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

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.

A Day at the Races

Four things I’m not that fond of:

  • Horse Racing
  • Gambling
  • Tribute bands
  • Taking photos once I’ve had a couple of drinks

So joining my work friends for a night out at the races that ended with a guy who thought he was Freddie Mercury may not have been one of my best plans. Should have thought that one through, really.

Windsor Races
Nikon F90X / Nikkor 35mmf/2.0 / Kodak Tmax 400 / D76 1+1
Yashica Mat 124G / Ilford FP4 & Kodak Tri-X / Rodinal 1+99 60 minutes

Margate

Margate has been a seaside resort for over 200 years, but like so many coastal towns these days, it’s pretty run down. Nevertheless I love the tackiness and nostalgia of the seaside, and when I was asked to go down for the soul festival last weekend on what turned out to be one of the hottest days of the year, I jumped at the chance.

The Margate Soul Festival consists of a deck full of DJs setting up in various locations in the old town and harbour. Chuck in an equal measure of dancing and drinking and things start to hot up. I know from previous experience that it all gets a bit hectic, and camera-wise I wanted to travel light. The Nikon F90x is always my first choice when things get a up bit close and personal, so that went in the back of the car.

As it turned out, what didn’t go in the back of the car was any 35mm film. Despite being a laid-back guy, this is the sort of thing that can almost annoy me. What I did find however was my Mamiya 645, left there from a trip out the day before. Now this really did annoy me, because I’m never normally so careless as to leave one of my precious cameras in the car overnight. The good news was that there was film with it. The bad news – just two rolls of medium format FP4. That’s a mere 30 frames at 645, not a great deal for a full day and night.

The only thing the F90 and the Mamiya have in common is the ability to kill someone with a single whack round the head. Other than that they are the complete antithesis of each other. Where the Nikon is fast and easy to handle, the Mamiya is heavy, ponderous, and the last camera you’d ever consider for in-your-face fast moving candid shots. So I thought about what I should do. Ration the film and take a few shots every hour? Take a load of stationary seascape shots? In the end I just decided to photograph the first 30 things that caught my eye, sling the camera back in the car and enjoy the rest of the day and evening. And that turned out to be the right thing to do. Although I try my best not to let my need to document get in the way of fun, sometimes it’s good to just not have the choice.

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

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