The pandemic lockdown probably spawned lots of new behaviors, routines and interests for many people out of sheer boredom. For me, it resurrected a love for the darkroom. I’m an old film guy having studied fine art film photography in college and used film; large format almost exclusively, in my commercial photography days but that effectively ended with the need to go digital for my clients. Stupidly, I unloaded all my film cameras from Leicas and Nikons to Hasselblads and 4x5s….I still kick myself for that. These days I am a commercial and feature film cinematographer and if you count the film I’ve shot or movies I’ve exposed tens of thousands of feet of film!

But many years on, I missed the craft of the darkroom…getting your hands dirty and accepting happy accidents. So I sourced a Graflex Anniversary Speed Graphic and resurrected a few lenses I had never parted with — 25cm/5.6 Graflex Tele-Optar, 203mm/7.7 Ektar 135mm/4.7 Xenar — and began playing around with some panchromatic film.

I enjoyed it but it wasn’t enough of a departure from my digital world so I began experimenting with Arista Ortho 3.0 4×5 film and various developer concoctions to get usable results. I stumbled across Caffenol (using instant coffee as a developer) somewhere along the way and these are some of my results.

Using a very slow (ISO 6) Orthochromatic film and my homemade developer resulted in more failures than successes but I enjoyed the mad scientist process and the images with all their flaws take me back to my art school days and my dreams of being a painter.

The recipe I used was Caffenol-C/Caffenol Volumetric found in The Caffenol Cookbook primarily because it didn’t require a scale to measure the ingredients.

A good video of a similar recipe can be found here.

These images are all scans from the negatives…I simply don’t have the room for an enlarger in my makeshift darkroom — my bathroom — and have been spotted to some extent, dodged and burned and color added (to match the sepia look of the negatives caused by the coffee staining) in Photoshop.

My next step is trying my camera/film/developer combo with some projection lenses (150mm/2.5 Leica Hektor and a reversed 5in/3.5 Viewlex USA Luxtar)…but I am desperately trying to avoid going down the wet plate collodion rabbit hole.

~ Mark

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About the author

Avatar - Mark Rutledge

Mark Rutledge

Commercial and Feature film cinematographer

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