Television and I have a long complicated relationship.
We were only able to afford black and white televisons as I grew up. By the time I had moved out I still couldn’t justify the cost of a new colour TV so bought second hand ones for many years. By the time I was in a ‘commited relationship’ we aquired a discarded colour TV. Eventually at some point after, we bought a small colour TV.
In the interim however, for many years I was either too busy or studying to really engage in any serious TV watching. Often it was the late night rock and roll video show called Rage on the ABC that garnered the most attention from me.
At some point while studying my undergraduate degree, I decide to record some programming then take into the Video editing suites to take stills from it. Late one night I stumbled upon a film starring Tom Waits, called Big Time as well. It was a TV adaption of a live performance based on the album of the same name. Those pictures have been in my archive relativley unseen. Now that I have a scanner I can share them with the world.
Here’s a screengrab of them loosely organised in Neofinder. At some point I will sequence them and either publish them as a Zine or just make a gallery online.
Now of course screens dominate my life. I often sit watching the things that interest me on free to air TV, while using at least 1 or 2 devices to do other things while the ads are on.
I had just begun my Masters Post Graduate Degree at RMIT.
I was soon to be married.
I had just bought a house with my ever patient partner. The house was a rare find, a large backyard, facing north, but more importantly a large garage, long enough to store 3 small cars. At last I was about to get my darkroom. It had only taken 8 years.
I had been fortunate however in those years between graduating from Uni, and settling down. I worked as a technician at a photography school and so had 24/7 access to all the processing and printing gear I needed. Like most people however I was scavenging and collecting any and all darkroom equipment I could afford as I waited to find the right space to set one up.
By the time we had bought our house, I had bought an Omega enlarger, and rescued 2.5 meter grey plastic sink,from the school I worked at. I switched out the condensers for a Zone IV cold light head, and saved up for a metronome for it as well. The enlarger came with 3 gorgeous Schneider Rodenstock lenses [50mm, 80mm, & 150mm], and a turret head allowing me to print from 35mm to 5×4. These days it’s either 6×6 or 5×4, but my archives are an endless source of contemplation. The best thing about my enlarger after the Zone VI metronome is the foot pedal used to operate it, keeping my hands free to burn and dodge.
The bench it rests upon is big enough to store other hardware such as my 5×4 camera and paper and notebooks as I work. When it came time to start building, I settled on an ‘L’ configuration, due to the sloping roof of the shed an the height of my enlarger for my 3 meter by 4 meter allocated space. I built the benches myself and rigged a temporary hose into the space, with roughed in plumbing ready for permanent connection when finances permitted.
The previous owners had left a plan press in the garage, so this was coaxed into use as a bench top, which housed a set of custom built shelves for negatives, contact sheets and work prints. I also had a custom built film drying cabinet in storage ready and waiting. Currently I have only cold water from an external tap running into the space, only a problem when printing in winter, bucketing hot water into the space in not an inconvenience at all. The sink is big enough to print 16 x 20, with a added on sink used as a place to put a wash tray. As my workflow usually involves long deliberation between work prints and finished prints these days, I only ever need room for 4 trays, Dev, Stop, Fix & rinse easily accommodated in my sink, these days I rarely print this large anyway.
I use pegs angled slightly on a specially built rack for storage of jugs beakers and other chemical ephemera above the sink. I have a separate shelf for my dry chemicals, and storage under the sink and benches for any other things that need to be kept out of the way. Another of the useful tools I use in this space are, some triple beam balance scales for making custom developers. I like to air dry my prints so I have hung a nylon rope across the ceiling for this purpose.
*Originally posted to Tumblr 7 years ago, now with fresh pictures.
So we’ve established in the beginning, I was interested in what I would call a fine print. Based on the concerns of other photographers who’ve gone before me. Such as Ansel Adam’s Technique, and later, feebly attempting to explore the surreal and philosophical underpinnings of Frederick Sommer’s ideas.
The next and final question is how, do you make/get a fine print? When one starts to get serious about your prints, it easier to produce good prints from good negs, plenty of shadow detail, not too blown out in the highlights, with hopefully a long scale of tones, [all based on a well published list of characteristics of materials.]
Long scales of tone, then give you license to manipulate them, the tones. Grain was a no-no, and high contrast was considered bad form, unless you had a good reason for it. Remember this is based on the ideas that the f64 group had pioneered.
This necessitated knowing your materials intimately, both film and paper. [I still use the same film today as when I started exploring materials over 30 years ago, but not the same developer or paper.] It also often meant lugging a tripod EVERYWHERE, because like good ol’ Uncle Ansel, you shot at the smallest possible aperture to get the maximum amount of Depth of Field. Usually on Medium Format or Large Format Cameras to help keep grain to a minimum. To keep your images sharp, you not only ALWAYS used a tripod, but a lens hood as well. Depending on your film developer combination*, even on bright sunny days, the best you sometimes could get was 1/8 a second at f22. Being a ‘landscape’ photographer, I never practised hand holding at low speeds, and today I still feel a little weird shooting wide open.
As a consequence I rarely photographed on a whim, and unless I was lucky enough to have a boot full of gear with you at all times, making images required a level of preparation and planning that would make trips to the Himalayas look like a picnic in the park.
So; given the effort required to get your gear to the spot and with hopefully good light, you also needed to get the best neg you could, you were always trying to make sure you exposed the negative correctly, and then developed it to it’s full potential, if you were developing your own black and white film. I think I’m pretty good at developing my own b&w, but when compared to the ‘masters’ I learnt from I’ve another 20 years of practice to go.
Bad negatives, and I have plenty of them, were the bane of my life, but often got fewer and further between, as I became more skilled at my craft. Ever wonder what to look for in a bad neg?
Here’s a list of ‘straight photography’ no-no’s unless the idea or the print is enhanced by it**.
Camera Shake, not to be confused with poor/incorrect focus
Dust and scratches on the Negative/Print
Poor/Incorrect focus, neg or print
Empty blacks with no detail in a print
Highlights with no detail, in your prints unless spectral like chrome
Flat or Muddy tonality in your prints
Poor tonal separation in your prints
Chromatic Aberrations or other lens defects, in your print
The one thing bad negatives taught me, and many other people was, “How to make a good print”.
So how many photographers on any of the social websites out there walk EVERYWHERE with a tripod, a medium or large format camera, have tested their materials and equipment extensively and know their place in the broader history of photography?
Well not me that’s for sure. That’s why I love my mobile phone and my desktop publishing software, and flickr and the web in general.In part three, I will elaborate.
*At one point in my experiments, I used a Developer called pyro, with a recipe for it, that lowered my favourite film down from 400 ISO, to 6 ISO, it gave beautiful long scale negatives, but was very tricky and messy to work with, in the end I settled for, my own hand made D25. I’m now using a 2 bath developer solution, with a long PH buffer after the developer.
**Artists Like Joel Peter-Witkin and The Starn Twins, took this all to another level, as their work is the antithesis to these ideas, and I admire and respect these artist’s work immensely.
On my old blog in what feels like an eternity ago. I wrote a series of articles about how I ended up where I did. I have decided to republish them here in 3 parts as well, with small footnotes given the changes in the web landscape since, and in particular what is now called “social media”.
So; here we go.
How I got Here Part One?
or… Why I do what I do, the way I do it.
This is not much more than a historical backwater, where, after chatting to a photographer on flickr about film grain of all things, I felt the need to lay out my cards. So, please do not read around siesta time, or after the consumption of alcohol.
The classic way to begin these things is to ask yourself, 3 questions. What, Why, How.
So here goes. What?
Interesting, engaging, beautiful images; with a camera or cameras, that express something more than what was in front of the lens when I pressed the shutter, or perhaps question the notion of what all the above is, amongst many other things. Memory and Identity figure in there pretty highly too.
Why? Well that’s a bit longer and harder to answer, here goes though.
Picture this, it’s 1984 or 5. I am a twenty something living and working for the weekend [as a cab driver]. After a year or so I realise this is probably not going to lead anywhere engaging. So I decide I’d best get back to school and give something a go. Also, I had recently bought a 35mm SLR camera; [duty free] and was pretty disappointed with the results. I wanted better, and some obscure part of my imagination had often looked around and ‘seen’ things and thought “that would make a good photograph”. Some research and digging around had me apply to the 2 main Colleges that taught Photography in town[Melbourne Australia]. I got interviewed, but lucked out, [knowing what I now know this is no surprise]. Both recommended a folio building course, one even recommended what was then Brighton Technical School. I enrolled. It took 2 years to get a handle on my craft and produce a decent folio. Then on to University I went. Another 3 years of working on my craft, with the accompanying exploration of history and theory. Modernism was considered passé, and with Post-Modernism at its height, it [postmodernism] wasn’t that interested in art as finely crafted objects, more ideas, or that’s how I interpreted it. Nonetheless I was interested in finely crafted objects, namely photographic prints. Prints that were interesting, engaging, beautiful, irrespective of their subject matter, but above and beyond all else photographic.
While I was at art school I’d learnt about many aspects of our rich photographic history and the ideas that surrounded its current state of play. One such idea was Pictorialism. In the mid to late 1800s photography was still struggling with its identity, organisations like the Linked Ring, were busy trying to promote photography beyond its humble uses and into the realm of art. In doing so, they used techniques that involved heavy manipulation of their negatives & prints to make them look more like paintings.
An American circle of photographers later renounced Pictorialism altogether and went on to found Group f/64, which espoused the ideal of un-manipulated, or straight photography.
Here’s a list of the Photographers Wikipedia consider members:-
John Paul Edwards
Willard Van Dyke
Those of you who know me in person pre-flickr will see a pattern.
Other Photographers I was exposed to at College, were, Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz, Joe Deal, Richard Misrach, to name but a few. Robert Adams, was part of a group of photographers in the 70’s who had been labelled ‘The New Topographers’ from an exhibition of the same name. This was all very new and exciting for me, as I had through a series of experiences prior to returning to College gotten interested in ‘Landscape Photography’. All these photographers still adhered to the ideas about photography, that a photograph was just that, yet unlike Ansel Adams their subject matter was far from sublime.
What I wanted to be sublime was the print, the silver gelatin or ’Type C’ print that hung on a wall and people looked at and admired for it’s inherent beauty and for the ideas it expressed, in the context of a broader photographic history.
I have been busy the last few days getting my prints ready for my next upcoming exhibition.
The Exhibition entitled ‘Thanks Pandemic’ consists of 24 silver gelatin prints framed and matted.
All up the print finishing took about 12 hours. I don’t recollect how long the actual printing took, as it was done some time ago during several of the lockdowns that Victoria endured from 2020 to 2022.
These lockdowns were the catalyst for me to revisit my archive and print some images that I have always wanted to print. Now with time on my side and changes to materials I was able to produce a series of prints that reflect my skills and knowledge. Basically I like to make work with long tonal scales. This is made possible by using 2 filters under the enlarger, the 00 filter and the 5 filter, from Ilford’s filter pack. Using this technique enables finer control over shadows, midtones and highlights.
After the prints are made they undergo treatment for archival permanence using a 2 bath fixer system and using some dilute selenium toner. In this case it was 1:19 for 3 minutes in the selenium.
Then into my archival wash tub for one hour. My tub holds 10 prints so I had to undertake this process in 3 batches, 2 at 10 and one at 5 prints. They are then hung to dry in my darkroom.
Next I flatten the prints in a warm heat press.
Once they are all flat, I begin the final stages of preparation for matting.
This involves making paper corners, 100 in total, then attaching the prints to a backing board that is hinged to the matt. All made using paper archival tape.
Once the components are assembled the frame is reassembled and the protective corners replaced. Then they are stored ready for transport to the gallery.
This body of work is going to use a mixture of frame colours 9 silver 9 off-white and 6 black. How they are how together will be determined once the work is in the space.
Beijing Silvermine is an archive of 850 000 negatives salvaged over the last ten years from a recycling plant on the edge of Beijing. Assembled by the French collector and artist Thomas Sauvin, Beijing Silvermine offers a unique photographic portrait of the Chinese capital and the life of its inhabitants in the decade following the Cultural Revolution.