The summertime always reminds me of the summer I spent driving to Hantucky (Hanford, Ca) and back for hangouts/UFC nights with my “Sees” Krystal and her cousin and his Navy friends. I learned many lessons like:
Don’t drink with the Navy.
If you are stupid enough to engage them in drinking games, make sure you win.
Don’t try to wrestle them, they will always win.
Jager Bombs are only meant to be consumed between rounds of UFC fights.
Don’t go to bars that serve alcoholic beverages in mason jars… with Navy peeps.
It was a fun summer, there were a lot of weekend mornings where I drove back to Elk Grove seriously hungover, windows down, music blaring just so I could survive the 3 hour drive home. Sadly, the summer took a turn for the worst when Krystal’s cousin Martin passed away in a tragic accident that late September. This picture is from the drive back from the funeral in Soledad.
Yes it sounds sick, almost pornographic, but this is something I actually kind of like about it, love about it. I’m a very impatient person, waiting patiently is not my strongest skill. Film forces me to take it slow, at a minimum I have to wait an hour after shooting to see what I got. To see if my eye matches my skill, to see if the mood I was feeling at the time translated the right way onto those tiny silver crystals.
You wait to develop. You wait to print. You wait while you expose your paper in the darkroom, you sit patiently and count the seconds while its in the developer, forming an image before your very eyes, the stop, the fix, while it washes. Its a giant waiting game. But the results are so fantastic it makes all the waiting TOTALLY worth it. I love the feeling I get when I realize I captured EXACTLY what I set out to capture, its one of those gut feelings you can’t really explain, but you just know it when you have it.
I don’t wait for many things, but I will wait ever so patiently when it comes to film. :)
So to many, especially you digital peeps out there, what goes on behind the scenes of black and white photography is a big unknown. I’d like to take you through a typical day at the lab for me.
I usually start out with looking over my existing negatives and more specifically my most recent stuff to see if theres anything I’d like to print for fun or for a project, I like to do this before I actually go to the lab since I pay hourly there and indecisiveness can cost mucho dinero. After gathering all my supplies I queue up a good playlist on pandora to get me through the day and head off to photosource.
I like to develop any film that I need to right off the bat, because for me thats the most boring/exhausting part, plus once the film is dry it gives me something new to print that day. At photosource you’re lead through the darkroom to a small 2 part room in the very back with a long wide sink for mixing all your developing chemicals, all the stuff you need, and a film cabinet which is basically a long cabinet that blows hot air over your film to dry it out faster. Past that room is a (fairly) light tight room that is basically a closet with a countertop so you can roll your film onto the spools and load them into the canisters so they aren’t exposed to any light.
When I first learned how to roll my own film (which is one of the hardest parts about developing your own film by the way) I learned to do it using a light-tight bag and being in a lit room where my eyes were free to roam, but when I got to Sac City they had one of these rolling rooms and I had to adjust, which is a totally different experience; being immersed into total darkness, having to feel your way around the countertop to find your rolls, your spool, the can opener to open your film canisters, the SCISSORS!! YES thats right I use scissors IN THE DARK. So not kid safe, or Valerie safe. But I’ve been accident free since 2003 (that rhymed) so its okay. Anyway, over the years I’ve learned to be able to feel and hear if my roll is going on the way it should, which means I should hear no crackling, scraping, and especially no tearing noises, and usually you can feel if the film has doubled up on itself. The film spools have a pattern that kind of roll outwards so the film never touches itself, if it does touch itself you get giant blocks of undeveloped film that tend to stick together, its a mess and totally ruins the photos. Anyway, it becomes easy to second guess yourself if you’re having a not-so-confident day which means lots of rolling and unrolling until you know for sure deep down inside that that roll is PERFECT, which for others…means hearing the occasional cuss word leak out of that room. Ha.
Once that roll is on, IT is on and time to get to it. I double check to make sure my film is in the developing tank and everything is sealed where it should be before I flip the lights on and start mixing my developing chemicals. This part, actually developing the film usually flies by for me, probably because I time everything so I’m pretty preoccupied with timing stuff and pouring things and cleaning stuff as I go. My favorite part is once I’ve run Photo-Flo over the film (which is the last step for me) I get to unroll the film and examine it as I squeegee off the remaining liquids, its really exciting putting that time and effort into something and unrolling it before your very own eyes.
While the film is drying I like to get started on printing ASAP because here, time is money. I usually start working on whatever negative I chose earlier that day, I like to do a few test strips until I get close to the tonal range I want and then I go straight to printing 11x14s because test strips are just small by definition that I need to be able to see the entire picture to decide what I want to tweak. This is the part where most people check out because its kind of tedious if you’re a perfectionist like me. Usually I’d check out too with something like this but with the darkrooom its different, I can easily spend HOURS on my feet and not care as long as the printing is going good that day. As I print my stuff I like to jot down quick notes on the exposure settings and filters I’m using on the enlarger on the back of the prints so I know which is which and where to go from there, it helps me keep track of where I am on a photo. Generally speaking really difficult photos– and by difficult I mean I probably over or under exposed the film and am trying desperately to salvage it because it was a great shot and I’m hellbent on making it work, these photos take me close to 3 hours in the lab to get just right, where everything is the way I want the blacks are blacks, whites are whites, and very minimal spot-toning will have to take place after. Easier prints take me 45 minutes or less to get perfect. I usually make about 3 copies of a print once I’ve got everything right on it, one for me, one to show, and one just to have.
Once I’ve gotten a print I’m happy with I start on the new stuff I developed that day. I like to make a contact print (its one giant photogram of the negatives basically) and see where to go from there. If my printing day hasn’t been emotionally draining I usually will print something from the new stuff.
To digital photographers this may seem tedious but its the equivalent to spending time in front of the computer, uploading and editing. Personally I’m really picky with the stuff I DO decide to print, even though the whole roll was totally fine I only chose to print the very best ones, which means my black and white stuff I chose is usually the stuff I’m the most proud of. Its just not the same with digital. When I went to NZ I had over 800 digital photos from that Nikon, edited it down to 200 or so and while they were all good/decent shots… If I were printing them I would only be choosing like 5 probably from that entire batch. I am THAT picky. I think most b&w photographers are this picky too though, so thank god I’m not alone.
From there its all pretty standard. Once I’ve finished printing for the day, or given up I finish washing all my prints while I go pay for them and turn the print dryer so its ready to go by the time I’m ready to go. Thats pretty much it in the lab, I like to spot tone my prints only before I’m going to show them or mount them, that would be the next step I’d take to get my photos ready to be seen.
And there you have a typical day in the lab for me. When its been a good day in the lab and all my prints I wanted came out just right, I leave feeling good about myself and work, but there are days when nothing goes right and I just don’t feel right about a print and that feeling lingers around until I can get back in the lab and make it right, its really frustrating to leave unhappy with your work. I’ve been pretty lucky in that the past few times I’ve been have been good days, there was only the one bad day when I killed my phone and had to leave to get a new one, oops!
I always see my fashion blogger friends do “whats in my bag” posts which look totally fun and I am a naturally nosy person so I love seeing into the lives of many, but my purse is really boring, and messy to boot so I thought I’d share a “whats in my Photo bag” post with you all.
Just a warning, I used to have a lot more in my bag because I used to shoot with 2 cameras so my bags a little boring right now until I can find a new second camera. Also, I travel light, you may be surprised what you can do with very little, and I consider it an accomplishment if you can have really great photos without really fancy equipment. You’ve been warned.
Whats in my Photo Bag:
the ORIGINAL camera manuals from 1981
a spare camera battery (for the light meter)
pens, cause you never know
my Canon AE-1
glass cleaner cloth, somehow I lost my lens papers
lens cap which needs to be replaced because it refuses to cover the lens when I have a filter on (don’t know why I’ve waited so long)
Whats not in my Photo Bag: My tripod, grey card, my digital camera I use for videos, moleskine for jotting down notes, & my phone. Also you can see I’m fresh out of film today cause there was none in there! Ha.
This post made me realize how much I need to upgrade my photo arsenal. I honestly can’t believe I’ve gone THIS LONG without other lenses for that camera. I think I may have to treat myself to a B & H shopping spree soon.
One of the reasons I love photography so much is because over time it has captured so much history. I can still remember going to the Sacramento Archives with my dad and grandparents looking over hundreds of photos taken in and around downtown searching for my great grandma Candelaria’s restaurant, La Mariposa that is now some other building. There was something so cool to me about pouring over photographs of decades past, looking at people, cars, dogs, life- frozen in time. I would look at a picture and try to animate it in my head, try to be there, like as if I was looking back on a memory- I was here once.
I think if I had to choose something to do for the rest of my life, it would be to work around these type of archives, they’re just so interesting. Its interesting to me that, sometime ago there were photographers like me who like to just goof around and take pictures of buildings, but now that those buildings are gone those pictures are written into history and are now very important photos. Photographers before me helped to build history. It totally fascinates me, which is probably why I love history so much- the photographs. Sacramento has these little books of photographs of select neighborhoods in their beginning stages, from gold rush era to present and its so interesting to me to actually SEE history. Whats even cooler is seeing those places now, seeing how they’ve changed or just stayed the same.
Somehow this week I stumbled across some old photos of Sac somewhere online (I can’t remember where now) but it got me wanting to flip through these photos again at the archives, but thanks to the digital age a lot of those photos are now online so I was browsing around and grabbed a couple of my favorite pictures, or pictures where I am familiar with the location now. Enjoy this little taste of Sacramento History.
What about you? Does your city have a similar online photo archive?
What are your favorite photos from your town history?