Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Tri-x and Dektol.

Kodak Dektol developerOver on the Heretik we are reminded that the advent of CCD sensors and image-formulation algorithms have brokered a new world in image creation, and that there is a danger that, in the not too distant future, "photograph" will, in the common mind, conjure bits, pixels and monitor screens, not grain, gelatin and paper.

I haven't worked professionally in photography in more than 25 years.

For me, the love of the image was always in shades of grey and sepia, where I had control over the genesis, and did not have to relegate gestation to darkness and baths that needed to be controlled within 5 degrees of temperature.

When the market for portraits of ordinary people went to houses that did sittings in standard poses and all the image taker did was point a box and let an autowinder collect the potential image (In Bright! Honest! True! Color!) and machines imaged paper I gave it up.

Partly from frustration, and partly because, simply, the salary I could make as a computer geek was so much steadier (and bigger) than commissions from sittings, and studio owners who were so desperate to keep their salons open they cheated the craftsmen taking pictures and printing.

Soon after that I realized a love in my life might be slipping away, when I found it harder and harder to get B&W films in a casual market, rather than having to go to a camera store, and the prices posted for processing and printing of B&W outstripping the cost for standard processing of color. It made economic sense, as the deluge of standardized processing for all the major makers' color negative films, the improvements in masking to give "truer color" and the advent of good (not "great," but "good") plastic optics on inexpensive plastic cameras meant that the "economies of scale" made the commercial consumerism of color a Goliath that laughed at the grey-scaled David's sling, and brushed the stones from that sling away.

I was living in small apartments, and tutored in photography classes in exchange for darkroom time and chemistry. But I never was happy teaching color work, and that was what the majority wanted to learn. So I let it slip away, and just did family pictures and trip mementos, in color, and let machines do the realization of the latent image onto negative and paper.

I never had the patience to really work with color until I started using a digital camera. I still really don't do much except for playing with color balance and some tonal range before I tell the inkjet to fire its little droplets of dye, and it doesn't feel the same.photographic enlarger

But Black & White, ohh, in that fargone realm of past eons I would spend days in that safe-lit room, creating image after image after image.
I never really liked using gels or other artifacts during printing, using focus, exposure and the occasional "specialty" paper to bend light to my will.

I can remember one image, of a lady "of a certain age" who had such a marvelously youthful mien that was lost completely if I printed the image as taken. Eventually I used my loup to focus the sharpest I could on the film grain, and then backed-off the focus just so, and underexposed the paper just that little gradient to appease that faction of "art," and found the face that my eye had seen, and the film had hidden.

I really don't think I ever would have found the craft to be able to tease that rendering from a color negative, nor justify the cost of the missed efforts along the way.

At some point I'll actually commandeer a room in the house, box it so the dark can't escape, get an enlarger and rekindle that lust for tonal range and grey scale. But not yet.

Tri-x was a fairly sensitive (ASA 400) black and white negative film marketed to general consumers

Dektol is a chemical formulation that can be used to develop (process) both film and photographic paper

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