A week ago, Friday 8 March 2019, toward the end of our exploration of Bord na Mona’s Lough Rea narrow gauge network near Lanesborough Co. Longford, the sky grew textured and glowed with evening magnificence.
I made this view of an empty Bord na Mona train crossing the bog on its way to reload.
The trick making this photo work was to expose for the sky while letting the train go relatively dark. I was working with Ilford HP5 black & white film, and during processing, I used two developers followed by selenium toning of the negatives to extract the maximum shadow detail.
My intent was a moody and stark view of the train against the textured sky.
Some readers might wonder why I persist with traditional black & white photography, when modern digital imaging is easier and doesn’t involve all that messing about with chemistry.
The reasons are simple:
I like tradition. I’ve always made black & white photos and processed my own film. While there have been gaps in my black & white work (usually owing to a lack of adequate facilities), I like the continuity by occasionally working with a consistent medium.
My black & white efforts can achieve desired results that may not be equivalent to images made digitally.
Because traditional black & white photography is more difficult, I feel it hones my image making skills.
I process my negatives in an archival fashion and I scan them digitally. This leaves me with greater chances that the images will survive for generations than images strictly stored on ephemeral digital media.
Some years ago, someone asked me if I had adjusted to the switch to digital photography. I said, “I still haven’t adjusted to the switch to color!”
However, just because I continue with the time-honored tradition of black & white photography, doesn’t prevent me from also working digitally.
As regular viewers know, I routinely expose, present (and occasionally publish) modern digital images. In fact I find that two types of photography complement each other nicely.
Wien Hauptbahnhof (Vienna Main Station) is a shining example of modern railway architecture: Spacious, multi-modal, multi-tiered and iridescent.
I made this view on Ilford HP5 using my Canon EOS 3 fitted with a 40mm pancake lens. I processed the film in Ilford ID11 mixed 1:1 with water at 70F and scanned the negatives using an Epson V500 flatbed scanner.
Here’s another view I made on Irish Rail’s former Great Northern line at milepost 25 near Mosney. I published a digital colour view of the Grand Hibernian the other day from this same vantage point.
Irish Rail’s 29000-series diesel rail cars are common trains on this route. They do their job well and travel up and down the line all day long. Many photographers ignore them because they are common.
Add in some dull light and tangent track, and the photography threatens to be, well, boring.
Here’s what I did to make an interesting image; I worked with the texture of the scene. Rather than make a digital image, I used my old Nikon F3 fitted with a 24mm Nikkor lens and a dark red filter.
The red filter alters the way the film interprets the colours in the scene. Specifically, it allows for better detail in the sky, while darkening the greenery.
I also added a sense of depth by including the vines growing along the bridge parapet. This is a little trick I’ve used on many occasions in Ireland, and it helps to have a wide angle lens to make it work.
So while the train isn’t the most exciting on the rails in Ireland, I’ve used these old-school methods and created an interesting scene by working with the natural textures.
On 30 April 2002, I found myself in Dresden and perishing low on film.
I’d been photographing in Poland and Slovakia for the better part of two weeks and underestimated how many photos I’d make. (Those who know me well, will recall this being a common occurrence on big trips).
Anyway, I’d found a shop with some black & white film, and exposed a roll of HP5 using my Nikon N90S, (trying to stretch out what little slide film I had left), and making parsimonious use of my 120 film.
This had me in a knot, as Dresden is a visually fascinating place, and I was seeing images everywhere I looked!
When I got back to Dublin, I processed the roll of HP5 in ID11 (Ilford’s relative equivalent to Kodak’s D76) and sleeved it, but I never got around to making prints.
The other day (May 2016), I was searching for some German tram photos, when I rediscovered this roll mixed in with a host of other unprinted B&W negatives from the mid-2000s.
What immediately caught my eye was this silhouetted image of a preserved four-wheel tram. Searching the internet, I can conclude this is a museum car operated by the StrassenbahnmuseumDresden.
The millennium was coming to a close. I was just back in Ireland after a few months wandering. I arrived by ferry from Holyhead the night before.
The short days of winter offer moments of stunning low sun against what can often be a stark Irish environment.
It was the height of Irish Rail’s annual sugar beet campaign, so Denis McCabe and I headed first for Wexford (Wellingtonbridge to be specific) then worked our way west, finishing the day at Clonmel, County Tipperary.
Although, we come for the sugar beet, a side attraction were a pair of timber trains that were unloading there.
I was working with three cameras. One was a Nikon loaded with Ilford HP5. Ironically, most of those black & white photos have been squirreled away in my files for the last 16 years.
Here’s a sample of what I did that afternoon at Clonmel. Pretty neat in retrospect, however, what was more significant for me photographically was that this trip inspired a half-decade of intensive photographic adventures to document the sugar beet campaign.