General

Using Glass Negative Carriers

Wrapping up my marathon printing session (see last week’s entry) made me think about how much I enjoy using my Devere 4×5 enlarger for a range of negative sizes. One of the key features for me is the option for using glass negative carriers.

Many years ago, like most people, I used glassless negative carriers in my enlargers, but I eventually came across a very fine book called the “Edge of Darkness” by the late Barry Thornton. One of the things he discussed was the importance of using glass negative carriers along with other measures (such as proper enlarger alignment) to ensure the sharpest image possible when printing. What’s important is that he provided sound reasoning and solid proof concerning their benefits.

Thornton asked why go to the expense of having a top-flight enlarging lens if your negative is not perfectly flat? But what about dust that lands on the glass surfaces? No big deal. What little dust happens to be on the glass is easily dusted off. The real dust attractor according to Thornton was the film itself, and he was right!

Once I read about this I immediately tracked down a special Devere “master” glassless carrier holder that would accept two pieces of glass. Then I purchased anti-newton ring glass to use for the top piece and several clear pieces of glass for the bottom. On each one I taped a black paper mask with a format window cutout in the middle. So when I print 35mm I use the 35mm masked piece of glass. 6×7 has its own masked piece of glass, and so on. That’s just the way it worked out with this particular enlarger. Other enlarger’s may allow better or more elegant solutions, but I would never trade my Devere!

Once I went to glass I never looked back and I am certain I am getting the most out of my Schneider Componon HM enlarging lenses and making the sharpest prints I can.

My other enlarger is a beautiful Leitz Focomat V35 dedicated 35mm autofocus machine that I purchased after I bought the Devere. The same people that brought you Leica cameras made it. Enough said! One of its best features besides the exquisite Focotar-2 lens is that beautiful little negative carrier. It has an anti-newton ring glass top plate and a glassless bottom plate with containing the 35mm cutout.

Given a choice, I would never own an enlarger that does not provide an option for glass carriers, or that doesn’t have the ability to be retrofitted for them.

If you are currently using glassless carriers I recommend doing your own research on this subject and look into the possibility of getting glass. And if you are getting ready to take the darkroom plunge and are considering purchasing an enlarger, then I would definitely get one that can use glass.

Happy printing!

Mini Review: Arista EDU Ultra Glossy FB VC Paper (aka Fomabrom Variant III) – Part 2

As a rule I don’t enjoy doing marathon-printing sessions, but I have a show coming up during February and was just was asked if I wanted to do one nearby in Philadelphia … in two weeks. I was going to handle the February printing, mounting and matting requirements in an orderly and leisurely fashion, but that wasn’t possible for the Philly opportunity. So I needed to get moving, and fast!

I had tried some more of the Fomabrom Variant III but didn’t have enough to be on the safe side. I decided to order 200 sheets of rebadged Arista EDU Ultra and give it another chance. As you may recall I loved the paper, but one serious problem … the emulsion occasionally peeled off the edges of the paper while in the developer (see Part 1)!!! Going back to the Fomabrom paper, I noticed this happened a few times too. Trouble is I really liked both papers very much, including how they looked when selenium toned.   In the worst case I could go back to the Fomabrom.

So how did it go? No problem through the initial development, stop, fix, rinse, first wash and dry cycle, although several prints exhibited scratches on the print surface. My normal procedure is to stop at this point, then when I have a enough prints to tone I do a water pre-soak, then fix again with pure hypo, selenium tone, hypo clear and do a final wash prior to drying. However, just when I thought it was safe, the icky molting of emulsion re-emerged on the edges of several prints during the hypo and selenium toning steps. Yuck! I always make 4 prints of a particular image to sell and to have just in case there’s a disaster of some kind. And sure enough one print was ruined as the pealing went into the image itself.

Conclusion: I don’t know if the peeling is due in part or exacerbated by having several prints in solution that require constant shuffling. I’m not really sure that should matter. For me to do one print at a time would take forever and I shouldn’t have to do that. So I’m not sure if there are emulsion quality control issues but I want this paper to work. Maybe I will go back to Fomabrom. The problem is that it costs $27.00 more for a 100-sheet box of 8×10 and that adds up quickly. Bottom line: I think it’s critical to be as careful as possible when handling these papers in solution. While capable of beautiful results, their emulsions are delicate!

One Day Black and White Darkroom and Fine Print Boot Camp With Michael Marks 2017 – 2018 Schedule

I am excited to offer the One Day Black and White Fine Print Boot Camp, a fun but intense day of activity designed to quickly and efficiently provide participants with the knowledge and tools necessary make great black and white prints in the darkroom. The workshop will provide a unique experience in a friendly and supportive environment for photographers of all skill levels who wish to make satisfying images using black and white film, traditionally printed on silver gelatin paper to the highest archival standards. The workshop will benefit beginners, as well as advanced students looking for a refresher or new approaches to improve existing skills.

I know that there is a lot of mystery and disinformation about traditional darkroom processes, equipment requirements and the difficulty of producing gorgeous black and white prints. The secret is that it really is not difficult at all and equipment requirements are not onerous.

We will kick off with a constructive evaluation of participants’ prints, participant description of original concept, objective, approach taken, equipment, materials and methods used, and finally printing methodology and procedures employed, along with participant discussion concerning alternative approaches or possible changes in emphasis that could be considered.

This will be followed by a tour of my Workroom and Darkroom, along with an in-depth discussion of equipment, materials, chemistry and other considerations for making Fine Prints. We will then discuss the importance of proper negative storage and making of proof sheets.

Next, I will demonstrate how to easily create handcrafted black and white prints with a minimum of difficulty — and no mystery. We will start by looking at proof sheets. Then we will select one of my negatives to print, determine proper printing exposure time for high values and paper contrast for low values. We will establish and follow repeatable steps to arrive at the final “fine print” as quickly and easily as possible, including application of burning and dodging procedures and use of selenium toner for subtle tonal shift and archival permanence in the final product. Workshop participants will work with the same negative I used to obtain the same results. Finally, I will also demonstrate how to spot, mount and mat the finished print, as well as discuss other considerations including overmatting and framing.

The result is that participants will be able to leave with the knowledge and confidence necessary to be able to print and display meaningful personal images back at home.

Attendees can bring up to three prints for instructor review. Be prepared to learn a lot and have fun!

Workshop Dates:

November 4, 2017 (8:30am – 5pm)

December 9, 2017 (8:30am – 5pm)

February 10, 2018 (8:30am – 5pm)

April 14, 2018 (8:30am – 5pm)

June 9, 2018 (8:30am – 5pm)

August 11, 2018 (8:30am – 5pm)

October 6, 2018 (8:30am – 5pm)

December 1, 2018 (8:30am – 5pm) 

Workshop Fee: $250  

Personal One Day Workshops are also available for $350 (for one person)

The deposit for each workshop is $100. Final payment is requested 3 weeks prior to the start of the workshop. The deposit is non-refundable. If a workshop is cancelled for any reason, your deposit will be returned in full.

Please contact me by email or phone to reserve a spot or discuss these workshops.

info@michaelmarksphoto.com           (215)-348-9171

Make Photographs That Matter … To You

Do you make photographs that matter to you or do you just take pictures?

I really think you’re missing the boat when you are out and about, just snapping away willy-nilly, as often happens when using digital cameras … or you feel you must take that shot because you just have to come back with something.

Now I seem to be making less photographs and I probably print less than most. Not because I have lost interest. If anything, I think I have more interest than I have ever had before. I think what has changed over time is that I only want to make photographs that I feel a real connection with, be it a single picture or one that is part of a larger project. In other words, I want to make photographs that matter to me. Which means I really don’t care if they matter to anyone else, although if they are liked by others that’s fine. Affirmation is not the driver. What is important is that they matter to me. If not, what’s the point?

When you make photographs that matter to you I think they are more personal and therefore more powerful. After all if there’s a real connection between the photographer and the subject matter doesn’t that translate into stronger images, or at a minimum images that are truly more meaningful to the photographer? I am certain the answer is yes … more strong images and/or more personally meaningful images. The result … more keepers. And with that all sorts of good things happen, from making better photographs more often to making photographs that have a real positive and meaningful impact on your life … often in non-photographic ways!

The picture of my Aunt Anna means a lot to me. Growing up, I didn’t live near her or my grandparents in Watertown, NY, but I had many fond memories of my visits to her old home that she and her eight brothers and sisters (including my dad) grew up in. It always felt the same, with time seeming to stand still. Same house that needed to be painted, same furniture, same pictures on the wall, same knickknacks on the furniture, same snoring at night, same kitchen and the same pancakes that were clearly the best ever! There was one thing for which time just wouldn’t sit still, and that was all of us. I had a young family and much to look forward to, but my aunt’s best days were in her rear view mirror.

That summer I brought my family to visit her and my two other aunt’s still living in Watertown. I asked her to sit in her kitchen next her wonderful old stove that yielded all those great pancakes over the years. It’s one of my favorite photographs and one of those that mean the most to me. I also think it is one of my better photographs.

I never saw Aunt Anna again. She passed away not too long after our visit, but I have a beautiful photograph to remember that last fine day we spent together, and the other little things that really matter in life.

Be rewarded … make photographs that matter to you.

Should You Only Look at Beautifully Printed Books?

A couple of weeks ago I visited the Doylestown Public Library. Whenever I’m there I take a look at the photography section to see if there is anything I should borrow. This time I found books by Paula Chamlee, Manuel Álvarez Bravo and Bill Brandt. Well, I finally got around to sitting down and looking at them the other day and the experience made me think about something beyond the actual merits of the photographs themselves. I wondered if low reproduction quality prevents people from enjoying great work and learning from it.

Most monographs produced in the last twenty or thirty years are very high quality, from the resolution and tonality of the images, to the paper used to in making the books. In fact some are so beautiful that it is easy to get drawn in more by the technical quality then the aesthetic quality of the images themselves. I think this particularly true in the case of black and white photography. It is a phenomenon similar to listening to well-produced vinyl records on a high quality stereo system. Sometimes it’s easy to skip wonderful music and great performances if they aren’t of audiophile quality. What a shame!

Back to these great books. All three are wonderful, containing great images by formidable photographers. One book is printed beautifully, the other two are not in the same league. Paula Chamlee is an 8×10 photographer who only makes contact prints. Her work is exquisite and reproduced in the finest quality. The reproduction quality of the Brandt book was OK and the Álvarez Bravo a little bit better. Many of the Brandt images were further handicapped because they were printed in high contrast, so combined with average reproduction … well you get the picture (no pun intended!).

To me the collection of images contained in the rather large Brandt book are the most powerful, but like a great Beethoven performance pressed on budget vinyl that you start listening to, only to lift off the needle and put on something else, it may be easy to casually flip through these pages quickly and decide you’ve had enough. In both cases you are missing out on being exposed (again, no pun … I can’t help myself!) to masterpieces.

Please do not make this terrible and shortsighted mistake. There are many wonderful photographic monographs by the great masters readily available at your library, used bookstore or online. Don’t be dissuaded by worn covers or lower production values. To do so would handicap your efforts to become a better photographer. In short, don’t overlook these gems. And when you find them take the time to study the wonderful and powerful images they contain. You won’t be sorry!

August Photo Chat Get-Together

Time to get together again to discuss our photographs with the ever-expanding group!

Yes, how about joining us and getting together to chat about our photographs and the stories behind them. What was your intent in making the photograph, what were you trying to say, was it a success? If you made your print, were there any particular challenges involved?

This is not a discussion focused on gear — the idea is to share insights, get constructive feedback, learn a few things, relax and make new friends!

Well, if this sounds interesting and fun, how about joining me in beautiful downtown Doylestown, PA, in the heart of scenic Bucks County, and we will get together over a cup of coffee.

Photographers of all levels are welcome.

Bring only a couple of prints to discuss. Obviously the prints should be Black and White and should be film based!

The get together will be on Sunday, August 27th, 10:00-11:30am at the Zen Den coffee shop, located on ‪20 Donaldson Street, Doylestown, PA 18901.

Email or call me at 215-348-9171 if you are interested. First come first serve!

I look forward to meeting you!

The Zone VI Compensating Development Timer and Why It Is The Most Brilliant Darkroom Tool Ever Created

The standard temperature for most film and paper developers is 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Of course you can use slightly higher or lower temperatures and adjust development time accordingly. However, it is often difficult to control developer temperature, if only because of the time of year you happen to be in your darkroom!

I know a lot of people don’t think this is a very big deal, but I do. I want the mechanical processes I do in the darkroom to be consistent and fully repeatable and not something I have to think much about. Why create variables to worry about when you don’t have to? Trust me, repeatability and consistency is what really we want for non-creative darkroom tasks!

So let’s say you’re developing duplicate of the print you made last fall using your standard development time of 2 minutes. It’s summertime and the outside temperature is in the upper Eighties. The temperature in your darkroom is around 73 degrees and you can’t get the temperature of the water used to dilute your developer stock solution much below that (Note: Maybe some of you are lucky to have your darkroom located on a main floor of your house, but most people I know have them in their basement, or even attic, where temperatures are not well controlled). Ok, you can adjust your time for the new developer temperature or you can throw some ice cubes in the water used to mix the solution. No problem … right? Well, maybe not, because putting your hands in the tray to agitate your print(s) causes the temperature to rise. Furthermore, your developer temperature will start to climb based on the room temperature.

Now it’s winter and the outside temperature is 28 degrees. The temperature in your darkroom is in the low Sixties at best. No problem getting the water to 68 degrees, but soon the temperature of your solution is going to start to drop even with the heat coming from you hands. I have measured temperatures of my print developer as low as the Fifties!

If you kept a print recipe and followed it (something to be discussed another time), it’s no wonder that the original print you made in the fall looks different … and better … then the ones made in the summer or winter if produced under the conditions described above. Why? Because you have no clue what your temperature really is at different times during your standard 2 minutes of development.   No problem, you say … just go ahead and do a new test strip whenever you make a print. Well, go ahead and knock yourself out. Or maybe you never make another print of something you have done previously. I guess I don’t know how to respond to that one.

Wouldn’t it be much nicer if the print you made in the summer or winter looked exactly like the one you originally made in the fall? Ah … yes!

OK, now let’s talk about film. Same deal as developing your prints. Whether you are developing sheet film in trays or roll film in tanks with manual agitation, or even when using Jobo processors with temperature control units, it can be difficult to establish and maintain temperature control.

What to do? For over 30 years I have used the Zone VI Compensating Development Timer and in my humble opinion it is the most brilliant darkroom tool ever created! Why? Simple … it’s digital timer with a sensor attachment that is placed in your print (or sheet film) developer tray, or in a water bath of the same temperature as the developer in your film development tank. The sensor continuously transmits the “real” temperature of the liquid to the timer, which continuously compensates each second of counted time. The timer also has a foot switch that makes life even easier. So let’s say your standard development time for prints is 2 minutes at 68 degrees, and for film it’s 5.5 minutes. First you select the “Paper” setting on the front of the timer (there are two other settings for “Film” and “Real Time”). Now you place your sheet of paper in the developer tray and step on the foot switch to start the timer. But the “real” developer temperature is only 63 degrees … not 68. Guess what happens! The duration of time for each second counted off (both visually and audibly) actually becomes longer to compensate for the colder solution!!! If the developer happens to be 78 degrees, the duration of time for each second counted off is shorter than normal.

The digital readout on the timer shows 2 minutes of compensated time regardless of how much actual time has elapsed. It could be 1 minute and 55 seconds, or 2 minutes and 10 seconds depending on the temperature of the solution. IT DOESN’T MATTER! I smugly remove the print when the timer says 2 minutes of temperature compensated time has elapsed. Simply brilliant!!!

Unfortunately these wonderful devices are no longer manufactured. However, they are available occasionally on eBay, but can be somewhat expensive. I recently saw one for a good price and purchased it as a backup just in case mine were to die someday. Honestly, I could not live without one of these marvelous devices.   So what if you can’t find one on eBay, APUG or Craigslist? No worries apparently. A software-based solution that comes with a temperature probe is available. It is called CompnTemp and sells for $85. I cannot vouch for the product but it appears to be highly regarded. Finally, RH Designs manufactures a compensating timer called the Process Master II that sells for 219 British pounds. Based on the manufacturer’s description it appears to accomplish what the Zone VI timer does with more programmable features.

I can only speak for the Zone VI timer, which is an utterly simple … and in my experience … bulletproof device that does what it is designed to do with perfection. You can be patient and one will turn up, or look into the other two options.

In any case, make this investment and lower your darkroom frustration level forever!!

Success

A have another passion … listening to music … on vinyl records. That’s right. And I am a tube lover too! Probably not surprising that I don’t own a CD player either. Hum … black and white film photography, vinyl and tubes. Perhaps there’s a pattern here! Well in any case I was driving in my car on a recent Sunday. I had decided to blow much of the day by going to a camera show located an hour and a half away at a small fire hall in Jersey, not far from NYC, and then completely in the other direction to a used record store near Camden, just over the Ben Franklin bridge from Philly. Makes sense … right?

Both pretty much ended up being duds and I used up well over a half a tank of gas, not to mention all the tolls I paid.   But it turned out that there was a silver lining in of this running around. Flicking through the channels on the car radio I happened on an NPR broadcast that focused on subjects covered by the always interesting and sometimes-profound TED Talks. The subject of this particular show was Success. The host was interviewing several very successful guests and played portions of TED Talks they had given related to the topic.

So things worked out well. I was able to listen to most of the show in between stops and I think I was able to grab some very useful snippets that are relevant to photography and life in general. Here are a few that I foolishly jotted down on my note pad while driving (something I don’t recommend others do!)

First, it is essential to discover what you are passionate about, find out what you need to do in order to make that happen and never settle for something less.

Second, grit is the willingness to complete long-term goals. It requires perseverance, the determination not to give up despite setbacks, and the drive to finish what you begin.

Finally, one of the guests brought up the matter of envy, as something many have when confronted by others (like you) having more talent, vision and drive then they possess. In other words, they are jealous and view you as a threat to their own situation or standing, or just don’t want to be of any help. Sound familiar? I never had thought about this particular point, but once I heard it and let it sink in for awhile, it dawned on me how often it had manifested itself with others I had come in contact with in my professional and photographic lives.

So what does this have to do with success, our endeavors to be creative photographers and our desire to express ourselves in meaningful ways? Everything!

First of all, we need to assume that there are many who we will come in contact with that unwilling to find the time of day to give helpful advise and support or just will not do it because in some strange way you are jeopardizing their position or standing. They don’t want you to be successful or they just don’t want to help you in any meaningful way. The result is the same. But, don’t worry; most of those folks are useless anyway. Keep working. Find the unselfish few out there that truly want to share their knowledge and pay it forward with the advice they once were given. Great people are not selfish or threatened by others. And they are willing take a moment when asked. Go out of your way to find them and nurture those relationships. Having them will support your success.

But in the end, to be successful in our photographic lives – by those measures that really matter us – we need to discover what we are passionate about and not let roadblocks thrown up by others, or those we create ourselves … like failing to learning our craft, settling for less, or just not finding the time to go out and make photographs … get in the way of achieving our goals.