I’m going to push the definition of this series but bear with me. First, I’d like to say that this was a disaster but also a learning experience. Like all good stories, this one has a bit of a background to it so let’s start with the question, why get into self-developing film at all?
In my case, it was also because of a disaster (a recurring theme, perhaps?). Way back in April of 2018 I had done a photoshoot with a model who had come over from the States. For most of the shoot I had used my digital camera. But near the end, I took out the old faithful Nikon F2 and shot a roll of black-and-white film.
A couple of days after the shoot I decided to send the film off to the wonderful folk at ILFORD (Harman Lab) to get it developed. I had used them a couple of times before and knew I could trust them. Selecting a brand-new plain paper envelope (see the mistake there?), I sent it off in the post.
“Thanks very much for the envelope here’s your money back”, said ILFORD a few days later. Yes, the envelope had ripped, and the canister had gone missing. Vowing never to do such a silly thing again, I thought I would try to develop my own film.I bought all the gear, selecting a two-reel Paterson developing tank and some ILFORD chemicals. Next, the fun bit, shooting. Into London I headed with a roll of Kodak T-MAX 100. On my return home I had to stop myself from developing the film straight away. I lasted about an hour.
Using the changing bag for the first time was fiddly, but I got the film out and onto the reel. Now, I had watched some videos saying that to keep the reel with the film in place inside the tank, it’s best to load the empty reel on top as well. Which is why I had both reels in the bag at the same time. See if you can guess where I went wrong…
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I placed both reels onto the centre column, the empty one at the bottom and the full one at the top. Then enough developer for one roll of film. And so, the only time the film got developer was during the 10-second recommended agitation periods each minute.
It should have been a great start to self-developing. It wasn’t. It was painful pulling that freshly developed roll of film out of the tank and seeing the blotchy results. I could have stopped there but I realised my mistake as soon as I pulled the film out and knew I had to try again.
I love to develop film at home, seeing the film as it comes out and hanging it up to dry is a little bit exciting. Did all my hard work framing and getting the exposure right, pay off? I’ve already learned that a good negative doesn’t necessarily make a good positive.
And in the intervening couple of years I’ve made more mistakes and learned more things. For example, if it was easy, we’d have all got bored with it and given it up for something else. One day I want to try my hand at printing. Let’s hope I have a better result.
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