After the disaster with my holiday pictures from Ireland and my purchase of my first copy of the Amateur Photographer magazine, my training in photography began in earnest.
I went to the local library. No internet then. Scoured the photographic dealers in my area and chatted to the staff. Even got a saturday job with a photographic chain store. Then bought an SLR. A Practica. I laugh now, but the Practicamat was top of its range then and I was thrilled to bits.
I then joined a photographic society in Birmingham and discovered not only like mined souls bent on improving their photography skills, but a very helpful, informative and friendly lot of people.
The next investment was an enlarger, after all everyone else at the club developed and printed their own and your not a real photographer until you can do so. The enlarger was a Gnome alpha 2, basic amateur job, though it did have a clever built in split image focusing aid. I then bought my first developing tank a single reel Paterson Universal, which could develop 35mm and medium format film. Off I went around my area shooting anything that moved and did not move. Returning home to my little cupboard converted into a darkroom. I recall having a great deal of difficulty winding my first roll of film into the spiral. This of course done in total darkness. The desperate desire to switch the light on to see what was going wrong had to be resisted ! Finally I got the hang of it and went out into the light and my kitchen where a row of chemicals, measure’s and a thermometer were all laid out.
Now the scary bit, all excited I read the mixing instructions several times again and proceeded to pour the developer into the tank for the first time. 68 degrees F or 20 degrees C. I started my timer and developing began. Every 30 seconds I had to invert the tank to let fresh chemicals get to the film surface, or the emulsion will not develop evenly and nasty marks and uneven development areas will result. The minutes passed and the time came to pour out the used developer and pour in a stop bath.
I had been advised to use white diluted vinegar Which indeed does the trick perfectly for it is clear acetic acid. Its a lot cheaper than proprietary brands of ‘ stop bath ‘ and you can buy it at most supermarkets. The stop bath does just that, arrests the developer and helps the next stage, fixing. Several inversions of the tank and after 30 seconds or so, its time to pour out the ‘ stop bath ‘ and on with the final process, the fixer !
A few minutes later it was time to wash my film and then , and then for the first time ever, at least for me, get to see my results. Nervously unscrewing the developing tank top, I took out the spiral holding my wet film. Carefully unravelling the delicate 5’ 4.1/2 inches of Ilford FP3 I looked at my work. I was so excited, there appeared to be 36 negatives running along the length of film. Success ! That excitement has never really left me. So much fun, anticipation, much more so than looking at a computer monitor. I must have been made to be a photographer by the way. A 36 exposure film measures five feet four and a half inches. Film can be bought in ‘ bulk lengths ‘ and you can load this into cassettes yourself, Its cheaper this way. So how do you measure the film in total darkness. Well there are ways , but it just so happens that when I stretch my arms out and hold film at arms length, guess what, just right. I was Made to be a photographer.
I hung the film up to dry in as dust free atmosphere as I could manage and went off to have a celebratory cup of coffee and also to remove myself from the vicinity of the film while it dried so as not to create and dust particles. About half and hour later the film was dry. So I made up some print developer ( this is generally different from film developer ) Stop bath and fixer ( invariably the same type of fixer as used for film ) topped up my three 10” x 8” print developing trays and inserted my first negatives into the enlarger. Made a rough guess at exposure and put the paper into the developer. It rather rapidly turned almost black ….
Strange emotions, excitement, disappointment and confusion all rolled into one, what had gone wrong ?
That’s for the next episode.