I am finally spending time in the darkroom, something I have not really done since my September 2017 second survey exhibition. COVID-19 is offering me this chance to get back to darkroom work.
The darkroom is offering me a Time and Dimensional Portal to escape the CV19 lockdown. It is a place of concentration and contemplation and a chance to look at things quietly. I spend a lot of time just looking at the image on the baseboard, looking at the contrast gradient, making sure I framed the image correctly and just looking at it. If the image is not well framed I will abandon it, as cropping an image in the darkroom is utterly forbidden in 35mm and 120 work. From large format negatives only a narrow strip at the top and bottom is removed to alter the image ratio from the visually awkward 4:5 ratio of large format view cameras to a more visually comfortable 3:4 ratio. This also allows for removal of hanger clip marks and other processing artefacts from the film edge.
The image shown here is of Karara Melaleuca swamp in the Southern Forests a bit south east of where we live. The print image is 18" square, on 20x24" paper.
The earliest negatives I printed on Easter Sunday are from 1977, two negatives of Kilve Beach from the English Littoral Portfolio. I have wanted to print these two for forty three years, but have always had other work to do, or any other excuse.
NOTE: Due to print image size these two prints of Kilve Beach will not fit on my print scanner, and are shown here as negative scans. Negative scans are never as good as print scans. They were scanned in greyscale as attempting to see print colour on a computer monitor is impossible. Only by viewing original prints can the subtitles be read.
PAPER CHOICE and PRINT COLOUR
The original English Littoral prints, and some of the more recent Australian Littoral prints, were printed on Ilford Galerie FB paper, now long out of manufacture. My last two 50 sheet boxes of 16 x 20" grade 2, all I could get at the end, lasted beautifully with no age fog. Ilford Galerie had a soft dove-grey colour when developed in Ilford ID20, my standard print developer.
The new Littoral prints, from both the 1970s English work and the current Broke Inlet work, are being printed on Fomabrom Variant multi-contrast paper from Foma in Bohemia and imported by Chris Reid at Blanco-Negro in NSW. This is a good paper perfectly suited to desert and forest prints, for the Snapshot Portfolio and for some portraits. But the tendency for shadow areas to show a subtle brown tint does not really suit the Littoral work. But in these days of limited paper choice we are severely limited. I have sort of half almost nearly a bit thought about getting other printing papers for special projects, but that is asking for trouble these days. The only other paper I intend to use is Fomatone, a warm-tone paper that has the speed and colour characteristics of a chloro-bromide paper, but I will not venture into claiming it is a chloro-bromide emulsion. The Fomatone is being held for the new large format portrait work, and in 9.5 x 12" size for 10x8" contact prints.
The dove grey print colour and toenail quality of Ilford Galerie was perfect for depicting the limpid wet light of the English coast, especially the Somerset coast. This also apples, 'though to a lesser extent, to Southern Ocean inlet light. Inlet light is different from the bright and glistening Southern Ocean light itself, even 'though they're only a couple of kilometres apart. I imagine the enclosed inlets hold moisture in the air to soften and modulate the light to please me, there being no possibility of any other reason.
VINTAGE PRINTS vs NEW INTERPRETATIONS
There was, and possibly still is, a claim that "vintage prints", prints made at about the time an image was photographed, have a truer value than ones made years after. This vintage print idea is utter bullshit and has no basis other than gallery and agent price gouging. I find that the time that passes before an image is printed allows me to distance myself from the memory of the photographic event and enables me to assess the negatives made with greater distance and clarity, also my printing is constantly improving. The new prints and interpretations are the best.
Heaps more printing during the next few years of lock-down
Almost all the English Littoral Portfolio negatives were made with a Rollei 2.8F, which is still in use for current work. This English work started with a Pentacon 6 but that was swapped for the Rolleiflex. I attempted some work on a Gandolfi half plate with a 5x4" back, but with side wind a vibration was set up and caused the front and rear standards to shake, making the images unsharp. This was worst at Severn Beach, where the Bristol Channel becomes narrow, the tidal change is huge and the wind comes straight from the Hinkley Point nuculer power station.
Film was Ilford FP4 developed in ID11.
The enlarger used for the two Kilve Beach prints was a Leitz Focomat IIc with an Ilford Multigrade head. This enlarger was not used much during the printing of big prints for the survey show, where a DeVere was used as making anything bigger than 12" sq with the autofocus Leitz is a pain in the arse.
The images are also on the (Archive) English Littoral page.
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