Remembering the past to discover the future

Rediscovering my mojo

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Facebook does Memories. Depending on my activity in previous years Facebook will remind me that one year ago I did this or five years ago I did that. Generally I don’t share these memories but I like to be reminded of them and am sometimes surprised at how long it has been since the depicted memorable occasion.

In the past couple of weeks I’ve been reminded of photographic exploits and activities that I’ve found helpful in my present situation of coming to terms with retirement and in determining the direction I might take in my present photographic endeavours.

Three years ago I led a pinhole camera workshop. I’d volunteered in response to a request from the project leader of an organisation to a photographic club of which I was a member. I made plans for a two-day weekend workshop, starting with an explanation of how pinholes work through making pinhole cameras from recycled household containers to making images and developing prints. Unfortunately due to having to change venue the workshop had to be condensed into a single four-hour session! It took a lot more planning but we did it and had a great time in the process.

Just one year ago I was experimenting with what I called ‘timescapes’, moving a pinhole camera through the landscape during the exposure. The results, as is often the case with experimental work, were not quite what I was expecting yet held an appeal that I have yet to follow up on.

What those two Facebook Memories reminded me of was the period of time over which pinhole has been the focus of my photographic interest: I’ve been making pinhole cameras and images for nearly seven years! Reflecting on this, I realise that my subject matter has been quite consistently that of time expressed in the motion that a pinhole exposure renders in an interestingly and somewhat abstract, blurred fashion.

Right now I feel I am at a cross-roads and in need of some direction. Perhaps it’s a seven-year itch! Yet I still want to capture the motion of time passing, of time itself. For years I’ve used the motion of flowing water, of the movement of clouds in the sky and of plants and branches in the breeze to depict time. More recently I have discovered the expression of time in solid rock formed under geological forces over millennia and in tree trunks formed over decades and centuries as the tree has responded to changing light and seasons.

I see time too in human faces yet photographic portraiture is a genre that has never appealed to me. A portrait that has been drawn or painted resonates with me far more than does a photograph. Unfortunately I neither draw nor paint but I wonder whether there is some way to combine a photographic image with a drawing or painting, blurring the division between these arts to create some impressionistic time portrait. It’s something to be thinking about.

In reflecting on these ideas I may also have hit upon one of the factors at play in my adaptation to retired life. I worked in a seaside town, commuting daily forty or so miles each way. Each day I would find time to walk by the shore, usually during whatever lunch break I could take or either before or after the working day. I would escape from the noise and busy-ness of the day in the sound of the waves on the beach or against the rocks. I would often have a camera (not always of the pinhole variety!) with me and would instinctively make pleasing images that somehow matched the mood I would find myself in. Facebook, once again provided a memory, this from five years ago:

Now retired and living a long way from the shore, I realise that I am missing that communion with the sea and the world into which it transported me. Finding a way to return to it or to recreate it is also something to be thinking about.

Opening my inbox this morning has perhaps shown me a way forward Among the exhibitions listed in a regular email was one that immediately grabbed my interest. It has inspirational promise. A meeting is now arranged, a visit planned and my train ticket booked.

Let new adventures begin!

All change, Catch up, Carry on

A catch-up on the year’s photographic endeavours, somewhat disrupted by retirement.

My last blog was posted in March! Here’s what’s been going on: (Warning – It’s a long one!)

All change

The opportunity to retire came my way at the beginning of the year and having decided to accept it, the rest of the year has been taken up with preparation, the deed itself and now readjusting to the life of a retiree.

For the past twenty one years my sister and I have run a small optical practice in a quiet seaside town. The subject of our inevitable retirement and how we might bow out had been discussed off and on and we had a range of possible outcomes in mind. These ranged from one day having to shut the door and walk away, through the more likely scenario of being made a derisory offer with strings attached by one of the big groups, to the dream of someone walking in the door with an offer to buy and to pay the price we asked.

As it happens, dreams do come true! Somebody wanting to expand their existing single practice got to hear of our thoughts and in January I took a phone call that set the rest of the year in motion! A date for transfer of the business was set – 31st August. At first it seemed that we had plenty time to prepare but even by April it was already clear that time was running short! Indeed looking back, from then until the moment we handed over the keys was an uphill race against time, lawyers, surveyors and accountants. We were racing up a hill like lemmings and the cliff edge was 31st August when we would throw ourselves into the abyss of retirement.

Retirement too has been unexpected, at least so far. I can only describe it as a very weird time: After a couple of weeks I was ready to go back to work, as one would after a holiday, but I wasn’t on holiday. Six weeks into retirement I was still waking up at 5am to start my working day. By November I was feeling adjusted to some semblance of a new Monday to Friday routine but somehow I lost track of weekends. It was as if Saturday and Sunday didn’t exist! Even now at the end of December I can’t say I’ve yet settled fully into this new lifestyle.

The process has played havoc with the pursuit of my hobby but there have been occasions when I’ve been able to grab a camera for a brief fix of image making. Unfortunately I’ve had no time to indulge myself in the process of immersion in any one train of creative thought. Experiments haven’t been followed through, prints haven’t been made and consistency has gone out the window.

Catch up

So here’s what I’ve been up to when not preparing for or adjusting to retirement.

April

I managed a couple of outings on my bike with the Intrepid and of course I couldn’t miss Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day!

May

My other hobby is cycling. Somehow I found cycling an easier way to escape than photography. However, I’d acquired an e-bike with the intention of setting it up to do the donkey work of lugging my camera gear around!

June

Another cycle ride, this time to Queensferry to find images of the bridges across the Forth.

July

The present incumbent of the Office of President of the United States of America made a visit to the UK and spent a couple of days playing golf at one of his golf courses in Scotland. Donald Trump wasn’t particularly welcomed here. The media focussed on attempts by protestors to disrupt his golf but made little of several city-centre stopping demonstrations. I took my Vivitar v3800n SLR out, loaded with Kentmere 400 to record the mega-demo through the centre of Edinburgh, thoroughly enjoying a type of documentary photography I haven’t done for years!

August

My artist friend Oonagh has been mentioned in previous posts. We’d intended for months to meet up for Coffee, Cake and Cameras and I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity we had to do so in Anstruther at the beginning of August. I truly value any time spent in the company of creative people and Oonagh is no exception. We had a wonderful day each exploring in our own way, she with an underwater camera and a stereo pincam, and me with a Brownie 127 and Vest Pocket Kodak both loaded with cross process colour film and an experimental multi-coffee tin pincam.

Sadly my multi-coffee tin pincam experiment was a failure or perhaps it just worked differently from what I expected, so nothing to show from it. However, Oonagh brought me a present: A set of three 35mm film canister pincams, each with a magnet set in the lid to aid secure mounting on a metallic surface (I later found a tin lid that could be held in the QR mount of my tripod – perfect!)

contact printed paper negs – Oonagh’s filmcan pincams – views from Seafield Law

September

I met up with a group of friends to visit the SS Explorer at Leith Docks. Built as a research ship, it is one of the last surviving steam powered side trawlers still afloat and is being restored by a group of dedicated volunteers. We were privileged to have the opportunity to go on board and take photographs. I took Oonagh’s filmcan pincams loaded for paper negatives and my Vivitar v3800n loaded with Kentmere 400.


October

Just one photo outing this month, to capture some autumn colour with the Intrepid 4×5 on FP4+ black and white film 😉

November

Just one image this month, taken while out on an early morning cycle with one of Oonagh’s filmcan pincams.

scanned paper neg – Oonagh’s filmcan pincam – Murieston Trail

December

I’m beginning to put some thoughts together for photographic projects but my output so far kind of emphasises their experimental nature! I have but two paper negatives to show for my efforts so far but I’m working on it. This image was made in a biscuit tin pincam on 90gsm acid-free tracing paper coated with SE1 Emulsion. There’s a lot of perfecting to be done regarding my coating method and estimating exposures but my goal is to obtain a contact printable paper negative. That should be worth a few future blog posts!

scanned SE1 Emulsion on tracing paper negative – Biscuit tin pincam – Eliburn Reservoir

Carry on

My new life as a retiree is beginning to take shape and there is light ahead even if the tunnel is longer than I had expected.

I’ve taken up the noble retirement pursuit of Volunteering, in my case at the West Lothian Bike Library where I’m getting proper training as a bike mechanic and also as a led-ride leader. WLBL aims to make cycling available to all and has a wide range of adaptive bikes and trikes that are available to those with support needs. It also accepts donations of old bikes which are assessed and refurbished either for sale or for donation in response to requests from Social Services. A couple of days a week gives some structure, routine and purpose to my time in worthwhile activity.

There has been a gradual realisation that I can take an actual holiday. Or for that matter, as many or as much holidays as I can fit in! I can go day trips any day of the week. On my bike I’m restricted to a fairly limited area unless I take the bike somewhere on a train and as my wife doesn’t cycle, too many bike trips tends to selfishness. Of course, retirement gives us the time to spend together that was denied us when I was working. We had a chat, or two, or three about it and took a liking to the idea of a campervan …

… So after much internet browsing, asking about and looking around we’ve put down a deposit. Sometime soon we should be hitting the road in search of places of interest and potential campsites. The prospect beckons of being on location for sunrises and sunsets that I wouldn’t otherwise get to, cameras, bike, coffee and cake all ready to hand in the back of the van.

And so the blog, like life, will go on.

Getting back to silver gelatin on glass

A first attempt at making an anamorphic pinhole image inside a marmalade jar, and it won’t be the last!

At the back of a cupboard I came across a bottle of SE1 Emulsion. It was the remains of the emulsion I had used when I last coated a batch of glass plates, way back in July 2016 and even then it had been several months since the bottle was first opened. From my notes on the box, the emulsion was diluted with 16% Photo-Flo and amounted to about 50ml. I wondered if it would still work.

With Worldwide Pinhole Day 2018 just six weeks away, I have also been trying to think of something new (at least to me) to do this year. How about preparing and coating the inside of a glass marmalade jar with a pinhole in the lid, to create an anamorphic image around the inside of the jar that could be viewed from the outside? It’s not such a crazy idea but subject matter would need to be carefully chosen and exposure might be tricky.

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emulsion and marmalade jar

I made up a small quantity of gelatin (1g in 200ml water) with chrome alum hardener (4ml of 2% solution in water) to sub the inside of the cleaned glass jar which I did by pouring in the hardened gelatin solution and flowing it over the entire area by gently rolling and rotating the jar before pouring away the excess. The jar was left aside to air dry, ready for coating with emulsion.

To protect the emulsion from light, I prepared a two-part light-seal from black card and Duck Tape. The jar would fit into one piece and a second piece with a hole in the top for access to the pinhole, would slide down over the first and the hole sealed to the lid of the jar with black PVC tape. A pinhole was punched/drilled into the centre of the lid and a piece of black PVC tape used for a shutter. From a high resolution scan of the pinhole I measured its diameter as 0.37mm.

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light seal for the marmalade jar

Now sometime over the winter I had tidied out some of my early glass plate attempts, cleaning off the images by immersing them in very hot water and bleach, scrubbing them clean and then re-subbing them ready for re-use. The 50ml of emulsion that I had would cover quite a bit more than the marmalade jar so I used the excess to coat a few glass plates too: four each of 5×4 (for my Intrepid plate holders) and of 5×3 (for my pincam constructed for WPPD2014). Coating the marmalade jar was achieved in the same fashion as I have already described for subbing it. The coated jar and plates were left in a cool, dark place for a few days to dry completely.

With everything prepared, I was now ready to test out whether my well out of date, diluted emulsion would still work. I planned to set the jar on the floor of my old garden shed, thus exposing an image of the underside of the shed roof on the base of the jar and the shed interior around the sides. By way of a check I would also expose a plate of the outside of the shed, in the WPPD2014 pincam.

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the marmalade jar pincam in position in the shed

From past experience I rated the emulsion at ISO 5. For the shed interior I metered EV(100) 8 and thus a 60 minute exposure, and for the outside of the shed EV(100) 13 which gave a 2 minute exposure.

For developer I used Ilford Multigrade diluted 1+19 at approximately 20ºC. The marmalade jar image was developed, as for subbing and pouring, by pouring developer, stop bath and fixer in turn into the jar and swilling it around to cover the surface. Fixer was poured back into the jar and left to stand until the image cleared. The plate from the WPPD2014 pincam was tray developed as normal. Both the jar and the plate were then rinsed in fresh water for a couple of hours before being left to dry.

Unfortunately the marmalade jar image was completely overexposed. The fact that the emulsion is black at least tells me it was still ‘active’ and it is just possible to make out some faint detail in the dried image.

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grossly overexposed, it’s not what I’d been hoping for!

On the other hand the plate from the WPPD2014 pincam was perfectly exposed!

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a perfectly exposed plate, 2 minutes on ISO 5 rated emulsion

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the plate image from the WPPD2014 pincam scanned and inverted

I’m glad to have decided to expose a plate as a check. It tells me the emulsion is still good and that I need to be more careful with my metering for the marmalade jar. For the marmalade jar exposure I think I was fooled by the amount of light entering via the windows and door (which was left open during the exposure), having metered for the dark recesses of the shed. Unfortunately I only prepared one jar so it will be a wee while before I can have another go … but there’s still plenty time before Pinhole Day!

Negative scanning experiments

I spent a day scanning and rescanning at different settings, the same negative to discover what works for me.

My ongoing frustration with viewing scanned images on my Light Moments blog and Flickr with my MacBook Air led me to spend a day experimenting with various methods of scanning and processing 35mm negatives.

Whether or not the method I use to scan and process my negatives has any bearing on their being viewable on any particular device is unlikely to be determined by these experiments but it might at least give me an idea of what output quality is achievable from my scanning setup.

My scanner is a flatbed Epson Perfection 4990 Photo, capable of scanning negatives up to 10″x8″ at up to a claimed optical resolution of 4800 dpi and a Dmax of 4.0. My scanning software is Epson Scan as supplied with the scanner and my editing software is Serif Labs’ Affinity Photo.

Poor weather during the week left me effectively snowed in at work for three days with little work to do. Fortunately I’d taken my camera and a couple of rolls of film with me and was able to spend some time taking pictures of the snowy scene in which I found myself. I’ve chosen a single frame from the processed negatives to illustrate the results of my experimentation.

The film is Kentmere 400 developed in Ilfosol 3 at the standard dilution of 1+9 and at 20°C, Ilfostop and Ilford Rapid Fixer. Scanned frames were output to TIFF files for processing. The files uploaded here were all resized to 1200dpi wide JPEGs at 85% compression quality.

For my scanning experiment I started with a 16-bit greyscale scan at 1200dpi to a TIFF file.  Exposure and image adjustment settings were the standard auto settings provided by Epson. The resulting TIFF was so rough that I didn’t bother attempting any further processing. Scans 2 and 3 were made with the same settings but at 2400dpi and 4800dpi respectively. At full size they show some improvement in resolution which is just discernible here, but not in image quality.

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Scan 1: 16-bit greyscale @ 1200dpi. Epson Auto settings. TIFF file size 3.4MB.

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Scan 2: 16-bit greyscale @ 2400dpi. Epson Auto settings. TIFF file size 13.5MB.

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Scan 3: 16-bit greyscale @ 4800dpi. Epson Auto settings. TIFF file size 53.9MB.

Based on what I could learn from the first three scans I decided to use 2400dpi for the next three.

Scan 4 was also a 16-bit greyscale scan but with manual over-ride of Epson’s auto adjustment of the histogram. I set the black and white points to just left and right respectively of the ends of the histogram, the grey point value to 1.00 and set the output to stretch the histogram from 0 to 255. I also unchecked the unsharp mask setting. The output gave me full histogram values to work with using Levels in Affinity Photo and to my eye produced a much more acceptable result.

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Scan 4:: 16-bit greyscale @ 2400dpi. Histogram manually set in Epson Scan, adjusted in Affinity Photo. B&W conversion in Affinity Photo. TIFF file size 12.8MB.

Scan 5 was made just as Scan 4 except as a 48-bit colour file. Not only does this give me the option to make adjustments to levels but also allows control over the conversion to Black & White and the opportunity to emulate the use of filters on the camera.

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Scan 5: 48-bit colour @ 2400dpi. Histogram manually set in Epson Scan, adjusted in Affinity Photo. B&W conversion in Affinity Photo. TIFF file size 40.5MB.

Pleased with the progress I seemed to be making, Scan 6 was also 48-bit colour but this time with all Epson settings turned off: No auto exposure or colour management, no auto histogram, no unsharp mask and no auto setting of the scan marquee. I was able to manually select for scanning, a little more of the negative than had been automatically selected by the Epson software, hence the slightly larger file size. I was also sufficiently pleased with this one that I took the time to spot and straighten the file once in Affinity Photo.

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Scan 6: 48-bit colour @ 2400dpi. All Epson Scan auto settings turned off. B&W conversion and all adjustments made in Affinity Photo TIFF file size 46.3MB.

I was really very pleased with this. So much so that I repeated it at 48oodpi just to compare the resolution. The 4800dpi at full size is just noticeably better. I also made a slight change to the brightness – not sure I made the right call on that but like everything else that’s a subjective judgement!

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Scan 7: 48-bit colour @ 4800dpi. All Epson Scan auto settings turned off. B&W conversion and all adjustments made in Affinity Photo TIFF file size 185.1MB.

As I said at the top, none of this is likely to have any bearing on my MacBook Air problems (I’m beginning to see the problem being something to do with it, either hardware or operating system) but it’s been an interesting day making these comparisons. For the extra effort and disk space, scanning at higher resolution in 48-bit colour and with no Epson software intervention  makes a huge difference to what is achievable. And the beauty of making edits in Affinity Photo (and I guess any Photoshop-like software) is the flexibility and ability to go back to make adjustments.

Working in a blackout

This blog is primarily about my film and emulsion-based expoits. In order to show the results of those exploits I have to scan the images and upload the resulting processed digital files to WordPress either directly or via Google Photos.

A few months ago I noticed that when viewing my blog on my laptop (a 2011 MacBook Air) some of my uploaded images appeared as totally black rectangles. Not just newly uploaded images but when I looked back through my blog, images which previously rendered as expected were displayed blacked out too.

I checked my blog on other devices: iMac, Windows PCs, iPhone and Android devices. All the images appeared correctly. I then checked how the same image files appeared on different online sites: Flickr, Facebook, Google Photos and Dropbox. When viewed on my MacBook Air, on all but Flickr the images appeared as expected but on Flickr the same files were blacked out. When viewed on other devices all the images appeared correctly.

The common factors among the failing files appears to be that they are scanned images, my MacBook Air, WordPress, Flickr and that the problem only began a few months ago. I’ve painstakingly reviewed my scanning and editing workflow to almost no avail.

I thought I’d cracked it when I scanned a set of black & white 35mm negatives last week:

  • Turn off all editing functions on my Epson Perfection 4990 Photo scanner.
  • Scan as 24-bit colour at 2400 dpi. Save images as .tif files on my 2009 iMac. (Iwould normally scan 16-bit grayscale to either 1200 or 2400 dpi .jpg files).
  • Open files in Affinity Photo, process as RAW files in Develop Persona, converting to black & white. Save as native .afphoto file.
  • Edit .afphoto file to spot, crop and straighten as necessary. Adjust black and white points in levels.
  • Export to .jpg files, resized to suit intended use. (For online, 1000 or 1200 pixels on longest side at 72 dpi).

Here are some of the resulting files that I uploaded both to Flickr and to WordPress:

 

I went to Flickr first and when viewed on my MacBook Air these images appear correctly. They were previously blacked out. The only change I had made was to scan as 24-bit colour files rather than 16-bit greyscale (which was previously my standard method). I was hopeful for my blog …

But here on my WordPress blog they remain blacked out. They appear correctly on other devices (iMac, Windows PC). I’m stumped. Did something change on my MacBook Air towards the end of last year? If so why does it only affect WordPress? Why only scanned images? There’s another thing too: it’s not just my images on my blog or on my Flickr account – I’m seeing the same thing on other blogs and other Flickr accounts. As far as I can tell it’s happening to scanned images and is only apparent on my MacBook Air.

Unfortunately my most used means of reading blog posts and updating Light Moments is via my MacBook Air. Until I can identify the problem and find a solution, my enjoyment of WordPress is being severely frustrated to the point of not maintaining my blog … at least for now.

Film: when ‘analogue’ becomes digital

A pinhole project in the making that prompts a question about digitising images made on film.

With a break over the festive season from the routine of work, I’ve had the chance to get stuck in to a photographic project or two (or three, or …).

Inspired by a photograph I saw some years ago in a book about pinhole photography and continuing from my last blog post, I made a body-cap pinhole to mount on a 35mm SLR, loaded the camera with a roll of Kentmere 400 film and took it for a walk through the woods. The pinhole was about 0.17mm diameter and mounted 50mm from the film plane, giving an aperture of about f/290. In the late afternoon winter light my exposure times for the 400ISO film ranged from about 20 seconds to over a minute.

My aim was to make images of the landscape as I passed through it, handholding the camera as steadily as I could in front of me with the shutter open on the ‘B’ setting, counting out the exposures in time with my footsteps. As with all things pinhole, this would be a serendipitous adventure into light, time and landscape.

With the first film exposed and developed (yes, I’ve been out again, repeating the exercise having learned lessons from the first) I had a choice to make. Would I scan the negatives, edit them and be done with viewing them on my computer screen, perhaps having prints made from the now digital files, or would I attempt to print them ‘old school’ in the darkroom? The negatives were all similar in being of limited tonal range with little discernible detail. It could be difficult to make anything of them either way.

I decided to do both! First, I scanned them then cleaned up dust marks and stretched the histogram in levels by setting black and white points. Images were obtained, albeit rather grainy and a bit harsh looking, that met my expectations and with which I was quite pleased.

Knowing that images were there to be seen, I picked a dozen or so frames, set up my darkroom and disappeared for a rather marathon printing session! My main challenge would be to get contrast into the prints from the very flat, mid-range negatives. Using split-grade printing I determined a base exposure with a grade 5 filter for the darks and grade 1 or 2 filters for the lights. The resulting prints were pleasing enough to be going on with, enough for me to see an ongoing project to develop as time allows.

What I found interesting was the comparison between scanned negatives, adjusted on-screen images from the scans, and darkroom prints made from the negatives. Here are three images all originating from the same frame:

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unedited scan of the negative (inverted)

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the negative edited with black and white points set in levels

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unedited scan of a darkroom print made from the negative

There’s always a wee voice at the back of my mind when scanning negatives that questions why I didn’t just use a digital camera – after all, once scanned I’m working with a digital file! It takes longer to make a darkroom print but the soothing red glow of a safelight is so much kinder on the eyes than the glare of a backlit computer screen and the end product in this example is more in keeping with the gentler, mysterious image that I had in mind when I set out with the camera. The digital version seems harsher, more contrasty, perhaps better defined if that’s what the viewer wants or expects and is certainly more reproducible, but the darkroom print has the feel of something crafted and unique – and to my mind it looks so much better too!

I guess both routes to an image have their place and of course the final irony is that to share the darkroom print here, I have to scan it and upload a digital file!

Pinhole time travel

Pinhole photography has for me been most satisfying and most successful when the resulting image represents the passage of time in a manner that is not immediately visible to the eye: Shapes and textures formed by water flowing in a river, by vegetation blown in the wind, by clouds moving across an open sky. It is the motion in subjects such as these, recorded over necessarily long exposure times that produce the otherwise unseen images in which I find another world to contemplate.

To achieve the images I seek, the camera is usually mounted on a stationary support such as a tripod for the duration of the exposure. I have occasionally experimented with handheld pinhole photography with mixed results but rarely as interesting as I have seen from other pinholers. It’s a direction I’d like to take further at some time, just not now!

Some time ago while reading Eric Renner’s book Pinhole Photography, I was intrigued by examples of images created within a moving van (the van was the camera) over distances of some 100 or so kilometres, and of images made with a camera attached to the wheelhouse of a boat as it pulled away from the quayside. Dreamily abstract images that brought time and distance together in a new way. I have often wondered how I might use a pinhole camera similarly … and so last weekend it came to pass!

For my experiment I chose the camera I made for Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day back in 2014. Constructed from foamcore and with a sliding shutter it takes media 5″ x 3″. Using Velcro ties I mounted it upside down to the passenger-side sun visor of my car such that it did not obsruct my view of the road when driving and that I could open and close the shutter easily and without taking my gaze from the road ahead. There was sufficient friction in the shutter to hold it open unaided.

For paper negatives I cut a few sheets of Ilford MGIV RC Satin to size, packed a changing bag and separate boxes for unexposed and exposed paper and set off on a short road trip. The light was such that I reckoned on exposures around six minutes each and my route would take in undulating, twisty rural roads, two bridge crossings and motorway. After each exposure I found a place to stop and fumble in the changing bag to swap out exposed paper for unexposed.

Although these are my first attempts and I can see things I would try to improve on, I’m happy with the images: happy to have made them and happy to contemplate what they tell me about my time and its relationship with the time and space of my subject. My original intention was to post these with an explanation of what and where each is, even with some ‘proper’ dashcam images but after much thought I have removed it all, even titles to the images as I feel that such information is irrelevant and a distraction from what the images have to say.

 

 

Down by the riverside

Last weekend I made the best of good winter light and time to spare for clambering up and down the rather slippery bank of the River Avon.

My cameras were almost ancillary to the restful experience that comes from the concentrated effort to find viewpoints and to set up for an exposure yet it is they and the images that ensue that give purpose to the solitary expedition. Here are a couple of memories from my day:

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Shoebox pincam, Ilford MGIV RC Satin paper negative contact printed onto MGIV RC Satin

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Intrepid 5×4, Rodenstock Sironar-N 150mm lens, Harman Direct Positive Paper

Shoebox pincam update

The shoebox pincam comes of age. It’s a keeper!

Making images with the shoebox pincam is a slow process. Four sheeets of paper or film have to be taped together then loaded together into the camera in the darkroom. Once exposed, the camera has to be returned to the darkroom for unloading and developing of each sheet. Getting to and from a previously scouted location takes time, the camera has to be set up and of course a pinhole exposure, especially on paper, is never done in a fraction of a second! As a result, it is likely that only one exposure can be made on any one day!

It’s almost two months since I idly picked up an empty shoebox and had the thought that it would be cool to convert it into a pinhole camera. That thought has turned into quite a project with teething problems to challenge me, lessons to be learned and only now can I say that I’m beginning to get a feel for what it can do.

The camera records a panoramic image covering about 145º horizontally, undistorted due to the constant radius curved image plane. The vertical perspective is similar to that of a ‘standard’ focal length 35mm camera, so is not the typical wide-angle view of a typical pinhole camera. So far I’ve used it to record river scenes, mainly because I like the effect that long exposures give to the movement of the water.

Here are four ‘useable’ exposures made so far. As each image comprises four sheets I’ve mounted them on board to ensure they are flat and accurately butted together. Unfortunately the assembled images are too large for my scanner so I have had to photograph them instead which doesn’t reproduce them as well, particularly for shadow details.

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This first ‘successful’ image was considered so for the reason that I had overcome the safelight fogging problem that had dogged my first few exposures. I was being overoptimistic for the Direct Positive paper’s ability to record such a high contrast scene with one river bank in direct bright sunlight and the other in deep shadow!

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For my second image I tried to cut down on exposure time by using film. I used Ilford FP4+, each sheet being subsequently contact printed onto Ilford MG Art 300 paper. While I achieved the aim of reducing the exposure time, the reduction was only slight due to accounting for reciprocity failure. Using film created its own challenges. First I had to tape together four sheets of film and load them into the camera in total darkness, then I had to determine a print exposure to be applied to each sheet when contact printing. To ensure accurate registration of the joined together contact prints, each negative had to be 100% accurately aligned to the paper. It was a tricky task and I spent rather longer in the darkroom than I had anticipated! Once again contrast was an issue but I’m pleased with the result and would give more thought to the camera position and lighting in future.

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This is probably about one stop underexposed and I knew it at the time I made the exposure. It was a fifty minute exposure started about two hours before sunset and to give another stop in fading light would have added well over an hour for very little benefit. As it is there is very subtle shadow detail that doesn’t show up here and I absolutely love the wispy shapes formed by the water in the darker regions of the print. I’m not at all disappointed with this one. It’ll probably go into a frame, at least temporarily!

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Finally I have this. I’d say I got the exposure just about right at 25 minutes or so, with good shadow detail in the actual print as well as here. I could have framed the shot better to take in less shadow area on the left and a better ‘flow’ downstream. The setting sun is directly in the picture and it’s path can be traced in the sorarisation that causes a ‘black sun’ effect from which the diffraction flare is seen. I quite like that and from time to time will set up a pinhole shot just to get that effect although that wasn’t my primary purpose with this one.

So there it is. I’m getting the hang of this ‘chance’ pinhole camera. It has a quite different perspective to any other pincam I have and I need to find the right subject matter to make the most of it. But it’s a keeper for sure!

A fitting tribute

Having been inspired to and informed about salt printing by workshops at Stills, it seemed fitting that one of my salt prints should be auctioned to raise funds for Stills.

Over the spring and summer, one of my projects was to prepare a set of salt prints to be displayed as part of an Edinburgh LoFi group exhibition that was scheduled to take place during September. Unfortunately, at the last moment the exhibition was cancelled due to emergency building works necessitating closure of the venue.

News of the exhibition being cancelled coincided with an appeal from Stills for print donations to a fundraising auction in aid of the work they do to support photography in Scotland. Established in 1977, Stills was the first dedicated photography centre in Scotland and remains the only space dedicated to photography in Edinburgh. The gallery, darkrooms, editing suites and workshops have played some part in my own photographic journey and so it seemed appropriate to submit one of my exhibition prints to the auction.

But there was a snag. The auction I would be submitting to was to be an anonymous online one requiring that prints should be 10×8, unmounted and unsigned. My exhibition prints were 10×8 but were signed, mounted and framed. As such, they were ineligible!

After some thought, I realised I had a set of work prints from my penultimate printing session. Some of these were not what I was aiming for but there were a couple which I had considered using as final prints. I picked the best one, signed it on the back below my pencilled process notes and handed it in to Stills.

In due course I received an email accepting the print. The auction, for a total of eighty four anonymously donated prints would go live at the beginning of October, culminating in an exhibition of the prints in Stills Gallery from 18th until the afternoon of 20th October when the online auction would close.

In the evening of 20th October a live auction was held of prints donated by named artists well known in Scotland and beyond, many of whom have had exhibitions within Stills. Some of the reserve prices in the catalogue were eyewatering! I went along after work to experience the live auction, have a look at the exhibition of online auction prints and to find out if mine had sold.

I never scanned or photographed the print that was auctioned but I do have photographs of the set of mounted exhibition prints. Here they are. The print submitted to the auction was the work print for ‘Sinuous Attachment’, second in the set.

Of the eighty four anonymously donated prints, ten were unsold, most sold for prices between £20 and £100 and just two sold for more. The top price was £160. I was astounded to learn that my salt print raised the second top price of £120. I know and respect many of my fellow anonymous print donors. Although this was in no way a competition, to be judged by public auction has been a surprising, humbling, and ultimately encouraging experience.

Between them, the online and live auctions have raised much needed thousands of pounds for Stills at a time when arts funding is tight. I’m pleased to have made a small contribution. Stills introduced me to salt printing through one workshop and gave me the knowledge to develop my own process though another so it seems fitting that the print I donated was the product of that involvement.