Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Plunged into darkness

Last night as I was about to commence a photo blog entry, the area was plunged into darkness. This photo of my home was taken with my Nexus 4 in pitch blackness. The flash has no reach at all hence the graininess.

Looking at the photo, the graininess is not unpleasing and is very reminiscent of the Ilford HP5 that was my favorite film in my 35mm and 120 film days. That had me looking up Ilford online.

While Ilford still exists, their best product, Ilford Cibachrome does not. That was a positive color printing paper which produced the most wonderfully rich colors. It was also fade resistant for up to 200 years.

Many times I remember printing from slides. Because of the nature of the paper, it had to be handled in complete darkness. Complete darkness in darkrooms, particularly amateur darkrooms which live a double life as bathrooms, usually means minimal ventilation. The fumes from Cibachrome chemicals are particularly noxious. They smell tarry and after breathing them, your lungs feel like they're on fire. Prolonged inhalation of the vapors is not recommended according to the instructions. That always seemed daft because darkrooms all have poor ventilation.

Needless to say, after an hour or two in the darkroom, ones clothes had the smell of the chemicals permanently infused. It was a great relief therefore when I could afford the Patterson orbital wibbly-wobbly otherwise known as the orbital processor. Once the paper was in the tray, processing and fluid changes could be done in the daylight.

It does not surprise me that Cibachrome has been discontinued. I'd imagine it had been thoroughly attacked by the environmental gangsters and by falling sales. It was somewhat of a niche product. Not everybody used transparency film. Indeed, the digital darkroom was probably the biggest cause. I once frequented Colliers Photographic Emporium in South Wales. The owner, Mike Collier said "The digital darkroom is the best thing ever to happen to photography". It's so true - it reduced exposure to chemicals and reduced the darkroom from an entire room to a scanner beside a computer.

Back then, Mike Collier didn't believe in digital imaging. The writing had been on the wall for years before that though. I recall asking when APS film came out which recorded exposure information on a magnetic stripe very much in the manner of Super 8 sound film, why the manufacturers didn't just go digital. It made much more sense. TV cameras used digital sensors, web cams existed, all the features of SLRs were electronic. It just didn't seem sensible to keep stuffing 1830s technology into a 1986 marvel of technology.

Now, I'm more amazed that Ilford hasn't followed Agfa and Kodak into bankruptcy and obscurity. Like Circuit City and Office Max in the US, its probably just about clinging onto life by the tippy tips of its fingernails.

Part of me misses the romance of the darkroom. I don't miss the hour or so putting it together, the slow progress, the smells, the chemicals, the cost, the space and the time taken putting it all away. It was something fun to do when you were living with your parents but in my own place I can't afford the time or the space, particularly when my home is the 24 foot long, 91 inch wide passenger compartment of a 20+ year old former school bus.

And the darkness us because I am reliant upon a 15A extension cord that goes out of a house and into my bus. The bus as yet has no onboard power, hence when power goes out in the house, power goes out in the bus!

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