Analogue Photography and Me

By John King A.R.P.S.

How I dislike the term analogue photography. I think traditional photography is a far nicer title and brings back memories of those days when X million pixel cameras were a mere figment of the electronic engineer’s imagination.

I started my photography with a cheap, cheerful but not very reliable camera called a Halina way back in 1962. To me it looked similar to a Leica M3!!! Almost immediately I clamoured after some sort of darkroom, so after getting ‘Planning Permission’ from my parents,  I  took over the family bathroom at least on a part time basis. From there I moved to my rather larger bedroom at the top of the house, and after acquiring an enlarger, dishes, homemade dish heater, but no running water I was set up. – The main difficulty was any water had to be carried up and down 3 flights of stairs to and from the attic. However from that stumbling beginning, I was hooked and as they say all the rest is history.

The intervening years from 1964 to 1980 passed and despite being shipped all over the western world, courtesy of the Army, wherever I found myself posted, I always somehow found a darkroom hidden away in the garrison.  It was ‘fun’ (not!) in Cyprus during the summer, with heat outside the ‘wriggly tin’ Nissin huts, regularly reaching 95F and inside, anything up to 120. It was the only place I ever had to control chemical temperatures by adding ice cubes.

Wherever I went it was always with a camera of some sort, but now had progressed to something worthwhile. I standardised on a Nikon, with a back-up of a small Minolta outfit, they both had their foibles, but complimented each other. My excuse/justification for having too separate systems was when I went on my travels on my motorcycle, I reasoned if I had a crash, it would be cheaper to replace the Minolta!

In 1980 I left the Army and set up my first real permanent home with my wife and 2 rug-rats  in Ashford, Kent. Money was short with a growing family and a new mortgage, so the photography took a bit of a back seat so I confined myself to exposing colour slides. Two years later we moved again to Sussex and to a bigger house, a proper loft with floorboards, a power supply and running water.

My two children were now at school; my wife was working, so was once again able to have a fully operational darkroom – perfect. I joined the local Camera Club and started to improve my printing no end. It was a big club – around 90 to 110 members at the time.       ( The club had it’s own fully operational darkroom so dipped my toe into running and teaching film processing and printing evenings and even then as a sort of teacher I was learning at the same time.

Around 1990 I joined Royal Photographic Society after a chat with one of our club competition judges. This person, who I think of as one of life’s natural gentleman was called Bill Wisden Hon. F.R.P.S., (plus a whole string of other letters after his name) who  went on to persuade me to try for my LRPS. I did as suggested and was subsequently successful with a panel of 10 black and white prints at my 1st attempt. Egged on by this success, a year or so later I had a go at my ARPS – and failed, not spectacularly – but never the less I had failed.

On the evening of the assessment, I was telephoned at home by Bill Wisden, who happened to have been the chairman of the judging panel that day. He suggested I bring my prints to his place and he would go through them with me in detail. An evening was arranged and I drove the 60 or so miles to where he lived fully expecting to have my work torn to pieces – it was quite the opposite. Bill was the most constructive tutor I have ever known, Sure enough, some of my work was, to be truthful, quite useless for an Associateship, but about 2/3ds of it was fine, it just needed tweaking. I just had to find another 5 or 6 prints to complete another panel. So in 1994 I had another go and this time the panel was happy with the result and so was I. Success and an Associateship!

Around about this time I started experimenting with colour developing and printing. This is a totally different discipline to black and white. Times have to be absolutely accurate and temperatures for the film developing phases have to be even more so with only a ½ degree of latitude being normal, – or it all goes pear shaped. The equipment sold then was quite expensive to buy, but readily available. The selection of films, chemicals and printing papers were quite extensive, so I had to make up my mind what was best for me and stick with them with colour processing, consistency is the key.

More and more of my prints for club competitions were now in colour and I was rewarded by getting a few successes as well.

Then around 1999 digital started to rear its (ugly?) head! It was a quite crude at first, colours were not what we had come to expect from film. A decent digital SLR didn’t appear until late-2001 – the Canon EOS D300 with a 3 million pixel sensor! WOW! Photoshop and other similar systems were in their infancy. I make no secret about it, I was quite anti towards digital, thinking that to use it for competitions, was almost like cheating, so stuck with my darkroom and witches brew alchemy.

In 2000 I retired and a year later after selling my house we moved back up north. The children had fled the nest, so now was the time to move. I moved into a lovely cottage in North Yorkshire and after sorting it out, decorating and changing a few things,  I set about creating another darkroom. At the bottom of the garden I had a large stone shed which I partitioned off and insulated. I now had another darkroom! The work bench was huge – 12′ long.

There followed a period which I would say was a bit photographically hazy, surrounded by uncertainty, and indecision. I was about to be hit by the digital age proper. I tried it with a Nikon D100 then a D200 and had some ‘almost’ pleasing results. I printed a bit, experimented a bit more, but the traditional film based method still called quite strongly. I no longer had a darkroom, but could still process film, so had to make do with putting a few films though the camera and then scan the negatives.

Digital was almost King – for the time being!

Another house move was on the cards and when that was made 30 months ago, one of the spare bedrooms in the new house was earmarked to become a new permanent fixed darkroom. I started sourcing replacement equipment which can now be picked up very cheaply so went all out to get the best I could find.

A professional quality colour enlarger, an APO enlarging lens, digital electronic timer, and temperature controlled negative processor and a print processor with very accurate controlled temperature adjustment. Plus all the other ancillaries you normally need for a darkroom. I also found a ‘safe’ light which is actually designed for use with colour paper. It has a sodium vapour bulb (like an orange street light) which emits a light bright enough to work in, but to which colour papers are virtually blind. Sheer luxury! My latest acquisition is an extremely bright LCD bulb with a colour temperature to match daylight, a perfect aid to getting the colours spot-on.

Film, chemicals and printing paper for black and white does not have such a wide range as it did 15 years ago. However, it is still readily available from 5 or 6 dedicated suppliers via mail order, but is more expensive, proportionately, than it was before digital started to take over, but still for the present, affordable.

Colour film is now made by fewer manufacturers, Kodak and FUJI. Some is labelled as AGFA, but is actually Fuji!  Printing paper is now down to the same two manufacturers but is actually cheaper than any Black or White paper or digital media, size for size. Fuji is the more convenient to use being in cut sheets, but the highest quality is all with the Kodak version. It is on a heavier paper and produces far more accurate and saturated colours. I actually buy mine in a bulk roll and with the aid of a homemade light proof box, the colour safelight and a guillotine; I can cut whatever size I want off the roll. This bulk roll is 12” x 286′(88m) long (yes 286 feet!) The price I pay per roll, whilst expensive at the time of purchase, in practise it is even cheaper than basic digital media or any other photographic printing paper by at least 75%.

So there we have it. I am a confirmed dyed in the wool, traditional photographer and will remain so for as long as the materials are available. I do still dabble with digital if I feel lazy, but I don’t achieve the same satisfaction with my results as I do with those from film. As my wife once put it:- ‘Digital prints have no soul.’ I didn’t often agree with her, but I do with that statement..

If any club member wishes to learn a bit more about processing, printing, or even try it for themselves, get in touch with me when I am at a club meeting and we can talk about it.

John King A.R.P.S

January 2017

John King’s ARPS panel is in Members Galleries here


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