“An inner process stands in need of outward criteria”
– Ludwig Wittgenstein. Philosophical Investigations 1:58
2016 was the year I started developing black and white film. Happy to say I’ve had some great results, or at least results I am genuinely happy to call my own. The problem is that some have been far worse, really my results seem patchy and there were often too many careless variables to pinpoint what the problem was. Temperature, measurements of volume, etc. Largely I feel this was due to a hurried and means-to-an-end approach to developing. I was developing partly out of interest but also largely for cost and convenience. So, here on it is development pour la development (and obviously the resulting images!). Importantly, I want my developing to feel an integral part of producing images not a step I just have to go through to get to the end result.
The reason for this focus and reflection are ostensibly the result of one roll I shot in the lastmonth of 2016. I will call this roll ‘roll zero’ as it is both the impetus and a sort of prequel to the planned mini-project ahead.
Roll Zero: A local park, accompanied by my son Dylan, pocketing a Nikon L35AF, yellow filtered and loaded with Ilford FP4+. A fine, brisk winters day: the sun was bright, the air was cool, breezeless and easy on the lungs. I’d noticed the low winter light falling almost horizontally on the trees and buildings. The trees especially had a nice gradual but wide tonal range that I hoped to capture on what had become a favourite film of mine.
With a point and shoot camera, no working knowledge of the zone system, but still wanting capture shadow detail as well as highlights i was slightly at a loss of what to do. I had heard the mantra ‘meter for the shadows, develop for the highlights.‘. However, using a point and shoot I was fairly limited on the metering front (and in hindsight I figure that maybe I should have adjusted the EI for those shots to compensate) but I tried to “focus” the centre of the viewfinder on the darker aspects of the scene hoping the meter would adjust accordingly. I shot most of a roll with my son, in between swings, climbing and a huge amount of running. Dylan can pretty much run non-stop if given the chance.
I had determined to be more systematic and careful with the development, hoping the resulting pictures would replicate those in my mind’s eye. To develop I used the times given on the Massive Development Chart for Rodinal 1:50 for FP4 shot at 125 as a starting point but then reduced it by 10% in an attempt to save some of the highlights. I didn’t want to reduce it more than that as I didn’t really know what the auto-exposure had done. So I threw it in the tank for 13:30 with about 3 careful inversions every minute (less than my usual 4 to try to reduce grain). Timed, stopped and fixed, washed, photo-flo’ed, microfibre-squeegeed and hung it in the bathroom for 4-5 hours, then scanned.
Now, whether the results are objectively that good, I am neither experienced nor competent enough to say. However, I am really happy with them and herein lies both my raison d’etre for shooting what I will shoot this next year as well as the modus operandi for it: Ilford FP4+ at 125, yellow filter, developed in Rodinal 1:50. I’ll swap the Nikon for the Olympus 35 SP, more exposure control and a built in spot meter.
It is modest (or realistic, or pathetic – you choose) but my goal is (amongst whatever else I shoot that month) to shoot a roll, develop, scan and reflect each month. Each time FP4 (probably) at 125 with yellow filter in Rodinal 1:50, focussing on improving my exposure and development. In the meanwhile I will read into exposure, the zone system etc. etc. and adapt as and when necessary.
Why then am I sharing this mundane and uninspired goal? Well in a nutshell it is to establish it, to publish it in order to add a sort of pressure on myself and accountability to a real or fictional audience – “An inner process stands in need of outward criteria”, I know it’s not enough for me to just decide this, I need to provide the proof of what I am doing regardless. Just the existence of this (I hope) is sufficient to spur me on. I do honestly hope someone joys or gets something out of this, especially as I have gained and benefitted so very much from an amazing online film-photography community, that it would be nice to feel that I could give something back.
So from January through to December I will shoot, develop, scan, write about and share at least one roll.
A Final Note: this whole mini-project is meant to be reflective and the aim is to improve, so any and all honest feedback is welcomed. If I get something wrong, please correct me, if I have bodged a development/scan, let me know!
Anyway, here are some more shots from Roll Zero: