The late seventies.
I’m at the photography school and we are all highly motivated. A whole new world opens itself. Art, creativity and some of us, still young sharks, dream of being famous and rich already.
This is the era of David Hamilton with his soft-focus erotic and landscape photographs. Calendars and posters with his photographs are sold everywhere and his first movie, Bilitis (1977), is omnipresent in movie theaters.
I am not particular fond of his work though. For me they are just nice looking postcards, empty and soulless. His photographs don’t touch me, don’t arouse me either.
I am 18 and like many youngsters I lack self-confidence and I have no luck with the girls.
I have discovered another photographer and become a huge fan of his work. His photography touches me and some wake up the same emotions, the same arousal I experienced when I saw the French movie Histoire d’O (1975) when I was 16. I cannot label these excitements yet and sometimes I think I may be a little abnormal.
While my friends enjoy Playboy or Hustler of even dirty magazines, sold in secret, I buy Vogue and the like’s and search photographs of my hero.
His name? Helmut Newton.
January 23, 2004.
It is only a small article in our local newspaper but I am deeply saddened. Helmut Newton’s car speds out of control and hits a wall in the driveway of the famous Chateau Marmont Hotel in Los Angeles, his residence for the past few years. He dies shortly after.
I am still a huge fan and understand much better what it was, still is, that attracts me so much in his images. It is his particular style marked by erotic, stylized scenes often with sado-masochistic and fetishistic subtexts. Over the years I have discovered other photographers whom create this type of photography like Roy Stuart, Barbara Nitke and others.
Well, maybe except for Araki. I really like his erotic and bondage photography.
A few days ago I sold my Nikonos IV-A, an underwater camera. I haven’t used it in ages, it was simply gathering dust.
I was thinking of getting some Canson Infinity Rag Photographique with the dough I got from the camera. It is my favorite paper for black and white.
My photographs I have hanging in my apartment do not represent me anymore. I want to hang more recent work.
Then I received a newsletter from Taschen informing the subscribers of a reprint of Us and Them. It is an ode to partnership and art and first published in 1999. Us and Them gathers photographs by Helmut Newton and his wife, the actress and photographer June Newton, who worked under the pseudonym Alice Springs.
Taschen is well-known for their high quality and very reasonable priced art-books. I didn’t think twice and ordered the book and added Mrs. Newton also to the shopping cart. In this book June Newton, renowned under her photographic pseudonym Alice Springs, takes the reader on an extraordinary journey from her childhood in Australia, via work and travels with her husband, Helmut Newton, to life today in LA and Monaco.
I’m hoping to have the books very soon, hell, I can hardly wait.
I’ll do a small review on both books very soon now.
Yesterday, Wednesday morning, I did something I hadn’t done in years.
I developed a black and white film!
I searched the Internet for the development time of an Ilford Delta using Kodak’s TMax film developer. I had no idea if the film would be exposed correctly so I settled for 8 minutes at 21°C with a 1+4 mixture.
Then I prepared the 300ml of developer, a recipient with 1+1 vinegar and water and 300 ml 1+4 fixing liquid.
After rinsing the dust covered Paterson film developing tank I set everything ready in the bathroom and gave the tank, scissors and film I had retrieved from the camera a place so I could find everything in the dark.
Out went the light and I started moving the reel to get the film on it. To my big surprise it was easy and I hadn’t forgotten how to do it. After closing the tank I switched on the light and walked to the kitchen.
I set my iPhone’s timer to 8 minutes, filled the developing tank and turned it around every 1 minute, putting it down with a harsh tap to remove the air bubbles that could have settled on the film.
After 8 minutes I emptied the tank, filled it with the diluted vinegar and after moving the tank for 45″ I replaced the stop bath with the fixing solution.
Six minutes later I drained the tank once again but before starting the rinsing process I wanted to see if the film was well developed.
I felt immensely excited when I opened the tank.
Wow, at first glance the negatives seemed perfect and well developed and showed a correct density.
I rinsed the film for about 5 minutes and then added a few drops of Agepon wetting agent to prevent water drops staying on the film and create spots while drying.
It is almost noon and the film is drying in the bathroom.
I am still so excited and cannot wait to start scanning the negatives.
*** *** ***
The bigger part of the afternoon I spend watching The Social Network, a biopic about a Jewish nerd who hates nipples and founded Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg and taking a nap.
I find the negatives a little too dense. Or I overdeveloped the film or it was slightly over-exposed, maybe by about 0,7 EV. The battery could have caused the latter. Originally the Olympus OM-1n took a 1,36 Volt mercury battery but they are banned due to environment issues and there is no replacement except the ones that are sold by Wein on eBay. In my Olympus is a 1,5 Volt battery so that could be the reason why the exposure was a little over the top.
I loaded my second film, an Ilford FP4, and set the light meter to 160 ISO instead of 125 ISO so we’ll see.
It seems there is an issue with the scanner software too. Scanning 6 negs is not a problem but when I eject them and load 6 new ones the preview totally screws up. I’ll try to figure this one out later on before opening a support ticket at Silverfast.com. Note. After rebooting my iMac the problem went away.
I also have the impression that activating the ICE option (dust & scratch removal) does not make the scanner happy albeit it is hardware supported. The final scan resembles nothing and reminds me on how the world looks after enjoying a few magic mushrooms.
Anyway, as the negs are fresh and I take care of them I haven’t a real issue with dust and other imperfections so the lack of ICE is not an issue.
The lack of EXIF-data is something that really troubles me. Obviously information on date, time and camera settings are not available so I have to take notes or say something in my iPhone each time I take an image.
Yes, this is going to trouble me as I keep all my images sorted on date. I do not care that much about the camera settings though, but date and time are very important to me. I guess I’ll have to skip the time notion and I hate the idea. I know my Princess is smiling now when she reads this…
The guy who sold me the Olympus also gave me a Vivitar 85-205mm f3,5 zoom lens to test. It is a heavy lens and it is mine for 25 Euro. A no-brainer if you ask me even if I’ll never use it wide-open as I guess it will be way to soft. But at f8 it is a very sharp lens.
So I developed a film.
The first results?
Really, they are incredible.
This is real black and white and not some Photoshop (plugin) substitute.
I love the discrete grain, the organic look and its large dynamic range. At the moment I am not looking for Kodak Tri-X or Ilford HP5 high-speed film drama. The 100 ISO suits me well as it slows down everything I want to do.
This is what I want to achieve.
Imagine visiting a new place, landscape or abandoned site, whatever, and walk around being limited to only 36 images. Hell, let us take the battery away from the camera too so you’ll have to work with a hand-held light meter.
You’ll have to change the way you look and if you find something you want to photograph you’ll have to suck it in before pressing the shutter button. You will have to consider light and other technical aspects because you have only 36 frames. You’ll have to slow down. You’ll have to look and observe.
No shooting like a madman and browsing through 500 shots in the evening. No chimping or, if you are an experienced digital photog, analysing the histogram.
When you press the shutter you must be 100% sure you have it right.
When you drive back home you’ll feel excited and you’ll enjoy the anticipation and pleasure while developing the film, waiting for it to dry before you can scan it and see what you have created.
This is photography in its purest form and a craft forgotten by most of us.
It is something I want to find again, to experience and see as pleasure and art and not as something tedious I had to do so many years ago in order to get my degree in photography.
I want to take my time and see and observer before I take an image. I want to be Zen and in balance with what I see when I press the shutter button.
Also I want to stick to one type of film.
Back in my schooldays my film was Ilford’s HP5. I did not need a light meter to nail the exposure. My eyes looked at a scene and my brain knew what the film needed.
I could develop this film with pee if needed and drunk, stoned or both I knew the exact time and mixtures for almost every mainstream developing product to get 100% perfect negatives.
Yeah, I know, I was a nerd back then.
But guess what, the nerds get the best chicks, albeit I had to wait some 35 years for mine to fall in my bed.
No, I am not going to throw away my digital Olympus and prime lenses. Don’t forget, I am a very lazy person. But my digital micro four thirds Olympus cannot deliver what a full frame can.
At f1,8 the depth of field is very shallow and the bokeh is simply delicious. I paid 40 euro for this kit. A Nikon D600 and a f1,8 lens would set me back at least 1500 euro but it would make taking photographs easy. It would be a no-brainer but one I cannot afford.
Buying a D600 is not a problem. Buying the glass that goes with it is though. And it becomes even more an issue with a Nikon D800 as 36 megapixels needs lenses that can deliver in resolving power. Yet we all fall on our knees when we see, for example, images made by Magnum accredited photographers.
René Burri, my all time favourite Henri Cartier-Bresson, hell even Ansell Adams. Or my even bigger favourite and inventor of the so-called porno chique Helmut Newton did it all with film.
You buy art?
You buy what you like and not because it was made with a 6,000 $ Leica.
Less is more. Art is what the heart of the viewer feels. That is not necessarily what the artist wanted to express.