Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Joys of "Slow"

The photographer, at least visually, creates his/her own world. Both these shots were taken on the same street where I live. The difference in the results is in the photos, but in terms of methodology, they are also worlds apart.

The first was taken around 5:30 in the morning when the snow was still undisturbed. I set my digital camera at ISO 1600 and peeked out the door. Within minutes, the file was downloaded, edited and ready to go. (OK, I did fuss with the foreground snow a little bit which added maybe a quarter of an hour. I also did some digital perspective correction.)

The second was taken a day or two later with a 4x5 camera with an ultra-wide pinhole lens. I shot on Fomapan 100, a fine-grained and inexpensive 120 sized film. It was my first use in the 4x5 field camera of a home-made adaptor back that allows me to take eight 2 ¼ x 3 ¼ negatives per roll.The exposure was about twenty five seconds but first I took a “Fujiroid” to check exposure and composition but primarily as a comparison of the formats. I then ducked back into my house to let the peel-apart film develop (three minutes at 60F and yes, you can still get instant film!) Then I had to switch film backs and expose the film for twenty four seconds, but that is just the beginning.

I set my kitchen up to develop film, which means completely clearing the sink area of everything. I then have to bring all the developing chemicals and wash water to 68F. While the temperature is stabilizing, I go load the developing tank using a changing bag I put under a heavy quilt to be absolutely sure everything is light-tight. That takes about ten minutes. I then develop the film for eight minutes (HC110 diluted 1:49), stop and fix for another six and wash the film by filling and emptying the tank which takes about another four. I then clean up thoroughly, but I’m still not done, since the film has to dry.  That takes about three hours, while I go do something else. I then have to scan and edit each negative. All in all, it’s about a full working day.

Constant temperature bath 
It’s an eight-shot roll, so this helps the time-per-image equation a lot.  I refuse to be a “film chauvinist” but the pinhole-on-silver results are unlike anything else you could hope to do with a digital camera. I’ve been developing film since the dark ages and every time I see the negatives for the first time it’s a rush. The images have a pearly luminescence (especially indoor shots under artificial light) and even though they are not uber-sharp like a digital capture, they do show a fair amount of detail. Want to go huge? How is 30” x 45”? That is the un-scaled size of the black and white file. The digital is a puny 12” x 18”. 

An indoor pinhole camera  portrait from the same roll as above using almost 1000 watts of illumination with three hot lights. The exposure was a scant three minutes. My eyes are not really closed, just squinting.

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