Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Blogging on the road

This is just a test to try out the system

Sent from my iPhone

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

5x4 Contact

Originally uploaded by BobSingleton

This is the print I wrote about a few days ago.

Now obviously its not that great but the detail and tone on the Chinese pot is very promising.

I think that all that is needed is a new set of papers with very careful double sensitisation and I will soon have a good print.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Further Developments

This is a second attempt at the image published yesterday. This is using the same acetate negative but this time exposure was by actual daylight and this one has also been washed and fixed.

One of the first things noticeable is that the image is a different colour, exposure to sunlight or in this case thick overcast cloud light has produced a much cooler image.

Another thing which is obvious from the print above is that the sensitivity of the paper is not constant everywhere. Since making this print I have carried out other experiments including exposing a sheet of paper to sunlight without an intervene negative. What is clear is that variations in the dryness of the paper produces differences in contrast, speed and colour so if the paper is not uniformly dry you get a patchy result.

The sensitiser has been applied with a foam brush and therefore it is possible that the silver has not been laid down evenly. I have undertaken a number of trials taking additional care on this point.

I have also undertaken trials where I have double sensitised the paper by allowing the first coat of silver nitrate to soak in and be absorbed before applying a second coat.

My first attempt at a coating procedure was to dampen the brush and make horizontal strokes across the paper and then repeat the procedure making vertical strokes and then to brush away any puddles.

What I have found is that if you leave a puddle to dry surprisingly that area it is lighter than the remaining areas whereas you might have expected this to print darker. Obviously there is some sort of leeching effect going on here which needs more attention.

The problems with making negatives on the Epsom led me to try using my laser printer. I also had another look at the Van Dyke curve I had applied to the original negative. It is obvious that the albumen prints lack contrast and the Van Dyke curve whilst darkening the highlights does have the effect of reducing the midtone contrast. I therefore abandoned them and tried a more contrasty curve of my own. The result of this was the image of the Church below.

This print shows good detail. So much so that the scan lines of the laser can be seen. So I decided to see what you get with a 5x4 pyro negative.

Now there are some exposure problems here but we are getting somewhere. The detail in the leaves is a great improvement.

For the time being I have decided to stick with genuine contact prints with no intervening computer negatives.

I have made a further print using a negative which was given extra development time in the pyro(to increase density and contrast) and used daylight exposure and double sensitised paper. The print is drying at present and I will post it tomorrow. I had an exposure issue with it and the coating is patchy so it is no final answer to my technique problems but the subtlety of tone is finally there and there is good detail.

With the acetates I solved the registration problems by taping them to the paper. I am loath to do that to a "real" negative so exposure control by peeking is not possible. I am using a standard contact frame not a fancy split back affair.

I will make a further batch of paper (my third) incorporating what I have learned so far and size the paper for 5x4. I will publish the results here.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

At last a result

Janets Fosse take 2
Originally uploaded by BobSingleton

Here in Lancashire the weather has been terrible. The idea of putting a contact frame out in the sun has been scuppered but the lack of sun so I had to use plan B.

This example started life as a 5x4 negative shop on FP4 and developed in HD Pyrocat. The inter neg for the contact print was made on overhead projector film on the epson R2400. This turned out to be a bit of a phaf because the film is so thin that the printer hated feeding it.

Very little Photoshop was done. I had read a bit about Vandyke prints which are similar but gelatine based and seen some examples of the curves used so all I did was flip horizontally invert and apply an S curve pushing up the highlight end so that the shadow areas of the negative (the clear bits) get some more ink and print darker on the neg.

Sensitising the paper was fairly straight forward. The books all say that you must use the paper soon after sensitising so since my garage is only dark at night I started mid afternoon.

I painted the albumen paper with 12% AgNO3 solution using a foam rubber brush (£1.99 for 20 in Bookland) rather than try floating paper and thus risk loosing all my silver nitrate solution. I am using a recipe that includes a smidge of citric acid in the sensitiser.

It took far far longer to dry than I ever expected and at 9pm I had to resort to holding the paper in front of a fan heater.

Exposure was by my grow light. This is a daylight fluorescent bulb in a reflector. The test strip coloured up nicely in 15 mins at 7" but there was a serious hot spot. Lifting the lamp to 24" evens out the light but this print took 1hr as a result.

The exposure was judged simply by looking at the edges. The sensitised area was slightly bigger than the neg and so the paper should turn black (well a brownish purple) when done. After an hour it wasn't getting much darker and since one stop darker doubles the exposure I gave up and washed the print.

The scan is from the washed but not toned or fixed print.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Goredale Scar

You might think that after 3yrs in college this would get easier but...

The first part went OK I am new to this particular 5x4 but the Janet's Fosse shot went ok this has full drop and is 1/5 @ F16 on the 150mm lens. The sacrifice sheet had 9mins in HD Pyrocat but lacked shadow detail so this got 15mins.

The hard part is scanning the negs. I have spent far too long working out how to set white and black points, gamma etc but it finally pulled though. The pyro negs are coloured so I am scanning them as colour neg and there are differences in the channels. This opens up all sorts of opportunities for blending the channels later in Photoshop. The thing is that it varies between negs. The main fall shot was simply much better in the green channel so I applied that channel to the rest. In the case of Janet's Fosse The green and red channels were better in different tonal ranges.

The main fall was shot with full rise. The 150mm only just covers so it smeared a bit at the top and vignetted along the bottom so this is a slight crop.

Those who don't know the area may not realise that James Ward cheated a bit. The canyon bends so his view point does not exist. This is the best I could manage on the day. There did seem to be a better viewpoint on the other bank but that meant waging across the river and then climbing a slippy bank to a point on the cliffs on the other side. Sorry dear reader I wimped out.

I will try an approach from the other bank next time I go.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

James Ward

James Ward has a lot to answer for. Several times a year I end up lugging the 5x4 up from Malham to Goredale Scar to see if this time I can get a shot.

Well if you live in this part of the UK you will understand that the weather recently has been to say the least inclement - so it should be good for waterfalls? Thus I spent today trying to keep the rain out of the camera and wasting film. I don't have a lot of hopes for the pictures. There was water but the skies turned out good old English leaden not the stormy cumulus I was after so probably some other trip.

So far as technical details go I am sticking to 64 iso on the FP4 and intend to brew about 10 mins in the pyrocat. I know this will not produce a short scale neg but I am going for a receipe that scans well and juice it up in photoshop when building the negative.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Size Matters

I would normally feel bad about using someone else's image on here but somehow it seems fitting to do it with this one. I have blogged about Richard Prince before but that was based on my viewing of his work on the web and printed in magazines and books.

There is currently an exhibition of his work "Continuation"at the Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park so I popped along for a look while I was in London last weekend. The show includes the cowboy image above and a triptych "A girl called the other day" as well as a number of paintings and sculptures.

Now the issue of size caused a lot of soul searching when I was preparing my own small exhibition and Pixchannel have recently published a Duane Michals video interview in which he criticises the modern trend towards large photos but there is something about a wall sized print. The cowboy is almost life size and when you understand that it is a magazine advert re-photographed you will realise that on that scale it becomes impressionistic. Not only can you see the half tone dots you can see all the off sets and dithers. I am still nervous about the simple rephotographing of someone else's work but I think I can see some justification.

The Girl triptych is more about selection and similarities so the same issues do not apply, however the same system of massive over enlargement is used. A similar use of the halftone elements of the image is used on one of the car sculptures which is covered with photos of semi naked women.

This idea of the ready made found or borrowed runs throughout the show with most of the sculptural work comprising parts, mainly bonnets/hoods of American muscle cars with little if any modification. The joke paintings also recycle jokes culled from crackers.

All in all an interesting show that leaves you thinking.

I came away realising that for this work the scale is important, small reproductions miss the point and so they lost out on a catalogue sale.

I did make a purchase however the bookshop had a copy of The New West so my bookcase has more weight to bear.

Progress on the albumen front

The salted albumen has been maturing in my fridge for two weeks now so today was the day to get on with making some coated paper. Now choosing the base paper (substrate) is one of the reasons to make your own sensitised paper but this is a learning curve so the paper was chosen for none artistic reasons.
  1. I have heard of Windsor & Newton
  2. The paper is not too thick 190gm/m2
  3. It is fully sized as it comes
  4. Its a good size 10" x 7" so will print my half plates with a nice border
  5. It is fairly flat. There is a texture but not too pronounced
  6. Its gummed not wire bound so it separates easily from the pad
I will let you know if it turns out to be a good choice

Stage 2 the albumen I made a couple of weeks ago nicely fills the sandwich tray which is in turn a nice size for the paper

The first sheet of paper floating in the tray. This seemed too easy and so it proved. The paper starts to curl after a few seconds and being quite stiff is hard to hold flat. Fingers at the corners works sort of but the curl is quite firm and the paper bent under the surface getting albumen on the back. You also get it all over your hands which is a bind when you need to handle clean sheets. This may be why some of the books recommend a thinner base paper, but this was the thinnest sized paper I could find.

Enter bright idea. The books talk about folding the paper to make a boat with stiff edges but what if you just put a weight on top to hold it down. Obviously the weight must be heavy enough to do the job but not so heavy that the paper sinks. Enter a sheet of corrugated cardboard. This worked great you can lift it off after a minute or so once the paper has relaxed.

The sticky paper is lifted by one corner allowed to drip into the tray then hung up to dry.

  1. 190gm/m2 may be a bit thick
  2. Bubbles form in the albumen. I used a little wetting agent as recommended but found the best answer was to use a plastic teaspoon to fish them out between sheets
  3. The paper drys much fasted than you would expect. I found that I had room for about 6 sheets on my improvised dryer and when it was full the oldest sheets were dry.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Testing Testing

7 Mins 1:1:100 @ 20 C

8 mins 1:1:100 @ 20 C

10 Mins 1:1:100 @ 20 C

15 Mins 1:1:100 @ 20 C

It's at times like these you wish you knew more about Sensitometry. There is much less variation in these negatives than I had anticipated. When I opened the dish after the 10 min session I thought I had gone far enough but pressed on for the full set.

The images are not as well chosen as could be but the weather has not been great and so I shot what I could in the conservatory. This at least has the benefit of facing north so the light is quite even. Using a long bellows extension did give rise to a few problems but I'm pretty confident about metering and am therefore happy that the exposure was OK. FP4+ 64 ISO 1/8 S at F8.

I shot some more at F45 but I haven't processed them yet. Obviously reciprocity failure set in so the exposure there is a bit more of a guess so they were not suitable for this test.

I do not have a densiometer so I am stuck with a scanner and photoshop for taking readings but suspect that the flat light answer is in the 8 to 10 min area.

Thursday, July 31, 2008


Today I took the salted albumen out of the fridge. There was still a lot of quite stiff foam on top but a lot of pale yellow liquid had settled out below. I scooped off the foam and filtered the liquid though some muslin into a pyrex jug. I was surprised how liquid it was I had expected it to be quite viscous bearing in mind it started out as egg whites but it was a free flowing mobile fluid. The yield from this was 400ml ie I lost 100ml in the clarification process.

I had been looking in the supermarkets for a flat glass dish to use for the coating process without success. Ideally it needs to be just a bit bigger than the paper ie about A4 and must not be metal and should be quite shallow. A dev tray might work but the ridges in the bottom would waste a lot of liquid.

The quest is now over the answer was here all along in the form of a plastic sandwich tray its just over 1cm deep and A4 width and just a little longer.

I will photograph the coating process and report back.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Large Format Photography Forum

It has been remiss of me not to mention UKLF before. A little over a year ago I was tramping over Malham Cove carrying my 5x4 plus the Blad for snapshots ( I must learn to pack lighter) when I met another photographer and got talking. He introduced me to the group and I have lurked and occasionally posted since then.

Anyway one of the members has pointed me in the direction of Jason Russell in the States who is a LF and Albumen man. His website looks interesting and I will be looking into it more and also the Contact Printers Guild which I had heard of but forgotten.

Preliminary results

We woke up to no electricity again! Seems last nights storm took out the supply and we didn't get power back till mid afternoon. Anyway I spent a bit of time cleaning and labeling dark slides so that I can start a proper record and then I loaded 18 sheets and made proper notes of which slides are loaded etc. It will never last.

Anyway last night efforts are dry and I have scanned them. I did this in colour as though they were trannies so that you can see the colour of the stain. It is not so pronounced as with my previous brew.

Lightroom is all very well but it lacks 2 things a film worker would like. Flipping for when as in this case the neg was upside down and neg/pos reversal. I have an home brewed preset to do the neg/pos but it then gives limited further adjustment but you can get an idea of what its like. In the scan it looks like the highlights have gone but I don't think that is the case. The neg looks to me as though it could stand a bit more development. The highlights are not fully black and some of the shadows are a bit thin. The scanner tries to correct this a bit so the neg looks a little different on a light box.

The last thing I found out was that my "new" 90mm lens can photograph the end of the base board. Must look at the ground glass more carefully.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Fresh on the Market

This is one of those ideas that seemed better at the time. Preston City Council has a gallery PAD and linked to that gallery is an Art market held once a month and it seemed a good way to get to speak to the public, show some work and sell a few photos - but...

Together with Jane and Pat I took a stall. We had been promised a Farmers Market to bring in the punters but when we set up at an ungodly hour on Sunday morning it wasn't there.

There were 2 other hopeful photographers and about 12 stalls in all. For the first few hours it was nice to talk to the other stall holders and the other photogs but it would have been even better if there had been some customers.

We went with low expectations but failed to meet them.

Breaking Eggs

Some time ago I visited the Bluecoats bookshop in Liverpool. I don't know if its moved now that the Bluecoats Centre has opened but it is worth a trip any time you are in Liverpool and the shop lies nicely between the Tate and Open Eye galleries. Anyway among all the remaindered and secondhand photography books was " Historic Photographic Processes - A Guide to Creating Handmade Photographic Images by Richard Farber" so I bought it. I have no idea if its still in print. The idea of albumen came following my visit to the Walker Art Gallery again in Liverpool and after a lot of Googling I fell back on Richard's book. His recipe for albumen seems to be classic but has one drawback it uses glacial acetic acid which is a bit dodgy and pretty hard to come by. However the recipe then dilutes 1ml of glacial acetic with 15ml distiled water ie a 6% solution which just happens to be white spirit pickling vinegar. I have made the substition now lets hope it works.

My Recipe is thus 500ml egg white, 7.5g Ammonium Chloride, 1 tablespoon pickling vinegar

Normally I only buy free range eggs but much as I like chickens to have happy lives I'm not planning to eat these so I bought Sainsbury's value eggs. It turns out that you need 15 eggs to get 500ml of egg white. There were only 15 in the box so that was lucky, and also lucky that I didn't break any yolks to contaminate the mix. The first stage process is straight forward mix egg whites, ammonium chloride and vinegar in a glass bowl and whip to a foam. The recipe maks a fuss about none metalict this and that all the way through but then says use an electric mixer - metal whisk - I don't think much stainless steel will go into solution.

The mixture now goes in the fridge to settle back into liquid before being filtered and left for a week or two to "ferment" and breakdown ready to coat the paper.

The proof of the pudding

This evening I tested the new developer. I may be a recent photography graduate but in my earlier life I gained a chemistry degree and like to think I understand the concept of an experiment. This process does not qualify.

I have tried out a new camera and shot 2 sheets of film each with a different lens and since this is a view camera 2 different shutters. I rate the film FP4+ at a none standard ISO 64 and am now brewing it in a developer I have never used before with only the hint that a similar but different formulation recommends 8:30 mins at 75F for FP4 at ISO 125.

All in all this is out of control and more of a test of film/developer latitude than a serious trial. But we have to start from somewhere so.

Temperature 20C Dilution 1:1:100 time 6 mins.

Result 3 sheets went into the dish with me suspecting that 1 of them is unexposed - note to self to improve record keeping etc.

As with my usual procedure once the film is in the dish I soak it with warm water and go and mix the dev. I suppose you could presoak in a more repeatable way but so far it has been ok.

Unlike the "kit pyro" I have been using both solutions are completely clear and do not turn brown when mixed in the water.

At these dilutions measurement is not that easy. I normally use 150ml of dev but measuring 1.5ml of concentrate seems a bit too much to ask so I used 200ml because there is a 2ml graduation on my syringe. If the police call I have a bit of explaining to do syringes, bottles of white powder and scales...

Anyway in it all went and after 6 mins out it came. Now my normal pyro mix comes out of the tank the colour of expresso coffee but not pyrocat HD no this is a bit tawny but I've seen old dev concentrates come out of the bottle browner. In goes the water for a minute then the fix and after a couple of minutes the top comes off the dish to see whats what.

Well 1 sheet is blank. But the other 2 have images. You can't judge results in the fix but it's nice to know that despite all the variables I got a result at all.

The negs are now washed and are drying I will scan them tomorrow and let you see what I got. Don't hold your breath waiting for Art they are Daniel Thwaites' grave important if you are a northern beer drinker but otherwise...

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Pyrocat HD

I have been using Pyro as a developer on and off for 2 years now and until now have relied on a prepackaged kit supplied by Retro Photographic in the UK. I have no complaints with the kit but its formulation is not public and if I am to undertake further refinement of the process I feel that I need full control and continuity of supply so I have concluded that I should mix my own brew. However there are so many competing formulae.

I have not tried any of them and do not know if the Retro Formula is derived from any particular published recipe.

I have therefore decided to follow the suggestion of The Unblinking Eye and start out with Pyrocat HD.

I therefore ordered the required raw chemicals and mixed away. The top photo shows the set up. I used the utility room away from food etc and equipped myself with latex gloves and a dust mask.

Pyro is mixed as 2 concentrates which are finally diluted and combined just before use. The dilute developer does not keep and oxidises quickly to a brown mess. The B concentrate has only one chemical Potassium Carbonate which is relatively innocuous. So I started with it.

In practice I decided to halve the recipe. This is fraught with some difficulties because some of the weights are quite small but 500ml is a lot of developer when you consider that 4 sheets of film only take about 150ml solution at a 1:100 dilution.

The instructions are first class. Potassium Carbonate is not that easy to get into solution so I used a large bowl and added chemical 1 teaspoon at a time and stirred like mad. Once dissolved it went back into the measuring cylinder to be topped up to 500ml. The result is above. Not I used de-ionised water not tap water to make the concentrate. I have had no problems using the tap water here for developing so plan to use it to dilute to working strength.

Gaining confidence I set off on concentrate A.

The photos show the packs of chemicals and the small chemical scales. These are said to be accurate to 0.1g. That is quite tight since the formula requires on 0.5g of Potassium Bromide. The mixing went without hitches. These chemicals dissolved quickly, even the phenidone which has to be mixed first with Isopropyl alcohol.

The formula and instructions are at The Unblinking Eye

NB in the UK Pyrocatechin is known as Pyrocatechol

Friday, July 18, 2008

About tutorials on this site

It is a little grand to describe these articles as tutorials as that implies a level of expertise that I do not necessarily possess. Instead please view these as a sort of note book recording my experiences. There was a cookery show called "Cooking the Books" in which ordinary people tried out recipes for celebrity chefs' cook books, that is what I am aiming at here. Where possible I will link to or quote the source of the process or technique and in words and pictures detail my efforts to carry out the procedure and let you know how it turns out. If all goes well I will end up with a useful tutorial if not well everyone learns from mistakes...

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Albumen II

I had not heard from Silverprint so I phoned today. It seems that some of the chemistry was out of stock but its now on its way.

I got out the other night and shot a few sheets of film so I will have something to try out the new Pyro brew on.

I am also looking up a recipe for vanilla ice cream, which I will write about later, to use up all the egg yolks left over from the Albumen process.

Continuous Ink Systems

Quite some time ago I bought an ink system for the Epson 2400 I have been using for colour printing but because I shot my last project on film the inks inks in the machine did not run low till now.

Yesterday I installed the gear. Now that its on and profiled it seems to be working fine but getting here was hard. The external tanks are connected to the heads by thin tubes and these are connected by even smaller plastic elbows. The one on the light light black was broken but still hanging together. Ink went everywhere. Fortunately the kit comes with spares (one) so I could fix it but I could have done without the mess.

I now need to start making a series of prints to fine tune the profiles and get myself ready for Fresh On The Market at the end of this month.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Sam Abell on Richard Prince

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Tate Liverpool

The Tate in Liverpool does hold quite a selection of photographic work. The new hanging is theme based and at the time of my visit was being used as a teaching resource by a number of different school groups. I am a long time fan of Andy Warhol and there is now a sizeable room given over to his work. I was also was surprised to find that a Richard Long “Stone Circle” in the show and it brought back a lot of of fond memories of my trip to Edinburgh to his “Walking and Marking” exhibition.

There are two photographers that in the past I have always had some worries about - Jeff Wall and Cindy Sherman . My concern in both cases has been that the photographs are so arranged that the photography appears almost incidental. In Jeff's case the photography is always technically impeccable but Cindy's always looks slapdash and I have never decided if that is deliberate.

The exhibition includes a Jeff Wall and several pieces of Cindy Sherman's work in particular a series of quite early prints themed around passengers on a bus. The series has been specially printed for the exhibition and I was left uncertain as to whether the pictures had been shown anywhere previously. However whilst these particular pictures are not going to win it any awards for studio lighting they do as a group give a valuable insight into how the entire project was put together and the various ideas Cindy worked through in bringing it to fruition.

The new hanging includes sufficient fresh work to make it worth a further visit when I'm next in Liverpool.

Klimt at the Tate

Last Wednesday I took a trip into Liverpool to visit the Tate. The permanent collection has recently been rehung and in addition there is a special exhibition - Gustav Klimt – Painting Design & Modern Life in Vienna 1900

Klimt does have some connections with photography and used photographs to assist in his painting. However from the point of view of my own practice the most interesting part of the exhibition was in the final room showing landscape painting work made in the late 1890s. The square format, the stylised trees, the compression of image planes - These factors inform a photographic aesthetic even if the actual images are not and never were intended to be photo realistic.

The exhibition also includes room sets and objects from the Wiener Werkstatte and again their philosophy speaks to issues I am currently working through concerning craft and materials and the photograph as a physical object in the hand.

One of Klimt's traits is the photo realistic face in an otherwise quite impressionistic portrait

Monday, July 7, 2008

Without Breaking Eggs

There is an exhibition currently at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool - Art in The Age of Steam. I visited it in June and wrote about it at the time. Now one thing I came away with was an appreciation of the image quality evident in the works of pioneering photographers.

A bĂȘte noire of mine is digital black and white photography - not because I am technophobic but because it so often lacks the subtlety of a wet print. This gives rise to two separate plans of action. One is to get to grip with inkjet/giclee printing the other is to look further into producing a fully handmade product.

The second of these ideas took its first steps today. I have ordered some scales and raw chemicals to mix developer and emulsion from scratch. The prints I so admired in the Walker used the albumen process so beloved of Eugene Atget so I plan to give the process a trial.

I will record the process both trial and error here.

A Fresh Project

I know in my heart that when I write this I am addressing an audience of one. However I have decided that I will publish progress reports on my projects as they unfurl but not in the same way as I did with the BA blog which ended up a bit James Joyce stream of consciousness and was probably impossible to follow. Instead I plan to use this space for a number of separate functions.

  • Firstly as a scratch pad to record my impressions of artists and photographers I come across
  • Secondly to act as a journal recording my adventures, if that is the right word, in photographic output. Despite my recent BA I am still a chemist deep inside and plan to write about archaic processes and my continuing struggle to make acceptable digital prints.
  • I am also looking to sell some work so I will record how that venture progresses.
  • And finally I plan to shoot some work so that there are some pictures to show.

The Graduate

The letter has come. I am no-longer a student - I have my grades and all that remains is to wait for the certificate and the ceremony. Thankfully I got the grade I wanted so I will be able to look my little sister in the eye.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The Wainwright Bridge

Wainwright-23, originally uploaded by BobSingleton.

This photo marks the end of my Freckleton Street bridge project. I have been documenting the progress of the construction for over 6 months and now it is open and traffic is flowing over.

I now have a lot of images to collate.