America After the Fall: Royal Academy

This weekend a friend and I visited the Royal Academy of Arts in London to see the exhibition of American art during the Depression. The exhibition is in a small gallery and shows some key works from the 1920s and 1930s.

Some of the great names exhibited are Edward Hopper, Charles Sheeler and Alice Neel. The subjects range from rural scenes to industrial landscapes taking in the momentous changes America was going through during the period.

I was glad to see a couple of Hopper paintings up close especially his gas station painting:

Edward Hopper, Gas

and Sheeler’s industrial landscape.

Charles Sheeler, American Landscape

Both images

I can’t say that I really like the style of art on display – lacking good perspective and a little childlike for me. There is an interesting article on American Gothic here:

The exhibition is on until 4th June 2017. Be warned there are no limits on numbers allowed in and it was far too busy on Sunday to really see much.



Adventures with


Fractured door

As I have reported in recent blog posts I have slowly been returning to my roots in photography having rediscovered analogue photography. This week’s interest has been on trying to make my photos pop out and has lead to some interesting online adventures.

While reminding myself of how to turn ordinary flat photos into eye-catching HDR photos I came across reference to I was messing about with the programme this morning trying to turn the image below into a really standout image but what I actually created was the image above.


A nice door

The fractured image at the top of the page is actually the main image with the number 46 from the original door. I improved the colour using “autocolour” and then tried to improve on that with “hue and saturation.” I was still not getting the results I was looking for so I explored the effects. I hit the “fracture” command and the result above is what I got. It is not the intended result but rather nice nonetheless.

I think I should go back to my old Photoshop version 6 to continue with this experiment.

Making pinhole camera

It is a while since I last made a pinhole camera but as I am now trying to teach some photography basics in college it is time to have another go.

I found an excellent website article on how to do this: matchbox pinhole camera. The equipment is fairly basic:

  • A matchbox  (standard matchboxes are usually just the right width for 35mm film) – can always find empty ones on the internet or craft shops
  • A new roll of 35mm film.  Any type will do, but normal colour print film 100 or 200 speed works very well
  • An empty roll of 35mm film with at least 1cm stub of film sticking out.  Ask at your local photo labs, they normally throw away/recycle these.It may be possible to find some on eBay
  • Some thin cardboard (the box the new film comes in is fine)
  • An empty aluminium drinks can such as a cola can
  • Black PVC electricians tape
  • The plastic from a spiral binder, or any small piece of thin, curved plastic
  • A fine sewing needle or pin
  • Scissors
  • A sharp craft knife
  • A black marker pen

You follow the instructions on the website making sure that all light is excluded.

The photos, from I remember, are not that bad.

The film can be processed in a lab or a darkroom.

This is lomography at its most basic and amateurish but fun.

Analogue film experiments

I am sad to say that my first experiment in film developing did not work at all. When I took the film out of my canister there was nothing on it so I did a Google search for an explanation. It appears that some light must have got into the film. I am undaunted and want to teach this stage to some students I am teaching so I have splashed out on some new equipment.

Despite film developing being something of a niche interest these days there is still plenty of competition for any products which turn up on eBay. Having been outbid a few times I eventually got my hands on:

  • a black changing bag (essential for making sure no light gets onto the undeveloped film)
  • a Paterson film tank
  • a squeegee for getting the water off the film
  • a bag of washing soda (from a small independent shop)
  • a packet of vitamin C powder
  • some coffee
  • an old fashioned bottle opener
  • a pair of scissors
  • a thermometer
  • washing up liquid
  • Clothes pin or binder clips
  • a packet of Adofix P
  • a couple of measuring jugs

I also got a Paterson darkroom light by accident which will come in handy should I ever print out the images.


The developing kit

The theory goes like this:

  1. First shoot a roll of b & w film.
  2. Get together the ingredients and equipment.
  3. Put the film, scissors, bottle opener, reel and developing tank into the changing bag.
  4. Get the film out of the cannister using the changing bag and an old style bottle opener.
  5. Still in the bag, snip the end of the film and wind onto the reel which comes with the developing tank.
  6. Now pop the film into the tank and snap on the lid. The film should be safe now.
  7. Make up six ounces of coffee at 20°C.
  8. Add half a teaspoon of vitamin C powder. Stir.
  9. In another cup mix six ounces of water with three and a half teaspoons of washing soda. Stir.
  10. Mix the coffee mix and the washing soda mix together and heat up to 20°c again.
  11. Mix up the fixer according to the packet instructions.
  12. Add the developer to the tank and put the lid on. It needs to sit in there for around nine minutes. Agitate for a minute to make sure that all the film is coated and then agitate three times every minute.
  13. Pour out the developer. Keep the film in the tank and wash it through three or four times.
  14. Pour in the fixer. It needs to in there for five minutes. Again agitate three times eac minute.
  15. Pour out the fixer. It can be reused a few times so store it in labelled container.
  16. Now wash the film again maybe three times. For the fourth wash add a spot of washing liquid to ensure the film dries spot free.
  17. Hang up and let to dry.
  18. The film can now be scanned or printed.

I am hoping to try this out when I get to the end of my current film.

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.