Film and Darkroom

Whenever I photograph my motivation is to shoot with black and white film. Its almost like an instinct. Film translates best for me how I feel about most subjects I want to photograph. It is authentic to me. Immersing myself in the whole syntax of traditional film photography, by processing the film and printing my work myself, I feel is essential for me.

Here is a breakdown of what I use in my process and current projects.

Film I use:

My current go to standard films of choice are Ilford FP-4 and HP5 in 35mm, medium format and 4×5″ large format. For 35mm, I load my film cassettes from 100 foot bulk rolls. That way I can load only the amount of film I want to use and this can make things easier for me. I also like to shoot with Fuji Acros and Kodak Tri-x films depending on what I’m wanting to achieve.

Processing my film:

Despite having a darkroom I find it more convenient to process my film in my kitchen at the sink. I just use an opaque film changing bag to load the film into stainless steel reels and tanks and process in daylight. Through testing I use my own developing times to process the film to my liking.

Film developers vary somewhat for me. I really like developers with long shelf lifes for economy and convenience. That said, I only process with a one-shot method, mixing only what amount of developer I need each developing session. This allows me to mix fresh chemistry each time and gives me the best possible consistency. For HP5 in smaller formats I tend to use Kodak HC-110 developer at 1:50 dilution with water. Rating HP-5 higher, for example say 1600 asa, I use Rodinal usually at 1:25 dilution. I really love the almost gritty look this combination provides.

Much of the time with Ilford FP-4 I process in an interesting developer called Obsidian Aqua created by Jay Defehr. I absolutely love this developer.  I mix it up myself from his formula as it is not commercially available. I can’t emphasize enough how great it’s shelf life is and the results I get are so clean and nuanced in tonality from highlight to shadow. The sharpness I am getting using it is just incredible to me.

Darkroom Prints:

For printing my paper of choice is Oriental Seagull VC fiber paper. I get such a great range on this paper and I really like how flexible and responsive it is to toning. I’ve found its also very resilient during processing and washing. I process this paper in scratch mixed AGFA 100 print developer or the ANSCO 130 formula. After the processing is done, and a stage in hypo clearing bath and 40 minute wash is complete, I usually finish by toning the print in a 1:35 dilution of Kodak Rapid selenium toner for 4 minutes, another stage in hypo clearing bath, then wash for another 30 minutes followed by a final bath in AGFA Sistan.

I wash my prints in a 16×20″ Summitek print washer. I’m so happy to have one of these. It’s so efficient in its water usage. Sadly, they are no longer made but if you can find one for your darkroom they are worth every penny.

Prints are enlarged onto paper using Saunders LPL 4550 enlargers with variable contrast diffusion (VCCE). I tend to print using the split grade technique and use the F-stop printing method for exposure times. I’m fortunate to have RH Designs F-stop timers to help me easily calculate my print exposures and they make each print session a joy.

I flatten and dry mount my prints using a Seal Masterpiece 500T dry mount press.

Cameras:

For my current projects I use a Canon EOS-1n and EOS-1n RS. They are very quick to use. Especially the RS with it’s fast shutter release and fixed pelicle mirror. Another film camera I carry with me is a Contax G2 rangefinder. Its small and quick and the lenses are superb.