Green Sea, Ben Dolman 2013

Over the past couple of weeks I have been developing and scanning film that I had taken over the past 4-5 months that has been documented in the last three posts. The last colour negatives to be developed were ten 8x10 inch negatives that are from the past year from the beginning of late summer 2012. I have attempted to develop 8x10 colour negatives in the past with mixed results due to technical errors in the developing stage of the processing, there was an unevenness in the distribution of developer that led to colour casting across the film, some issues could be fixed in digital post processing but this was undesirable, it is always best to start with a clean well processed negative before taking it into the digital or analogue darkroom. This issue has now been rectified through the acquisition of a second-hand Jobo CPP2 film processor that can accommodate large Jobo Expert film drums for the processing of large format film and rotate them at the correct speed. A five minute pre-wash cycle has been added to make sure the film is at the correct temperature and help with the flow of developer and wide neck chemical bottles are now used that can dispense the developer quickly and evenly to the film. Colour negative processing requires precise timing and exact temperature control that is now delivered by Jobo processor and drum setup, the other important elements to film processing is practice and experience, I processed over a hundred 4x5 films before taking on the processing of 8x10 films again.
Now that I have as near as perfect 8x10 colour negative the next issue I hit was scanning the film to bring it into a digital workflow and this issue has been ongoing for the past two years. Certain film stock is very shinny on both sides of the film which is an issue when you try and scan it on a flat bed scanner as the refraction between the glass and the film causes newton rings, if you have never seen newton rings before they look like ripples on a pond or strange finger prints that mar the image and render it unsatisfactory and sometimes useless. To overcome newton rings some people use anti-newton glass and attached the film to it suspended above the glass scanning surface, something I was going to look at but due to the recent flood at work it destroyed the Epson V750 scanner I was going to experiment with. The other options to overcome newton rings is to use wet mounting that is employed in high end drum and flatbed scanners, this process is highly skilled, expensive and the equipment is now hard to come by since the advent of digital photography, there are some who still offer a scanning service but like processing and scanning of the film myself, to do the whole analogue to digital process workflow to final print output as it just as important to me as taking a photograph, I cannot farm part of the workflow out to another person, I am a control freak.

In the second year of my part time MA in Photography my intention was to primarily use 8x10 large format photography but I was stuck and getting frustrated by the scanner impasse in the workflow. I have not used the 8x10 camera for the past couple of months as I was unsure I could make use of the photographs made on it and instead I used a 4x5 large format camera which I could digitalise and bring into the digital darkroom. I really like using 4x5 but my first love was 8x10 and it will always be, I was introduced to 8x10 before 4x5 which is not the normal learning route and being spoilt by the images 8x10 made 4x5 has ever since felt lesser which is unkind but for me true. When I was a painter once you have used Old Holland oil paint or Golden acrylics one has great difficultly using the typical off the shelf paint that was full of filler, the colour purity of the pigment and consistency of high quality hand made paint was a joy to work with, in my case I went further and made my own paint, again the process was just as important to the actual painting. Having a high level and skill and using the best materials and processes be it in photography or painting does not make for a more interesting or ‘better’ image but for me it make the experience of making more rewarding and enjoyable.

Coming back to the scanning newton ring issue when I scan 4x5 film I use a Flextight X5 virtual drum scanner at work, this is an expensive and high end scanner that produces stunning results but the interesting thing about it is that it is glassless and having no contact with a glass surface gives you no newton rings. This got me thinking and I wondered if there are any other glassless scanners and after a bit of research I happened upon the Microtek ScanMaker range that has been around over the past 12 years slowly evolving to have better resolution, d max range and focusing but they have stayed fundamentally the same in offering a glassless film scanner facility. I have brought a couple of different versions off ebay, an early model ScanMaker 5 with a scsi connection that was used as proof of method and a later model the ScanMaker 8700 that I am now doing my work on and has a USB/Firewire connection so I can use it with the latest Macs with VueScan scanning software. The scanner has only a true resolution of 1200 dpi but for 8x10 film scans at 16 bit the files are still over 600 mbs in size, the newer versions of the scanner can scan at 2400 dpi which is more than enough for 8x10 and will produce large format prints with no interpolation required. I have adapted the scanner’s glassless tray so it can fit a 8x10 film holder I have made and the resulting scans so far have shown no newton rings, they are sharp, the colours are correct, the dynamic range is excellent, I am very happy.

The quality of a scanned 8x10 colour negative is something to behold not only in terms of its resolution but in the way it captures and renders light which I have not seen in other film formats and high end medium format digital cameras and this is from a £5.00 scanner off ebay, what you would get off a drum scanner will take it into another dimension. I have attached some initial scans to the post, you cannot see the benefit of 8x10 large format photography in these highly compressed images but the resulting prints I am getting from them are stunning. At the moment I am being drawn to a more observational photography of the land and 8x10 renders all its wonders in exquisite detail, subtle play of light and incident are slowly revealed, the images continues to reveal beyond the initial image capture, the instant becomes timeless.

Lagoon, Ben Dolman 2013

Some of the photographs were taken late last summer when I was still in the early stages of working how to compose and frame the subject, the images were mainly shot for technical reasons and lack a bit of finesse for not thinking of a better word but there was something to them. I took a couple of images into PhotoShop to look at the composition and framing and work out why they seemed quite not there, they seemed to lack a visual tension and this was because of the equal splitting of foreground and sky. This horizontal bi-section can work sometimes but I decided to play around with different compositional layouts which can be seen in the photographs of a lagoon just outside Hull, in these images I have move to the rule of thirds giving the sky getter presence and in so doing change the balance within the picture plane. These experiments are just meant as visualisations and due to the cost and time issues involved with 8x10 photography they help me pre-visualise the image, a digital polaroid if you will.

Lagoon: South - Visualisation, Ben Dolman 2013

Lagoon: North - Visualisation, Ben Dolman 2013

Now that I have a scanning solution for the 8x10 analogue to digital workflow I find myself in a contrary, I am drawn to colour more than black and white photography when documenting the land at the moment as it’s inherit naturalism in capturing the world that is not dissimilar to that of my eyes, a world of colour. The problem is 8x10 colour negative film is very and I mean very expensive even when you do the chemical processing and scanning yourself. 8x10 black and white film photography is still affordable and it’s processing is more straight forward and there are no colour corrections to be done in the scanner and digital darkroom which can be difficult. After some pondering as there was no way I can afford to do only 8x10 colour film I did some quick visualisations in PhotoShop converting the colour files to black and white to see if the photographs lost too much through the removal of colour. Colour offers a more naturalistic representational interpretation of the subject whilst black and white offers a graphical abstracted rendering of the subject. I decided I like both versions and when I placed them next to each the resulting diptych offered interesting visual interactions and dialogues, bugger, no saving of the pennies here for in the long run I am not interested in a software conversion of colour to black and white, I want both original negatives colour and black & white. For me an actual black and white negative offers more than a colour photograph converted in PhotoShop to greyscale using what could be referred to as a monochromic graphic equaliser, it does not ring right and I feel I am actually down grading the image, to do that to a 8x10 negative is stupid, an original black and white negative offers getter dynamic range and for me a more interesting rendering of the graphical reduction of colour into tone and rendering of light. Do not get me wrong I am not trying to be ‘truthful to medium/materials’ or have an unease to using software image filters and adjustments, I care little for horse hair shirt mentality in some photography quarters, it is all artifice to me, I tell stories not history but I do want to seek out the best means of revealing a subject photographically.

Given the cost of this project it will have to be highly selective in subject, place and time so I will continue using the a medium format digital camera along side my trusty 4x5 camera so as to keep enjoying my journeys and capturing the moment and being intuitive and not worry about being perfect all the time due to costs and killing the pleasure of being irrational and experimental with the photographic medium. When using the 8x10 camera I will take a colour and black & white photograph of the same subject in the same position at the same time, this is not only for a technical inquiry but also for aesthetic and cognition reasons so I can see how the different renderings respond to and interpret a given subject. I am interested when you place and view a colour and black & white image of the same subject next to each other not only visually but how your brain tries to reconcile the imagery that at first is very similar yet very different at the same time.

It could be construed as madness to use 8x10 film in the digital age and further madness to use colour and black & white simultaneously due to its cost, the complicated process, the cumbersome equipment and risk of failure at all the different stages of production. The thing is besides costs the very pitfalls of 8x10 are the things that draw me to the medium besides the super laxative images it produces. I am drawn to the hard won image be in its location or method, the hard won image does not necessarily make better or more interesting images, the medium, process and methods one uses are to a point irreverent in creating that ‘perfect’ photograph, being in the right place at the right time is more important and capturing that ‘iconic’ image could be made on any image capture device from a smart phone to a large format camera. What medium, process and methods do offer is a rich experience of making and when coupled with that of being on location the moment of the creative act and the interaction with one’s subject becomes totally immersive. To view the world on the large ground glass is a delight, the image is rendered upside down back to front and this makes you more away of the composition, the structure of the scene is illuminated large and vivid. Moving objects have an uncanny effect on the ground glass as if you are seeing things for the first time, assumptions of what things should look like are questioned, when you look at people walking it looks like they are dancing. Gazing upon the ground glass covered by a dark focusing clothe the observation of things becomes very intense, all senses are focused on that moment, time becomes abstracted.

Over the next year I will be revisiting different locations to capture the same subject in the different seasons of the year to see what they look like under different lightning conditions, I also will be revisiting to see how the subject changes, how things are alter by humans or by nature. Hopefully it should be fun but also hard work and whilst film manufactures still provide 8x10 stock we should still explore this medium’s potential with new hybrid analogue-digital workflows.

Camper, Ben Dolman 2013

Reformation: Detail, Ben Dolman 2013


Reformation: Visualisation, Ben Dolman 2013

The Fens: Visualisation, Ben Dolman 2013