Saturday, January 28, 2023

A photographic discovery

Readers who have been following along between this blog, and my personal one, know I've been sorting through the packets of old photo prints and negatives we had in a box in the basement. You have such a box as well, don't lie to me!

In looking for something else I came across the box and was diverted for a while looking through the prints. But there were negatives as well, and since I've been capturing current negatives, I wondered what the old ones would be like, and how they would turn out.

So in light of what I discovered, I need to clarify old. I knew we had a wedding album from Linda's parents, and various photos of me that older relatives had sent. But I was thinking the oldest negatives would be mine from the late-80s till whenever we got the first digital camera. Which to some of you young whipersnappers, that seems really old. Humph. There's days my brain still thinks it's mid-80's and wonders what's happened.

But then I came across some negatives that were an odd size, and I could see a really old truck in one of them. After digitizing, and I'm glad I got the glass plates because they wouldn't have fit in the carriers, we were amazed to see photos from the very late 1940's or early 1950's through to the early 60's. We think. We're checking with some of Linda's aunts to see if they can shed any light on who some of these people are.

One set of negatives is 127 film, and the other is 120 Kodak Safety film, in two different sizes, 2.25 inch square, and 2.25" x 3 3/8 (8.5 x 5.5 cm) which is essentially a modern 3:2 ratio. I'm guessing that 3 different cameras were used, but no idea what they might be.  

We have no idea how the negatives came to be in our box of photos. Neither of us have any memory of them being given to us, and we've never seen prints of them. We're guessing it happened maybe mid to late 90's. I've put the photos in an online folder and sent a link to Linda's relatives, and the feedback so far is they love them! Which makes it worthwhile.

As a technical note for photographers, I didn't do anything special to these negatives. Fortunately they were stored flat in the box. They were all photographed in a batch and had essentially no processing in Negative Lab Pro. I'm a bit surprised they look as good as they do.

This is Linda's parents, but we aren't sure if the baby is Linda or her older brother. The negatives are in no order, so we can't rely on context. If her brother, this is from late 1953 if it's a christening photo. There are several others in this sequence, including Linda's grandparents. Most of the photos are essentially family snapshots, with a few posed portraits.

We believe this is Linda as a little girl, early 60's. In one of the sequence she is posing with a stuffed toy that she has no memory of, so it's possible it could be someone else. Again, nothing special was done to clean up the file. At this point I was more interested in seeing what we had, than in spending a ton of time cleaning up dust spots and negative flaws. If some of our family ask for a version they can print, or a really clean digital version then I'll take another image with a better camera, and clean that up. 

The truck I first noticed. If this were one of my photos I was editing, I'd probably crop out the bottom third of it, the rocks and brighter grass not adding much. But I'm thinking of this more as historical photo journalism.  I've no idea what year or model the truck is.

By today's standards, none of these photos are particularly sharp, but that's to be expected. That they exist at all is kind of amazing. I'd like to post more of them, but want to give family the time to look them over and identify who's who. We're pretty sure some of the people are still alive, and I don't want to go publishing an old photo of them without permission. One of the photos has Linda's dad posing near a fire truck with some of what we believe are his colleagues. I've reached out to a person running a memorial page for that fire department to see if they are interested in the photos. I'd be astonished if not. The descendants of those people might be interested in seeing the photo.

I've written a bit about photographs, and what happens to them when the photographer passes away, and the differences in that process for printed and digital photos. The digital version of photos are ephemeral. They can disappear in the blink of a hard drive crash, a forgotten password, or a software update. Prints (in a book or framed) will last for generations with a bit of care, and can be looked at by anyone with functional eyeballs. Negatives can exist for the same amount of time, but generally can't be looked at by an ordinary person and be 'seen'. They need to be converted to a positive, whether through a traditional darkroom process, a scanner, or a digital camera. Assuming I live another 30 years, and that box stays in a cool dry environment, and somehow gets passed to another photographer, they could pull out the negatives and get essentially the same photos, since my digital versions will probably have vanished. Then they start the whole "who are these people" process over again. Maybe I should put a note with the negatives...

These negatives are mostly on the order of 70 years old. An eyeblink in terms of other historical documents, middle aged for analog photographs, but are before the beginning of digital time. The first digital photo is from 1957 and was scanned from an analog photo. The first digital camera was in 1975. The iPhone 3 in 2008 really kicked off digital photography. (Thank about that a moment, the smart phone is only 14 years old, or so, and has completely revolutionized our society, to the point of replacing those reels of tickets so people could take a number for faster service.) At that point no serious photographer would be using a digital camera because even 35mm film was light years better.

There are a few images from back then available now, having been migrated from computer to computer, probably mainly for historical interest rather than artistic merit. We have no way of knowing for sure, but I would not be surprised to find there are more 'lost' images, than what exist now. Just think of how computers have evolved in a few decades, and it's inevitable that photos and documents will be left behind, essentially inaccessible. 

I'm delighted to have a peek back in time, seeing what people looked like when young, seeing what else is in the photo that wouldn't be noticed at the time, such as vehicles, decorations, homes (I can only imagine how hideous that wallpaper was in real life), and general background. In several of the photos one of the people is holding a cigarette, you'd never see that now. 

Friday, January 20, 2023

Xmas lights on 120 Cinestill 800T

Twas the season. Once upon a time I picked up some 120 Cinestill 800T thinking I'd do some city night photography with it. Then I forgot about it, though it was in the fridge right beside the cheese compartment that I look at nearly every day. Then I got another roll because, well, like I said.

If you're curious about film, keep reading. If you don't care about film technicalities, scroll down to the photos.

We had a long really cold spell here, and I wasn't thrilled about taking the film cameras out in it. They're metal, and would get cold quickly. The film would get cold shortly after that, and I started thinking about what temperature film gets brittle. I didn't find any definite answers, but the suggestions lined up pretty close to how cold it was outside, which was well into minus WTF territory. Being honest, when it's that cold it's easy to stay home and read or watch a movie.

The first evening it warmed up to something mostly civilized, like maybe -10C or something, I had the film loaded and away I went. Linda came along to spot as I drove around our neighbourhood. There were not as many light displays as I had hoped. Halloween seemed much better.

Eight photos goes quick, and then we got to the Griswold's near Michelle's place. I thought I had one more on the roll. I sighed big time when I put the exposed roll in the fridge, and saw the second roll. Had I realized... At that point I didn't want to go out again, and did want to see what the exposed film looked like before I went and exposed more. If I'd made a terrible mistake I wanted to know. This is expensive film, about $22 a roll to buy, and another $11 to develop. 

Anyway. The fun, or the downside of Cinestill 800T is that it's had the remjet layer removed, which means that some light can go through the film, exposing it like usual, and then bounce off the back of the camera and expose the film some more. This leads to a halo effect around lights, particularly neon lights, and particularly red lights. If you like it, you're in. If you don't like it, you'll use something else.

Exposure at night on film using a camera that doesn't have an exposure meter is something to be careful about. Normally I use an iPhone light meter, but occasionally bring the digital camera along to be a sophisticated light meter. I'm pretty sure I did that this time.

These were taken with the GW690, and the exposures were 1 second. Exposures longer than that, but shorter than about 5 seconds are a pain on this camera because it has a T mode, but not a B mode. But one second was easy, so it worked out really well. Normally I expose for the shadows and let the highlights take care of themselves, but for this I exposed for the brightest part of the lighting. I didn't mind if the sky and shadows were dark if the lights were right, and figured if it was too bit dark I could fix it in Lightroom.

There were only slight tweaks in Negative Lab Pro, typically Cinematic mode, and WB to Cinestill, with maybe a bit of tweaking to exposure and brightness. All I did in Lightroom was to rotate a few of the images slightly, and remove some dust spots.









I like how the colours came out, and the halation effect is interesting. I'll have to get up a night expedition with buddies and find a place to expose the other roll. Downtown, perhaps, or skyline, or maybe the Ogden industrial park. Maybe if I'm really organized I'll expose a roll of Gold 200 at the same time to see what I think. 

I've been using the Lomograph film carriers to hold the film as I take the photo of it. This has been a bit of a pain, especially if the film curls. I was absolutely convinced that one brand of film was slightly narrower than standard, making it almost impossible to hold them. Maybe I'll revisit those with the glass. Sometimes the film being curved can affect how the digitizing photo is taken. 

One way of keeping the photo absolutely flat is to sandwich it between two sheets of glass. Except if you use ordinary window glass you'll get ugly rings showing up because of how light diffracts through glass. But there's special glass that doesn't do this, and when I say special I mean expensive. I found a place that had some off cuts so got a couple pieces cheap. 

The process goes like this. Wash your hands with soap, really thoroughly. Wipe the glass, both sides, each piece, with a microfibre cloth. Use an eyeglass lens cleaning solution if there are smudges and make sure it's dry with no streaks. Take film out of the plastic sheath they came from the lab in, blow it off or dust with an anti-static brush. Lay as many pieces of film on the glass as will fit. Put the second piece of glass on top, being careful not to move the two pieces in relation to one another. The film strips don't have to be lined up in relation to one another. Place them on the light source. Tweak focus, take first photo. Now, move the entire light source, NOT THE PANES OF GLASS, so that the next photo is in the view finder, click, repeat. Putting film on the glass is much faster than loading in the carrier. 

In my digitization process I do not include the border, or the sprocket holes on 35mm film, but with the glass plate method I could if I wanted to. Doing this means being careful about your exposure because the camera could 'see' light directly from the light source. Sometimes white balance can be tricky in Negative Lab Pro if the border is included in the image.

I first experimented with some black and white film to see how it worked out, and to try to stitch multiple frames together to create a larger image. The process worked really well, though I didn't line up the edges quite perfectly, so instead of a print 4x3 feet, it would be about 4 x 2.5 feet. Not that that particular photo is worth it, but others might be, and I'm thinking some of the Tombstone photos. However, I hadn't taken any particular care to clean the film, so the dust spots were were insane! Note to self and all. If I had to print that one, I'd clean the film and redo the whole process.

Will I buy more Cinestill? I'm not sure. If I had a photo project where I wanted that halo effect, then of course I would. I'm looking forward to exposing the other roll and comparing to Gold 200. 

Will I continue on using glass rather than the carriers for digitizing film? Yes! It's way faster than fussing with the carriers, especially for curly film. It just occurred to me that I could put other materials between the glass with the film, like coloured gels, or two pieces of film.

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