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.