Curiously Analogue, Part Two

Developing films at home

Film photography is back!

Kodak have even announced that they are going to restart producing some of their old films again and are looking at new films they could produce.This is good news for analogue photographers like myself.

When the Impossible Project began in 2008 by rescuing the last remaining Polaroid film factory and equipment it ensured that instant film photography would continue. Indeed, it has even gained a new life in the form of refurbished old Polaroid cameras, the Fuji Instax camera range and the Lomography instant camera range. There is still nothing like the excitement of watching a photograph develop before your eyes and the new interest in instant photography has made it possible for new generations to experience that excitement.

I have had an interest in film photography since I was a teenager and lived for many years in the company of an Olympus Trip and a Praktica TL1000. For a long time my film cameras lived side by side with a Nikon wide angle digital camera and a Sony DSLR. Eventually though finding films and then getting them developed in the UK proved to be too difficult. I sold on my analogue cameras and moved into purely digital photography.

Then, a few years ago, I came across a Lomography Sampler at the Science Museum and had a great time taking multishot images. I passed on the Lomo about the same time as I acquired a box of old 35mm film cameras from a charity shop. I created a mini museum in my flat to film photography but had to sell them all when I moved into a houseshare. It was a sad moment.

Now, life has settled down a little bit and I have more time (and money) to indulge in photography. A few months ago I purchased an old Fuji Instax 10 0n eBay and had a great time taking instant photos. The quality was none too brilliant as the camera was very basic but I had fun for a while. I sold it on a few weeks ago with the intention of buying a newer model but then …

I rediscovered 35mm film at the Photographer’s Gallery in London. Boom! I went online and acquired a Canon Ixus (which takes weird compact films) and a Pentax SLR. Old style 35mm film is not particularly expensive thanks to the Lomography company from Vienna and Foma in the Czech Republic. The cost of development is pretty hard on the pocket though. I took a film from my Ixus to be developed and got a bill for £11.99. That hurt and I realised that if I was to continue experimenting with analogue film I would need to learn how to develop my own films.

This is where I am now at.

There is a lot of interest on old style photography and film developing at the moment so I was outbid on eBay quite a few times before securing a Paterson developing tank. The tank is now sitting on the dining table ready to be used. The tanks is what films are developed in. It consists of a black plastic tank, two reels onto which you wind the film, a stirrer, a funnel and a lid to prevent the liquids seeping out. The hard bit about the developing process seems to be winding the film onto a spool in the dark.

The plan is to have a go at home developing using common household products such as instant coffee, vitamin C powder, washing soda, white vinegar and salt water. The process is called Caffenol and there is a wonderful YouTube video on it: Caffenol Photo Processing. This is also a good film on the process: HD Caffenol Processing. A group in Leicester had a go a year ago: Leicester Photography Walk with happy results.

I can’t wait to get going.





Curiously Analogue

Rediscovering Analogue Photography

I first started taking photographs with a Kodak Land Camera which was a large flat looking beast into which you asserted a film cartridge with a gel pouch at the bottom. The camera was a very basic point and shoot with the added fun that a photograph popped out of the machine. After waving it about and blowing on it for a few second the image would appear piece by piece. This was great fun and almost instant. The results were rarely great but it was the immediacy which was the fun part.

My parents had owned a Kodak Brownie before that but it had only come out on special occasions and recorded events in black and white. I still have a few of those shots to remind of obsolete traditions such as the town parade where we all dressed up and walked around the town. I was smitten with photography and at College I bought a Praktica TL1000 35mm manual Single Lens Reflex camera. In the mid1990s I supplemented it with  a Vivitar pocket camera which produced decent enough snaps with Fomapan film. I acquired a crate of processed 35mm slide and negative film which went in my mother’s loft for a few years.

In 2002 I bought a Nikon Coolpix 4300 (which I still use) for around £400 and became a total digital convert. I even gave away my Praktica. During the early part of the 21st century 35mm film became scarcer and more difficult to develop. Increasingly developing shops concentrated on digital prints. The last big outing for my Praktica was a trip to America in 2004. On that trip I used both analogue and digital cameras but the digital was winning since I could see the results instantly and not having to wait for 24 hour service. On my return, I went fully digital with a Sony DSLR.

But I still had a hankering for old film. I picked up several classic models at charity shops and online but had problems finding films. For a time I owned my own Polaroid Land Camera. The Impossible Project had rescued one of the Polaroid machines used to make the instant film cartridges but it was difficult and expensive to get the films. I eventually sold the camera on but endlessly lamented the loss.

lomo_20170114_130544  Old negative.

I rescued the box of old films and photos from my mother’s loft and spend many winters scanning them on to a PC using an Epson scanner. It was a laborious process and I got fed up of it. I purchases several specialist scanners before selling them on barely used as the results were not worth the time taken up.

I did go back to analogue briefly about 2007 when I bought a Lomography Sampler at the Science Museum in London. It was fun for a while but I had no real interest in multiple images of the same thing taken microseconds apart. I used it a while and sold it on.

church-somewhere A church. Chester Cathedral?

And then last year I paid a visit to the London Photographer’s Gallery. True I had been before but on that day I wandered down into the basement and saw all the goodies they had: Fomapan film, Kodak film, Fuji Film, Lomo film, specialist film, everyday film, throwaway cameras, instant film and camera, lots of cameras. I had an upcoming trip to Belarus and wanted to take some artistic photographs of my trip. I was sold back on analogue.

lomo_20170106_214341 Cricklewood North London.

Ebay provided me with an old Fuji Instant Camera and a couple of boxes of film, a Pentax 35mm auto SLR and batteries (it is not easy to get hold of some of these old batteries) and a Canon Ixus APX  (both around 20 years old) and I was off. The Fuji had a few outings in London but was too unpredictable for my liking and expensive to boot. It is now about to go to a new home. The Pentax is my pride and joy. I take it off to Regents Park for photo shoots. The Canon went to Belarus and the result was some excellent photographs. Now I take it everywhere.

lomo_20170114_171726 Somewhere near Prague in 1995.

I have just acquired a Lomography film scanner and my old 35mm films are coming back to life. What a  record of my travels they are! I am still getting the hang of it but already I am retrieving my past.

apartment-buildings-usti-nad-labem Apartment blocks in Usti nad Labem, CZ

It is now quite expensive to have films developed and printed so when I take my old cameras out I think about the shot rather than taking lots of shots. With this new careful consideration has come a renewed appreciation of the art of photography and I am loving it. I am hooked all over again just like I was at 19.

I always judge a book by its cover

I always judge books by the covers and I usually choose books purely from their covers. In the same way I often reject books because of their covers. I notice this more and more when I am flicking through BookBub or Amazon picks. If the cover does not speak to me then I assume, rightly or wrongly, that the book won’t either.

A good book cover can make me stop and look. I have never read anything by Elena Ferrante but was aware of her existence before the recent hubbub about her real name thanks to the book covers I saw in Daunt Books one day.

What does a book cover do? It represents the contents of the book to the casual observer. I know that if I see a vaguely Scandinavian name and a lot of snow that I am probably looking at a Scandi thriller. Even better if the setting looks remote and uninhabited. I also know that if I see a childish type building and bright colours that the book is probably in the old chic-lit category.  A cozy looking room with an armchair and a ball of wool? A cozy mystery.

I am not a huge fan of cluttered images and multiple fonts. I like minimalist designs with a good use of colour. Blood red is off putting but pillar box red is comforting. Innovative use of overlays, scratched texture and sepia prints are welcoming even if the story inside is not. Think Winter in Madrid. I used to like the penguin covers of the 1970s with their avant garde designs which may or may not have been related to the contents.

I love the cover of this version of Nancy Huston’s novel Dolce Agonia  because it is so simple.


I love Art Deco and any book which nods to this movement always gets my attention. This cover uses both typography and simplistic design to attract attention:


I am also fond of using textures and layering in Photoshop so this cover appealed to me:


As did this one I found on Google:


I rather like the redaction technique and have seen it done successfully on a few occasions.

A discussion of book covers would not be complete without a mention of the Patti Smith memoir M Train, which readers will know I have been reading these past few months. I think I was attracted to the book by the lovely image of Ms Smith sitting in her favourite café, with a cup of coffee and a Polaroid Land Camera looking meditative. The nice sepia treatment truly brought out the subject and made the book instantly appealing and recognisable.

There is an interesting discussion on book covers to be found on the Canva website.



Picking fonts for your book

When you are designing your self-published book the questions of which font to use and which font size are important ones. A good font can be one of the reasons why a reader picks up your book in the first place. You need your book to be legible and easy to read. It may be necessary to use different fonts / typefaces for different formats.

Every basic word processing program has  an array of fonts and many more are available online. However, not all of them work well on eReaders or in print. The most popular fonts seem to be Times New Roman, Arial and Comic Sans but there are others out there which work for readers as well.

Thanks to computers one of the most popular fonts is Times New Roman. Obviously Times New Roman was designed for the Times Newspapers in the days when newspapers used narrow columns and small font sizes because print and paper were expensive commodities. It was nice, clear and elegant even in small type. Another popular font for word processors is Arial. Arial is a version of Helvetica, a popular font of yore. Helvetica is a clear font without any serifs so it looks clean on the page and is easy to read. As such it is a popular choice for road signs and companies. Arial itself is easy to read and good for people who are not good readers as it is a sans serif font.

Personally, I think Times New Roman is too squashed up with not enough kerning or letter spacing for a modern print book. I use Arial a lot for work publications but I am not sure I would like to read a whole book in it. The original Garamond is a little too fussy for me and I am not fond of serif typefaces. I am not sure it would work on an eReader either.More modern versions seem cleaner and clearer.

Usually I work in Bookman Old Style font which was very popular in the 1960s and 1970s. It has wide characters and lower case letters are 3/4 of the way up the upper case letters giving it a nice look on the page. The letters  look clean on the page as each letter is balanced with kerning which makes for uniformity. However, I have been looking at Granjon which derives from Garamond. It was the font used in Patti Smith’s M Train with a nice line spacing where it worked well. I am not too sure how it will work with literary fiction though as it is a lighter weight font. Similar to Bookman Old Style is Palatino Linotype. In Palatino the letters are more chiselled and the foot of the letters is shorter so the typeface seems cleaner on the eye.

If you are interested in learning more about fonts and typefaces I have found the following article useful: Picking Fonts. For information about typography I recommend  an article by Janie Kliever which is where the illustration below comes from.