Wednesday, 31 May 2017

a printer's life

From a while back, this one.  I never really got this one looking the way I wanted on regular paper&developer  - the print never reflected what I could see on the negative.  I can't show you, as all the prints I did went in the round filing basket in the darkroom (you know the one...gets emptied now and again).

Anyway, I was looking through my recent negs the other day and thought I'd try it again, in some lith developer this time and this is what came out (Foma MG131 paper if you're interested in that sort of detail).  For sure it's not perfect, but I felt it was getting there - in the sky at least:

I just had to stop the car at the side of the road when driving back home that day and point the old Square-shooter over the barbed wire fence.  The light over the North Antrim countryside was pretty spectacular at that moment, I must admit.  I had no meter with me and anyway the sun was threatening to go behind one of the many clouds up there at any minute and dull everything down so I guessed the exposure and hoped for the best.  Turned out OK - the neg holds all the information I need, that's clear.  The next step is to go back and print it using regular developer...try to get that sky coming through and see what gives. Naturally I'll let y'all know how it goes...

Oh, nearly forgot - I found a blog the other day which I'm enjoying.  It's by a dude called Laurent Girard who has been darkroom-printing professionally in New York for several decades - with many top photographers.  As might be expected, it's not your usual 'darkroom' blog - he seems to have forgotten to post anything for about a year and I'm not too fussed about the last post he did write.  Hmm...sounds great so far, eh? But his older posts are, well, simply a fascinating insight into the life of a professional printer - a dying breed for sure.  If you like your darkroom printing, or are even interested in the process from afar, I can seriously recommend a printer's life (the link takes you to the first entry in the blog).

Monday, 29 May 2017

Downhill Forest

A favourite walk of ours is through Downhill Forest, just a short drive from here and which is lovely at any time of the year.  So-called as there is a right big hill which leads down to the sea.  Well, unless your coming back home, that is, in which case it's uphill of course...

I took this one a while back but never got around to printing it.  Yesterday I snuck into the darkroom in the morning and used Foma MG131 Fibre paper in some Moersch Easylith developer - about 20ml of A + 20ml of B in 1litre of water, about 25 degrees.  The image came good after a couple of minutes and was done in about 5 minutes.

I'm happy with this one - the print looks good to my eyes.  The lith brings out the texture in the stone wall to the right of the stream nicely and the foliage too.  Handheld on the Hasselblad, 50mm lens (I think) and a yellow-green filter.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Derrykeighan Church

Derrykeighan Church of Ireland lies almost in the village of Dervock, just a short drive away:

I had stopped the car at the side of the road and got out with the 'Blad, got my composure sorted as best I could and was thinking this was going to be OK - as a documentary sort of snap, y'know.  Now Dervock is a fairly quiet wee place - as you can imagine there ain't a whole lot going on there, so imagine my dismay when just as I was about to press the shutter release a car drives past me up to the church.  I'm a little ashamed to say the thoughts inside my head weren't particularly God-like at that moment.  But the little car trundled up around the side of the church and thankfully parked up so that it was completely hidden by the Notice Board.  So I got my snap off OK in the end - and that's all that mattered, right?!

The church is built from basalt and the stone is a lot darker than it appears in the shot above.  That's what using Foma MG131 Fibre paper in Moersch Easylith developer does for you, but I think it makes for a more interesting print.

Derrykeighan was one of those places we used to pass through on a Sunday afternoon when my father would drive us all up to the Antrim Hills for a day out.  There used to be a little corner shop and he would stop there and buy choc-ices for everyone.  In those days it seemed like it was a long way from home but in reality is wasn't more than about a 20 minute drive.  Funny when I think about it now, how time seemed to pass slower as a kid.  I suppose it's all relative to your age...

Believe it or not, I once knew of a girl called Kerry Deighan.  Not that she lived in DerryKeighan, mind you - that would have been just too good.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

A game that no-one wins

It's been a tough day today, with the news coming in from Manchester.  It doesn't help when you've a teenage daughter who has tickets for a very similar concert in Belfast later in the year.  Just when we thought we'd got rid of all that nonsense in this part of the world, eh?  My thoughts are with the families of those murdered and injured.

This blog is not the place for politics.  I generally don't comment. But for some reason this one has got my dander up.  Let me say my piece and then no more.

In this part of the world we had 'The Troubles' where there were bombs going on and off for the best part of 30 years.  I'm lucky - I chose good parents.  I lived in a place that was relatively immune from it all.  And I'm stupid enough to realise I could have a very different outlook on life given different circumstances.

It's hard to make sense of anything these days, it really is - the more I read, the more I despair about the human condition.  Well, perhaps not the human condition per se, more so the way the world is going, I suppose.  I do see the struggle that certain communities have to survive and thrive in difficult environments and there are grass-roots movements which offer hope.  That, I think, is where the future lies, even if those voices aren't heard by the large part.  What I don't get - and never will - is the point where a person thinks that detonating a bomb in a place where innocent men, women and children are going about their daily business is a Good Thing.  For sure it gets people attention, but at what cost?

In this part of the world we have what is called the politics of 'What-about-ery'.  For every Bloody Sunday there is a Kingsmill.  Arguments dissolve into a 'He started it' slanging match and before you know it we're talking about events that happened hundreds of years ago.  What-about-ery is often used to justify anything, no matter how base a deed. It's a bloody game that no-one wins.

But you didn't come here for this.  Life must go on - 'tis the nature of the thing.  As trivial as it seems, here we go - back to the usual photographic observations on the state of play in the North East Liberties of Coleraine in May of 2017.

The symmetry of these two parked up on Portstewart Prom last week caught my eye:

Notice the flashy new chromed railings and the new pavement, part of a large refurb last year.  I like the railings - they should be good for lines and that.  We've got fancy new LED street lights as well, but Mother doesn't like them.  I don't either - they're dark in colour and keep getting in the background of me snaps and standing out like a sort thumb - like in this one of Missy here from a few days ago.

Taken on the 'Blad/50mm combo.  I cropped it, just to see:

Not sure which I prefer.  I might try a lith print next, just to inject some, well, lithiness to it. You never know...

Monday, 22 May 2017


Another one from Portstewart taken during Race Week:

HP5+, Warmtone RC paper.  Via the 'Blad/50mm combination - roughly equivalent to 28mm on a 35mm format although it could be any one of three possibilities, since the aspect ratios are different.  This page tells all.  The square format is very addictive.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Buttermilk pancakes and an Indian

This Bad Boy was parked up on The Prom last Friday and I have to admit, it looked pretty damn good.  All shiny chrome and luscious lines with that big V-Twin engine what have you.  Not sure it would be my cup of tea were I a biker, but I can appreciate something different and well put together from time to time.  This is a tightly cropped version of a print I made for my Facebook Fiends - crop of a scan of the original print with a digitally added border (I know - yuk!):

Indian Easyrider bike, Portstewart Promenade, 2017.  On HP5+/Ilford Warmtone RC paper.

Here's a scan of the original print, just for good measure:

The reason I cropped it was the crane in the background - OK so I lost the cow-horn handlebars and the funky wing mirror, but I felt the crane in the background was too distracting so I did what was necessary.  In hindsight perhaps I was too critical.  

There are cranes all over the place these days - can't move for them on account of all the new building going on.  Properties in Portstewart with a "Sea View" go for a premium - well north of half a £million is not uncommon. Mostly outside money, of course - there are no jobs in the area which could support local ownership of such expensive properties and not that many businesses either.  What passes for industry around The Liberties would be farming and tourism.  We'll soon be like all those other seaside towns across the UK - full of people who 'come down from the city' for the weekend expecting skinny lattes and croissants and wine bars and what-have-you and then the place is deserted on a cold wintry morning in November and you'll be lucky to get a decent drop of tea and a buttermilk pancake.  Actually, come to think about it, I'll take that any day of the week - I quite like cold wintry mornings in November without many people around.  And I'm happy with a decent cup of tea and a buttermilk pancake too.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Race week

At this time of year in The Liberties the annual North West 200 road races take place (motorbikes).  The circuit is on public roads, which are of course closed for the practice and race days.  As speeds of up to 200mph are reached there is a huge effort made to make it as safe as possible, with many hundreds of straw bales attached to lamp posts, stone walls etc.  Still, when accidents happen they can be pretty bad, as you can well imagine given the speeds involved.  Thankfully this year there were no fatalities even though one of the winners described the course as 'terrifying', largely due to the fact that there had been quite a lot of rain on the main race day (Saturday) and the roads were somewhat greasy.  I can only imagine what that must have been like.

Now I do get that motorsport is not everyone's thing,  but it's part of what we do in this neck of the woods, with races in Cookstown, Tandragee, Dundrod, and Armoy to name a few.  Indeed, the road-racing season is a big thing in many peoples' lives in Northern Ireland.  If it is your cup of tea, you might be able to catch some of this year's NW200 action from BBC here.  I'm not sure but I think the BBC might restrict access to some of their content so if you can't see that link then there are a few YouTube videos that are good - this one I think is still one of the best - New Zealander Bruce Anstey passes the end of 'our road' at about 1m38s in.

It's one thing riding the circuit at high speed, it must be quite another when you are doing 190mph and only a few inches from another rider - hopefully someone who knows what they are doing, eh? US film photography blogger Jim Grey of Down the Road fame might possibly remember the part of the circuit at 3m10s, where him and his new wife Margaret took time out from their honeymoon to meet me in Portrush last September.  It's funny watching this video - these are the roads between Coleraine, Portstewart and Portrush that I drive every day to and from school and the beach.  Not at these speeds, of course.

When I was a callow youth I liked nothing better than crawling up to a hedge at the side of the road and poking my OM-1 and 200mm lens through it to photograph the bikes as they sped past.  But I don't photograph the racing any more - it's hard these days to get close to the action.  Also, to be honest I don't want to get that close - I don't know if it's my age or the fact I'm a parent but these days I'm thinking more about the danger rather than the thrill.

So now I contend myself with a walk around Portstewart on the Friday evening of Race Week and see what ends up on me film - sometimes not a lot, it has to be said.  But this week I'll show you a few of the darkroom prints that I made at the weekend.  I was out with a camera not always known for its street-photography prowess, a Hasselblad 501cm.  Certainly not as convenient as a 35mm camera, but when you get those negs back in the darkroom it's hard to not to think you made the right choice...every time.

I asked this biker lad and ladette if they would mind if I took their photograph and they duly consented.  Ice-creams almost finished, coffees ready to go they were clearly enjoying themselves.  I kicked myself afterwards - I should have asked their names. The band is setting up in the bandstand to the right (that funny building to the right with a roof like a witch's hat).

This particular print, on Ilford Warmtone RC paper, looks way better than the scan - I don't enjoy scanning and like to get it over with as quickly as possible.  I know I should spend some time learning how to scan better, since I'm doing this blog-thing, but nowadays the less time spent at a computer the better.  That's just the way it is.

Anyway, there's something about this shot I really like.  I had asked the couple just to carry on as normal and ignore me while I attended to the usual composition and focus.  Certainly they knew they were being snapped (hard not to with a 'Blad pointing at them) but they still look pretty relaxed.

I dunked the print in some sepia toner just to see what gave - not sure if it helped or not, mind you.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Taking the air

Ah there she is herself, taking the air on Portstewart Prom:

On Cooltone RC paper.  Some-one tried to add a bit of vignetting and as you can see make a right hames of it.  Eejit.  He should have left it well alone...some people never learn, eh?

Friday, 12 May 2017

Al fresco dining in The Liberties

Portstewart Prom (the place where people come to promenade in the late afternoon) was buzzing the other evening.  And rightly so, as the weather was most clement.  People were out in force and quite a number were having their fish and chips al fresco:

I know - shadows!  I was a bit far away with the rangefinder so had to crank up the enlarger a bit.
Tonight is the Big Night for the Prom - it's North West 200 week, where those mad eejits race around the roads in their motorbikes, doing 200+mph.  John McGuinness crashed today during practice and broke his leg - that would be John McGuinness with over 20 wins in the Isle of Man TT races, second only to the late great Joey Dunlop.  Mr McGuinness is 45 years old, in case you were wondering.

Anyway, Friday is the day before the big race day and 'tis customary for visitors (of which there are a great number) to descend on Portstewart Prom for the craic and to see the fireworks.  I'm not a great one for crowds but I might dander down and see what gives.  Who knows, I might even load some fresh-ish HP5+ into a camera just for the occasion.  

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

If you really want An Irish Republic

It has, believe it or not, taken me two days to produce this masterpiece:

My old Uni friend Simon, his partner Catherine and I took the train to Derry-Londonderry last Saturday and after the obligatory visit to the Guildhall to see the exhibition about the 17th Century Plantation of Ulster and the similarly obligatory walk around the Walls (which Simon and I first did about 35 years ago) we dandered up the town before getting the train back to Coleraine.  Towards the top of Shipquay St is the War Memorial and I snapped Simon as he leant over the railings in a pensive sort of mood.  I liked the Sinn Fein election posters against the backdrop of the 1927 War Memorial - kind of tells you all you need to know about this part of the world, really.

Anyway, due to shooting into the sun the subject brightness range was immense and the first straight print had no tone whatsoever in the sky.  That print went in the bin.  I tried a simple burn in and it looked awful so after a bit of thought I figured out that perhaps this was a negative that might benefit from pre-flashing.  I'd never done it before so read all I could about it in a short space of time - like here, from Ilford.  If you are into darkroom printing then you probably already know about the toe and the shoulder of the negative-density exposure curve.  Pre-flashing gets over the inertia of the paper, gets up past the toe and gives you a chance to get a little more tone into the paper for negatives where the highlight detail might normally be lost.  But don't take my word for it  - do your own research, as they say.

So I did a pre-flash test print - wound the enlarger up high, closed down the lens and set filtration to 00.  As a result I reckoned that for my situation, using Ilford Warmtone RC I could get away with about 4s before tone started to show on the paper.  So I pre-flashed a few sheets.  I did wonder how long the paper would hold it's 'pre-flash' for and the only mention I could get of it was from Roger Hicks, who reckoned a few hours to a day.  Good enough, anyway.

My first attempts were moderately successful - I got tone and detail in the sky but lost a lot of sparkle in the rest of the print:

So I regrouped and read some more and someone somewhere said that when pre-flashing it was appropriate to increase the contrast in the rest of the print and decrease the exposure.  Makes sense I guess when you think about it since you're effectively fogging the print a little...I think.  Anyway, this afternoon I took a deep breath and ventured forth again into the darkroom to try just that and yes, pretty much it worked.

I ended up pre-flashing at grade 0, printing at higher contrast/lower exposure than suggested (grade 4), burning in the sky at grades 2 and also grade 4, an additional burn-in at grade 4 for the top half of the print and lower-left (Simon's jacket) and a 9s dodge around Simon's face.   Whew.  After all that we get the result shown at the top of the page and shown here again just 'cos:

It's been a 2-day self-taught workshop with one negative and while 24 hours ago I never wanted to see that negative again now I think Yes, I can deal with it.  I'm happy.

Monday, 8 May 2017

A Professor Calls

Me old mate Simon and his partner were over last weekend.   I met Simon on my very first day at Bath University, way, way back in 1981 - he had the room next to mine.  That's only what, 36 years ago.  Nothing, really.

Ideally there'd be a stunning Irish backdrop out the window, but no, I managed to catch some random building with scaffolding.  Ah well.  This isn't the best shot in the world but it's natural and I like it.  Kentmere VC paper.

Simon studied Pharmacy, I was reading Maths.  Not that I read enough, really.  But still, can't go back now, eh?  Interestingly we both ended up in academia, although he was a bit more successful than I was.  Nowadays he runs a big research lab somewhere in Glasgow and spends shed-loads of £s designing anti-cancer drugs, while I just annoy everyone around me by pointing old cameras at them and muttering about f-stops and shutter speeds.  

It was good to catch up with him and his partner Catherine.  You might see some more prints of our couple of days together sometime soon, when I get around to it.  It is hard to be in the darkroom these days, when the sun is out and the air is warm.  Goodness knows that doesn't happen very often around The Liberties, so you have to make the most of it when it does.  Top up the Vitamin D and stuff - good to protect against osteoporosis, innit.  They tell me there's an osteoporosis epidemic coming, they do ('they' would be the medical people I have occasion to hang about with on a regular basis).  Y'see the media have everyone running scared of skin cancer, and so people slap on the old Factor 30 at the slightest hint of sunshine.  Thing is, I'm told, you need your 30mins of sunshine every day during the summer in order to absorb enough Vit D to last you the rest of the year.  Or else you're in trouble - or will be, down the line.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Brooke Park, Derry

We were in Derry/Londonderry the other day, visiting my mother-in-law.   Missy and I went for a dander about in nearby Brooke Park and very nice it was too.  Brooke Park, by the way, has just undergone a major re-vamp, although where the £5.6 million went I'm not entirely sure - although there was a swanky new cafe in the middle of it, all concrete and glass and what have you which I'm sure swallowed a large chunk of it.

I know, I know - that old underexposure gremlin raising its ugly head again.  That's because I was back using the rangefinder after a long lay-off in favour of the Square-shooter.  First-world problems, I know.  Looking down towards St Eugene's Cathedral.

Brooke Park.  Interesting history - like most places in Derry, to be honest.  In the centre of Brooke Park was a building created in 1839 using the legacy from a Donegal Businessman Mr John Gwyn, who left a small fortune (£40,000) for the provision for orphaned boys (Mr Gwyn being orphaned at an early age).  So I do the swanky new cafe a disservice, since it is on the site of the original Gywn Institute (and with the original cornerstone and a 'time-capsule' embedded in its foundations, apparently).   Gywns' Institute, by the way, has been a children's home (1840-1901), museum, library, pathological laboratory, welfare food centre and civil defence assembly point before being firebombed during "The Troubles" and subsequently demolished.  But it lives again, in the form of the cafe.  I wish I'd taken a photograph of it now.  It's just to the right of the bench in the snap above...

It seems that the actual park came after Gwyn's Institute and opened in 1901, offering 'a place of outdoor recreation for the citizens of Londonderry and to be a place where in particular the working man could enjoy on the Sabbath day his pipe and a pleasant walk or rest after the labours of a severe week's toil'.  A grand Victorian park, then.  Such was the legacy of a certain James Hood Brooke, a Presbyterian philanthropist. Mr Brooke died in 1865 and directed the trustees of his will to procure lands for a public space - specifically stating that the space should remain open on Sundays.  I suspect that was fairly radical for the times and typical of those Presbyterian dissenters.  The monies weren't sufficient for the lands on the Gywn estate and The Honourable The Irish Society agreed to stump up the difference, provided that once the lands were laid out they would be transferred to the Londonderry Corporation and forever maintained by them in perpetuity in accordance with the provisions of the Public Parks (Ireland) Act.  So it's a People's Park - and Mr Brooke is surely content with that, wherever he is.

Christ Church, at the lower end of Brooke Park - just opposite St Eugene's Cathedral. c1830.

On the western slopes of Derry/Londonderry, Brooke Park is all up and down.  A pleasant space, though, in-between the very busy Northland Road and less busy Rosemount Avenue.   Next time I'll take some better snaps - I hope!  Actually next time I've promised Missy that we will go into Christ Church and St Eugene's Cathedral.  All being well it will be recorded on some Ilford film and reproduced here for the legions of readers of this blog.  Indeed.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Me and trees

I seem to take a lot of photographs of trees.  I like their natural beauty, the seeming randomness of the branches and just the sheer size these things can grow to.  And the age they can grow to - some, they reckon, are several thousand years old.  What a tale they could tell, eh? Another reason I think is that where I grew up there were a lot of them - a very strong, early memory for me is standing in the garden of my parents' house of an early autumn evening, light fading, strong wind blowing.  The noise of the wind in the leaves was captivating - I seem to remember standing there for a long time, fascinated by it all.  Early autumn is still one of my favourite times of the year.

Anyway, here's one of those tree-things I snapped up in Derry/Londonderry's Brooke Park, a short walk from my mother-in-law's house:

M6, HP5+ on Ilford Cooltone. 8"x10" print.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Hard Times

Times are hard in the McNeill household - just look at the clothes my poor daughter has to go about in:

Downhill Forest - sitting on a cycle ramp which someone has knocked together in the middle of the forest, as you do. 6x6 neg, 50mm lens, probably f/4.  Ilford Warmtone (I think) and sepia toned.
We walked around the other side of the ramp and I snapped her up again.  I twiddled the settings and the print has a bit more life about it that the first one: