Saturday, June 23, 2012

the five stages of photography

The five stages of the five stages of grief, but more expensive. I've experienced them many times, most recently over my pinhole exposure times. Since I started printing in the color darkroom, I've realized that all my pinhole negatives are underexposed.

Not horribly. They're fine once I scan them in and adjust the contrast. But you can't adjust the contrast with color enlargers, and my prints from them look washed out and awful.

1. Denial
This can't be right. I mean, there must be something I can do to fix these negatives that I have spent hours shooting. I will ask someone who knows more than I do, and surely they will tell me what that thing is.

Person I asked: The color enlargers have no contrast filters. It's really important to get your exposure correct in camera.

Me: But I didn't. Now what?

Person I asked: Take better pictures? 

2. Anger
But! I don't have time for this! My assignment, it is due in a mere two weeks! How will I ever reshoot and have time to print as well! This is &@#$*&#!! 

3. Bargaining
 I know what I will do! I will make digital negatives! This will totally work, even though I have never done it for color before and even though I can't find anyone else who has done it for color before because as usual I am the most insane person at my school.

4. Depression
Oh, this is a bad idea. I don't have time to figure out how brownish orange to make my digital negatives to compensate for the amount of brownish orange in film negatives; I would be color correcting them for the rest of my life instead of just the rest of the semester. I AM DOOMED.

5. Acceptance
...I will have to reshoot. It will take forever. At least one of my exposures needs to be about four hours long, and I need at least eight photos. I'd better get started.

*orders more film*
*orders more photo paper*
*puts Adorama's metaphorical kids through college*

Sunday, June 3, 2012

did it beep?

The most popular phrase in our color class: "Did it beep?" Followed by: "Did anybody hear it beep? Who was in there last?" and "Will I hear it beep?"

Oh, yes. You will hear it beep.

Because color prints have to be made in complete darkness, there is no communal darkroom. There are seven tiny ones, each with an enlarger. You go into your room, turn the lights off, fumble your paper out and onto the easel, make your exposure, and fumble your paper into a paper safe so that you can turn on the light.

At that point, you emerge from your tiny room back into the cross-traffic and noise of fifteen other people trying to get some work done and the roar of the Hope machine. You squeeze past the light table where at least three people are looking at their negatives in despair, past the daylight board, where five more are asking each other questions like: "Does that look too magenta to you?" (Yes.) You go around the Hope machine and, if the tiny room behind it is free, you ask the nearest person the eternal question: "Did it beep?"

If it beeped, you can go in, shut off the lights, and feed your paper into its maw (emulsion side down please, and lengthwise so it (hopefully) won't jam). If it hasn't beeped, it's still sucking in the previous person's photo, and you linger outside the doorway, not in the room, because if you are in the room when it beeps, you'll wish you hadn't been. Everything about the Hope machine is loud, but its beep is particularly shrill and piercing.

Once you've fed it your precious photo, you go round the other side of it and wait. And wait. And wait. It's only four and a half minutes, but the very real chance of your photo getting stuck, never to be seen again, makes it seem much longer.

Eventually, if you're lucky, it slides out, warm and dry, and drops into your hands. You look at it hopefully...and realize that not only does it need at least five more seconds of exposure and you'll have do it over...but it's also probably too magenta.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

giving the truth scope

So what's the relationship between cross-processing and A Knight's Tale, the 2001 film starring Paul Bettany's bare bottom? I mean, starring Heath Ledger and co-starring all parts of Paul Bettany, not just his bare bottom? (He says in the commentary that his "buttocks broke into American film before [he] did.")

The colors aren't quite what you might expect. Nothing about A Knight's Tale is quite what you might expect, given that it's set in the 1300s and the opening song is Queen's We Will Rock You. The music, the clothes, the shots are big and bright. It's a natural look for, say, Clueless. Not so much for something set in medieval Europe with Chaucer's buttocks in it.

Chaucer has a line in the movie: "Yes, I lied. I'm a writer. I give the truth scope." It sort of sums up the movie and, to get back to photography, sums up the colors you get from cross-processing too.

It can look strange, or hyper-real, or merely old fashioned. Color colors changes our perceptions of the world. A black and white photograph can be from almost any era, but when you see a photo from the seventies, it's not just the bowl cuts and bell bottoms that are tipping you a quarter so you can buy yourself a clue; it's the colors.

I'm sort of obsessing about this because last night was my first color photography class. This class, this semester, will probably be the last class at this school to make color prints in the darkroom. The machine that you run the prints through once you've exposed them is big, and noisy, and old and hard to repair. We're also the first people to use it in over a year. Like all non-digital aspects of photography, it seems to be fading fast.

Then again...we asked for this class. We got eight people to commit to it, which was the minimum number at which the school would agree to offer it. When I tried to sign up, the class was full. That's 16 people. I got on the waiting list and was lucky to get in at all. And that machine that runs our prints through all those lovely toxic chemicals? It's called the hope machine.

There were a lot of reasons not to take this class. There is no safe light for color prints. You expose in complete darkness, which is never my favorite aspect of darkroom work. The chemicals involved are massively more toxic than in black and white photography. On top of that, if I turn out to love this, there's a good chance that the hope machine will be shut down in the next few years, and that'll be that.

I wanted to take it because I'm just starting to realize how much I don't know about color and the way it affects us, our moods, our perceptions and judgements and expectations. It can reproduce what we see, or it can give the truth scope. I think it'll be good. I'll let you know.

Freebie: desktop background of the quote above:
"Yes, I lied. I'm a writer. I give the truth scope."
From A Knight's Tale.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

orotone failure

Remember those orotones I was going to make?

They didn't go so well.

In fact, it would be fair to say that, in terms of going anywhere, they were the Fiat* of orotones.

I went into the darkroom, I heated the Liquid Light until it stopped being Jell-o Light. There were only minor sparks when I unplugged the ancient hotpot from the equally ancient electrical outlet. Things were looking good. I coated the gelatined glass. I waited for it to dry. 

I waited. 

I waited. 

I coated paper. It dried. I made Liquid Light prints of tennis players. Here is one of Rafa Nadal. 

The glass was not dry. It was not even close to dry. And I was determined to do contact prints on the glass, which meant that, you know, there had to be contact between the glass and the negative. So it had to be completely dry. 

I was there for four hours. At the end of that time, it was beginning to be tacky instead of oozy. I weighed my options. Leave it there overnight? Someone would come in and turn the lights on and then I would have $10 worth of useless, sticky glass. 

Instead, I rigged up a sort of suspension system that would hold the negative over the glass. 


Still, I went ahead and put the gold on one of them. I shouldn't have. It made it worse. 

Here's the end result, with the two original photos for comparison, both 4x5, shot with paper negatives. 

...Next time, Gadget.


* What do you call a Fiat on a hilltop?
A miracle.

Two Fiats on a hilltop?
Science fiction.

Three Fiats on a hilltop?
A funny place to build a Fiat factory.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

fairy graffiti

Today I went for a hike that was meant to be a walk. I wouldn't say I got lost, exactly, except for not knowing where I was at several points. At all. This always happens when I go to this place. It's because they have miles and miles and miles of trails and only three types of signs. 

One of these signs directs you to Pine Hollow, the next to Meadowview, and the third to Vista Overlook. This would be sufficient if A) you ever got to any of these places and B) the signs agreed on which was which. As it was, I hiked quite a way on Meadowview, never saw a meadow, and, when I came to a crossroads, found a sign assuring me that Pine Hollow was ahead of me, behind me, and to my left. 

By that point, the only sign I wanted to see was one that read Your Car Is This Way. The thoughts uppermost in my mind were that I should've brought water and that I would die of exposure and be eaten by squirrels. 

Eventually, I met people coming the other way. We reassured each other that yes, we had each come from somewhere, and that the trail did not go on and on until it dropped off the edge of the world, or into an immense, man-eating Pine Hollow. 

Along the way, I took some pictures. 

The spiderweb has not been fiddled in Photoshop. It is genuinely rainbow colored, I suppose because of the way the light was bouncing off its strands. There was also a fabulous green spider in the middle, but I wasn't tall enough to get a good picture of it.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

cyanotypes and why they're awesome

Do you want to know why cyanotypes are awesome?

1. They are blue. I like blue. But this is like...20% of their awesomeness. Most of it is derived from point 2.

2. They wash for about 60 seconds.

If you don't spend a lot of time in the dark room, you may not realize why this is so amazing, so let me explain.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

how to make orotones (i hope)

A few weeks ago, two friends and I went to the Photo Antiquities Museum. If you live in, or near, or plan to visit Pittsburgh, you should absolutely go. I thought it would be sort of meh to be honest, but somehow they have packed SHEER AMAZINGNESS into a space barely bigger than my apartment. 

Three things in particular left me feeling as if I'd been smacked in the face with a fish, but in a good way. 

1. The bakery across the street, which has the best cookies I have ever had and would be good for luring non-photographers to accompany you to the museum.

2. The glass plate stereograms, which give such a 3D effect that you'd swear you could walk right into them. More so than 3D movies. More so than anything except real life. 

3. The orotones. I went from knowing absolutely zippo about orotones to wanting to make them in about five minutes. And, once I'd thought about it, it didn't seem like it would be that hard. 

From the wikipedia entry:
An orotone photograph is created by printing a positive on a glass plate precoated with a silver gelatin emulsion. Following exposure and development, the emulsion is coated with banana oil impregnated with gold colored pigment, to yield a gold-toned image.

Which is all true, but doesn't really capture the result, which is a glittering depth that is almost-but-not-really 3D and makes you feel like you're looking into something rather than merely at it. The man giving the tour compared it to the depth you get with a glittery paint on a car, which is accurate, if less poetic than I'd like.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

how to wash your werewolf

Me: That truck says warewash.

Mom: Like silverware?

Me: I was hoping it was like...were-wash. For your werewolf. Or whatever kind of were you have.

Mom: Half price for were-mice? They can really bite though.

Me: They can't bite your hand off.

Mom: True. They should charge danger money for anything big enough to eat you.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

rafa nadal and liquid light

I went to the Miami Open this year, and was lucky enough to see Rafa Nadal practicing. There was a lot of skulking and stalking that led up to this happy event, and a lot of standing around in the hot hot sun with a chain link fence imprinting itself into my pelvis as 20,000 avid Rafa fans tried to get closer to him by slowly crushing me to death. Totally worth it.

I did not manage to get an autograph as he left without signing when Roger Federer showed up, but that was fine, because ROGER FEDERER. I did, however, get some photos.

Today I printed Rafa for the first time, and with Liquid Light for the first time. Here is the result, lying on a drying screen. Not bad.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

what not to do with liquid light

Liquid Light is like Jell-o. Light-sensitive Jell-o. Jell-o that you paint on paper or pottery or china or masks or eggs or probably even skin (don't; I'm pretty sure it's not good for you) and use to make photos.

You could also put it on eggs.

Or rocks.

Or wood.

Pretty much anything really. Not your cat. Even if your cat is patient enough to let you try. (If your cat is patient enough to let you try, you should probably look into getting your cat on TV because your cat is a very special animal.)

So you get this black bottle in the mail from Amazon or Freestyle or Adorama. To get it out of the bottle, you need to heat it up, because Jell-o is not pourable.

Do: sit your bottle of Liquid Light in a hot water bath to transform it from wobbly-but-solid to gloopy-but-liquid.

DO NOT: unless you're heating your Liquid Light in a darkroom with a safelight, do not open the bottle of light-sensitive material to see how that's going.

Just saying.

(No, I didn't, actually. But it was thisclose.)