My photography library is neither complete nor is it extensive, but it is meaningful to me. While I have many books that are about photographers whose work interests me, my key focus is my collection of reference books. One book in my collection that was significant for me when it came out and still is, if Fred Picker’s 1974 Zone VI Workshop.
If you don’t have a copy I suggest you try to find one. In an age with the availability of Photoshop and digital cameras, and with seemingly good images so easy to obtain by the click of a button and the knowledge that if something is wrong one can easily “Photoshop it” and make it right, the idea of actually seeing an image before one makes a digital reproduction seems to be getting lost. I think there is a need to revisit the technical nitpickyness that was so prevalent in the age of the F/64 photographers of the early to middle part of the last century. Quoting their manifesto they state that they believe photography is an art form, but they only accepted what they considered “pure photography,” and by this they mean that they reject ideas, ideals, or processes, or “techniques derivative of any art form” (Easy access to the thinking of this group is found in Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia).
Picker Zone VI methodology enables the serious photographer to get a sense of the roots of photography. in the overleaf of his book jacked he states, “A sloppy performance of a photograph is as distressing as a sloppy performance of music. the importance of technical excellence is probably the only area where there is unanimity of opinion among photographers.”
In any case this book not only stays on my shelf but it stays within my reach. The Zone VI Workshop is an excellent book from which to learn the Zone System placement system. Many of the techniques of which Picker writes, are adaptable to using digital imagery. However, the absolutely most important notion to take away from The Zone VI Workshop is the necessity for chasing excellence in our photographic work! This cannot be stressed enough!
Learning to “see,” I mean really see is truly hard to do. There are so many small things we tend to miss in an image, especially when we have what appears to be a mind-boggling scene already. The grandeur and beauty many times blinds the photographer to the many small blemishes that removed would make for a truly incredible image. My suggestions are: read the books, and get some training by someone who can see well. Critique hurts, but it is necessary to learn to make images of excellence.
I have rigged up a backpack to carry my 8 X 10 , some film holders and other necessary items. It’s heavy. The pack with camera and accessories weighs in at around fifty pounds. The tripod, which I carry in my hand, weighs thirty-one pounds. Do the arithmetic—it’s heavy! AND, I’m out of shape and not used to hiking with these kinds of weights anymore. I’ll get there.
My testing is to a point where I feel I can make images with confidence, so I went out and gave it a try.
First day, I went to a friends farm that butts up against Dry Creek. Next day I went up to the Cloverdale Airport and an access to the Russian River. Both were a serious ordeal. The weight, my lack of conditioning, and my mental stiffness in terms of re-learning the Zone System.
My lens is a Turner Reich with a Betax #4 shutter. It is a self-cocking mechanism with speeds of 1/2, 1/4, 1/10, 1/25, 1/50, B, and T—primitive to say the least. My placement with my spot meter gave me a Zone V at an EV12 for a NN development and called for a one sec exposure, which I did not have so I did two exposures of !/2 sec each. I did say primitive?
The Turner Reich is an uncoated lens, and it gives me a feeling unlike any coated lens, or combination of filters. The early coated lenses such as the Dagors I have are not quite like this one. and the multicoated lenses are just plain too sharp. This lens is not soft and it is indeed sharp, but not THAT sharp! I never used it for my commercial work, but I have always treasured it for my landscapes. Really sweet!
I like the discovery of image and of place. Seeing can be a mystical experience for me. A strong sense of place is as well. Both Dry Creek and the Russian River give me this sense of place. There is an intimacy with the land one can be part of if one will only open one’s spirit to it. The trick for the photographer is to be able to translate that sense of place into a visual image. In this way, both the photographer and the viewer can participate in the experience.
If you are one of the digital photographers who have never used what is now termed, wet photography, you may not agree with this post. There was a time, and I believe that it is relevant in our own time, when the statement, “If one does not do their own processing, one is not actually a photographer.” and before you get all up in a huff, this statement is as much about me as anyone, because sometimes I allow Photoshop to do at least half of my processing.
I spent the last ten years of my career doing digital photography, and I still do some with my D2X. I suppose that if I were to assert that I actually did do my own processing by way of Photoshop I would be correct. And, I still do my “darkroom” work in Photoshop. Yet, for as good as I have become in Photoshop, its process is not quite the same as actual darkroom work. I have split the difference.
I develop my black and white film, but I scan the negatives and then use Photoshop to work them up. I print on an Epson 7800 printer, and I like the results. At some point I will probably set up my enlargers and make prints, but not yet. I must admit that one of the best aspects of using Photoshop is that when the image is “spotted” it stays “spotted.” In times past I would spend days or weeks spotting each print in an edition. Now, one spotting session takes care of all future images. I’m loving it!
The testing is coming along quite nicely. I have not begun testing the 35mm or the 6X7 formats as of yet. My 4 X 5 tests have fallen-in nicely. I am having some difficulty with the 8 X 10 in terms of development times. I use various deep-tanks for all my other formats, but I do not want to fill a 3 1/2 gallon deep-tank with developer. Way over the edge expensive! Even though I mix my own version of a Kodak D-1 developed the main chemical is so expensive so as to be close prohibitive in large quantities. So I tray develop it which is tricky.
8 X 10 work is not for the faint of heart. First it is just plain heavy and bulky. My Kodak Century View with tripod, lens, film-holders, and other accouterments, weighs in at around seventy pounds. Whew! So you can understand that when I decide to work with the 8 X 10 for the day I am making a total commitment.
I began with how photography is all in the science AND MATH. It is true whether you are using Photoshop or the chemical process. If you are using Photoshop, some else did the science and math for you, and the algorithms are worked out for you so all you need to do is to click your magic mouse and you begin working toward your desired results. If you are using chemicals you are doing your own science and math.
The photographic processes are based on time and temperature, time and intensity (the Law of Reciprocity), and time and mixture. All these have formulas that should be understood for good images to be made. I am not a math person, so I am always at a disadvantage, but I have worked out ways to get around it. Add to the science and math agitation techniques and it all gets weird. Agitation is the loose canon of the process. It is a body-oriented procedure. You have to remember how your hand and arm moved as you move the tank, or as in the case of tray development, rotated the sheets of film from top to bottom in the developing tray,
Agitation of film and paper exchanges the oxygen depleted developer on the surface of the film for oxygen impregnated developer. There is no particular rhythm that works best, though each photographer has one that works best for him or herself. What is important is that consistency is achieved so every developing session is as nearly the same as possible. The more agitation the more density and contrast, and obversely.
The above image was made with the 8 X 10 Kodak Century View, with the 12″ Turner Reich. This was a test for NN (Normal:Normal) developement. I used Arista EDU 400 film rated at an ISO of 100. My developer was ABC Pyro 1:1, tray development for 5 1/2 minutes with one rotation of film sheets every one minute. My evaluation is that the negative is a little underdeveloped and I interpolate that if I increase my development time to 9 minutes that my contrast will be where I want it for a NN negative.
I say, “vindication,” because that’s what it is. For years I have been accused of being obsessive compulsive. I make sure everything is done correctly–my way. I test film and keep the best notes I can. I mix many of my own formulas, and keep those notes as well. OK, so when I was measuring my French Roast on a scale, well that might have been a little over the top, but I do what I do because I like the results what I do gives me.
So last week, when I wanted to try an old ABC Pyro formula I have had quite a bit of success with, I decided to see what I had done with it. I found my note books, that I had in storage, and did some checking. Well, there were all my notes going back to 1980 for every test I had made. Negatives, proof sheets, notes: all these in a loose leaf note book. Actually two note books. One was for the chemical formulas and processing procedures. The other for the film densities and max-black printing tests.
These tests, combined with my copy of the Photo-Lab Index, gave me a place to begin. I developed my first three exposures, and they were thin. I will do another development session, and I will see what that will do.
I am using the tray method rather than a tank. I use tanks for my 4 X 5, but this is 8 X 10 and it is just too costly to fill 3 1/2 gallon tanks with one-shot developer. No way. This is to say that my times are significantly different, and my predictions can be close, but they are still only predictions. Just more data to get into the note books. Like I said, vindicated
The above Image was made in 1974 with a Burke and James 8 X 10, using a 13″ Goertz Dagor. I used a red filter with Tri-X film.
Nothing for it but to admit to the crime—of negligence. I have a multi-purpose studio. It’s main purpose, primary function, is as a sound studio. I record, mix, and master my songs here, and practice as well. I also have it rigged-up so it will be light-tight, and I can develop film on one of the main tables. It is the table where I repair and re-string my instruments, but it works just fine as a place to put my 24″ X 36″ tray that holds my film tanks and contains the fluids when they splash.
On this table are four 8 X 10 film holders. And herein is the source of my accusations. For they contain sheets of exposed film waiting for development. I feel the pressure, and so far I am holding up OK. But for how long can I sustain? I have maybe four weeks left on a huge project I am committed to finishing. I am working at maybe getting finished a little sooner. Yet I can only do my photography in small time allotments. I load the holders one month. I make an exposure the next. Then I try and find the time to do the developing. Much, much later I find time to scan the negative and work it up in Photoshop.
Years ago I did it all in one seamless movement. I made the images in one period of time–a day, a week, a month–depending on the project. Then I developed the film. When the film was dry I made proofs and filed them. Later when the project was ready to print, I made silver gelatin prints in editions of five to seven or more. Then spotting, matting mounting, framing and hanging.
What I am doing now is not even to sell or to show, but for my own gratification. I just want to do the thing for me. I do not have anyone I have to answer to except myself. I am a scary boss to answer to by the way.
In the meantime, the pressure mounts…
I posted on Facebook that I had switched this blog from Tumblr to WordPress and Ann Knerr asked: “Hilary, just curious for the reasons why you changed. as I am looking at photo sites. Thanks.”
The reasons for changing was that I got less readership on Tumblr. I had very little response and less readership. Also I couldn’t find out if there was a place to view my stats, or to direct potential readership to my site. The choice was not as obvious prior to switching as it was after the switch. I got almost instant response and many followers. Thank you WordPress readers for your almost immediate following and you great responses.
I clearly made a good choice. I had received about three responses on Tumblr over the several months I had been posting, but an even fifty here at WordPress. It is what it is.
Thanks for the support!