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:
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!