Gamma Infinity

In order to expose film destined to be developed to completion, choose a slow, fine-grained film (such as Ilford Pan F or an Efke or Adox film with a similar ISO), rate it at an exposure index that underexposes it three stops (ISO 25 @ 200, or ISO 50 @ 400), and shoot in the flattest possible daylight.

To develop this severely underexposed film, use a pint (in a double–reel tank with a spacer reel on top) of straight D-76 with an added organic restrainer. Agitation is
***normal for the first ten minutes
(first 60 seconds, then 10 sec./min.);
***then every five minutes for the remainder of the first hour;
***then, thirty seconds every twenty minutes for a total of six to eight hours. Fix in fresh fixer and finish processing as you would normally. The negatives should print easily with “normal” contrast and moderate grain.
For those who have the patience to do this well, the dividends are renderings of fine texture in light that is not normally practical.

Update: It’s working well. The only surprise is that the contrast we’re getting in individual frames is crazy high. People are printing with a 0 or even a 00 filter! It’s either the light in which the film was shot, or my formula for the added restrainer.

Update update: Upon reflection, I have a better theory. Time was, when people returned to wherever they lived from San Francisco, they often purchased a local delicacy at SFO called “sourdough” bread. Of course it’s ubiquitous now, but when the Boudin chain of restaurants expanded from the Bay Area by opening franchises in Chicagoland, they made a big deal of flying the starter dough via United Air Lines.

“Starter dough?” For certain recipes (bread or cassoulet), a particularly distinctive strain is perpetuated by using some of the previous batch to begin a new batch. Stock solutions of film developer used full-strength are not unlike starter dough in that, as each roll of (dry) film may take away maybe 1/2 ounce of liquid, a small amount of replenisher is added to top off the gallon. For popular formulas such as D-76, HC-110 and Microdol-X, there are replenishers available from Kodak. (Xtol is formulated to be its own replenisher.)

Maybe I’ll get to my point now: photographers become attached to their personal batches of re-usable, full-strength developer for the nuances they provide. It’s takes endorphin-releasing to a new level, at least for the photographer herself, but these little things add up to a signature look in the prints. I understand that, among the cult of Harvey’s 777 users, some mature solutions resemble sludge. One case in point is Garry Winogrand, who preferred to process 7 rolls of film with one spacer reel in the top of an eight-reel tank (who can say how he arrived at that refinement?). When he began a batch of film developer, he would first pour it into a tray and run a few sheets of out-dated paper through it “to take the edge off the grain.” Perhaps that’s part of the reason for the seeming energy of our fresh D-76 with restrainer added. Or perhaps I’m confusing light sources with freshness with grain… IDK. You?

One more thought. Because I replaced Anti-Fog #2, the original restrainer for this formula (sold by Kodak in handy tablet form) is not currently available, I use Anti-Fog #1–Benzotriazole. The difference is temporarily lost to the ages, and the information superhighway is littered with rumors and canards. Also currently, I am disinclined to test varying amounts of Benz in order to refine the process.

Transmission from JC, Class of 1988 (via f/book)

JC: As I sit here in awe of this digital machine

The beast stares back at me… and I return to a hidden voice.

The voice says: “Just shoot.”

And so, to you… I shoot, but still wonder…

How the ____ does this thing work?

JD: No way out, no way out: ya hasta read the manual-all three languages.

I ain’t no Luddite (there’s a film-free camera in my house, and the school ponied up for DSLRs for the AP teachers, and my phone… never mind that one), but I got me a 8×10. Simplicity itself, plus logical optical options.

JC: There is something tactile missing from the whole experience. Yes, it’s great that I can see my results immediately. And I never was good at keeping dust out of the film chamber, so it cuts down on having to retouch things… which I can do in Photoshop anyway (I’ll leave that for a separate rant).

Then there is the lack of cumbersome equipment and chemicals, not to mention the even more cumbersome cost associated with those things.


Where are my happy accidents? Where is my reticulation- the Noble Rot of film development? Now it is all just a filter I can impose at intentional will.

What about limits on the number of shots you can take? 24, 36, 48 per roll? And what about manual focus? Why is that so hard? Why can’t I choose what I want to focus on. Where are my F-stops? Where is the sensual poetry of (wo)man and machine, out together capturing moments in time from social space?

I wonder, what would Mr. Evans say about all of this?

JD: He’d probably think of something positive to say; some of his negatives are discolored from the glue in the seam of their
glassine envelopes, and he shot SX-70 for the last couple of years of his life.

I think the key lies in when the decisions are made, at which point in the process. We all grew up with the cameras that could shoot several dozen exposures per roll, from which we edited (or not) when we “got them back.” The cameras without film allow for hundreds of shots, because deleting unwanted pictures is “not a waste,” and corrective functions are seemingly easy for the few keepers. (Again, not everyone deletes: witness this morning’s postings on f/book.) OTOH, with the large format cameras, one loads one’s film a sheet at a time in the dark and unloads it for processing (not that I’m complaining, mind you), so when I see something to shoot, the thought process includes some version of “Hmm, this is a possibility…but it’ll be better around, maybe, four o’clock.” The success rate per exposure is higher (a little, anyway), and as we all know, whether it’s a darkroom or a kitchen or body shop, ya gotta enjoy the process, right?

JC: Okay… but, the machine… the relationship between subject and photographer. I think it’s different when the image is “disposable.” This touches on the relationship between the photographer and the camera too… it’s a triad of photographer, camera and photograph. Here is a little bit about Jean Rouch (moving film… but it works here):

“But what of the “self” of the observer or, in Rouch’s case, the ethnographic filmmaker? here Rouch compares his own “self” with that of the possessed medium. In filming “Les tambours d’avant” Rouch literally attached himself to the ritual and entered a “cine-trance of one filming the trance of another” (Rouch 1989, 348). Cine-trance, however, is entered only by filmmakers who practice cine-verite, who hunt for images in the real world. Cine-trance is, in effect, a kind of profound dialogue between ethnographer and other, leading to a phenomenologically informed and shared anthropology. (Stoller, 1992, 169)”

It’s like when I write… a few months ago I lost my computer to a damaged logic board (I see the irony in that, believe me). I was unable to write. I tried to sit with a pen and paper, but my thought process is so altered from that medium that I literally could not do it. My thoughts move at the same time my fingers do on a keyboard.

Now that I am trying to relearn how to take photographs I struggle with a different set of muscle memories around the technology. I will put my big-girl pants on and read the manual and figure it out, but the process so far as deposited me back in that cold classroom at BHS where I listened to you talk about F-stops, and realized that I would never have the patience it took to master the darkroom. I have been dragging around those 35mm cameras and those memories for 20 years…

And now they have to be replaced, and that makes me a little sad. And old.

That’s all.