I took a day off last week and spent most of the afternoon in the community darkroom. The darkroom includes a gallery which is running a juried exhibit of an “Alternative Process” show. If you are reading this before July 2015, you can find details at the Photosynthensis website.
One thing I am often struck by alt-process and sometimes other forms of photography (lomography, pinhole) is just how poorly composed many of the images actually are. If it wasn’t for the technique being of interest, many of them are just boring. Now I am not saying my own work is some incredible goldmine of quality and vibrancy, but some alt-process books have photos showing the technique and I am usually left wondering if the photo (on its own) would even be worth printing, never mind showing in public, much less being published in a book. And some lomography and pinhole stuff I see just makes me go…meh, ok. Some are excellent and really interesting, so it is I suppose a mixed bag like any other form of photography.
This show was different though, and there were a lot of really high quality photos, in addition to a great breadth of alternative process techniques. And despite having two rather beefy books on the subject, there were a few processes I had never heard of before. And there are few in person that are ‘wow’ worthy but which don’t translate well in the show catalog.
Anyway, on the printing. Mine are traditional silver-gelatin prints still because I feel I just don’t have enough experience doing them to move on to other, more involved techniques. That and many of those techniques require either digital negatives or full-size negatives for contact printing. I do film and darkroom work to get away from sitting in front of a computer, so the prospect of adjusting a bunch of my scans for a particular process, then printing out digital negatives, just makes me want to pull my hair out. Scanning is painful enough.
So one of these images you’ve seen recently if you read this blog, but one is new. I didn’t bother scanning the prints that just turned out OK, nor the contact prints.
This one I didn’t like the scan of, but the print turned out better than I expected (go figure). Some of that might be scan technique and I have to investigate getting some anti-newton ring glass rather than using the Epson V700 negative holders. Any emulsion that curls tends to be a bitch to scan. Though honestly that makes an already painful process sound like torture. “Tape negatives to scanner bed. Put on ANG. Scan. Adjust focus. Re-scan. Remove tape and residue. Repeat (grabbing a pair of chop sticks to stick in my ears…)”.
For this “Lights-n-taps” print I used Ilford MGIV RC variable contrast paper and a grade 2 filter. I did a bit of dodging of the metal taps and tap handles, but otherwise not a lot of manipulation. I think it might have been a total of 13 secs of exposure with only about 5 secs of dodging. I probably need to bring a notebook into the darkroom and keep notes. The original is shot on Ilford FP4+, developed in Perceptol 1:2, shot on my Canon AE-1 with a Canon FD 50mm/1.4 S.S.C. lens. I believe it was at f2, though it might have been wide-open at f1.4. Since I was having lunch, I had time to note the settings, but was frankly chatting up the bartender too long. She cool and had gone to school for industrial design, and had done it when design work was a lot of hands-on, model-making, which she loved. When it switched to computers, she didn’t enjoy it as much. I can relate.
You can find all the details on this Heather Masse shot on a previous post, and do a compare with the scan. The print is a bit darker than the scan, but there is a little more detail in her face, less in her dress and hair. For this print, I used Seagull Oriental RC variable contrast paper, and my first attempts I went with grade 3.5. That had an interesting look but it was way too much contrast IMO . For this print, I dropped it to grade 2, and comparing the scan, I might try again at 2.5. The other change I made is to print this in a ‘portrait’ layout, rather than the original negative. I think that works better with the singer and the bass and mic boom. But the original does have a less busy, more airy quality to it. Maybe I’ll attempt another ‘landscape’ print of this using grade 2.5.
I also made some contact prints and tried a few other prints, but none of those came out all that impressive. Here’s a few iPhone shots (w/flash) taken in the darkroom as prints were in the wash tray.