Simple, ancient magic

I have started developing my own black and white film.

Gosh how cutting edge, how of the moment. Not really. Firstly why on Earth do I think that is a good idea?

It isn’t about cost. I have probably spent about £150 on Paterson kit, changing bags and the first set of chemicals. I used to get a roll of 120 developed using Peak Imaging for £4.13 plus P&P. They were usually pretty good, they came in good sleeves, with the occasional spot of dust or squeegee scrape, but rarely. I’ve chosen to use XTOL as my developer of choice as it sounds less toxic (it is based on Vitamin C), and Peak Imaging develop in XTOL so the tonality should remain similar, so it isn’t entirely about the look.

I had noticed caustic highlights on my negatives and reminded of my Ansel Adams I wanted to control contrast – admittedly to produce a better scan. So now was the right time to do it, with more space to store the stuff.

But there is something about the craft of it. Simple non-digital, real-world procedures. Do this, do that. Ta-daaah!  I started the whole film thing, not so much as a rejection of digital photography, but as a way of educating myself about the history of photography. I was but a child playing with sliders after pruning one out of 200 shots. Film photography, for me, is about locking-in intent. I am here, with this camera, with a black and white film. I will take a black and white photograph. This state of mind compared to how I was with digital at the stage of pre-visualisation keeping my options open – “If this isn’t a stunning sunrise, don’t worry I can make it monochrome.”

Black and white as the digital runners-up prize. No, I reject this.

I knew about film development in theory, but when that chemistry comes together in practice it hits you that the non-digital world remains. Film photography is the accretion of continuous gradients of density. Not pixels. Not quanta. A perfect grey.

So I have a couple of Paterson tanks, one for 1 x120, one for 2 x 120, and a couple of Paterson reels to swear at, when in the sweaty changing bag the film just won’t wind in properly. I have XTOL for normal development, and Rodinal for pinhole work. I have Ilfostop, Rapid Fix and even Hypo Clear as I do love to go by-the-book. So with that and the iPhone app for the Massive Development chart I am set.

It is a precious thing when you crack open the egg and find your pictures inside. Simple, ancient magic.

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