The Printmaker

Recently I had the privilege of photographing my friend and artist Scott Lenaway on location. Scott, a talented printmaker here in Fort Collins, wanted portraits in his studio. Photographing artists doing their thing – is really my thing.

frame 05-Scott Lenaway-Artist, Fort Collins, Colorado (2018). Creatively, black and white film fit the assignment perfectly.

For those who don’t know – printmaking can be messy business (Scott always has ink on his hands when I see him). Given the nature and method of printmaking I envisioned deep, rich blacks and long tones –  making black and white film the perfect creative direction.

Print Maker at work-Artist Scott Lenaway, Fort Collins, Colorado (2018)
frame 08-Scott Lenaway-Artist, Fort Collins, Colorado (2018)

Because his studio is rather dark, bringing any light needed was required. Though the studio isn’t small – it is a little crowded with breakable objects – that are also messy and expensive if they smash on the floor. This made setting up the big Speedotron Black Lines impossible. Not enough space and too many obstacles to block the light path.

Thankfully, the Nikon designers took it upon themselves to include Creative Lighting System (CLS) circuitry in the F6, making off-camera flash a breeze. For those who don’t know – CLS is one of the most unique and powerful attributes of the F6 – but perhaps the least understood. The F6 is Nikon’s only film camera that includes this circuitry making it capable of creating unique images. This meant CLS and my suite of Nikon SB speed lights were the perfect solution for this assignment.

frame 02-Scott Lenaway-Artist, Fort Collins, Colorado (2018)
The brain behind CLS, the F6 is the only Nikon film camera with the circuitry to communicate with the SU-800.
The brain behind CLS, the F6 is the only Nikon film camera with the circuitry to communicate with the SU-800.

After conferring about goals for the session, the idea was to have Scott go through the process of making a real print and photographing him doing so along the way. There were three main stations used in his print making process, each station requiring a different lighting setup.

Using the digital camera and the SU-800 commander head as a ‘polaroid,’ I worked out light levels for each strobe, then transfered the SU-800, lens and desired settings to the F6 and confidently shot away.

When it came time for the next station we’d stop – move the lights – run a new set of digital proofs, then repeat the process. By the end of the 2+ hours we had 5 rolls and a few digitals to choose from.

frame 17-Scott Lenaway-Artist, Fort Collins, Colorado (2018)
Hanging the first two rolls to dry after developing in Ilford DDX.
Hanging the first two rolls to dry after developing in Ilford DDX.

Back in the darkroom I processed each film in Ilford DDX, two rolls at a time, then reviewed each frame on the computer screen as it came up from the scanner. The idea was to put together a contact sheet of selects for him to choose from, showing only the best frames. Acquiring focus was a challenge in the dark studio, as was the fact he was moving around quite a bit – but the F6 did a great job tracking and the percentage of usable shots was high.

The overall look and feel of the photographs is exactly what I had in mind when the decision was made to go with Ilford Delta 100 film (my favorite black and white film).

Ultimately we’ll print a few final images as wet silver prints on fiber paper, completing the analog process from beginning to end.

Having shot mostly film again for the past 8 years, my catalog of digitally-originated frames drops a little each year. But- using the digital camera as a tool to figure out lighting on the fly has immense value.

The Printmaker, Artist Scott Lenaway in his studio, Fort Collins, Colorado (2018)
frame 26-Scott Lenaway-Artist, Fort Collins, Colorado (2018)

Something worth mentioning: the idea that a photograph is created on film doesn’t preclude the necessity of editing. The image below is a good example. We all like to ‘get it right in camera.’ For the majority of shots I focused on the subject’s head, eyes and face. There were a few shots focused on hands and what they were holding – as in the shot below. Because of the very shallow depth of field to reduce the distracting background, there wasn’t much room in the focal plane. I wanted his hands to be the point of the shot, but to stop and relight everything to reduce brightness on his face would have been a waste of time and interrupted the flow of the shoot.

Instead I opted for a good base exposure, knowing I’d re-work values during print. So shooting film in a hybrid workflow is a great blend of bringing the best attributes of both film and digital together to create something unique.

frame 06-Scott Lenaway-Artist, Fort Collins, Colorado (2018)
frame 15-Scott Lenaway-Artist, Fort Collins, Colorado (2018)

Shooting digitally does provide a bit of a safety net because you know for certain what you have when you’re done. Admittedly this is comforting. Working without that feedback again takes a little getting used to. I’ll admit a smile crossed my face upon seeing dripping wet rolls of film unwind from the reels, dense and healthy with tone. Never a doubt.

The Print Maker-Artist Scott Lenaway, Fort Collins, Colorado (2018)
frame 04-Scott Lenaway-Artist, Fort Collins, Colorado (2018)

Do something different. Shoot film using Nikon’s Creative Lighting System and challenge yourself to make unique, creative photographs. Having a tool like the F6 that is able to respond to virtually any photographic situation is a true blessing.

Stand Developing with Rodinal

Stand developing presents some interesting attributes and variables to the black and white film photographer. This article touches briefly on a few of them.

One of the great joys of shooting and developing one’s own film is the ability to tweak and experiment. While it’s true one needs to be prepared to have experiments fail – it’s also true that when they succeed, it can introduce a new component to your shooting, furthering your unique creative vision.

Nikon F6, Nikkor 24mm 1:2.8 Ai-S, Nikkor Y48 yellow filter, Mirror-Up, cable release, 1/15 @ ƒ22. Stand developed in Rodinal for 2 hours.
Behind Bellvue, Colorado. Nikon F6, Nikkor 24mm 1:2.8 Ai-S, Nikkor Y48 yellow filter, Mirror-Up, cable release, 1/15 @ ƒ22. Stand developed in Rodinal for 2 hours.

Initially I thought of this last roll of my favored Delta 100 as a bit of a toss-away roll. Having spent the first half of the roll playing, around frame 25 I found subject matter that may actually make a nice photograph.

When it came time to develop I decided to try Stand developing with Rodinal again. I’d done so a few times before with medium format film and it turned out well. Images are extremely sharp and contrasty, and a bit on the grainy side. This was my first attempt with 35mm.

From what I’ve read and what little I’ve learned thus far from personal experimentation – it sounds like slight underexposure is the rule. Without getting technical about Stand developing (again, limited experience), you essentially dilute the developer (not all developers are suitable) more than usual, then let it “stand” for a longer period of time, like hour(s), not minutes – with very limited agitation. Temperature isn’t as important either.

The idea is the developer that’s in contact with the film tires, and because of this – works more slowly to bring up shadow detail than it otherwise would when agitating-which puts fresh developer in contact with the film every minute or so. This ‘tired’ developer works slowly to bring up the dark areas of the neg and because it’s so diluted, in theory – avoids blowing your highlights. If you’re a Stand development expert and I just totally butchered the description please forgive the radical condensing and feel free to correct me.

I picked up a great e-book (Iridescent Light, TheArt of Stand Development by Michael Axel)  a while back explaining Stand developing and was immediately intrigued. I thought this would be a good roll to have another go at it because I didn’t think there would be many (any) frames worthwhile.

Nikon F6, Nikkor 135mm 1:2.8 Pre-Ai, Nikkor Y48 yellow filter, Mirror-Up, cable release, 1/60 @ ƒ11. Stand developed in Rodinal for 2 hours.
Behind Bellvue, Colorado. Nikon F6, Nikkor 135mm 1:2.8 Pre-Ai, Nikkor Y48 yellow filter, Mirror-Up, cable release, 1/60 @ ƒ11. Stand developed in Rodinal for 2 hours.

From one point of view, Stand development is easy. It requires little intervention once the process has begun. After the diluted chemical is poured into the tank you agitate as normal. After 5-10 minutes, agitate again. After that, set the timer on your iPhone and go find something to do for a while. It’s the “for a while” part that’s the unknown, and where the book really helps explain the variables. I had a lawn to fertilize and wanted to watch the news so I set my timer for 2 hours.

When the timer went off I poured, stopped, rinsed as usual. This roll began the practice of PermaWashing after a water rinse, and also saw me switching over from Ilford Ilfotol wetting agent (couldn’t find it anymore) to Kodak PhotoFlow.

As I always do when I hang my films to dry, I hold a light up to the strip and visually inspect all the way down. What I saw was a healthy, thick neg down the line. Encouraged, I knew I’d have something to work with in scanning and ultimately wet printing.

Pick up some Rodinal and give Stand developing a try. I guaranty you’ll learn something. Viva la F6, Viva la film.

Pure Film

Altocumulus lenticularis clouds, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. ILFORD Delta 100 (w/ Red R60 filter) developed in ILFORD DDX.

A few weeks ago I did something I’ve been meaning to do for years: began developing my own black and white film again. After a 30+ year hiatus, the time had finally come.

Developer, Stop and Fixer in amber flasks, ready for action.
Developer, Stop and Fixer in amber flasks, ready for action.

Up until last year I’d been fortunate enough to have one of the best pro film labs in the country only minutes away. I’d always told myself when they shut down, I’d begin. Due to a variety of unfortunate circumstances that time came last year, but I held on, continuing to search for a suitable alternative for the next several months. A few weeks ago I finally said Uncle and put in an order to B&H.

IMG_1770

I suppose there are reasons that seem suitable at the time why we do things like wait… and it’s easy to second guess decisions in hind-site. But I’ll say this: I wish I’d done this a long time ago. Today’s film processing is essentially the same as 30 years ago, with a few key differences. Patterson tanks and reels are one of those differences. The last time I tried to wind a roll of film onto the old, stainless spiral reel it was a catastrophe. The Patterson reels are easy as can be. Another reason is the lack of dark room. A nice, big changing bag took care of that. The chemicals and process are all pretty much the same – and now it’s actually fun – especially when compared to the alternative -sending it out, waiting for at least a week. And there’s the cost. Dramatically less developing yourself, even after gearing up with fresh, new supplies.

Preston Miller, Bindle Coffee, Fort Collins, CO
Ilford Delta 100 developed in Ilford DDX.

Then there’s the creative control you have over your films. For whatever reason the ILFORD Delta family of emulsions has always resonated with me. I shoot other films too – but gravitate back to the ILFORD films when the fridge is empty and it’s time to reorder. It’s simply not a feasible request; asking a commercial lab to custom develop your film with different developers than they’ve standardized on. With that, I’ve always wondered just what qualities in the film I’m missing out on by not experimenting with different developers and simply accepting the lab’s standard. Now I know, and will never go back.

Recently I’ve been considering something else I haven’t completely thought through, but will give it a go here. There seems to be many who become interested in photography – using the digital camera as a gateway. This can be a great thing. The digital camera’s immediate feedback provides invaluable tools for learning about light, composition, exposure, etc.

Moraine Park, RMNP (Red Filter)
Moraine Park, RMNP (ILFORD Delta, Red R60 Filter)

About 10 years ago I was amongst this group. I’d been involved in photography for many (many) years prior, and to be honest, had just grown a little bored with it. There were times I’d go on a trip, shoot lots of film, then simply leave it undeveloped in my file cabinet – sometimes for years. Along came the digital camera and immediately I was enthralled. The curtain was pulled back on the seemingly long, mysterious process of going from the snap of the shutter to viewing the final image. There it was on the camera back; no more mystery. No more anticipation. What seems to happen with people who become newly interested in photography through digital cameras is – they grow bored with it. It turns out for me that mystery and anticipation were actually some of the benefits of the process, not detractors -as I think it might be for those who get a digital camera and have a “perfect” image handed to them milliseconds after its exposure. Once the novelty wears off it becomes less interesting. This isn’t always the case, but I have seen this pattern repeat itself.

The beginnings of rebuilding a humble darkroom.
The beginnings of rebuilding a humble darkroom.

My stint with digital lasted about 3 years before migrating back to film. Now I enjoy both digital and film, but admittedly leave my digital camera home unless there’s a specific reason to bring it. Now, developing film again has deepened my commitment to film and made me even more focused. It’s such a treat to shoot and develop a roll yourself within the span of days rather than weeks or months. The quite satisfying feeling of actually making something with your hands returns.

I’ll encourage anyone who’s ever thought about developing film passingly but deemed it too complicated or expensive – to think again. It has been said to me and I agree; if you can bake a cake you can process your own film. Take additional comfort in this: I don’t believe I’ve ever successfully baked a cake of any kind – but my film turns out fantastic every time. Give it a try.