There are some places that stay with you, and though the precise details may fade over time the sense of the place, the emotional connection to the landscape and the weather remain with you for years. These memories haunt your imagination waiting for the chance to return. A telephone conversation with a friend and fellow photographer Alex Boyd about his move to a small village on the west coast of the Isle Of Lewis, one of the most incredible windswept pieces of land in the United Kingdom, brought memories flooding back of my visit, one bleak and blusterly April, way back in 2005.
It was a fishing trip with my friend Gary who is a farrier on the Inner and Outer Hebrides. Gary had a few jobs booked in on Lewis so the plan was to mix business with pleasure and between shoeing horses we would have a cast on some of the hundreds of wild lochs that dot the island. We where probably lost when I took this picture, I can remember driving down the small moorland track trying to find another loch to fish, and the sting of the wind and the rain as we climbed out of Gary’s van into the teeth of an Atlantic westerly. In the distance huddled into a fold in a ridge sat a small pool of water shining out in contrast to the dark brooding backdrop of the rugged mountains and billowing gun metal clouds.
After I put down the phone I went to find the negatives because I suddenly realised it was just the picture to give as a thank you to another friend William Marshall for another trip into the hills in search of trout!
On the bank of one of my favourite pools stands a grand patriarch of a beech tree casting it’s branches across the river like some ancient Entish guardian from Tolkien’s Middle Earth. During the cold stirring of spring these gnarled boughs are bare and skeletal but come the warm days summer trout will lazily rise to sip insects off the waters surface beneath it’s shady verdant canopy. Years of harsh winter spates have undercut the bank revealing it’s giant roots and there I often see the marks and foot prints of otters in the soft sandy silt, these often elusive creatures seem to have gained a liking for the invasive Canadian Signal Crayfish which has done so much damage to our own native species. The remains of their brightly coloured claws and crunched up carapaces are littered everywhere. Spring has been particularly late in the dale this year with snow and frost lasting to the end of April but those warm and heady evenings beneath the tree will be back soon.
In my last post I was reminiscing about the loss of Polaroid pos/neg film, especially my favourite the Type 665 pack. Well the devil makes use for idle hands and it wasn’t long before I couldn’t just sit and dream about past triumphs and I was searching through a popular online shopping site in search of a pack of Type 665. At first I didn’t have much luck, mainly because, as stocks of this film become ever more rare the price goes up but I kept on looking and eventually found a pack which sounded promising. It was pretty old film and had technically expired in August 1990! But in the description it stated the pack was unopened and had been stored in a fridge, so I decided to take a chance and buy it.
There are a few risks in buying any old expired film particularly when it comes to instant type films such as polaroid, if the pack of film hasn’t been stored correctly the liquid chemicals which do the developing and fixing can dry out and make the material completely useless. All these thoughts went through my mind as I set off to the edge of Hamsterley Forest a few miles up the road from my home in County Durham. Last Autumn I had driven past the top edge of the forest and I was struck by the stark forlorn looking birch trees left behind by the felling of the pine trees, it seemed to be the perfect spot close to home to try out my new film.
The Shen-Hao loaded and ready to go.
It was with a great deal of trepidation I pulled the tab of the first sheet of polaroid from the camera back (kindly loaned to me from my old college tutor John Quinn) and I had no idea it would work as well as it did!! I only took a few exposures wanting to save the rest of the film for another day, storing the neg part of the sheets in water to wash off the masses of black gloop that covers them after you have peeled them apart.
Once washed and dried I contact printed my favourite of the two negs on my usual Fomapan Chamois fiber based paper. I think this a negative I will definitely return to!
Recently I’ve been asked for more details about how I create my photographs in the darkroom, and struck me that lately my blog has mostly been concentrating on my trips out and about taking pictures. But this is only really a small portion of the work that goes into making my final prints for sale in the gallery. In fact when I first started this blog this was one of the elements I really wanted to include, so in the future I’m going to try to show a little more behind the scenes, and try to explain some of the techniques and processes I use.
Setting up my 6×6 enlarger for a print destined for the gallery.
I am really lucky to be represented by Gallerina, a contemporary fine art gallery in Darlington so to get the ball rolling I thought I would post the trailer from the fantastic documentary they filmed about my work called Infinity!!
What I really love about this film is it gives a great snap shot of all the different steps I make to get to the completed photograph. Ok this bit may sound a bit of a blatant plug but if you are interested in seeing the full length film they may still have some copies of the DVD left at the gallery, please get in touch at www.gallerina.com
Well things have moved on with the DIY 10×8 camera, Ihave glued a large piece of wood to the bottom to create a stable base for mounting the camera on a tripod, and in an attempt to give the camera body a little more weather protection I covered it in a rather attractive black ash sticky black plastic (handily left over from when I built some speakers for my old vintage Land Rover )
The camera back was also pretty fragile and had a habit of falling apart, but a little remodeling seems to have solved the problem.
The next step was to find some photographic paper to create my negs. After a search through my darkroom I discovered a box of old Ilford Multigrade paper I bought secondhand years ago. One of the reasons I never used it because even though it is a FB paper it only had a 135G base which is pretty thin, but luckily for me this will make it perfect to make printerable negs.
First I decided to try it out close to home in the back garden to find out how user friendly it was. First impressions were pretty good, the ground glass works well and I was really impressed by the focal length, it was even able to focus on objects only a few feet away. The camera seemed really stable and solid considering it was only made from foam core board and hot glue!!
The 215mm lens is pretty wide on the 10×8 format, this was taken about 3ft away from the subject. I exposed it for 10secs at f16 with a speed rating of ISO 6.
The next shot I took a little further from home out on Cockfield Fell. I was drawn to all the sheep wool caught on the barbed wire fences. The exposure was 10th sec at f8 and again the speed rating was ISO 6. I think this one could really do with a bit more work. With paper negatives you have to avoid bright contrasty days and full sun light. Even with a graduated filtre the sky of the second photograph was really over exposed, but I still like the waving fleece moving in the breeze, makes me think of summer in the hills!!
Well it’s been a long time since my last post so I thought I would show you what I’ve been working on. I was hoping to have a few new photographs from a recent trip to Swaledale, but I had to divert my attention at the last minute when a large commission came in from Gallerina. The client wanted photographs to reflect the period features of their new boutique hotel, they also wanted the images to have a warmth. I needed to create a few test prints and after a search through my darkroom cupboards I managed to find what I was looking for. A two bath Fotospeed Sepia kit and a very ancient bottle of Agfa Viradon Brown toner, here is what I came up with.
I selected a 5×4 neg I taken on a trip to Belsay Castle in Northumberland a few years a go and coated some paper with SE1 liquid emulsion diluted 50/50 with water.
Untoned Test strip.
Agfa Viradon Brown Toner.
Se1 is great to split tone and each of the prints turned out really well, but both had their draw backs. The sepia being two baths, one a bleach the other the toner means getting consistent even results on large prints is tricky, the Viradon is made with polysulfide and stinks to high heaven!! Also Viradon is no longer in production and I probably have about 40ml left at most, which is enough to make 1 to 1.5 ltrs of working solution. Out of the two I prefered the Vardon. I love its depth and warmth, and thankfully so did the client. Fingers crossed I’ll have enough.
This looks like this is going to be a huge comission and I can’t wait to get out and start taking pictures!!
Just completed this comission and I’m really pleased with the way it turned out! I’ve never taken a picture of Roseberry Topping before and was worried what I could bring to such a popular and well photographed part of the Cleveland landscape, hopefully I have successfully managed to put my mark on it and create something fresh.
For this one I wanted to use my old 5×4 M.P.P Mark II Technical camera. The lens was a 270mm Schneider Tele-Xenar I picked up for £65 last year (thrift is a important part of my photography haha) . I developed the Fomapan 100 film with Prescysol and then printed it on watercolour paper coated with liquid silver emulsion.