Chill out, catch up and throw away

A weekend in the East Neuk of Fife for photography, fun and friendship.

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Something for the weekend

I took the opportunity of having a couple of days off work to book a weekend away in the East Neuk of Fife with my wife and a camera or two (not necessarily in that order!). The idea arose from an invitation to meet my friend Oonagh, who like me has been pursuing the idea of dry glass plate photography, that we might catch up and compare notes on our progress.

Oonagh and I had arranged to meet in Crail on Saturday morning. A day’s outing to Crail is well within reach for me but it’s a picturesque town that begs a longer stay and so it was that my wife and I booked in to The Hazelton Guest House in the centre of town for Friday and Saturday nights. The welcome was warm and friendly, the accommodation was clean and very comfortable and the Breakfast (yes, I did spell that with a capital ‘B’) was simply the Best Breakfast anyone could wish for. I make mention of it only because we so enjoyed our stay there and would wholeheatedly recommend it.

Friday: Getting there slowly.

We meandered up the coast on Friday, stopping off for a wander around St Monans and again a little later in Cellardyke where we had a large pot of tea between us and four ‘Jammie Dodgers’ to share. Of course, wherever we went I was really only interested in photography. Still learning the ways of The Intrepid, I had with me a full set of film holders loaded with Fomapan 100 Classic sheet film, a full set of plate holders loaded with my own glass plates hand coated with SE1 emulsion and a box of spare plates should I need to reload! Wanting to keep the plates for Saturday’s playtime I chose to expose the Fomapan film on Friday.

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This was the first time I’ve exposed film in The Intrepid and I must say I’m very pleased with the results. It takes time, perhaps fifteen to twenty minutes, just to set up the camera for each shot but it’s a process of becoming absorbed in the scene. Under the dark cloth the screen is bright and clear enabling careful composition and determination of focal point. Once set up it’s just a case of waiting for the light or whatever is to determine the moment when the shutter is released. My wife is very patient and usually carries a thick book with which to pass the time, usually from a distance!

Saturday: Crail

We met by the harbour as planned on Saturday morning and over coffee and cake the intricacies and effectiveness were discussed of detergent cleaning versus sandblasting or etching in the preparation of glass plates to take photographic emulsion. Oonagh and I are both at about the same stage on our glass plate experimentation but whereas I am pursuing this purely as a hobby interest, Oonagh plans to use the processes as a part of the work she is doing towards achieving her Masters in Fine Art and so what’s good enough for me might not be so for her. Nonetheless we have much to learn from one another and value each other’s input.

Discussion over we left my wife to her book and went off for some photographic playtime around the harbour. So often these days someone lifting a camera to their eye to take a photograph is seen in some way as threatening or intrusive behaviour. Not so it seems, when the camera is a large format field camera and the photographer disappears beneath a dark cloth from time to time to attend to focus and composition, popping out to measure the light and to make adustments to the settings on the lens! I suspect we were both as much the subject of others’ photographs as they may have been of ours and our cameras were often a talking point.

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When the time came for Oonagh to return home, my wife was nowhere to be found. I went in search of likely places: to the art exhibition in the town hall where in response to my explanation that I was looking for my wife some wag asked, “Would mine do?”, and to the museum where I got a more direct response in similar vein, “Would I do?”! Having turned down both offers I was relieved to find her pottering around at my next port of call, the pottery. Oonagh had departed leaving me with a bottle and we needed to discuss what to do with it. Crail is well endowed with many pleasant cafes and we retired to one of them for the discussion over a little sustenance and refreshment.

The bottle was one of several such, a part of Oonagh’s Masters project, and I had agreed to throw it away! Containing ten beachcombed objects and a hand-written letter it was all sealed up in preparation for a sea journey.  Hopefully in time it will be be found and opened, the letter read, some thought given to the objects within and contact made with Oonagh. We spent the afternoon searching the coast for a suitable place to launch it, eventually settling on the Kilminning Coast wildlife reserve a mile or so east of Crail and almost at the most easterly point of the Fife coast. From here we hoped the bottle would be carried out from the mouth of the Forth Estuary into the North Sea and wherever the currents might then take it. It was a bit of a clamber over the rocks but we made it while the tide was still ebbing, photographed the launch and watched while the bottle disappeared from view.

I’ve celebrated the launch of the bottle with a wee poem and a couple more photographs in a separate blog, The bottle and the deep, blue sea.

Sunday: A pinhole image then homeward

After our second morning’s Breakfast we emerged from The Hazelton into another bright, warm morning and rather than head straight home we again made for the harbour where I intended this time to take some pinhole photographs. I had not been too pleased with images from a few weeks ago taken with the camera I had originally made for Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day 2014 and have since fitted it with a new pinhole.

The results this time were much more pleasing even though in one of the two I made, I hadn’t slid the shutter open quite far enough. One of the ‘joys’ of any non-digital based photography (except perhaps, Polaroid) is that the image is only revealed long after the moment has passed. Unfortunately I have only a part of what looks like one of those ‘might have been a good one’ images!

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The Techie Stuff

Most of the photographs shown in this blog have been taken as part of a learning curve and the technical detail may be of interest to some readers. So here it is all rolled up at the end so it can be easily ignored by those who have no interest in it!

The images of St Monans and Cellardyke harbours were made on Fomapan 100 Classic sheet film developed in fresh Ilfosol 3 at 1+9 dilution for 5 minutes at 20ºC. Stop was Ilfostop (1+19, used), fix was Ilford Rapid Fixer (1+4, used) then fresh water rinses and a final rinse with the addition of 5ml PhotoFlo. I used a Mod54 insert in a Paterson tank with agitation by rotation of the twirl stick continuously for 30 seconds then for 15 seconds per minute.

With one exception, the plate images were made on glass prepared for subbing with gelatin and chrome alum mixture, by washing in a strong detergent solution, rubbing with wire soap pads then cleaning with Isopropyl Alcohol. The prepared glass was coated by hand-pouring an emulsion comprising five parts Silverprint SE1 to one part PhotoFlo. The plates were developed in fresh Ilford Multigrade paper developer at 1+19 dilution and at a room temperature of about 16-17ºC. Development at this dilution and temperature took two to four minutes dependant on the thickness of the emulsion. Each plate was rinsed in Ilfostop before fixing in Ilford Rapid Fixer until clear. The thicker the emulsion, the longer it took to clear. No hardener was added to the fixer. Rinsing was initially in a tray with gently running water for about five minutes, transfered to a tray of fresh water for ten minutes, transfered to a tray of Ilford Wash Aid (1+4) for twenty minutes then finally to a second tray of fresh water for thirty minutes. The plates were left for a day or so to air dry. Once dry the back surface of each plate was cleaned of emulsion overspill with a craft-knife blade then rubbed with a dry paper towel.

The exception was the image titled Harbour wall jumping at Crail which was made on a plate prepared and coated by one of the attendees at the workshop I attended in Glasgow back in April. Preparation for subbing was by etching and the emulsion, which was brushed rather than poured, was either SE1 or Foma combined with a quantity of Ilfotol.

Author: Donald Tainsh

A lifelong explorer of photography

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