“In life outside music, ambiguity is not necessarily a positive attribute—it is often a sign of indecision and, in politics, a lack of firm direction—but in the world of sound, ambiguity becomes a virtue in that it offers many different possibilities from which to proceed. Sound has the ability to make a link between all elements, so that no element is exclusively negative or positive… Feeling is an expression of the struggle for balance, and it cannot be allowed independence from thought. As Spinoza shows us, joy and its variants lead to a greater functional perfection; sorrow and its related affects are unhealthy and should therefore be avoided. In music, though, joy and sorrow exist simultaneously and therefore allow us to feel a sense of harmony. Music is always contrapuntal, involving an interplay of independent voices, in the philosophical sense of the word. Even when it is linear, there are always opposing elements coexisting, occasionally even in conflict with each other. Music accepts comments from one voice to the other at all times and tolerates subversive accompaniments as a necessary antipode to leading voices. Conflict, denial and commitment coexist at all times in music.”

-Daniel Barenboim, “Music Quickens Time”

Photograph: Frederick Sommer

SoFoBoMo, fo’ sho’


National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWri Mo, is a non-competition, a challenge to oneself, wherein writers work to complete a 175-page, 50,000 word novel in one month. It’s an up-front admission by that organization: “Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap.’ The fo-do version of this is Solo Photo Book Month, wherein workers make a virtual on-line “book” of at least 35 pictures inside 31 days.

Scraps of paper have been piling up all around me for decades. Since I’ve never had a cigarette, this has not been much of a hazard. Everything seemed to have pictorial potential: notebooks, hand-drawn maps, found notes, anonymous grocery lists (someone has a website of these; hell, that can be said about everything), signs I’ve appropriated (Walker did it too). Keeping in mind the dicta of Garry Winogrand — “Any and all things are photographable” — and of Harold Allen, that what matters is where you put the camera and where you place the edges, I plumbed my archive and plucked pix thereof.

Ray Metzker speaks of working from a set of concerns, and that’s what happened with this little project. In no particular order, there was the texture of the surfaces, the limited (but real) color palette, regard for “horizon” in each image, the writers’ script, their legibility, and the words themselves.

Because I have attained certain level of cyber-capability (just enough), and working under their deadline, the display of the images isn’t what I envisioned (double-page spreads, blank pages as caesurae). If (when) this appears as a hard copy through blurb or whatever, those and other issues will get resolved to some degree. “Writing” is rewriting.

Most of the other 221 completed books employ more traditional / expected / pictorial subject matter, and may be easier to take at first viewing than this subject matter.  Please offer me some feedback on this experiment; thanks.


That’s A Lovely Paperweight You’re Holding In Front Of Your Face

“MIT ‘develops’ a camera-like fabric.” Put all your equipment on craigslist.

Excellent Papers

 When I started to print, many good and legendary papers had already disappeared, and in fact were vanishing that very month. I went on a wild goose chase to acquire some DuPont Velour Black; never found any. Ilford’s Ilfomar was still available in Canada, but not for long, either. I suspect part of the Velour allure was/is the same as it is for all things gone: one wants what one cannot have.

The high school used to stock single-weight Agfa Brovira (fiber-based, not resin-coated) in 500-sheet boxes, in all six grades. (There was an elaborate system of distribution and labeling that I swear took half of each class period, and somehow it all worked out.) Every Agfa paper I ever encountered was very good. Many workers swore by the silver-rich Portriga-Rapid, which faltered for a few years in the 1990s which its formulation was made to conform with new environmental standards; a paper not sold in this country, Record Rapid, had such a reputation that I found some on a trip to London; later it was introduced here as Insignia. It was great, but did not age well in the box. Toward the end (of Agfa) their paper of reputation was Multicontrast Classic (MCC). HS Ph.D.s used quite a lot of this variable-contrast, double-weight fiber paper in 11×14 before it disappeared. A friend of mine tried to buy some at Central Camera; the clerk said, “We’re all out. Some guy named Friedlander called from New York and bought it all.” Now Adox is re-introducing a paper called MCC 110, modeled after Multicontrast Classic, and it’s shipping in September.

Not everyone would necessarily agree, but for moi, whatever paper I would try, it seems I always returned to Ilford Galerie, a top-o’-th’-line double-weight fiber paper made in Grades 1 through 4. (I just finished a box of Grade 1 purchased sixteen ears ago; sniff.) 

Kentmere is currently part of Harmon (Ilford), and makes very nice stuff. Oriental papers are quite good, and have their adherents. Forte made beautiful papers, and there are rumors of re-appearance. Kodak made Azo, which was contact speed, not at all suitable for enlarging. Typically, I’ll expose it four feet from a 75 watt bulb for around two minutes. Now, two photographers in Pennsylvania have contracted to have a replacement paper made, called Lodima. Lately, folks on the pure silver e-mail thread are talking about good characteristics of Arista II VCFB, calling it the world’s cheapest paper. We’ll have to get some and see for ourselves, right?

For general information on how to choose and use papers, see:

7/22 Update from Dr. Rudman: “Potentially exciting news is about to be released from Harman Technology / Ilford Photo. They will announce their commitment to develop a new Fine Art silver gelatine paper suitable for Lith Printing and toning, which it hopes “will be every creative printer’s dream”. This development is part of their ‘Defend the Darkroom’ campaign, which “aims to safeguard the future of darkrooms and associated creative techniques“. The new product will be a variable grade, double weight, fibre based black & white paper ideal for Lith printing and toning.” Stay tuned for this. To get the e-mail updates from the World Of Lith Printing, which is a unique style of printing with its own darkroom methods, see

FS: Used Photo Bag

Bidding begins tomorrow, Thursday, at noon Chicago time.

P.S. The lunar dust brushes right off.

Making Negatives Releases Endorphins

It’s true: processing film ranks right up there with running, and with making good-looking entrees.

Let’s consider what one would need to make ’em  (negatives) at home and how to do it. You can find this information at plenty of locations on the World Wide Intercom, so I’ll do it as though we’re chatting.

Bare minimum: reel & tank & lid & cap, clock, thermometer, dark. Developer, fixer, water.

One step up: a photo thermometer, a (darkroom) timer, hypo clearing agent, wetting solution.

The chemicals, in reverse order:

Wetting solution is sold as LFN or Photo Flo 200 (you don’t need Photo Flo 600).  For either, drop a drop or two into a pint of water for a final rinse of 30-60 seconds. Any suds you generate in this will run off and leave nothing on the film. The pint is usually good for all day. An alternate method I’ve not tried is to spray the film, hanging in position to dry, with distilled water from a plant, Mister (I mean, a plant mister).

Hypo clearing agent (HCA) breaks down the fixer that remains on film (or in paper fibers) so that the wash times may be kept to an efficient minimum. Implied in that: enough washing makes HCA unnecessary. Kodak makes it, and so does Edwal and others; it’s easy to make with just a couple of common chemicals and a scale. You know what, though: just pick up a quart of Perma Wash. 3 ounces makes a gallon; nothing to it.

Fixer is a sine qua non of processing, so get over the aroma, OK? Most gang darkrooms use Kodak Rapid Fixer (there are equivalents) because it’s cost effective, but the critical thing is not to overextend its use. It’s very important to know how much material has gone through a given batch of working solution fixer. I’ve always been reluctant to mix from packages in powder form (fear of contamination), and the extra expense of liquid concentrate is a small upgrade. Until I changed fixers a while back (BIG upgrade; more later) I usually preferred Edwal Quick Fix.

“Working solution?” Most, if not all, rapid fixer liquid concentrates get diluted 1:3 for film and 1:7 for prints, although there are reasons to stick with 1:3 for paper as well. This means that for our paltry needs, eight ounces of rapid fixer makes a quart of working solution fixer good for a dozen rolls of film in a six-month period. Be sure to stir thoroughly, until all the striations are gone, and it will remain in solution from then on.

So. If you make HCA by mixing one ounce of Perma Wash into a third of a gallon of water, that will last as long as the quart of fixer. Keep a tally and dates on the containers. Simple and reliable.

The biggest, most important deal of all is the developer. Perhaps no one but you will be aware of the difference that the choice of a developer makes, but oh, you’ll know. Seems odd, I know, not to touch on the fine points of types of grain and compensating qualities and exposure indices, but right now let’s be practical.

Xtol is currently the reigning developer in terms of quality, flexibility and cost effectiveness; it’s easy to mix at room temperature, it’s relatively environmentally friendly citric acid-based) and it acts as its own replenisher. The only catch is that it must be purchased and mixed in FIVE LITER batches! Originally it was also available in one-liter packages, but there were quality control problems in manufacture. This brings us back to previous gold standards among developers: D-76 and HC-110.

D-76 was first concocted (see how far out of my way I go to avoid saying it was developed?) in 1927 as a “fine-grain” motion-picture film developer. It’s still the standard to which every other formula compared. There are home-brew variations, but every darkroom worker has it memorized: 400TX, 1:1, 68F., 10 minutes. The stuff is available in packages to make one quart at a time. For 35mm that’ll do eight rolls at a 1:1 dilution. It keeps for six months in a filled and stoppered glass bottle, and when the bottle becomes partially full, the guarantee slips to 2 months; still not bad.  

HC-110 comes as viscous pint (yellow or orange? It changed from one to the other) that you first dilute to a half-gallon, and then further as needed. There are at least 8 recommended dilutions, all with their own times. In school we diluted only a half-ounce or so at a time from the pint; I don’t know why we thought that was accurate, with its syrupy consistency. Times are seductively short. Don’t fall for it. Only if your processing techniques are flawless would I suggest you go this route.

What else do you need? A dust-free place to hang film to dry, and a clip for hanging. I don’t know any dust-free places, but if things aren’t stirred up you should be fine. Keep large dogs out of the room, and don’t use catnip as a weight on the bottom end. Although a slight weight is nice to have (especially in low humidity) to discourage curling, it’s equally effective to crease the blank leader backward against the curl twice, and all will be well.

If anything is unclear or you want me to elaborate, just post a comment. As Ted did. Thanks for the kick in the pants.

Update: is a pleasant tutorial by “Veronica.” It includes a link to an Ilford pdf of the same stuff in more formal terms.

Oh, we could quibble…

This rambling list is a hoot. A number of the “tips,” however, look like terrific picture-making strategies if they’re done with clear intention. Feel free to chip in with additional items, to extend the list.