Hawaiian Party

Way back in August, those of us who work in the London office and who spent May in the US supporting the {airline name redacted} project were rewarded with a party. We gathered on the side of the river and were whisked away on a cruise along the Thames. Sadly I very quickly lost the light and was only able to fire off half a roll. Which is probably a good thing, as thanks to the free bar things got seriously out of focus soon after.

Nikon F90x / Kodak Tmax 400


014

Ely Cathedral

I could give you a half dozen geeky reasons why I tend to stand develop my medium format films in Rodinal, but they’d all be lies. Ultimately it’s just because I’m lazy.

  • Drop the film in the tank
  • Crash on the couch and watch an episode of totalitarian fly-on-the-wall documentary The Handmaid’s Tale, just so I know what to expect
  • Stop, fix, wash, dry
  • Voilà

However, the last roll of FP4 I developed this way seemed to have a lot more grain than is typical, and just as I was pondering whether I’d done something differently, I came across the remains of a bottle of Kodak HC-110 under the sink. Like Rodinal, HC-110 tends to live forever in its undiluted form and would probably even survive a nuclear holocaust. Which may well prove to be useful, given current events. I’d previously given it a go with a few 35mm films and not been too keen on the results, but I thought it was worth trying on the roll of 120 FP4 I shot last weekend on my trip back to the area I grew up in.

Ely is a small market town about 80 miles north east of London. Not only is it famous for the fact that I went to school there, but it also boasts one of the most magnificent cathedrals in England, dating back to the 11th century. My school always had strong links with the Cathedral, and as such I was required to attend services three times a week. I’m sorry to say it didn’t make me a better person. Under His Eye.

Mamiya 645 Pro TL / Ilford FP4 / Developed in HC-110 Dilution B

The Beast of the East

At 05:25 on May 9th 2017 flight WN1257 pushed back from the stand at Pittsburgh International Airport, taxied to runway 10L and took off into clear skies, heading south towards Orlando.

1200 miles away in Dallas, several dozen people in the Command Centre watched throughout the day as a further 4000 flights came to life in the new reservation and departure control systems.

In a number of strategic airports across the the US, more than a hundred subject matter experts were deployed to provide technical support and operational advice.

My assignment was Baltimore. They call it The Beast of the East, due to the huge volume of departures; we handled up to 260 flights a day. And there were tears, screams, frayed tempers, banging of fists on desks, banging of heads on walls, periods of dark despair, and mainly that was just me. There was also a great deal of laughter.

Cameras and airports don’t mix well. Being behind a check-in desk, at a departure gate, in the hold of a 737 or wandering around on the apron snapping pictures raises questions, even if you do have the appropriate ID. With film, there’s an extra problem. Whilst I’ve happily subjected film to a couple of x-ray screenings, I knew that in this case I’d probably been going back and forth through security a dozen or more times a day. Therefore I reluctantly made the decision to take a single roll of film and to keep the camera landside, hopefully grabbing a few shots in the downtime.

These are a few of the wonderful people I worked with in a state of barely controlled chaos over the last month. Thanks guys, for all the laughter, warmth and friendship.

Baltimore
Nikon FE / Kodak Tmax 400 / Developed in D76 1+1

Arrival

Atlanta, Georgia. Not my final destination, but US regulations dictate that I clear customs and immigration at the first point of entry. I’m nervous. I’m midway along a twisting line that’s snaking its way towards the cubicle one hundred feet ahead. Inside, a granite-faced immigration officer. My hands are clenched into solid fists and I feel the beads of sweat popping out on my forehead. In front of me, a young Hispanic woman with nervous eyes clutches a mewling baby. Behind me, an elderly couple argue in Polish, the man hissing at his wife through clenched teeth. You could slice the atmosphere with a taser.

I’m told that US immigration can be tough. Grueling. That they ask you questions. Ideological questions. One wrong answer and you’re on the next flight home. Or worse. I use my balled hands to knuckle the perspiration from my eyes. My Adam’s apple is bobbing up and down like a monkey on a stick.

I’m near the front of the queue now, and get a better view of the officer. He’s younger than I initially thought. Severe brush cut. Impassive expression. Aviator mirrored sunglasses. One of those black-eyed aliens from The X-Files springs to mind. The only movement in his face is the slight chewing motion of his jaw; gum, presumably. Other than that he’s as still as death.

And then it’s me. I hand over my passport. He swipes it. Thumbs through it. I see him pause on the visa for Kazakhstan and the Egyptian entry stamp. Then the photo. He scrutinises it, looks up at me. Reflected in the sunglasses, a middle-aged man with salt and pepper hair and a face that looks like it’s been dipped in flour stares back at me with insane eyes.

“What exactly is the purpose of your visit, Sir?”

I’m stammering. I could be fifteen again, struggling to explain exactly why it is that I want to take his fourteen year old daughter to the school dance. I’m dimly aware of someone babbling something about work, business trip, aviation industry, reservation systems.

He watches impassively as I ramble on, then removes his sunglasses and glares at me. “Let me just ask you this: what do you think of Mr Trump?” His eyes narrow to dark slots.

“Donald Trump? That orange dude from The Apprentice? Well, I’ve gotta be honest – the UK version of the show is far superior.”

He freezes. There’s silence. The air seems to have been sucked out of the room. Blood gushes and pounds in my ears. Very slowly, he raises himself up to his full height. I hear a ptui sound of tongue between teeth, followed by a plop, and a quarter-sized blob of brown chewing tobacco appears on the cap of my shoe.

“Boy,” he says, towering over me, “We don’t like your sort here.” He signals towards a couple of security guards in the corner, who start to stride over. “And what we’re gonna do is haul your sorry ass downtown and throw you in an empty cell. Empty, that is, ‘cept for a single bunk and a big, lonely guy called Bubba. And when you’re squealing, squealing like a pig on on its honeymoon, we’re gonna ask you again what you think of our President.

The security guys are upon me now, each grabbing an arm and forcing me to my knees.

“Hey, c’mon guys,” I plead, but they drag me along the floor, nearly yanking my arms out of the sockets. I’m panicking, my eyes imploring the people in the queue for help. They avert their gaze or look at their feet. I start to shout. “Please, someone help me,” I scream. “Please!” Tears are flowing down my cheeks. “Help! Please! Someone rush to Starbucks and bring me one of those Coastal Elite Lattes to catch my liberal snowflake tears. “HEEELLLLLLLPPPP………..!”

Okay, wait. Hold it right there. Now’s not the time to be flippant. Let’s think this through. I can do better than this. Okay. Try again:


He removes his sunglasses and glares at me. “Let me just ask you this: what do you think of Mr Trump?” His eyes narrow to dark slots.

“Oh I’m sorry. I don’t follow pointless celebrities on Twitter. That’s because I’m not a twelve year old girl.

ptui

plop


“Let me just ask you this: what do you think of Mr Trump?”

I unbutton my jacket to reveal my Make America Great Britain Again T-shirt

ptui

plop


And then it’s me. I hand over my passport. He swipes it. Thumbs through it. I realise that’s he’s not actually wearing sunglasses, neither is he chewing tobacco. He scrutinises the photo, glances up at me, hands it back. I turn to go.

“Just hold it right there.” I freeze. The words sound menacing. Slowly, very slowly, I turn to face him. “Welcome to America,” he says, a friendly smile stretching across his face.

“Erm, thanks.”

‘Well, that was easy,’ I think as I follow the signs for baggage reclaim. ‘I don’t know why people make such a fuss about these things. Damn snowflakes.’

Leaving Heathrow: Nikon FE / Kodak Tmax 400 / Developed in D76 1+1

Sphinx Aren’t What They Used To Be

A couple of unusual things happened this weekend. Firstly, the weather forecasters predicted two full days of complete sunshine and a temperature of 21C. In London. In early April. The second strange thing was that this absurd prediction actually came true. Normally during such a weekend I might typically have driven down to the coast, or maybe spent some time cycling in the park. But a few recent events have conspired to suck some of the energy and enthusiasm out of me. So instead I unfolded my handwritten list of Cemeteries I Haven’t Yet Visited, closed my eyes, and randomly prodded the paper.

West Norwood Cemetery is a 40 acre site in south east London, so for me that’s a 30 minute train ride up to central London, followed by a further 15 minutes out through the other side. It’s one of The Magnificent Seven, the group of private cemeteries that were established in the 19th century to deal with overcrowding at the various parish cemeteries. It’s not the first of the seven I’ve visited.

The cemetery had its first burials in 1837, and although all the plots are now taken, the crematorium is still active and you can have your ashes stashed in the columbarium. It holds London’s finest collection of sepulchral monuments, has 69 listed structures, and is on the National Register of Historic Parks and Gardens. It’s a peaceful place.

All of these were shot with an orange filter, most of them them with the wonderful (but hefty) Mamiya Sekor C F/2.8 45mm lens (35mm equivlant=28mm). I semi-stand developed them (one gentle inversion at the half-way mark) in a 1+99 dilution of Rodinal for 60 minutes. I find this gives a really nice level of bite without being too grainy. On these sunny, cloudless days I don’t bother with the onboard meter. I just use sunny 16, allow an extra stop of light to compensate for the filter, and then it’s just 1/125 & F/11 or permutations thereof all the way.

Mamiya 645 Pro TL / Ilford FP4 / Rodinal 1+99 for 60 minutes

The Crematorium; still in use today

After a hour or so of wandering round, I found a shady spot to eat the sandwich I had brought with me, and was thinking about catching the train home. That’s when it occurred to me that a couple of stops and about ten minutes further down the line was Crystal Palace Park.

I’d forgotten how nice Crystal Palace Station is, and at the risk of being mistaken for a train geek, I took a quick snap. To be honest, when you spend a sunny Saturday hanging round a cemetery, people thinking you’re a train spotter is the least of your worries.

Wikipedia describes Crystal Palace Park as a Victorian pleasure park, which I think is a lovely turn of phrase. The district of Crystal Palace takes its name from the building –The Crystal Palace – in which the Great Exhibition of 1851 was held. Yet the exhibition wasn’t held in Crystal Palace; it was held in Hyde Park in central London. Confused? Don’t be.

The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations (phew) was conceived as a celebration of modern industrial technology and design. It was an attempt to show the rest of the world how Britain was a clear leader in industry, and in the process stick two fingers up to the French after their highly successful Industrial Exposition of 1844. Plus ça change. After the exhibition, between 1852 and 1855, the park was created as a home for the relocated and rebuilt Crystal Palace, but tragically the building was destroyed by fire in 1936, leaving just the few remnants you can see from the photos.

That’s the Crystal Palace TV Transmitter in the background. 719 feet and the fifth tallest structure in London.

There’s plenty to see and do in the park. The boating lake. A maze. The famous Crystal Palace Dinosaurs – a series of extinct (and often inaccurate) animal sculptures that date from 1852. But it was the sphinxes that really drew me here on this day. It was about twelve years ago now, on my only previous visit to the park, that I sat beneath them holding the hand of a pretty red-headed girl with a kind heart. I’ve no idea what’s happened in her life since then, but a few years back I was surprised to be told she now lives just a couple of miles away from me. I keep that little bit of information wrapped up and tucked away at the back of my mind, but occasionally I take it out, just to see how it feels.

There are six sphinxes in all , and they’ve been there ever since the site was moved from central London in the 1850s. What surprised me however, is that they are now in much better condition than when I last saw them. And as you clearly can’t see from the photo, they’ve been painted terracotta. I’ve since found out they were restored last year, and analysis has shown that they were regularly painted up until about 1900, after which they gradually started to fall in to disrepair.

This dude was happy to ham it up for the camera.

And in the middle of the park, at the sports centre, they were playing beach volleyball. I took the photo just so I can tell people that I did indeed have a lovely day at the seaside, and no, I didn’t waste a glorious weekend wallowing in nostalgia and gravestones.

I Found A Roll Of FP4

There’s been an exposed roll of 35mm FP4 kicking around my desk drawer for a while now and I’ve no idea where it came from. This is unusual for me. I’m normally keen to develop my films as quickly as possible, convinced that each roll contains a masterpiece crying out to be released into the wild. Consequently there tends to be a lot of disappointment in my life. Anyway, it’s a bit odd to have a roll of film with no clue as to when or where it was shot, or even what camera it was shot with. Probably the one thing I knew for sure was that there wasn’t going to be anything worthwhile on it, otherwise I never would have forgotten about it.

Seeing as the stakes were low (and because fundamentally I’m lazy), I thought I’d stand develop it. But not the reasonably controlled and consistent semi-stand developing I often use for medium format film. Nope, this was the full on sling-it-the-tank-and-leave-it-untouched-until-I-can-be-bothered-to-get-up-from-the-sofa-type. Which turned out to be round about two hours.

  • Mix 5ml of Rodinal with 495ml of water
  • Don’t bother worrying about the temperature
  • Add to tank and agitate for 30 seconds. Or a minute. Or whatever
  • Whack tank to get rid of air bubbles
  • Make a nice cup of Earl Grey tea, cut a decent-sliced slab of homemade cake, sit down to watch a movie. I don’t recommend Transformers
  • When you feel like it, empty the tank, rinse once with water, fix and wash in the normal way

Hanging up the roll to dry I saw that I’d taken around 12 frames, scattered randomly along the whole length of the film. Quite why I’d done this is still a mystery, and although it was clear that the first few shots were taken in Brookwood Cemetery, there was no clue as to when.

Pentax KM / Ilford FP4 / Stand Developed in Rodinal 1+99

However, the remaining frames revealed all. These were taken on a long bicycle ride along the Thames last summer with my Pentax KM. How can I be so sure? Because I also took my Mamiya 645 with me.

Walton Bridge. The first bridge built here was opened in 1750 and immortalised five years later in Canaletto’s painting. This is bridge number six.

St Mary’s Church, Sunbury Upon Thames. This was rebuilt in 1752, but the foundations date from the original structure, built some time in the middle ages. Because I like to be accurate to the nearest 1000 years.
I’ve no idea who this chap is or where he was shot.

A few years back I developed a roll of 35mm FP4 in Rodinal using standard processing. The results were grainier than I would have liked for a 100 ISO film, and I’ve never repeated it. By comparison, these are far more pleasing. Perhaps it’s the weak dilution that reduces the grain? Or the lack of regular agitation? Probably a combination of the two.

One conclusion I’ve come to through personal experience is that traditional grain films like FP4 do very well using stand development, but tabular grain films like T-Max and Delta are best avoided. Everyone else probably realised this years ago. But then again I’ve only just found out they had stopped making VHS players after an embarrassing conversation at the electrical store that made me feel about 80 years old.