Saturday, 28 January 2017


I mentioned the other day about having a wander about last weekend.  This is Flowerfield House, now a local Arts Centre:

8x10 print, Flowerfield House, Portstewart, bathed in lovely winter light.  HP5+/ID-11 on Kentmere
The NE Liberties - Coleraine in particular - was a very wealthy area at the end of the 19th/early 20th Century, mainly due to the linen industry.  "Colerains" linen (as it was known in them days) was recognised as the finest Irish linen - I recall my grandparents talking about the pungent smell of the flax during the retting process in the dams.  The actual process of making linen is pretty amazing - read about it here.  One can only assume that the steps evolved from decades of knowledge gleaned not from textbooks but from pure hands-on experience and the passing of that knowledge from generation to generation.  Different days, for sure.

But as usual, I digress.  The point I was trying to make is that Coleraine had quite a number of large manor houses at the turn of the 20th Century.  Over the years most have been knocked down - not to be replaced by anything remotely architecturally or historically interesting, of course.  No, in place we have County Hall (a 60s-something high rise government building), a Tesco supermarket (enough said) and other minor box-like public buildings put up in the 1960s.  Flowerfield remains one of the very few Big Houses left still standing.

The history of Flowefield is almost a history of this part of Ireland - the original house was built in 1710 by the Kerr family from Scotland, who arrived during the Plantation of Ulster.  It was then owned by the O'Hara family, who are synonymous with Portstewart, having built the Gothic Castle by the sea which is now Dominican College, an 11-18 Grammar School.  By 1971 though, Flowerfield was vacant and in disrepair when the Council, to their credit, stepped in and purchased it.  It was actually the first Arts Centre to be opened in Northern Ireland, in 1980.  That was just before I left The Liberties to study in England and I can recall going to at least one meeting of the 'Coleraine Camera Club' in Flowerfield.  Funny that - here I am nearly 40 years later still wandering around the place with a camera.  For me at least, things have turned full circle now that I am back living in the area in which I grew up.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Weekend wanders

I may have already mentioned that the sun put in an appearance last weekend - a rare event these days, which have been largely overcast and dull and therefore not great for the old snapping activity.

But when the sun did shine, the light was quite lovely.  I went out and about for a dander, as one does.  I headed for the old Agherton Graveyard just as you come into Portstewart, a short drive down the road.  Some of my ancestors lie there and a lot of the names would be familiar to me, coming from the townlands around where I grew up and now find myself living again.  It's not a particularly big graveyard - most from that era aren't, as the communities were small in them days.  But there were no good snaps to be had, since the sun was only lighting up the back of the headstones - well, there probably were some good opportunities, but my eyes didn't see them.

So I walked across the road towards the Flowerfield Arts Centre and the strong shadows of the trees projected on this wall caught my eye:

8x10 print, split-grade printed on Kentmere paper.

Monday, 23 January 2017

A person, inspiration and a book

There are hundreds of very talented photographers out there, past and present, that I've never heard of.  Terry Cryer was one of them.  I caught up with him a bit late, admittedly, since I only discovered who he was at the weekend when a friend on FADU posted a link to his obituary in the Guardian.  I'm a sucker for a good story and it's a good read:  Some of his work can be seen here:

I liked the reference to John Lennon, where he was reported as telling Mr Cryer: "If you're ever any good, you're always good.  It's always there.  You've just got to find it". Perhaps this is what we all need to hear when inspiration is thin on the ground.  Inspiration is one of those things we all struggle with from time to time - my friend Roy over there in Norway seems to have a good angle on it.  From what I can see, he goes back to basics - lines, patterns, shadows etc.  I have to say I think that's a great approach and I will be unashamedly copying it.  Of course Roy does it pretty well, as expected.

Just a shadow that caught my eye the other day.  After about a week of very dull weather the sun actually put in an appearance - the cold, winter light was lovely. 5x7 print.

I was thinking that inspiration is one of those things that can't be found.  I mean, it can't be found when you are looking for kind of has to come to you, to reveal itself.   Perhaps it just creeps up on you when you have lost yourself in doing whatever it is that you enjoy doing.

For a minute there it may have sounded like I know what I'm talking about.  I don't, of course - but it's OK 'cos I know of a man who does: Andrew Sanderson.  I've just picked up one of his books which I am mightily enjoying: Home Photography.  The subtitle is 'Inspiration on your doorstep'.  This is a wonderful book and it has probably come just at the right time for me on my particular journey.  Mr Sanderson has a very straightforward and honest way of writing and his work, as you may know, is pretty special.  You can see some of it here:

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Whatever you think

So while I'm doing wickedly important bits and pieces in the D-Room and thinking and what-have-you, I offer you this:

Mountsandel Forest, on the Southern Slopes of Coleraine, in the North West of Ireland, where the Bronze Age people dwelt a few thousand years ago. This is such a beautiful area to walk around with or without a camera, especially early morning when the light is decent.  On Kentmere VC Select paper, via WT-10 developer.  Rapidly becoming a favourite combination, I have to say.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

What to do about it

So the other day I was reflecting on how I've been having a good old look at the state of play in my negative folders, observing the general poor state of things there and how a distinct softness abounds. Not the case for every neg, of course, but too many. As a result, I find myself printing at grades 4 and 5 in order to put some sparkle into into my prints.  I should perhaps say that I'm not a big fan of super-contrasty prints, but you need a bit of punch to them otherwise they're just lifeless and dull.

I've been wondering why I haven't rumbled this earlier.  I can't blame it completely, but I suspect it's my workflow that's partly to blame.  Usually the first thing I do once the film is dry is cut and scan it.  I pull the tif files into an old version of Photoshop and usually do a 'Auto Contrast' on them, before saving as jpeg. Then I decide which warrant messing about with in the darkroom and which don't.  I suspect this workflow has been masking the general rubbishness of my work - basically, the software is too good at pulling something decent from what essentially is a poor negative.

So, what to do about it?  I suppose the default is nothing, but that's not going to solve anything, right? No, the first step, I think, is to actually spend more time actually looking at the the quality of the negatives themselves - and not the subject matter.  I'm also thinking it might be good to forego the scanning process completely, and revert back to printing contact sheets, as was the norm a few years ago.  I like the sound of that.

Another 8x10 Kentmere print of The Dwight D Eisenhower Expressway, cutting through Oak Park in West Chicago.  Taken from one of the bridges that you aren't allowed to loiter on (so the notice said).  I'm guessing the wire mesh is there for a couple of reasons...

The solution is probably something simple, y'know - like letting a bit more light in through the glass.   Lots of peeps out there in Internet-land suggest rating the film at half the box speed (so around 80 for FP4+, 200 for HP5+), meter as normal and then cut back slightly on developing times.  That sounds like a decent enough plan, but in essence the trick is to find a system that works - reliably - for yourself.  Let's see what happens.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Fooling around

Since I haven't snapped much in anger recently I've been delving in to the negative archive for stuff to print in the darkroom. I've lots of old negs, dating back to the 70s when I was a teenager, but I haven't really looked too closely at them as of yet.  Actually I'm not sure they warrant too close a look anyway.  What I have been concentrating on is stuff taken and developed in the last couple of years.  It's actually been a very useful exercise.

It appears, my friends, that I've been guilty of fooling myself.  And I'm not talking about the quality of the images - though you are indeed correct, that is also highly questionable.  No, I'm talking about the print-ability of my negs.  What I am beginning to realise is that too few of my negs are actually easy to print.  Too many are only printable at grade 4 or even grade 5.  Now this isn't a problem per se, but it does give you little room for manoeuvre if you need to do a bit of jiggery-pokery in the darkroom department.  Bear in mind that grade 5 is pretty much the hardest, most contrasty grade that you can achieve on normal papers.  OK so a bit of toning can sometimes help with the contrast, but from what I can glean about the whole thing ideally you want your negs to print around grade 2 or 3 out-of-the-box, so to speak, so you have a bit of latitude should you need to harden things up a bit, or soften things down, if you get me drift.

8x10 print, Kentmere paper. WT-10 developer (which is getting a bit old now and therefore I'm trying to use it up - but at 1+19 dilution it will take a while).

I've posted the shot above before, a while ago, but only as a scan.  This is, as they say in the movies, a real silver print, folks!  Well of course this is only a representation of the print, but it's the best I can do in the circumstances.  It's of 12th Street, aka Roosevelt, in the West Chicago suburbs, on Thanksgiving Morning 2014.  Exceptional for the fact that it's almost bereft of motor vehicles and let me tell you, it's probably the only day of the year you'll find it like that.  The Brother drives this pretty much every day and according to him, they try to take him out from all angles.  From what I've seen, his synopsis is pretty much spot on.

This link may or may not work, but this is where Google Maps Street View puts us:,-87.8009941,3a,75y,277.71h,83.04t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1su8a-SO1OmC7YuZR12xheIQ!2e0!7i13312!8i6656!6m1!1e1

Anyway, as usual I digress.  The point is, too many of me negs are a bit on the soft side, through mostly, I believe, a lack of exposure to light.  I don't tend to mess about too much with the developing side of things - I just go with the manufacturer's recommended times.  I assume they know what they're talking about.

I have another theory about all of this, but I'll leave that until the next post, since it's getting late in the day.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Le Forgeron

I've never really been into still life photography - always saw it as a bit, well, dull.  But recently I've begun to think about it and even more recently, do something about it.  There was nice winter light coming in through the window yesterday morning so I balanced one of Mrs NE Liberties' ornaments on a shoebox and pointed the Sinar at it.

Le Forgeron is one of two pieces that sit on our block of wood that acts as a mantlepiece.  They were given to my wife's grandparents as a wedding present, sometime in the 1920s.  The story goes is that they were made from WW1 cannons that were melted down after the war.  I'm not a great fan of ornaments but these I like.

 Anyway, I was going to try developing the sheet film in a tray, for a change, but chickened out at the last minute (didn't really fancy spending 13+ mins in complete darkness while I agitated the tray) and got out the Unicolor tank and it's matching motorised base - both well over 30 years old.  In case you're mad enough to contemplate getting into large format photography the Unicolor tank is just one system you can use to develop the film.  As I say, you can do it in trays - complete darkness is required for the developing stage.  Once development has been halted (usually by a quick stop bath) then you can turn on the lights (apparently) while fixing the image.  I say apparently, I haven't tried it myself - they say it's cool to watch the film clear as the fixer dissolves any unexposed crystals of silver.   There are other systems, including tanks which can usually hold a few sheets at the time.  Most seem to work by putting the sheet of film in a hanger of some sort and then dunking the whole thing into the tank.  In my case I'm using an old Unicolor 10x8 print drum which takes up to 4 sheets of 4x5 film at a time.  I've written a bit about it before somewhere - it's very economical with the old chemicals.  The downside is, as I found out yesterday, that the system is getting on a bit in years.  After I poured the developer in I placed the drum on the base and pressed the 'on' switch.  And...nothing happened.  I was a bit flummoxed and started to rotate the drum by hand while I got my brain in gear.  Could I continue emulating the action of the motorised base for the next 10-odd minutes?  I was rapidly coming to the conclusion that this was not going to happen, so for want of anything else to do, I placed the drum on the base and continued my manual rotation.  And as luck would have it, after a couple of seconds the base decided to wake up and the thing sprang into life.  Temperamental, these old things.  Anyway, the negative looked OK once it came out of the wash and I hung it up to dry in what goes for a drying cabinet around here - part of a bookcase sourced from Ikea.

This morning I fired up the Nova slotty tank, stuck a 150mm lens on the DeVere and bashed out a print or two.  The result wasn't great:

Le Forgeron via the Sinar, on FP4+ in ID-11, printed on Kentmere VC Select and sepia toned.
So, a still life.  Not the best print but actually, I quite enjoyed the process.  Maybe it's the age I'm at or maybe it's the fact that it's a bit slippy outside these days - which I don't really like on account of me metal hips and all - but I can see myself doing a bit more indoor work over the next while.  It's kind of slow and you can take your time and actually think about the thing a bit - and that suits the Sinar workflow anyway.   We'll see.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Is less really more?

A few years ago, when my stepson was a teenager, the whole house knew when he was heading out for a date, due to the fact that the smell of his aftershave permeated through every room.  I kept saying to him, 'Less is more, y'know'.  I think the message has got through, since he's not quite so bad these days, now he is nearing his mid-twenties.

Anyway, lately - as you may have noticed - there haven't been as many posts on This Place as there used to be.  Now certainly over the last few months this has had something to do with my domestic situation, my wife's hospitalisation and what have you.  (Things are slowly getting back to normal on that front, by the way). But the other factor is a conscious decision on my part to slow things down a bit - a kind of Less-is-More thing on here too.  I want to spend more time in the darkroom, try some different things there and generally try to move things along in that department.

I've been sorting out my offering for this month's FADU print exchange.  It's a print of a negative you may have seen before - taken in Portrush last Autumn.   I thought I would re-visit it and see if I could wring any more from it in the darkroom, other than a straight print.  Well, it's still more or less a straight print but with the addition of a sepia tone, but I tell you, the trouble I had...

Here's what I ended up with and the print is going in the post this morning to my fellow FADU member:

The Square-shooter, on HP5+, ID-11 (1+1), Kentmere VC Select 8x10 paper, Fotospeed WT-10 developer (1+19), Fotospeed Sepia Toner (30ml/750ml)

But as usual with me it wasn't a straightforward process.  I got the straight print looking more or less how I wanted it and made a few copies, as you do when you are toning.  You know, one to go wrong, one to get close with and the final one to nail.  I was using Fotospeed's Sepia Toner.  If you've never used it, there are 3 small containers in the pack.  The first is diluted at 1+9 for the bleach.  The second is diluted also 1+9 for the toner and the third is where the magic is - the toner additive.  Depending on whether you want very light yellow/brown tone, mid-brown or strong brown you add more or less of the third container.  In the past I've just sloshed a bit in but after a couple of experiments with older prints I figured that mid-brown worked best for this print, so in went 30ml for about 750ml of liquid.  750ml is a good enough amount for a 8x10 print and has the additional bonus of being able to be stored in an old wine bottle, with vacuum stop.

So the first 'test' print went into the bleach and immediately there was a problem - staining.  Same for the next couple of prints.  I was pretty sure this was a washing problem - not long enough.  So the next day I printed off another 3 copies and made sure they were well washed this time around - a good 15 mins under running water, plenty for a resin-coated paper.  Imagine, dear readers, how I felt when the first print went into the bleach and immediately up came a long dark streak across one corner.  I was not a Happy Bunny.  Then I looked closely at the other prints and could see the same mark on them all, straight out of the wash.  What the heck, I said to myself - or words to that effect.

I checked everything I could think mark on the negative, lens was clear, then I looked closely at the projected image on the enlarger baseboard and guess what, I could see a faint dark line right where the mark was.  Then it dawned on me - it was a shadow, cast from the safelight hitting the power lead to the enlarger head.  Yep, something that simple.  Of course what this means is that my safelight isn't safe at all.  I never have done the 'safelight-test' procedure which is what is recommended in all Darkroom Work 101 courses.  Well my prints were fine, weren't they?  - no safelight problems here, I had thought.  But then I do move the safelight around a bit, particularly when doing lith work, where a little light is needed across the room to the wet side where the trays lie.  Not only is the safelight not safe, but I must have been a little haphazard with regard to re-positioning the safelight after one such session - hence the problem only manifesting itself now.

Anyway, problem fixed (safelight turned away from enlarger), 2 more prints and eventually get to where I wanted to go.  Bleach for 1 minute, wash for 5 minutes, then tone for about a minute then final wash for 10 mins.  Finally.

The next thing on my agenda is to replace the bulb in the safelight with something less bright and do a proper safelight test - something I should have done a long time ago.  There's a lesson there somewhere for myself...

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

What the plan is?

So 2017 is up and running. Being a glass half full kind of dude in many ways I can't wait to see what it brings. I've no resolutions per se - too old for that melarky - but there is one thing I want to do less of...sitting in front of a computer. It's a hang-up from me working days, I think, when I spent a lot of the day screen-bound. Old habits dying hard and all that. Anyway, my home 'study' has been reclaimed into a small family snug, so the computer has been re-located upstairs. Its now not-quite-so-convenient location will, I think, lead to me spending less time on it.

Mind you, I probably said the same thing this time last year.

Anyway, another print from the darkroom session the other day.  One I may well have posted before, but this time around I printed it on the Adox paper, gave it a mild sepia wash and was reasonably happy with the outcome.

Part of Somerset Wood, just outside Coleraine.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Where are they now?

It's been a tough few months in the North East Liberties household.  My wife has had, as you may know, gall bladder problems, since mid-September.  I'll spare the details, since that's not what This Place is about, but suffice to say our last little stay in the local hospital ended at 8pm on Christmas Eve.  We came home and somehow got through Christmas Day - y'know, did the right thing for Missy and the other family peeps.

Anyhow, hopefully things are on the mend regarding that particular issue.

As a result I haven't been very active on the photographic front recently, but for some reason I had a surplus of energy this morning and headed for the darkroom.  I'd been looking at some scans of very old negs over Christmas and thought I'd found one with some merit.  So off I went and printed it, some 38 years after it was taken.

A moment in time from a wee music place called 'Spuds', in Portstewart, around 1979 or so.  I don't have a clue who they are - clearly in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Printed in 2016 on Adox MCP 312 paper, via Fotospeed WT-10 developer.   I wonder where they are now?
Actually this was the second print, the first print was a bit over-cooked.  Once I bleached it and stuck it in some sepia toner it came back a bit, but still not great.  Still, proof if proof were needed that this particular Adox paper tones well enough, eh?