Since the pandemic started our weekly routine has undergone a massive change and as a result so has my photography. We no longer pop into Halifax or Huddersfield just to wander (me with a camera), have a look at the shops, enjoy a coffee or some lunch. Such trips are now based on necessity rather than leisure and so I’ve photographed closer to home far more extensively in the last two and a half years.
These last few months though I’ve had an ongoing issue which has necessitated regular trips to my dentist which although I no longer work in the town is still based in Halifax. And a trip to the dentist always includes a wander with a camera. It’s my one photographic “rule”.
So, here are a few images from my most recent dental appointment and there’s not a molar or a drill in sight!
Last time out I was bemoaning the lack of rain. Well, not today. I’d already had a taste of light drizzle when I took the grandkids to school but as I set out for a wander with the cameras half an hour later it had stopped.
I turned right and walked to the end of our street. I decided that it was time I photographed the small row of shops opposite the entrance to Albert Street so took my battered Weston Master V from my jacket pocket. One glance at the dial and I knew I was going to have a challenging morning.
The KMZ FT2 was loaded with Ilford Pan F, a 50 ISO film. Even the fixed aperture of f5 wasn’t enough to give me my preferred 1/200th second shutter speed. In fact even the “secret” 1/50th option wasn’t enough as the needle hovered between 1/20th and 1/30th. I’m a pragmatist though and accept that my choice of such basic, some might say crude, tools comes with such limitations. I’d deal with the problem later when I came to develop the film and once I knew what other compromises I’d had to make on this roll.
The other camera in my bag, you knew there’d be another I’m sure, was the Horizon S3 Pro. I have plenty of options with this one although I prefer to use it at f16 and 1/125th second. Again, my film choice was against me.
A partly used roll of Kodak Double X, was forcing me down to f8 at 1/30th. I rarely use any apertures other than f16 as images get quite soft from f8 onwards in my experience. The sweet spot is undoubtedly f16 with f11 as wide as I usually go.
I spent ten minutes at this spot. Using both cameras and seeing if I could get some blurry traffic but mainly waiting for a moment with no traffic. A moment which never came!
Putting the S3 back in the bag and turning left I was debating walking straight on into the town centre or heading south through the back streets. Debate was cut short by a cloudburst though and I darted left under some well established trees to escape the worst of the rain. I’d wanted rain and now I had it!
I amused myself with some compositions under the trees, with even less light than before and employing the same settings though. I’d decided at that point that semi-stand development was going to be the way to go. The rain was clearly settling in so I decided to move on, across the playing field towards the town centre.
Half way around the field and I was already soaked. It was the classic situation, I had the right clothes on … but not for the prevailing weather. Ever the pragmatist I decided to cut my losses. The film in the KMZ was finished and there were only a few frames left in the S3. I was wet through, I’d not had any breakfast … so I headed north towards my favourite local cafe.
Whilst I ate the usual the rain eased and by the time I left the sun was making a feeble effort to peep out. I though had a date with a developing tank and some Rodinal!
“What are you doing today? [subtext: I want you out from under my feet.] “Depends. If it rains I’m going for a walk” “I want rain!”
At Whenham Towers … 8am Saturday
It has been very dry of late. The urban landscape is dry. Parched grass, wilting flowers and dusty grey pavements. It needs rain. The plants and grass need rain. I need rain!
So I load the camera. Unsurprisingly it’s the Horizon S3 Pro, this time with a roll of Fomapan 400. The ONDU 6×6 pinhole is already loaded and sat patiently in my shoulder bag. But with what is it loaded? The label has fallen off somewhere and apart from a guess of ISO 100 or 400 film I’ve no idea what is inside. No worries, I will expose at ISO 200 and push or pull as required when I develop. Or should I expose at 400 thus giving a 50% chance of a normal development?
Fortunately, that decision can wait a while yet- SO, I wait.
For the rain.
An hour later and I am still waiting. Patiently(ish). I check the weather app on my phone. When I checked earlier in the day it had indicated that rain WAS due, around lunchtime, and that it would be heavy. How it reads “Mostly Cloudy”. It then teases with: “Rainy conditions due around 5pm”.
5pm! Even then it’s only a 50% chance of rain and sunny conditions are forecasted to return within an hour or so.
What does that mean for me now though? I want rain! The wife wants rain! Oh, and some daylight please. This is the UK. It ALWAYS rains here surely.
I settle back to wait patiently(ish).
It’s not easy though. I’ve spent three weeks either childminding or DIY-ing and I’m due a walk with a camera – in the rain!
I’ve been playing with Polaroid and Instax instant film this past month as well as a little thermal paper instant photography. So instant results has been the order of the day.
But what about my more usual silver-based photography? That has not been neglected all though to be fair it’s taken a bit of a back seat – until this weekend. Doing some routine tidying in the cellar I came upon a box of 5×4 Harman Direct Positive Paper (DPP) that’s been skulking around for some time now. Coincidentally my 5×4 pinhole returned from its UK tour this week too so that was still sat on the coffee table. Acting on an impulse I took the box upstairs and loaded a couple of film holders with four sheets of the paper.
Although I’ve never used it before, I was at that moment drawn to its potential to produce prints without a darkroom. DPP is a fibre-based, traditional silver gelatin black & white photo paper. It produces direct positive prints without a film negative, making it perfect, so Ilford claim, for pinhole photography. The image is reversed left to right but otherwise it’s a standard print. The specs go on to say:
Positive paper – no need for a negative
Coated on 255gsm fibre base
Fixed grade, high contrast paper
Slow ISO speed (around ISO 1-3)
I also read (yes, I read the instructions – in full) that it is best developed within a couple of hours of exposure to avoid the latent image fading so that was ideal I thought for a potter in the back yard. Could I produce some traditional silver gelatin prints “instantly”?
The first challenge is exposure, after some research I was still unsure on the optimal ISO and not wanting to mess with test exposures I made an executive decision. I would expose at ISO 2, and push/pull development as required. The paper uses normal print developer so I’d be using Ilford PQ Universal and as a starting point for tank development a time of two minutes. I’d tweak development times as required, staying within the recommended one to three minutes, to get the desired result. If this failed I would adjust the ISO and try again.
In the event 2+2 was a good choice as I had four decent prints at the finish, and when I repeated the exercise the following morning I also had a further four successful prints. But that is getting ahead of myself. The first challenge was determining the appropriate exposure. Luckily my Weston Master V will measure down to 0.1 ISO so my chosen value of two was no problem. I then simply extrapolated my f16 Weston Master reading using my usual pinhole conversion charts to arrive at the required exposure time. Unsurprisingly, we were talking minutes – ranging from six to twelve minutes on these first eight prints. No mention was made in the literature of reciprocity so I ignored it.
I processed the exposed paper in a Stearman 5×4 tank using Ilford PQ Universal developer for two minutes. Rather than my usual agitation routine for sheet film I replicated as near as I could what I would do in the darkroom. Not being able to see the developing print however, I decided to standardise the routine. Thus fifteen inversions initially followed by two inversions every fifteen seconds thereafter. I stopped and fixed as normal before washing the prints and hanging them to dry still in the film frames.
So, there you have it. My first foray into the world of direct positive paper and it was I think a success. I will give it a go in my Intrepid 5×4 at some point in addition to my pinhole cameras. I don’t think it will become an everyday part of my practice, but, like dry glass plates it will definitely feature in my repertoire from time to time.
Throughout August my Twitter feed has been full of regret, of the instant kind!
The event is run by @ShittyCameraChallenge who are “a grass roots photography contest that encourages photographers to get out & make art using shitty cameras.” It’s not for the purists or the anal. The emphasis is on having fun and the only real restriction is that you can only use a camera of dubious quality. This August was dedicated to instant cameras and with plastic lenses and uncompromising recording media there was a heck of a lot of dubious quality but aesthetically wonderful images on display. From Polaroid and Instax to thermal printing paper there was a lot of variety to enjoy.
For a truly analogue experience I also chose to use a typewriter for the captions and for the same reason typed each only once, seeing errors and typos as part of the authentic vibe.
Whilst instant photography on the whole has a built-in lo-fi aesthetic it’s not a genre where you can just point and shoot willy-nilly and expect to get consistently great images. At least not in my experience. Much like traditional transparency films instant film is not the most tolerant of extremes of contrast for example. I therefore tend to look at a scene reasonably carefully (not to an anal degree though) and consider what will happen to highlights and shadows before pressing the button. Some of these cameras have a limited degree of manual control, emphasis on limited, but nevertheless this can be a real benefit in certain situations.
Week 1 was all about Polaroid for me, the SX-70 Sonar to be precise. At £18 per pack (the cheapest I could find) this works out at £2.25 per image. It’s definitely not a camera to wave around indiscriminately! That said, I still experimented and so not every frame was a “keeper”. I shortlisted 19 of the 24 frames however and posted 16 to my INSTANTREGRET album.
But, it’s not just about cost. It’s about the aesthetic and the experience.
Before anyone who knows me objects, I know that I don’t usually like the word “experience” as in “customer experience” applied to visiting the bank to withdraw money. That’s a necessary chore … an experience for me is something outside of the realm of the daily humdrum of life. So, using a camera is definitely in the category of an “experience “ in my view. But I digress.
The SX-70 is a lovely old SLR camera using SX70 instant film, introduced in 1972 although my Sonar model hails from around 1978. It is of the right vintage for my first serious photography phase during my teenage years but at the time I worked exclusively with a couple of 35mm film cameras and never dabbled with instant photography. It sits very nicely in the (my) hand and handles beautifully. Even my 10-year old Grandson can handle it with confidence (see pic). Mine has no “frog tongue” to protect the newly ejected print, however I have developed a technique of twisting the camera upside down at the moment the print starts to eject which appears to do the same thing. It’s an odd looking camera compared to a standard SLR with no obvious hand grip … but as Zac demonstrates, it is incredibly easy to hold.
Week 2 saw the Instax Wide 300 camera in action. A large, chunky and clunky affair with some limited manual control available, it is my preferred instant film format. The image area is similar to the Polaroid and I also have a Wide printer that I use to print iPhone pics for giving to others.
This printer allows me to instantly print phone pictures and also demonstrates that the film itself isn’t that bad. Limitations in the images from the Wide 300 are down to the camera rather than the film.
Week 3 Instax Square with the Instax SQ6 was the camera of choice next. I enjoy the square format. My Bronica SQ-A medium format camera produces fabulous 6x6cm negatives and whilst I know some people struggle with the format I thoroughly enjoy creating images within the square field of view. The only struggle this week was with time for photography. My wife and I provide childcare during the school holidays for our four daughters. With up to six grandchildren at a time and never less than two it’s been a busy time.
Week 4 is currently underway and was originally intended to be devoted to the Lomo Instant which uses Fuji Instax Mini film. However, the week isn’t going exactly to plan. With additional, unplanned, childcare our free time is less than expected. In addition I had an attack of FOMO* and rather recklessly added another instant camera at the last minute.
So, in addition to the Lomo Instant, with which I have a love-hate relationship, I also have a kids thermal print camera in the bag vying for attention. I will write about this latest addition at a later date but the images it produces are truly “shitty” and I love them!
So, a quick update from the midst of the Challenge. I shall return to the theme several times over the coming weeks I’m sure. I will also share more images from the Challenge as I start to work through them prior to pulling together a commemorative zine.
Friday – a blue, cloudless sky and 34° in the shade. We are down south visiting family and after a long drive the previous afternoon I felt I needed to stretch my legs. So, donning my battered hat and shouldering the old, equally battered canvas bag with my cameras and light meter I left mother-in-laws house turned right and then right again. I’d been in shade outside the house but that second right turn put me right underneath the midday sun, basking in the full force of its glare and heat, with no gentle breeze to offer relief.
Such were my thoughts and I wasn’t yet more than thirty feet from the house. I paused though as the dilapidated window frame of the end house caught my eye. Three windows in a row, surrounded by bricks would make a good panoramic image I thought. Out came the most panoramic of my cameras, the KMZ FT-2, loaded with Fomapan 100. A quick light reading showed I needed a shutter speed of around 1/600th of a second. But this is the FT-2 so I’d need to make do with 1/400th. Dratted sun, I don’t get these “problems” normally in the UK.
I would also find out that a piece of the felt inside the camera had come loose to adorn every frame and also that the problems I’d had loading the film would have resulted in scratches on the fragile film. But them’s the breaks.
Moving on, a matter of a hundred yards brought me into the shade of some trees and the first decision. Left? Or right? I welcomed the chance to pause in the shade. I’d only been out a few minutes and I was already thinking how nice it would be sat in the armchair I’d left minutes before. But I had three cameras, all with films that needed to be finished, and so I turned left.
The trees lined this side of the road which formed the boundary between the housing estate and the retail park and I welcomed their shade. Pausing every so often to check for compositions, I knew I was merely prolonging the moment at which I would again turn out into the sun’s full glare. I was staying in the residential area and apart from the odd tree there would probably be no more shade until I got back to the house.
My shoulder bag is distinctly non-photographer in appearance. It’s two inner pockets hold the chosen cameras very well but as soon as you lift it up the shape of the bag changes as the centre sags due to the weight. Not the easiest to use then with more than one camera but worth it for its discrete looks. Not that the chosen cameras were overly discrete. A plastic AgfaPhoto point and shoot in bright orange, the clunky clockwork beast that is the Horizon S3 Pro and, as we’ve already seen, the hunk of metal that is the KMZ FT-2. My elderly Weston Master V light meter completed the kit.
At the end of the road I turned left again, taking me back into the heart of the estate. I soon came across some roadworks which drew my attention. It also provided me with some amusement as cars slowed down when they saw a strange metal box pointing in their direction!
The bright, harsh sunlight, with no clouds to diffuse it, was making life difficult especially amongst the uninspiring architecture of this 1980s housing estate. Boxy, homogeneous houses stand in long uniform rows, punctuated by occasional in-built properties with weird shaped gardens in what would have been welcome gaps. I was still walking away from my start point but decided it was time to resume the left turns and start to circle back towards the armchair which was by now calling to me.
Walking down a street which I’ve regularly traversed in the car I spotted a gap in the progression of houses and in my usual fashion found my feet heading towards it. It turned out to be a footpath running along the Lydiard Brook. The brook runs into the River Ray further north and from there into the mighty Thames. It’s not contributing too much at the moment though being a mere trickle. Following this I soon came to a bridge which I crossed, eager to reach the unexpected shade of the hitherto hidden park on the other side.
It was a double-win too. A few hundred yards of cooling shade and it would also take me back towards my mother-in-law’s house.
I returned, a damp sweaty mess, and sank gratefully into the armchair and took the proffered cold beverage (non-alcoholic, I’m the driver) and reflected on a hot, at times frustrating, yet ultimately another thoroughly enjoyable walk.
Footnote: I had a very plasticky AgfaPhoto point and shoot camera in my bag, loaded with Fomapan 400. The KMZ FT-2 had Fomapan 100 loaded and despite these two films needing different developing times I developed both in one tank with Fomapan Excel. The Horizon S3 Pro had my second (and last) roll of 1989-expired Orwo NP27. I rated it at ISO 50 but with hindsight 64 or even 100 might have been better.
After a day stuck indoors yesterday I decided I needed a wander before breakfast this morning. The wife was still asleep and as I had three cameras with part-exposed films in this was an ideal opportunity to kill two birds with the proverbial stone.
I surprised myself by heading for the front door. Taking the two or three strides from door to gate I hesitated. Left or right? I wasn’t used to exiting via the front of the house and momentarily I was confused. Turning right I noticed the light on West Vale, nestled down in the valley, I clearly had my photographer’s hat on this morning as I headed toward the top of the hill and a view down into the valley.
I stopped to admire the view; it never fails to delight me. With the sun bright in a cloud bedecked sky I watched the patches of light and shade ripple across the landscape before reaching for the first camera.
Having captured images with all three cameras I hesitated again. Down the hill and then a long loop home with much of it uphill? Retrace my steps slightly and wander down Gog Hill which would also necessitate an uphill return. Or walk south, past my own front gate, and into the maze of streets that I wander so often? In the end my stomach decided. Part way down Gog Hill, then cut up behind the sheltered housing and down into the high street and my favourite café.
Gog Hill is the oldest extant street in Elland. Much changed, it had houses along part of its length at one point, it drops steeply down from the top of Elland to the River Calder and the Calder & Hebble Navigation. It is cobbled, poorly maintained and dry or wet it’s slippery but nevertheless I have walked up and down this overgrown lane countless times. For most of its length it is overhung by trees with walls on the opposite side and in the Summer the canopy of leaves keeps the lane shaded for most of the day.
Part way down I turned off the cobbles and turned right up some muddy steps. This part is nearly always dank and dark, little sunlight penetrates in the Summer and being Yorkshire it rains for much of the Autumn and Winter. It’s particularly overgrown at present and I had to duck and walk bent over before popping out onto the street behind the flats. Following the service road I passed the garages and came to the end of the road.
Turning left the familiar bulk of the rear of the Savile Arms pub was partly silhouetted by the sun rising behind it. The sun itself was partly screened by clouds and I thought the resulting contrasts would suit the long-expired ORWO NP27. I took a light reading, dialled it into the KMZ FT-2, making an allowance for the limited shutter speeds available. It was then that the sun, which had been playing silly-beggars from the moment I’d left the house, started a game of hide and seek with the clouds.
By now I was conscious that I hadn’t broken my fast and with just a few frames left in my cameras I made the best of the opportunity before heading to the café which was now less than a hundred metres around two corners. A final couple of frames on the first corner saw all three cameras empty and with no further reason to dawdle I gladly sought out a medium breakfast and mug of Yorkshire tea.
By the way if you’re wondering what the two Polaroid images are all about you’ll need to watch for the forthcoming #InstantRegret post once it’s written! Or just find me on Twitter – @elland_in
Saturday dawned grey and overcast; certainly not a day for rushing out with a camera to capture the light. It was bright yet in the same glance also dull and somewhat … well grey. I made coffee, found a magazine and settled in my favourite chair for a leisurely morning.
An hour later I looked again through the window upon the familiar grey, urban landscape. This time though I reached for shoes, a roll of AgfaPhoto APX 400 (the first film that came to hand) and my Nikon SLR with its ever-present YG filter. What compelled me to sally forth in the exact same conditions I’d forsworn earlier I do not know. Perhaps the coffee had done it’s restorative work.
As is my norm I left with no clear purpose and this morning I turned right as I left my back garden and found myself wandering south through the back streets; familiar but much less trodden of late. Reaching South Lane instead of turning left to start the loop to meander back towards home as I would normally do, I crossed and carried on south up an unadopted lane, lined with trees and bushes on one side and the untidy rear ends of long gardens on the other. Again, not unfamiliar, but I doubt I’ve walked along this particular lane since this time last year.
At the end of this lane I generally veer left but today my feet drifted right, along a faint yet still discernible track that eventually deposited me at the far end of the industrial estate that forms the southern boundary of our small town. I’d never been this far into the estate before so this was, to me, virgin, unexplored land.
A steady stride was now called for though as I did need to get back home to complete some domestic chores and so I picked up the pace but I was nevertheless still alert for I’d realised that despite the random wandering I was actually looking for something. I paused briefly and looked around me, a full 360° turn. I had had no inkling until then but walking on down the street, noting the contrasts between the industrial buildings and the trees, I suddenly realised that I had all the time been subconsciously looking for images for my infrared project. A camera that I’d deliberately left at home as I’d removed it from my shoulder bag to pop the Nikon in an hour earlier.
All week, as part of my ongoing “365 Project”, I have been making infrared images with a converted digital camera. I had been thinking yesterday about looking for a tree vs industrial building image to add variety to the more pictorial images I’d made so far this week but had no clear thought as to where to find it.
A thought occurred to me this morning as I reread my recent Starting Point post. If I make a deliberate decision on the camera and/or film prior to going for a wander does that in some way invalidate the psychogeographical credentials of that walk? Even if the ultimate route is still down to chance and the whims of my peripatetic mind does a conscious decision regarding the photography dilute the essential randomness? It is perhaps important to remember that the photography is probably incidental to the dêrive; psychogeography (as I understand matters) is not a photographic discipline or genre but a way of exploring and experiencing the landscape.
If I choose for example to pick up the digital infrared camera (as I did today) will that in some way, consciously or otherwise, influence my wandering? To my mind, this camera works best in the urban environment when you can contrast the bricks, concrete and glass with trees, foliage and grass. As I walk a lot around my home town I do know where I am at all times as I mentioned in my last post. Reaching a junction and knowing where each option leads will my subconscious choose the route that will be better for the chosen camera or film? Or will it over-compensate and subconsciously choose the “worst” option?
Does it even matter though? Given that photography is presumably incidental to the the manner of the wandering is the act and mode of recording the dêrive irrelevant?
My gut instinct is that it is irrelevant how, or indeed if, a wanderer chooses to record their wandering. It is the manner of the walk that is important not whether or not one chose to record the event nor indeed the way in which one chose to record it.
It is a question I will revisit later in the year for certain!