COFFEE FIX FOR PHOTOS


After a break of a couple of years I decided to get back into analogue photography last autumn.

I was going on a trip to Belarus and wanted some instant photos to stick into my journal so picked up a second-hand Fuji instant camera and a couple of packs of instant film. I liked the results but not the price of the film. So, I went back online and got a Canon Ixus APS camera and some old film. The photos were amazing so I sold on the Fuji and kept the Canon.

I gave away my Praktika TL1000 a few years ago but had a hankering to go back to the pre-digital SLR age. A Pentax SFXn came my way for a few pounds so I stocked up with batteries and old Fomapan B & W film. I have since added a no brand plastic camera and several throwaway cameras to the analogue armoury. Each camera and each film is unique so I get some interesting results.

The downside of the analogue resurgence is the cost of developing film. It is a trek to find the developing shop which can do my APS and the B & W has to be sent away. The solution is the Caffenol Developing Process.

As is the way of things, all three sets of digital scales in my cupboard are malfunctioning and the thermometer cracked when placed in water.  I consulted the web and found a process using spoons on http://www.caffenol.org. Look up “recipes.”

Two stage developer

  • 240ml Water, 7 rounded Teaspoons of Instant Coffee (I used M&S)
  • 100ml Water, 4 Teaspoons of Washing Soda (I used DP washing soda)
  • 2 Teaspoons of Vitamin C (got the powder off the internet)

Equipment needed:

  • A dark room changing bag
  • A developing tank with spiral wheel
  • A pair of scissors
  • A can opener
  • A couple of spoons
  • A couple of jugs or bottles
  • A timer
  • Squeegee
  • A used film

Method:

First, put everything you need into the changing bag and close it up. Put your arms through the holes and spend some time fiddling about trying to get the cap off the film.. When you have done that get the film out. Snip off the shaped end bit which feeds into the camera spool. Attach newly shorn end into the niches on the reel. Spool entire film on. Snip off end bit attached to the cannister spool. All film should be nicely attached. If not, then the developing mix cannot really get to all parts and not all the film is developed. Place the reel onto the centre column and lock into developing tank with funnel lid firmly placed.

Put the Coffee mix into the developing tank, agitate once per second for the first minute. Leave it for another 2 minutes, agitate for 10 seconds every minute.

Pour out 100ml of Water and add the Washing Soda mix.

Agitate once per second for the first minute. Agitate for 10 seconds every minute for 9 minutes. Stand development for another 4 minutes.

Now wash out thoroughly several times. This gets rid of the coffee stuff.

When that is done you need to fix the image onto the film. You can use a salt solution or chemical fixer. Agitate several times and then pour out. Wash the film in water.

Unpack the film and get all the water off with a squeegee. Hang the film up to dry before scanning or printing.

Full information on the process is also to be found on:

https://fstop138.berrange.com/2014/09/caffenol-aka-developing-bw-film-w-instant-coffee/

I had a bash and the results were better than the first time…..

I failed to get the film onto the reel properly because I forgot to stick the scissors in the bag! And I could probably have done with timing the process better.

Here are my results:

LOMO_20170528_142740[1]LOMO_20170528_142942[1]

 

In Search of Virginia Woolf


Inspired by “Legacy: Photographs by Vanessa Bell and Patti Smith” at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in February, and embarrassed by not getting to the end of any of Woolf’s books or even the wonderful biography by Hermione Lee, I persuaded a friend to come with me to Rodmell for a day out.

rodmell

Rodmell was the get-away-cottage that Leonard and Virginia Woolf purchased in 1919 and to which they moved on a permanent basis during the war. It is where Virginia wrote, and reworked, many of her famous novels. It is also, of course, where she died.

Having seen Patti Smith’s photographs I was keen to see the bed Virginia slept in and her walking stick. Delightfully, I got to see both. In those days, of course, people sleeping alone would have slept in a single bed but it was still a surprise looking at the room with 21st century eyes. The bookcases are all original though  most of the original books owned by Virginia were sold long before the house became a museum/shrine. All that remains are the collected works of Shakespeare which Virginia had covered herself shortly before her death. 

Virginias bed

I think that it is still possible to get a sense of the woman and writer even after so many decades and changes to the house. The handpainted fireplace, for instance, gives a wonderful sense of the artistic life which surrounded VW. Her sister, Vanessa, was an important artist of the early 20th century.

The bedroom has terrific views from two large windows of the garden, the church and the countryside. It must have been inspiring to work there. It was a tranquil place and the Woolf’s spent a great deal of time in arranging it. It was here in the garden that they entertained their many visitors.

MonksHouseGarden

Within view of the house is the writing hut where VW repaired to do her daily stint of writing. VW had a view of the garden but not so much of it as to provide a great distraction from her work. 

VWswritinghut

The house itself is a collection of cottages knocked together to form one large building. The house, when bought by the Woolf’s, consisted of an entrance, a sitting room, a dining room and a tiny kitchen downstairs. By all accounts it was a mean kitchen and the Woolf’s had a newer extension built to accommodate some modern accessories. The upstairs had one large and two small bedrooms. The toilet was outside. I assume that after VM’s death, Leonard made some improvements. 

upperfloor

The house and remaining possessions provide a connection with the two writers but do not necessarily give much of an insight into how they lived and wrote. My friend thought she could feel something of VW’s spirit in the writing hut, though. I understand more of how VW wrote thanks a video I saw a few nights ago with Elaine Showalter, who talked about VW’s style of writing and how she put her novels together. The villagers I met who had known VW mentioned how she used to walk around mouthing lines from her books as she tried them out. I can imagine it was easier to get away with that in the countryside that in central London. 

I am not sure that I understand Virginia Woolf’s writing any better than I did (despite having written and read endless commentaries on her novels during my MA) but I have been inspired to pick up Hermione Lee’s biography again and find VW’s works on my Kindle. What can a writer learn from visiting this remote location? Possibly that what a woman writer needs is not just a room of her own but also sustaining relationships to help her realise her potentials. 

Patricia Highsmith investigates the religious right


Set in the early 1980s during the Reagan era when Christian Fundamentalism was on the rise, Patricia Highsmith’s People Who Knock on the Door chronicles the events which move a middle class American family out of their comfort zone into the world of uncertainty.

Highsmith, best known for her crime stories based around the character of Tom Ripley and, more recently, for her lesbian novel Carol demonstrates her superb plotting and storytelling skills in this novel. Naturally, there are crimes in the novel but not the kind of Highsmith-type crime we are used to. These are moral crimes set against the backdrop of the belief system.

The issues at the heart of this novel are the effects that any kind of religious (or, for that matter, political) fundamentalism has on family and friends and changes the attitudes and behaviour of the believer. When Richard Alderman becomes a born-again Christian he becomes enmeshed in the world of the fundamentalists with their counselling sessions, preaching, outreach groups, knocking on doors, gossip-mongering and pamphleteering.  In his zeal he cannot appreciate that his elder son, wife and mother-in-law do not share his beliefs and have a right to their own viewpoint.

He manages to convince his gullible youngest son that he has been “saved” from near-death and indoctrinates him. Highsmith shows the way in which a vulnerable teenager can easily fall prey to such a rigorous influence when there is no credible opposition. Richard uses his new-found religious faith to alienate his eldest son and to punish him for being a nice kid who is not taken in by the mavericks.

The novel covers television evangelism, prolife vs abortion debate, class, religious freedom, politics and the American obsessions with guns. All this is done is a very readable story which jogs along until the explosion towards the end.

The novel did not get particularly good reviews when it was first published despite being, in my opinion, one of her best novels. Her US editor did not recommend it to his publishers, Harper & Row so it was picked up by Penzler Books. Marilyn Stasio, in the New York Times of November 24, 1985 did not regard it as one of her better books. There are some aspects of the novel which jar, and which have been picked up by reviewers on Good Reads, namely that the young Arthur and his friends seem to drink a surprising number of adult drinks rather than beer (e.g. Old Fashioned cocktails) and hang around old people a lot (e.g. Norma).

Having read many of Highsmith’s books over thirty years, I am now persuaded to return to her as a storyteller.

I have come late to Eileen Myers


I do not remember how I came across the name Eileen Myers. I do not remember how I came across the work of Eileen Myers. What I do remember is that I came across their poetry and Twitter messages in September last year. I am surprised that I had never heard of them before after all they are the same generation of my idol, Patti Smith. They both emerged in NY around the same time. They were both photographed by Robert Maplethorpe. They were both “punk” poets.  They were, are, both political. How come I had never heard of them?

And now? And now, I am learning to read their poetry and their books. I came across Myer’s last collection “I must be living twice” in Finchley, London. It was an omen. I bought the book and flipped through it as I took the bus home. What did I like? I liked the directness. I liked the straight approach. I have no time for the romantic poets or people who weave words in such a way as a reader needs a PhD in semiology  to understand their meaning. The images of Myers on the internet show a woman who is not bound up with fashion and notions of beauty – a woman who presents themselves as they are, wrinkles and untidy hair. They dress as straightforwardly as they write.

I am currently watching the television series Transparent, in which Myles is a character and also an actor. Reading the credits reminded me of “I must be living twice” sitting on my bookshelf. I took it down. I also did an internet search for their other works. The titles, I think, are arresting: “Not Me” and “The New Fuck You.” They are challenging titles and, I am happy to say, the poems in “Not Me” are as direct and challenging as I expected.  I like “narrative poetry,” by which I mean narratives / stories  told within the confines and structure of verse. The break in the lines and the thoughts are genius.

“When I came
in I switched
on the light
to a yellow &
black striped
towel on the
floor & a big
smashed water-
melon & a
pair of
cowboy boots.”
(Not Me, page 22)

I have come late to Eileen Myers but I am glad I have come.

 

Five Minutes of Freedom


Over the past fifteen months I have been researching and writing a novel on the samizdat movement in 1970s  Czechoslovakia. The story was sparked by a poem, a partially remembered song and the life of the Russian dissident Natalya Gorbanevskaya. Every now and again I come across some new information about the era and a new website.

This weekend I have stumbled across a website devoted to documentaries. Of most immediate interest to me is the film 5 Minutes of Freedom. This is a film about the Warsaw Pact countries invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.

5 Minutes of Freedom trailer

Information about the film

One of the anti-invasion protesters arrested in Moscow was Natalya Gorbanevskaya, whose book about the trials I mentioned in a previous post. She pops up in the film about those protests.

Totally unrelated, but also of interest, are two films about being outsiders in Russia. One is Leninland – the story of supporters of Lenin. A further film is Olya’s Love which is an LGBT film.

All the above films are documentaries about the experience of being different in Russia. Being a Russian in Russia is, of course, an interesting experience at all times and in all situations. Something we in the West should learn more about, perhaps….

 

Good Reads book challenge


goodreads challenge

At the start of this year I set myself a reading challenge – to read 20 books over the course of the year. I did this without any real expectations but so far I have read 9 books in print and as ebooks, which is 45% of the challenge. I am thinking that as it is only April I may have to up the challenge. 

The great thing about the books I have been reading is that I have been reading for pleasure not for insights into writing or inspiration for my own writing. 

I have acquired the books from various channels – recommendations, free books from authors I follow, hand-me-downs from friends, books found in bookshops and books donated to the free library at my local railway station.  I have read both print and electronic books, with print books being in the ascendancy. This is a change from previous years when I was glued to my Kindle. 

At the moment I am reading “The Miniaturist” (a hand-me-down) which got off to a slow start but now I am hooked. I am taking it with me to Sofia tomorrow and when I have finished it will donate it to the hotel library for someone to find. 

Already packed is “Red Square at Noon” by one of my favourite dissidents: Natalya Gorbanevskaya. I am currently writing a novel loosely based on the experiences  of Gorbanevskaya and feel ready, at this point in my writing and research, to sit down and read her account of the trials of the anti-CSSR invasion of August 1968. I have a copy of the original Penguin edition displayed below. 

I have carried this book around for nearly a year waiting for the right moment to read it. Somehow, this seems to be the moment. 

As for the reading challenge, I am looking forward to discovering new books from new authors during the remainder of the year. I wonder what will come into my hands and how they will come there. Perhaps, other people’s reading challenges will lead me in new literary directions. I have many many books yet to read on my Kindle and my bookshelf but this year there seems to be time to start tackling them as I will, one by one. 

I wonder if any of my readers and followers have any recommendations for me. …..

 

Cut out cityscapes


Zupagrafika, a design company based in Poland, have reinvented paper cut-out models with a twist. Not for them the farmyard scenes or castles of my childhood. They are recreating the brutalist architecture of the post-WW2 world, with a concentration on the former Soviet Bloc countries.

One wonderful example is called “Brutal East” and contains 7 models representing brutalist Eastern Bloc architecture. This cut-out and stick pack contains such delights as a Czech panelák estate from Prague (which is pretty similar to other functionalist concrete estates to be found stretching from France across Europe right through to Mother Russia itself), Eastern Gate of Belgrade. Belgrade (Serbia), “Romanița” Collective Housing Tower. Chisinau (Moldova), House of Soviets. Kaliningrad (Russia), Novosmolenskaya Housing Complex. St. Petersburg (Russia), Sporto Rūmai. Vilnius (Lithuania) and “Manhattan” Housing Complex. Wrocław (Poland).

Over the years I have encountered a great deal of such architecture, most recently in the wonderful Belarus capital of Minsk. 

20161027_140153

This is a shining example in Prague – The Kotva Department Store built in the early 1970s.

20160722_200352

And this gem was in Usti nad Labem back in the 1990s.

LOMO_20170114_173148[1]

England also has its fair collection of brutalist buildings as can be seen from this mini exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts. 

20170312_162236[1]

 

I hope that Zupagrafika also turn their attention to some of the other former Soviet Bloc states such as Skopje which had a most amazing array of horrendous concrete buildings when I worked there in 1999. The central post office in Skopje reminded me of a dressed roast as seen in 1960s cookery books. This is “proper” ugly.

skopje post office architecture

http://yomadic.com/communist-architecture-skopje-kenzo-tange/

Here is a better image from Wikimedia:

1200px-Pošta_vo_Skopje,_Macedonia

Now Skopje is undergoing a transformation, the graphic designers need to get in quick.