The Countess

The mystery gift turned out to be this delightful pocket-size, sixteenth-plate Countess camera complete with four plate holders and a leather case.


I recently attended a dry plate workshop at Street Level Photoworks in Glasgow. Over two days along with James, Pete and Oonagh I learned all about cutting, preparing and coating glass plates for use in large format cameras. We photographed each other using the plates we had prepared and then developed the images.

As the plates had to be washed and dried over a period of time we were unable to take them home with us but in due course they were posted out and as I have a suitable scanner Oonagh sent hers to me for scanning in return for which she sent me a ‘mystery gift’.

The mystery gift turned out to be this delightful pocket-size, sixteenth-plate Countess camera complete with four plate holders and a leather case.

The lens was a bit mucky and a couple of screws were loose but I was easily able so deal with the necessary cleaning and tightening. The aperture, shutter settings and the shutter itself all worked fine and all I needed to do was check for light leaks in the bellows. The plate holders were all showing signs of age (patination or rust, take your pick!) but I slid one open slightly to find a glass plate still within it. I opened the other three in the dark to find two more plates which I attempted to develop but there was no image on either.

Not having a source of 1mm thick glass (or 1/16″ as this is a pre-metric camera) I successfully tried to load a piece of Harman Direct Positive paper cut down from stock I keep for my pinhole work and took the camera out to make an exposure.

The direct positive paper had been flashed and I know from experience to rate it at ISO 3. From an incident light meter reading for an aperture of f/32 which gave an exposure time of 15 seconds I manually counted down an exposure of 20 seconds. What’s a couple of seconds, especially when counting them out?

I like the result and no obvious light leaks!20160521_001

I have a long-term pinhole project on the go using home-made cameras that I load with quarter of a 5×4 sheet of direct positive paper, just a fraction larger than the Countess’ plate size. I might just incorporate the Countess in the project for images that want a less wide-angle view that the pinholes give.

I love these small images. They draw the viewer in and a relationship is formed in the intimacy of the act of looking more closely.

Thank you, Oonagh for such a wonderful gift.

Understanding ‘Continuum’

“But you don’t say what river it is.” was a comment made to me by one of the viewers of my photo set Continuum. “Which river is irrelevant,” I replied. “Continuum is about the experience of the moment.”

Question and answer

“But you don’t say what river it is.” was a comment made to me by one of the viewers of my previous blog Continuum. “Which river is irrelevant,” I replied. “Continuum is about the experience of the moment.”

Admittedly Continuum did begin as a project to create a portfolio of prints showing moving water as seen through the aperture of a pinhole camera. A river was the obvious subject choice.

Techy stuff

At the time the Harman TiTAN 5×4 Pinhole Camera was still fairly new to me and with it I was exploring the characteristics of Harman Direct Positive paper, both for exposure and development. Direct Positive paper is exposed in camera and when developed makes a positive print. Because there is no intermediate stage as is the case with a negative, the print is completely unique. It also has the quirk of being reversed, a mirror image. Together with the inherent high contrast of the glossy double weight fibre / baryta base paper, I was interested to find out what I could create with it.

The early weeks of the project were taken up experimenting with using the paper ‘straight’ or with various amounts of pre-exposure and then developing in various dilutions and ages of developer. Substantial differences in the contrast of the final image are possible with these variations. It was also a time of investigating locations and making decisions on the sort of images I wanted to produce. I decided to concentrate on contrasting the highlight of ‘white’ water against enclosing backgrounds of the shaded overhangs along the river’s edge. To render such images effectively I decided to use the paper with no pre-exposure and develop in freshly prepared Ilford Multigrade developer at 1+9 dilution at 20°C for the full recommended three minutes. The length of exposure I would give to each image would be calculated to just show detail in the deepest shadow.

The project develops

A side effect of this period of experimentation was my developing awareness of what my senses were telling me. I was using sight to set up the camera: choosing a location, determining my viewpoint and estimating the framing (pinhole cameras have no viewfinder), choosing the shadow areas on which to base my exposure and keeping an eye on weather and changing light conditions as the exposure progressed. Exposures over the project ranged from eight or nine minutes through to over an hour in some instances. As I set up the camera and waited for the exposure to complete I found myself increasingly aware of sounds and smells, wildlife in the trees, in the air and in the river itself, the touch of insects and branches. My senses were aroused to the point I could almost taste the environment I was in and experiencing. My awareness of time passing and of how things changed with time, however imperceptibly, became intense.

In my notebook, which I used to record location and exposure details, I began to jot down those things that aroused my senses. Often I would sit long after finishing the exposure, just soaking up the atmosphere of the environment and I began to make these notes in a poetic fashion. In due course these would be the basis of the captions I would use for display of the images and indeed to form a handwritten poetic image as part of the work.

My perception was of a moving picture playing out before me that I would record as a single still image. This image was one that was unseen until the print was developed. It was a record of a time that had been, that was history yet through the medium of the print was recalled from the past into the present time in which it was viewed. I became deeply immersed in the process of creating these images and in the written record of my thoughts.

Many photographers will recognise the thought that when they press the shutter they capture a moment in time. A moment that once captured is gone forever. Many strive to capture the ‘decisive’ moment. With the long exposures required for pinhole photography I was watching a continuous succession of moments passing before me and all being recorded together on the same piece of photosensitive media. It was from this thought that the title ‘Continuum’ came to mind.

As I watched the flow of the river and experienced the continuum of moments passing before me I made analogies with life itself: Where does it begin and where does it end? Sometimes it takes a gentle, meandering path, at others it is tossed around, twisted and shattered and yet in the end it comes together and carries on, one way or another. There is an inevitability and an irreversibility: time neither stands still nor repeats the moment. Where two streams meet they merge and move onward together. Perhaps most importantly there is merit and satisfaction to be had in enjoying the moment rather than chasing the flow.


The project was exhibited as part of the Edinburgh Lo-Fi Photography Group’s exhibition mounted in Edinburgh Central Library during September 2014. Six 5″x4″ original direct positive prints and one handwritten poem to the same dimensions all captioned with handwritten poetic captions. The handwritten element fitted with the group’s low tech approach to image making. I also created a Blurb book of the work.

I am fond of small prints: they encourage me to look more closely, perhaps to linger awhile, better still to feel a relationship with the image and perhaps to sense something of what the photographer experienced in the making of it. I hope that when viewing Continuum here the viewer will take that time to enjoy the moment.

But which river is it?

Just for the record, and to answer the original question: The river is the River Almond at various locations through West Lothian, Scotland.


Continuum is an exploration of that moment we call the present which in the same instant becomes the past as our experience of it passes into memory.

(Continuum was originally prepared for an exhibition in 2014. It consists of six unique, original silver gelatine direct positive prints, and one original handwritten poem. Each was exhibited with an original handwritten caption which is reproduced here as typed text.)

Continuum is an exploration of that moment we call the present which in the same instant becomes the past as our experience of it passes into memory.

While creating images for Continuum the sights, sounds, smell, touch and even taste of the river and its environs inspired me to combine text and images together to convey my experiences.

Through the media of pinhole photography on direct positive paper and of the written word, I sought to bring together that multitude of memories as motion pictures in unique still images, otherwise unseen images of the shapes and patterns of time passing by.


Between here and there,
The present that is ‘now’
And the past that was ‘then’,
Meander to their ultimate end.

CAULDRON In the white heat of confusion present and past become as one And are ultimately gone.

In the white heat of confusion
present and past become as one
And are ultimately gone.



The edge is irresistible,
The present, irretrievable.



Present pours into past
In the mercurial glimmer
Of passing moments.



Present and past
rush past the rock
In the lee of which
is a pool of peace.



Memories of present moments past
In the continuum of ‘now’.



In the memory of that moment
Where two become one,
Is the existence in the present
Of that which is now
irretrievably in the past.