful and pleasant it was too, I must say.

The headland visible on the left there is where Mussenden Temple and Downhill Demesne lie.  To the right, just visible in the distance is Donegal/Inishown.  I came across a nice (short) description of the area as it was in 1837 which you can read here, if you're so interested.

Monday, 14 March 2016

This was it

Yes, the result of a couple of hours in the darkroom on Saturday morning.  Funny how time flies when you are in there, pondering how to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, as the saying goes...

This one you may have seen before, or a version of it.  Here is the first attempt, after a split-grade print:

I'm getting more adventurous when it comes to things in the darkroom.  I thought there were a few places which could do with a little work on this print.  The first thing that caught my eye (apart from the obvious fantastic-ness of the whole thing) was that light bit on the top left.  Too distracting, I thought.  Also the leaf at the bottom right - needed a bit of darkening down too.  Then that right-hand edge, which was leading the eye out of the frame.  And that leaf along the top edge needed some treatment too.

This is version 2:

Amazingly, everything seemed to fall into place more or less as I intended and I was happy enough that the big leaf in the middle was going to hold the attention better.

I made a few prints and did a Sepia tone on one of them:

I think the tone suits the subject, to my eyes anyway.  Although the top left corner and right-hand edge have now got a whole lot lighter again after the toning - d'oh!

At the minute I seem to think that a lot of my prints look better toned than not - but it's probably just a phase I'm going through.  All good fun, though and as I've said before, a great way to waste a couple of hours on a Saturday morning...

Friday, 11 March 2016

More portraits

Some more of the shots of the Hungarian schoolchildren - just scans this time.

Like most things, the detail is where it's at in these snaps.  One things for sure - children come in all shapes and sizes, hairstyles and dress styles.

I'm very fond of these, as you can probably tell.  I like the perspective - with the photographer sitting on the ground, which makes the kids look tall.  How do I know that?  Well, in one shot he rather gave the game away:

Thursday, 10 March 2016

That Temple

OK so I finally caved in and went to The Temple - Mussenden Temple, that is.

Now many people like to bring back a souvenir from their holiday - a straw donkey, perhaps, or a sombrero.  But the Earl Bishop Frederick Hervey was no ordinary person.  When he was on his Grand Tour, he clapped his eyes on the Temple of Vesta, in Rome.  And being a man of considerable means, he thought to himself, that would look good at the bottom of my garden, or so the story goes.

When his offer to buy it was politely declined, he decided to build his own Temple back in good old Ulster, as one did in the 18th Century when one had piles of moolah stuffed down the back of the sofa.  He dedicated it to his cousin Frideswide Mussenden.

It is very impressive, being right on the cliff edge.  You can get married in it these days, apparently.  In the summer it gets pretty busy here, as you imagine, but the advantage of going in February when the weather is bad is that you usually have the place to yourself.  That said, I did meet 3 others that day...

Below is Downhill beach, alongside which runs the Coleraine-Derry/Londonderry train line.  In fact, the train runs under the Temple, there being two tunnels through the rocks below.

I think this shot of my father with his dad (and an unknown gentleman at the rear) is taken at Downhill, although if it is, the rock arch housing this tunnel has since been blasted away, as it's much shorter than the tunnels there nowadays.  Then again, looking at that archway I'm not sure it's even big enough for a train, so I might be barking up the wrong tree here...

Guessing the age of my dad in the front there with his short trousers, I'd say this was taken around 1930.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Nice work if you can get it

Saturday about 10 days ago the weather was rather inclement, to say the least.  But I found myself on my own, for various reasons, and was in the mood to do something.

So I donned my worst weather gear and headed out.  The car took me to Downhill, which is a lovely place to be at any time of the year, really.  I had the Franka with me, which folds up nicely to rest inside my coat pocket.  Only takes a few seconds to whip it out, unfold it, check the speed/aperture settings, set the focus and press the shutter release.  And then remember you have to manually cock the shutter first.  I was guessing the exposure, as one has to from time to time to keep the old grey cells working optimally. 

I did say the weather was poor, didn't I?

That would be the River Bann estuary down there in the murk.  You get a nice vignetting effect for free when you're using the Franka at large apertures, as you can see.

For a change I decided to squelch my way up to the ruined house.  

No ordinary house, mind you, this one belonged to The Earl Bishop, aka Frederick Hervey.  He was Lord Bishop of Derry in the 18th Century and later became the Earl of Bristol.  A recent programme on the old TV informed us that in those days, the Bishopry alone had an income equivalent to about £1.6 million in today's money.  A reasonable amount to live on in those days, I should think, and hence the house, which apparently housed a major art collection as well as many objets d'art from across Europe.

I know, there's something happening in the middle of the steps there - probably a raindrop on the push-on yellowish filter I was using (which came with the Ikonta-charity-shop-find a few years ago.)

More to come from this neck of the woods tomorrow.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Another one

Another fantastic shot from the Sinar the other day.  Taken about 10 yards from our back door...

FP4/ID-11.  This used to be a window in the old shed but was boarded up about 50 years ago.   I say shed - the building was used by my grandfather to slaughter cattle sometime around the middle of last century.  You might have seen it before - here.  These days it serves as a woodshed and somewhere for the swallows to nest when they arrive in April.  It's kind of falling down and I'm always anxious after the winter storms but so far it has held up, although for how much longer I don't know.

The day will come when it will have to be tummeled, as they say round these parts, and something new built in its place.  But I'm loathe to be the one to do it, for what it represents...

Monday, 7 March 2016

Or maybe...

Just tried a different crop on that last one:

I dunno...maybe?


I was feeling strong the other day and the light was good so I took the Sinar out of the house.  I didn't venture far.  I thought there might be a decent snap somewhere in this beech sapling, with it's withered-soon-to-be-renewed leaves.  Not sure this is it, mind you...

I'm pretty sure that I'm not the only one who doesn't find it particularly easy to compose on the ground glass with a Sinar, even in strong light, so this one ended up being cropped fairly aggressively.  At least with a 4x5 neg you've plenty of leeway should this be the only course of action.

Taken at f/5.6 with a 210mm lens (equivalent to about 70mm in 35mm terms) and as you can see there isn't much depth of field.  I think something might be in focus there, but I'm not sure...

Friday, 4 March 2016

Portraits in the Park

Some of the portraits of the school children from The Uncle's collection:

So as you can probably guess I tried my hand at something different here.  Since we had nice biggish 6x9 negs I spent a couple of days getting my first taste of contact printing.  First off I headed over to Baxters the glazing company, just at the start of the Bushmills Road (Yup...that Bushmills, if you know your whiskies).  The very nice man there cut me a piece of 6mm glass and gave it to me.  Yes, you heard correctly - he told me to take it with me, no charge.  Not often that happens, but nice when it does.

So I took me wee bit of glass home and tried it out, using the enlarger as a light source.  But as usual I was trying to be too clever, for a first go at it.  Spent ages cutting out templates I did, in an attempt to have white borders - not really necessary.  Anyway, I put the negative on top of the paper, set the template on top and then the glass.  The resulting prints didn't look good.  After a few prints that were fit only for the shiny round filing cabinet in the corner I gave up for the evening.  Reading around it a bit I think the negs weren't being held flat enough against the paper.  Most contact printing frames, from what I can see, have some sort of spring-loaded mechanism to apply a bit of pressure to the whole sandwich.

Sleep must have helped as this morning I hit on an idea.  I remembered that I had an old Paterson Proof Printer.  This allows you to contact print a whole 36-exp 35mm film on to one 10x8 print.  Not that I was really ever into contact printing my 35mm films but it must have seemed like a good idea at the time.  I fished it out and took a look at it.  In case you've never seen one of these things it's basically a sheet of thicker-than-normal glass (with some black guides on it to help position the strips of negs), secured by hinges onto a moulded plastic base, on top of which lies a sheet of foam.  The frame can be opened to allow positioning of the negs/paper on top of the foam base and then the glass closed down on top.  A plastic lock clips the glass down tightly on the neg-paper sandwich.

From what I can see Paterson also did (maybe still do?) a 8x10 Contact Printer which you can buy for about £50 and I think Fotospeed still sell a larger one for slightly more money.  The Paterson 8x10 one looks just the same as the one I have, minus the 35mm guidelines.  As I ran my fingers over the glass I realised that the guidelines were slightly raised from the glass and on closer inspection I thought that it might be possible to peel them off, by inserting a fingernail under one corner.  They came off pretty easily, in one go - more or less...they're just stuck on the glass.  The edge of the glass nearest the hinge, however, disappears under some plastic trim so rather than try to dismantle the whole thing and risk breaking it I just cut the guidelines off as close to the plastic trim as I could.  It means that I can't do a full 8x10 contact print, so when/if that time comes I'll have to dismantle the thing properly.  But it'll be fine for 4x5 and smaller - if ever I make a negative decent enough to contact print, that is.

Anyway, back in the darkroom using the enlarger as a light source and things were starting to look up, hence these contact prints of old negs from The Uncle's collection.

Probably I could have tried to burn in a little of the negs above there around the face/head but it's a very small area so I left it alone.  I had to do a few test strips first of course to get the contrast and time sorted but that was OK.

Not bad for a first attempt.  I was a bit worried about positioning the negs on the paper, but it looks like the old eyes did a reasonable enough job under the safelight.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

No weather to speak of

A place we all know well:

We've been alternating between storms and days like this - cold and bright.  It's good to remember that big yellow thing in the sky still exists...we were beginning to doubt that here in The Liberties.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Those were the days...

...when Portstewart had a Pilot Boat:

Then in came the sea:

And we know what happened then, don't we?  Both taken on the wee Yashica T4 thing, on HP5+ in ID-11....hence the light leak, since 'someone' opened the back of the camera not realising it hadn't wound the film back into the cassette, as it is supposed to.  It's my own fault, since I roll my own 35mm film from bulk and there was a slight mis-alignment where I'd taped the new film onto the little bit of film left in the cassette, as you do, and that was enough to stop the Yashica from doing its thing.  Only a couple of frames were affected, though, so no great loss to humanity.