Category Archives: black and white photography

Analogue photography is far from dead

I was at the camera swap in Vancouver today. I was surprised at just how busy it was at just after 10am on a Sunday morning. What was even more surprising though was the sheer volume of film cameras for sale. I didn’t see much digital stuff at all, other than some Canon and Nikon lenses. What I saw at table after table was film cameras. Lots of lots of 35mm rangefinders in particular, but also quite a few medium format cameras and large format ones also. It was fantastic to see hundreds of film cameras for sale and people actually buying. Shooting film is far from an obsolete process and I think it will only continue to pick up pace for the near future.

Things are so rosy at the moment, we even have three brand new silver gelatin papers brought out by major players in the last year. Ilford has a POP (printing out)/direct positive paper new on the market as well as a great pinhole camera to use it in. They’ve also brought out a fine art textured paper, their first new one in 13 years. Freestyle just brought out their own fine art paper and I think it will do well. And to top it all off, Jobo is bringing out a new film/paper processor, 2 years after they stopped production of the last model. All of this definitely puts paid to the regular bleating about the death of film.

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Back in the dark

It’s been quite a long time since I last made a post and a lot has changed since then.

 

I’ve ended my 365 project several months into it as it no longer fulfilled my primary goal, which was to get me out shooting daily. I found too many times I ended up looking for an image last minute, rather than getting out shooting. The way I structure my days just doesn’t work for getting me out shooting daily and while I may want to make some changes to that, it’s not a priority at this time.

 

As for what I am working on, my b&w film work has taken precedence and I am not shooting much digitally at all. I have several ongoing projects that I am getting back to. Some, such as my trees project, can only be shot once the trees are bare so I’ve had to wait for that, and it’s almost time to start shooting again.The last of the autumn leaves are still lingering, even though it is December.

 

And the project that took up a lot of my time as summer ended, was getting my darkroom ready. It’s now done and I’ve started printing as of mid November. I managed to find a decommissioned darkroom that I could set back up and with all the bits I’ve accumulated over the last two years, it’s well stocked. I’ve a nice, bright, warm place to work that is fantastic to have. I’m even open to sharing it if someone is looking for a darkroom rental in Vancouver. As printing progresses, I’ll post here some of the images as I go.

 

And finally, here’s some images of my new darkroom.

 

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Why bromoil?

I’d like to tell you a story. About why I love to do bromoils. I had a wonderful chance to see a fantastic exhibit of pictorialist photography here in Vancouver, a couple of years ago. It was the TruthBeauty exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Pictorialist photographs from about 1835 to 1945 were on show and they were fascinating. The premise of the pictorialists was to use photography to create art, not simply record what they saw realistically, but what they envisioned. Many different printing processes, now called alternative processes, were used to produce fantastic works of art. I fell in love. The images, the visions expressed, the interesting printing methods, all spoke to me of what photography could be. And in our digital age, so much of photography ends up seeming the same in the end, an exact as possible realistic rendering that all blends together after you’ve seen so many.

One process in particular stood out for me. Bromoil printing. I had to find more out about it. To give the short answer, bromoil involves bleaching a black and white print, and then stippling on layer after layer of ink to bring it back. You can achieve a wonderful etching like quality to a print that has a luminous depth or even a highly photographic style rendering, depending on your technique. It offers a great deal of control over your print, creative freedom in producing your print, and the satisfaction that comes of handcrafting something beautiful.

I love the unique look of a bromoil print. For me, the prints have a different feel to them. They produce an emotional response beyond just the subject matter. I love the historical connection. I am using a process that is over a hundred years old. My teacher learned from masters of the process and there is this long unbroken line of learning stretching back into the past. Also, wonderful historic processes used with modern photography allow us to connect directly with the past, something that is lost so often in our high tech digital world. 

Crafting your photograph in general, directly making the print by hand is a tie to the past that digital technology has robbed us of. Creating images this way allows us to appreciate the beauty of something handcrafted, another castoff from our mechanized age. And the rarity these days of these processes, of handcrafted works of art in general, especially with photography, allow us to create something that truly is unique.

If you’d like to see some prints, I’ve posted some of my images earlier. This is the link

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Second group show opening Saturday in Vancouver

Awesomeness. I have managed to get two images accepted to a second juried group show here in Vancouver. This is pretty exciting for me, as these shows are my first attempts. The show opens this Saturday, Feb. 5th at the Vancouver Darkroom Co-op Gallery. You can pop over to 652 Kingsway (at Fraser St.) for the 7pm opening if you are in town.

If you can’t make it, here’s a preview.

If you’re wondering what this is, its the remnants of a shipwreck, the Peter Iredale, on the Oregon coast. These are lith prints on Foma Chamois fibre paper, beautiful creamy coloured paper that for Foma, gave me some wonderful, subtle colours with the lith process.

Are you also wondering what the heck lith is? Well, its a black and white printing process where the paper developer is based on lithographic film developer and the combination of papers and developer chosen can give you a wide range of colours. The basis of the look, besides colour, is great detail in the highlights and gritty blacks. The fun of it comes from substantially overexposing the print under the enlarger, (this controls the highlights) and leaving it in the developer until the blacks reach just the right point and immediately tossing it in the stop bath without waiting for the print to drain. You do this as the blacks develop through a process called infectious development where they start off slowly and the development speeds up exponentially as you go. If you were to leave the paper in the developer til completion, the image would go completely black because you have overexposed it an average of 2-4 stops. So you have a minute time frame to choose just how you want the print to look and your never quite sure at the start how it will go. 


This is just one of the wonderful things I love about darkroom work in general. Creative, fun processes that always have a lovely element of surprise waiting to be discovered.

See you on Saturday.

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Sources for film and darkroom supplies

If you love printing in the darkroom as much as I do, finding a reliable source for supplies including film, paper and chemicals is pretty important. Here in Canada, its pretty limited. If you are lucky, you may have a local store in a large metro such as Vancouver, that carries some stuff. If not, mail order it is, and depending on what you want, may be hard to come by.

For local stuff, I use Beau Photo now and then. A lot of the paper and chemicals I use they don’t carry. Now, they tell me they can special order it in, but it’ll take a month. If I need it in a week or so, that won’t really do. But they are the best source locally for the widest variety of things overall. Another option in Vancouver that still carries some stuff is Lens and Shutter on Broadway. You won’t find it on their website, but they still have some stuff in store.


Canadian mail order is not something I’ve done much. Here are some options you can try though.
The Camera Store in Calgary
Darkroom Central in Winnipeg
The Frugal Photographer in Calgary
Henry’s in Toronto


Now for myself, I live within a short hop of the border and my preferred order spot is Freestyle Photographic, down in California. Fast service and the largest selection, as well of course, good prices. A pretty good source for the more esoteric stuff too.


Other options in the US include
Photographer’s Formulary in Montana – large selection of bulk chemicals too
Digital Truth in Texas – also manufactures EcoPro environmentally friendly chemistry
Calumet Photo in Illinois


Have fun printing!

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New Lith Prints

I’ve made a set of 4 lith prints recently, as I wanted to submit them for the Vancouver Darkroom Co-op call for entry for the latest exhibit. This is the first time I’ve submitted work for a juried group exhibition and in fact, for the first exhibition at all. I’ve haven’t found yet whether they’ll be accepted, but we’ll see how it goes.

Creating a set or series of images is something that I’ve not done much and I suspect that’s the case for many photographers. Unless you have a specific project in mind, it’s not something you may think of. As an exercise, this is something I’ll be trying the next time I go shooting and you might want to think about it too. When I see something that really catches my eye, I’ll either look for similar items that I can put with it as a theme, such as close ups of flowers framed the same way or multiple shots from different angles and views of a single plant for example. Another option would be images of related items that can make a theme such as shadows or reflections. As long as you can shoot them in the same style, you can relate the images. Shooting with at least three or more images together will get you enough to at least do a triptych.

These images are of the Peter Iredale, or at least the remains, of a shipwreck on the Oregon Coast. I tried a new paper, Fomatone Classic Cream base Chamois finish paper. The fibre based paper is actually a very deep cream colour, almost a light beige. It has a nice, lightly textured finish and with the lith chemicals I use, Moersch Easy Lith, has nice subtle colours, at least for Foma paper. You’ll have to excuse the lines, my scanner is not doing too well these days.

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With ink and a brush

I just got back from a 6 day workshop on how to do bromoil prints. For those unfamiliar with this alternative process, you take a black and white image, bleach it back, then while damp use said ink and brush and carefully stipple on ink, layer after layer, and where the silver was in the image, it now takes ink proportionally, and you build back the image in ink.

It’s a wonderful process that gives you a great deal of control and creative freedom on how you create an image. Depending on softness of ink, your technique, brushes etc you can control how grainy you want the image from a coarse lithographic style to a very fine grained photograph. You control density by deciding how much ink should be deposited, and you control how much you want the highlights to stand out. Contrast is also something you control in the final image. It’s a technique that lends itself to sensitive interpretation of a subject beyond just what the camera records.

The instructor, David Lewis is one of the few remaining masters of this process and an excellent teacher. He’s also quite the character and keeps the workshop entertaining. He gives workshops primarily down in the U.S. If you are lucky, try and get in on one down in Arch Cape, Oregon.

It was gorgeous there, right down on the beach. Our host was Linda Lapp Murray, who is a wonderful lady and fantastic photographer. Arch Cape is near Cannon Beach, but a bit off the beaten path, so the weather was great, scenery gorgeous, and it was quiet and peaceful.

Here’s a few examples from the workshop as well as a couple of pictures of Arch Cape.









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Toning black and white

Many people may not realize but traditional black and white photographs are frequently processed with toning chemicals. Some cause very little colour change, perhaps only improving the contrast a little and are used mainly to increase the print’s longevity and archival qualities. Others do produce a distinct colourization of the print, from a gentle warming of the tones to a sepia brown or cold blue colour and many others as well. Toning is very much a subjective process, based in the end on how you want the print to look as much as anything else. It is another process where experimentation can yield endless results as various papers, development and toners themselves cause a myriad of responses.

Tim Rudman has written one of the most comprehensive guides to toning and this book, unfortunately has long been out of print. Lucky for us, Tim has managed to have his book reprinted and it has just been released. The Master Photographer’s Toning Book covers materials and processes in great detail.This is a limited print run, just 1000 copies and is available here from Silverprint in the UK. You can read more information at the website for the book. http://masterphotographerstoningbook.com/ Copies are selling briskly so make sure to get yours.


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