4×5 project, August 2016 #1

August 21, 2016

This August I set myself the challenge to expose and develop some black and white 4×5 film each day when I had enough time. There are a few reasons for this – to get used to the MOD54 device that allows me to process up to six sheets at a time in a Paterson tank; to use up the odd bits and pieces of film I have accumulated; by doing this to settle on a couple of standard emulsions and the best way to expose and develop them; to sort through my various 4×5 lenses and decide which to keep and whether some need to be disposed of or replaced; and finally, to get better at large format photography by doing it a lot, essentially like a musician practising their scales every day.

I would say that I’m quite competent at large format photography – I first learned in twenty years ago at art school, I teach large format courses, however I tend to only get the camera out when I have a specific idea for a large format photo, which means a lot of the time it sits unused. It would be expensive to use the 8×10 every day, however 4×5 is quite practical, particularly with black and white film that I process myself. Apart from the time involved, the cost is about $1.50 per sheet. Another reason for doing this is that I recently bought a second hand Epson 4990 scanner, so this also gives me the opportunity to view the positives quite soon after processing, rather than having to wait to go into the darkroom and make contact prints.

4x5 NAS fp4 150mm rodinal

This photo was exposed on Saturday August 16 in the grounds of the National Art School (NAS) in East Sydney. It’s an historic site, originally built as a prison in the mid 19th century, until it was closed in the early 20th, when it became an art school. The camera used was a Chamonix 045N2 with a Sironar N 150mm lens. I like this lens, although I find it doesn’t have a big enough image circle to allow the sort of front rise movements I would like to do with architecture. I might replace it with a different 150 with bigger circle, or even look for a 135mm. My first 4×5 camera was a Crown Graphic that came with an Optar 135mm and I liked that framing. I sold the lens when I sold the Crown, otherwise I would be able to compare the 135 to the 150 to make a decision about which framing I prefer. On an unrelated note, they were filming a Jackie Chan movie in another of these buildings about 25 meters to the right of this one.

The film is Ilford FP4 which is pretty much my gold standard for quality black and white film. It was processed in Rodinal 1+50 for 9 minutes at 20 deg C using the MOD54 device in a 3 reel Paterson tank. I did four sheets together, everything went well and I think the MOD54 is a good option for home processing of 4×5 film. When I first scanned the films I noticed a lot of dust in some areas and that was going to take a long time to clean up in Photoshop. I couldn’t believe my film was that dusty as it was freshly processed. Checking the scanner I noticed a couple of dirty areas on the inner side of the top glass, which the scan lens looks through to digitise the film. I did some searching and found instructions on how to remove and clean this glass and was able to wipe away the marks and am now getting clean scans.

4x5 NAS fp4 rodinal 150mm fernpot

The exposure details for this photo are the same as the first one. This inner wall of NAS has hundreds of sandstone blocks that were handcut by the prisoners who built the gaol. They would inscribe their symbol into each block they cut so the authorities could keep track of their output. The original name of this place was Darlinghurst Gaol, and 76 people were hanged there during the mid to late 19th century, including the last woman to ever be hanged in NSW.

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