Thursday, February 10, 2005

Photography (sans actual pictures).

You know it's going to end badly when the talk starts off with the words "mini-crit". Yep, that's right, anyone foolish enough to been able to make a print last week (5 of us), and then bring it in this week (3 of us), has to put it before all of us for assessment. My weak cherry blossom is up against a dramatic boathouse, and someone's girlfriend in a field (I assume it's his girlfriend, as she's in nearly everyone of his pictures). The boathouse is fine as far as I'm concerned, but other people think it's too dark, or too stark, or there's too much contrast, or the houses on the hill behind annoy them (Er?). The tutor thinks there might be a bit too much contrast, and too much shadow. But if the shadow was reduced then we would all see the windows under the overhang badly boarded up with tatty and crumbled bits of chipboard and plywood (spot who took independently a very similar picture). Anyway, I like dark and dramatic.

Next up is mine. Fortunately she holds it up from the other side of the room, so none of us can see how out of focus it is. It's obviously underexposed (the print that is, so it's too pale). But as someone points out, that if it had been darker then the shadows would have been unrelentingly black. General consensus is that my image is annoyingly vague.

Then comes girl in field. The grass is very pale grey, and pretty monotonous. The darkest point of the image is the girl's top. The trees and horizon are just mid to pale grey. There are no shadows. The brightest parts of the image are one side of her face, and her white trousers (do we think she chose that outfit because she knew the film was black and white?). Too pale, but good. But being me I say nothing. It takes the others a while to come out with anything.

Next it's on to looking at the prints that some of us have from this week's homework. Again black and white, but this time using colour process (C-41) film, so we could develop it externally.

An aside here. External development. I hate this. Because I have to tour all sorts of places trying to find somewhere that does it cheaply. And the cheapest is never cheap. Ignoring the place which I know to be expensive and reliable (and by expensive I mean the price difference between films from there and a shop in the next town over is about enough to buy a first class railway ticket for each film and send them on the train between the two) I troll round the other shops. I ignore three of them as previous attempts at developing films have taught me that: A is also a dry-cleaners, and with a girl who only breaks away from her sub-Heat magazine long enough mutter "dunno" (and I also wonder about the commonality of the chemicals in both processes); B has assistants who tell one to go elsewhere "cos it's crap"; and C give everyone a free film, which is useless (having complained about the developing once in here, I was told it was a fault with the film. I pointed out the film was the in-house brand. Long pause, then "Yes", and nothing more).

I try Snappy Snaps, as apparently they offer a 10% discount to people on our course. I get an ever so sweet boy being very apologetic, as he hasn't the foggiest idea of what I'm talking about. Serves me right for actually planning what I have to say. Turns out it was his first day of work experience. The boss comes out from the back. Picks up the price list slotted beside the till. Waves it a bit. Reels numbers at me. Tries to blind me with science (um, excuse me, A levels in 3 different sciences, then degree with Sciences in the title, fairly bright as well, has some understanding of the processes involved developing. All in all, pretty unlikely to go "ooh" in wonder and hand over money). Eventually, reading past her I find out it will be £7.49. No mention of discount. I think I'll just check elsewhere first.

Boots is empty. I can read the price list in peace. No mention of BW C-41. But they sell the stuff, so presumably it's the same as normal colour film. Eventually one of the other people hovering wanders off to find an assistant. She comes back, and after she's sorted him out I go forward. I check the price, and that they can do it, and they know it is black and white. Yes, yes, it's all fine. I take a receipt and leave. £5.99 still seems a lot.

Popping back the next day, I pick up the film and pay. I go home. I open the prints. I discover that they've seen the moss picture, and turned it green, along with the rest of them. So Boots' developing is obviously has a subliminal sponsorship tie-in with nice, but expensive, chocolate. Although it is more Green and White than Green and Black.

It's nice to know that with developing by Boots, it's only the faults that change. At least they seem to have got the focussing fault sorted out. Although when I protested about the white, hazy splodge in the same part of every frame, I was told it was the film, then the camera, and then the user. And when I pointed there had been more than one variable in each, and multiple combinations of them, the guy took one look at picture with a palm tree in it, and told me it was X-ray damage. Ah yes, of course, because as we all know, one has to go through customs to enter a National Trust property. Or maybe there's a radioactive tree in Winkworth. Except I wouldn't have carried all the films with me anywhere. Perhaps my television is spewing large amounts of radiation (other than the expected forms). But if that was the case, I think my body might have noticed first. And how exactly would x-rays have penetrated each case in the same place, and so managed to produce the same fault in an identical part of the frame? (Bear in mind the film is spiralled within the canister. Would the frames all line up? How? And how come the x-ray didn't leave an exit mark on the other side of the spiral? Or working from a different direction, do the perforations in loo paper line up, or do they stay the same distance apart? What would happen to size of the sheets of paper if the perforations were all in straight lines radiating out from the core?). Coincidentally, two people I know also had had their films exposed to this mysterious radiation source.

Deciding to take them back, I try ringing, but no one answers. I go back to shop, but they've shut early, and the workers chatting inside ignore the people bumping into the doors.

Not being able to take them back the next morning, and deciding that taking them back at lunchtime to collect in the late afternoon for use that night, pretty much guarantees something going wrong, no matter how much I thunder at them.

Reverting to last night, and the four of us with externally produced prints are asked to lay them out in turn. HKA lays hers out. Somewhat infuriatingly she's taken a picture of somewhere I've only just discovered, and thought would make a good picture, and gets congratulated for it. All her pictures are of near enough the same place (just down the road from where the course is held), except for two of the Brighton Pavilion. None of them conform to the theme of our homework, which was distortion. She says she didn't have time, and couldn't think of anything to take. So what was she doing in Brighton, that she had time to take two pictures of it, but no more?

Then comes he of the girlfriend, who obviously went round Windsor together. Castle, castle, park, castle. A couple of car windows, and playing with some odd lens in the street in Windsor. He at least made some nod to the theme of the homework, even if he also had a camera in front of somewhere that expects to photographed. Another development by Boots, and his are green too. The tutor likes the effect on some of them, and says it's not worth quibbling as normally when they turn them a certain colour, they really turn them that colour.

Then comes a girl whom I think it would unkind to describe as "nice but dim". But I can't seem to find more to her. There's something new-born deer about her: a bit wobbly, and unresponsive. Many pictures of the university campus. Some good, if confusing, with twigs and reflections. A couple of an odd looking cat, of which I prefer the one which everyone else doesn't.

And so to me. The tutor likes one of the "can you tell what it is yet?" pictures of the reeded glass door. Everyone seems to ignore the ones I like. She also likes one of reflections in a leaded window, whilst everyone else prefers a similar one with the church instead of a chimney. They all seem to like the one of "the pond". I have no idea where they see a pond. I see a hawthorn hedge, in confusing macro-dom, with water drops hanging from it. They like the broken mug as well, although they all admit it took them a while to figure it out. She likes the matches bowl, but I think that's because she likes the bowl not the pictures. She really likes moss as well, and starts talking about someone I haven't heard of. The twig which really bugged me, and which I tried to minimise by lining up with the edge of the frame, does not annoy her, and she thinks it works better because of it. People seem to like the phone boxes. The tutor also likes the reflection of a building in a mirror-glass-clad building, in which only one pane distorts (and has probably pissed off the architect from the day it was installed).

She says I'm much too hard on myself (well I'm me; I want to be good, and I expect to be better).

It is very odd seeing who likes what. And what they don't like. During the talk afterwards, the tutor repeatedly looks at me during the following topics.
- People liking dark prints. Some northern person beginning with B (I can never remember names, but if it helped she described him slightly mockingly as "grim, dirty, northern, industrial, working class, gritty realism". She does a stunning line in such descriptions of famous photographers, as only someone who has had to write one too many essays on the person can).
- Needlessly keeping back opinions, and not criticising other people.
- Excessive self-criticism.
So she noticed then?

Oh well. Then we are handed more films, at the cost of one pound. Admittedly this ignores the fact we paid £14 the week before to cover all the films, she was having problems getting. I suppose £15 for 5 films is £3 each, and as that's what the cheapest source of the BW films charges, it isn't bad considering some of them are probably worth much more (not that I have much clue about the price of films, beyond thinking they shouldn't cost so much, and ooh, Superdrug has Kodak Gold for £2 each. I know they've moved onto Ultra and beyond now, but Gold is what I used in Tanzania in a really cheap camera and it's very forgiving).

And there was £6 early on for paper. And another £6 to develop the latest film (although someone found somewhere that does negatives only for £3). And £3 for the first film (or more if one pays local prices).

So much for the initial £8.50 on top of course fees to cover sundries.

But I suppose there are more expensive uses of time, said he working out that official photography course time is running at just over £5 an hour, which gets diluted by the days spent taking the photographs, and it is unlikely to rise much further. Actually the wrong combination of film time and Odeon prices would be higher than that (but the Odeon hideously overcharges).

It's just not a comfort to know I don't earn too much more. But hey I got a phone call today informing that I had been short-listed, and have an interview on X at Y. I asked who the Zs would be. It is slightly odd that I wasn't actually asked if that was ok, and simply told about the timing (and having had 9.30 slots before, I wonder if there is any significance to them). I'm not even sure I had a chance to agree to it. A bit odd. But as I think she had just been trying to ring a phone which had been functioning as a fax machine, she was probably a bit thrown by it all.

Back to photography, and once again I cheat and work outside the realm of the proscribed settings. We're supposed to do test strips at 5 second intervals up to 20 seconds, at f8. Last week I tried doing this, but it only worked on f2.8 for 40 s, and even then could have been darker. So this week, on my contacts sheet I try the test strip for 5 to 30 seconds at f2.8 (as it was a different paper which I didn't want to overpower). Oddly, it is quite hard to distinguish between the timings. Being impatient, and realising I am running out of time, I expose the full sheet for 30 seconds at f2.8 (figuring the wide aperture won't effect focusing, as the negatives are in contact with the paper, or they were once I reconstructed the contact printer, which was lacking various parts).

Developing, and it becomes obvious that I hadn't got the paper lined up under the frame, so the first six are missing a third of the frame. I'm also concerned that it's lacking some of the darker tones (it turns out the image I had problems with last week was one of the palest in the set). But I'm assured that it's all fine.

So everything is going far better than last week, including not having to scramble to get things together because I'm supposed to be out of the building.

So I leave, and walk down to the car park. And discover I cannot the ticket. And of course this car park is one of those annoying ones in which one can only leave once one has paid off the ticket, and feed it into the machine at the exit barrier. Except what's really frustrating is that when I parked it was free.

So I need a ticket to get out. I try pressing the button by the entrance, but it doesn't work. I think it needs a car to trigger it. Drat. I try picking up some the spare tickets dotted around, but they are all invalid. I try convincing a couple of girls driving in to back out and go back in again, but they are too dim to understand. Once they parked, they then had to walk out past me, whilst desperately pretending they didn't recognise me. A couple of expensive cars go through, but I take one look at the sneer in a Hermes scarf and don't even ask.

Someone from photography walks past, and it's obvious he wants to help, but doesn't know how. It's always odd talking to him, because he doesn't really talk, and I'm not good at medium talking: either I talk, endlessly, or I don't at all. So whenever we try talking we're either like two magnets slinking closer, and then pinging away from each other, or like an engine revving out of gear. He leaves in possibly mutual discomfort (which is slightly vexing, as he's nice, he's bright, and yet talking to him is so awkward).

Eventually I convince a man waiting to pick someone up to drive in, and back out (see, there are kind people out there). But he ignores my hand signals and so has problems backing out without hitting a car which flashes at both cars coming down the hill, and forcing both to stop (see, there are rude people out there). I drive down and try to leave, but the ticket is invalid.

Very, very annoyed. Trying to think of how to get out. The signs say the charge for lost tickets is £16.10 Mon-Sat, and £1 on Sunday. I really don't feel like paying that. Especially as all the help buttons have masking tape over the top and are out of order. Hoping the barrier will be connected to a sensor to stop it landing on a car or person, I decide to try sneaking out by sticking hard on the tail of the car in front. But no is coming.

Eventually a black Golf comes down, and goes up to the barrier. I stick close behind. A Scots voice says "It's not valid. It says it's invalid."

They go into reverse, as I try pulling away, having realised just in time that I was still in first gear. I back into the corner whilst the woman ahead goes to stick her ticket in a different machine. Another Golf comes down, and I let her go first. Sticking close behind the first Golf leaves, and the next rolls forward. She leaves and I hug in behind her. There's not awful sound of barrier meeting car. And I'm out. And happy, and relieved. And then I remember to turn my lights on. Oops.

So remember kids, losing the key to the big box which contains one's car is not big or clever.

And now all I have to do is use a black and white film to take landscapes, or architectural shots (and, um, what have I been doing up till now?). Whenever I take a picture, I have to take a second image of whatever it was which originally attracted me to the shot, but adapt the shot somehow to show it better. After that I have to use a slide film for whatever I see fit. So that's 72 images in a fortnight. But I think I have photoed out large chunks of here and the next town over.

But at the moment the films are sitting in Tupperware in the fridge (to prevent damage, although I'm not sure the tutor factored in the presence of fridge juice).


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