A day of disasters
So there I was with a couple of rolls of exposed film and three bottles of chemicals with which to develop them. What could possibly go wrong…?
Film development is a bottomless pit of options and opinions. Hit the web and you will find endless combinations of films, fluids, temperatures and techniques being discussed. To hell with that, I just want some photos I can point at and say “I did that”.
Variables were reduced by the fact that I had films I had already bought from the web, and chemicals Tic had found in Singapore; but even with these there were some pretty detailed instructions to absorb. We ran through some of these whilst consuming gin and tonic; but this turned out to be a bad environment for memory retention.
More amusing, but equally useless, was practising the delicate art of removing the film from its canister and transferring it to the processing tank. It’s fiddly when you can see what you are supposed to be doing, extremely difficult to do in the dark (which is what you have to do), and pretty hilarious trying to do it with your eyes shut after an intake of alcohol.
Come Sunday, and armed with a measure of sobriety and a small headache, I started by mixing up some chemicals. There are three to worry about. In reverse order (theoretically, see later), there is the Fixer with fixes everything that has gone before so your negative will not degrade over time. Prior to that there is the Stopper, which as the name suggests, stops the development process. And finally, and most importantly, there is the Developer.
The Fixer and the Stopper are non-critical in terms of application; and they can be mixed in bulk, used as required and then kept for re-use. So I mixed them first.
Finally, I mixed a single batch of developer, enough for one film, carefully mixed with water in the exact recommended ratio and stared at it wonder and admiration for a moment.
Right, temperature. This process has to happen at 20 degrees. If slightly more than that I have to reduce the development time based on a complicated graph. If I try and do it at Thailand temperatures I will ruin the film.
Fear not gentle reader, because before I rolled into bed the previous night I filled the fridge with bottles of water which are now very cold and are poured into the sink. Add some tap water and bring the temp up to around 15, stick the chemicals in the bowl, together with another bottle of water which will be used for flushing at the end, and sit back and wait for the whole lot to hit 20 degrees.
This will take a while so I head for the toilet with the film canister, the developing tank and a changing bag into which everything is thrown. Stick your hands in the bag and all you have to do is feed the film into the spool and then place the spool in the tank. Stick on the tank top and you are ready to go. Sat in the dark (for extra security), fumbling inside a bag which is rapidly becoming sweaty and realising the whole enterprise depends upon this sodding film loading onto the reel, is not the most fun I have had; but eventually it is done.
Takes close to an hour for the water to hit 20, which gives me time to set up a timer for the eight minute development, and reading what I have to do while the process is underway (agitate the tank when first filled, then inverting it every minute followed by a tap on the bottom to clear bubbles).
Finally, all the preparation comes to a head as the water nears 20 degrees, and we are ready to go. Start to pour in the developer and press start on the timer and…..
During all the time waiting for the water to warm, never once did I have the thought that flashed into my head as I poured in the developer: did I place the spool in the tank with the film on the bottom so it would be covered by the chemicals and process correctly, or with the film on the top where it would be occasionally splashed and emerge a foggy mess?
Too late to check and with a fifty per cent chance of success, I continued with my eight minutes of developing, agitating and inverting; followed by ten seconds of stopper, five minutes of Fixer and several wash cycles. After all that I opened the tank to find…. the film at the top, fogged up and destroyed.
Disheartened, I head off to the windsurfing club for some alone time on the Gulf.
Back in the evening and I set up to repeat the process with my second exposed film, loaded into the tank with the film on the bottom where it belonged. Brought the water up to 20 degrees with more speed and poured in the developer. This is more like it! I’ve got the hang of this! Let’s line up the Stopper so it is ready to pour in the tank when the eight minutes is up. Hang on, why is there no Stopper sitting in the sink, and why is there a bottle of Developer still sat there…..?
Because I had started the process by pouring Stopper into the tank rather than Developer. FUCK!!
Still, maybe no harm done. Poured out the Stopper and flushed the whole thing with water. Took a big breath and started again. Finished the process and feared another spoiled film; but it looked OK sat on the spool.
Final step, get it off the spool and hang it up to dry. I had prepared for this by banning she who must be obeyed from the back bathroom by asking nicely, and banned the cats by shouting at them; and then rigged up a hanging device over the bath. Took the tank into the room and pulled the film off the spool. Now I had a long wet length of film which I had to keep free from dust and interference. Gently offered it up to the hanger which immediately undid itself. FUCK!!
Never mind, with both hands free I could fix this. So I held the end of the film with my lips and sorted out the hanger. Then I took the film….. except I couldn’t because one side of it had stuck to my lower lip. And by stuck I mean a super-glue level of stuck. FUCK!! Except it came out sounding like FPPPFF! I tried easing it off, prising it off, peeling it off; nothing. I simultaneously converted to Judaism, Islam and Christianity and prayed for deliverance. Nothing.
In the end, I pulled it off, removing a substantial portion of my lower lip in the process. I think she who must be obeyed could have shown more concern and less giggling when I showed her my lacerated labium inferius oris and explained what had happened.
Anyway, the film was finally hanging to dry and I spent a happy hour tidying up the mess in the sink. This morning I took the film down, cut it into strips and burnt it on the balcony.
Not really, I took the film down, cut it into strips, stuck a couple of strips in the scanner and took a look.
Great photos? No, but I like the filmic look. And I took these with a 62 year old totally manual camera, and in a mess of chemicals and confusion I developed them myself. There is satisfaction in doing that which you never get with a modern digital camera. It may not be art but it is certainly craft and I look forward to delving into the crazy world of film again soon. After all, what else can go wrong….?
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