|Jim Simon the world in black and white|
must first of all say that as far as I'm concerned it is solely the
final image which matters, not how one achieves it. I'm happy to
explain how I work, and I do have particular equipment and processes
that work for me, but my efforts are all spent working towards a print,
and it is the print which concerns me, not how I produced it.
My methods are a mix of old and new; in a nutshell I develop my own black and white films exposed in a variety of cameras, and then scan the films and make prints using archival pigment inks in an inkjet printer. My method, whilst not literally "photographic" beyond the point when the negative is dry, is one which I feel to be no more invasive with the image than were it to be printed in a traditional darkroom. In the digital domain (post-scan) I work with basic exposure and contrast and may or may not do bit of dodging and burning and some dust-spotting before printing. The advantages of this hybrid method are many; I still make exposures on film which gives me the look I want, and then, once I have completed the scanning and minimal post-processing, I can print identical images on demand. This allows me to keep prices low and I like that. I do understand why prints produced in a traditional darkroom are as expensive as they are (often hundreds of pounds), but am pleased to not have to ask that sort of money for an equally acceptable print of archival durability.
I largely use just three films; Ilford HP5 @ 200asa, Ilford FP4 @ 80asa and Kodak Tri-X @200 to 400 asa. I develop the films in Perceptol or, mostly, HC-110. I'm just rediscovering HP5 in Perceptol; the spread of the tones, particularly in low-light situations, is perfect to my eye.
Cameras and lenses
I have a small section of this site which goes into some detail about my various cameras and lenses.
A camera is, of course, nothing more than a tool for holding a lens true and regulating light onto film, but there are differences between makes and models that one can exploit. I like big viewfinders and an ability to work hand-held at slow shutter speeds. Big viewfinders? Thirty years ago, for an SLR, this meant Olympus; the OM1 is still unparalelled in this respect. I could never understand how others were happy looking down a long tunnel towards a small rectangle of light rather than feeling they were in the photo as it was being made. The OM1's viewfinder, in my opinion, is the best of all SLR's around. In order to more easily practice the Zone System I added spot-metering in the form of an OM2 Spot and have used the OM system for over 30 years. It has never missed a beat and all the older images seen here were taken with Olympus OM's. The operation of the OM2 Spot is also smooth and well-damped and so is quite good for lower shutter-speed work. I never wanted more than the three lenses I bought for this system years ago; a Zuiko f3.5 135mm, a Zuiko f1.8 50mm, and a Vivitar f2.8 28mm, and it was the humble 28mm Vivitar that I used most of all; it had a lowish contrast characteristic coupled with high resolution and produced great prints.
Recently, however, I have discovered older Leitz lenses, and I bought a Leica M2 and an f 3.5 35mm "Elmar" lens.
This lens was made in about 1930 and is un-coated.
It is not at all handy to use but the images it gives me are somehow just right; the image seems to softly fall onto the film. The Zuiko's in particular give a high-contrast image, and if one is protecting the highs from blowing out, the lows can get a bit lost. The Leitz doesn't blow out on the highs and therefore allows more light into the low areas. Also the M2's viewfinder is even bigger and brighter than the OM1's (it is a rangefinder camera so it is not comparing like with like) and handles even better at low shutter-speeds as there's no mirror to flap about. I regularly and confidently hand hold the M2 at 1/15th second.
The old "Elmar," whilst being good in many ways, is, however, a pain to use; the iris adjustment is on the face of the lens and so any hood or filter has to come off to alter the f-stop, and the front of the lens rotates as one focusses so my bodged rectangular hood has to be re-levelled after each adjustment. The "Elmar" is also rather soft and hopeless used at an f-stop any wider than f 6.3 and this imposes limitations. I mention this so as to explain my recent purchase of a Leitz f 2.8 35mm "Summaron" (where do these names come from?) which gives me the look I want, and has distinct handling advantages! The "Summaron" is an exceptionally good lens, better in many technical respects than the "Elmar," but if I find the vintage look is compromised I'll go back to the "Elmar" and just cope with its foibles.
More frequently now I also use one of my other small Olympus cameras as I find they all have their place. Of these my Trip 35, which just works superbly well in many general conditions, sees most use. My Mju-II is picked up if I need a robust and absolutely fully automatic pocketable camera, or the XA if I want prolonged exposures in difficult light conditions. All these three Olympus cameras have a fixed f2.8 35mm lens, and all are great in situations where ultimate quality is less important than portability and ease of instant use, but the negatives they produce are not to be sniffed at. Some of the photographs in "Biking" were taken with the Mju II and many of what I think of as my best photographs were taken with the Trip. I'm not proud, or Leica mad, and just see things as they are. Large prints can sometimes be more comfortable taken with the Leitz lenses, but sometimes it's not all about peeping at such things!
More a means to an end, I'm not particularly interested in these later stages of image-production. Although I no longer use an enlarger in a traditional darkroom, the same holds true as it did then; if the negative's good the print is easy, if it's not good then it probably won't print well whatever one tries. I respect the negative and don't like to fiddle in the digital domain with parameters of the image that fundamentally change its character. As mentioned above, a little change of overall contrast, a bit of dodging and burning, and get rid of dust if it's there; that's as far as my post-processing digital-domain work goes.
I have an Epson 2400 inkjet printer. It uses eight archival (200 years!?) pigment inks, three of which are greys and blacks, and the prints are superb. I almost exclusivly now use matte paper as this allows the eye into the image in a way glossy papers don't; glossy papers may superficially seem to be more impressive, but in my experience the reflections get in the way of seeing what's on the paper.
Colour and digital
I don't often put colour film into my cameras. I could get into it as there is an especial challenge when the inherent graphic qualities of black and white are absent, but I don't process my own colour films and have had some very mixed results from colour labs, so I tend to stick to black and white.
I do use a digital SLR for very occasional impromptu colour work, but I rarely take my digital camera out with me as I find the prints look a bit two-dimensional and false. It just doesn't grab me. I do have one or two digital colour images that I like, but, actually, they were all taken into strong light and are almost black and white anyway!
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