by Paul Gallagher Published
The First Trip
For my first excursions out I organised a safety net - Polaroid Type 55 film. This, in fact, is a fantastic film and one which offers you the opportunity to see your first cock-ups whilst still standing in front of the scene! Although Type 55 provides you with a negative and a contact print, I regarded it as a rough guide during the initial trips - the small-sized print is not what I would regard as an accurate guide. The one thing I was learning rapidly, at these early stages of large-format, was that it slowed me down considerably. I do not think that this was a bad thing, and, if nothing else, it made me stop and think of the mistakes I was about to make and save some money!
So, considering what I had to purchase to get 'out there' with my large-format camera and make pictures, the bill was now running close to £2,000, but this was mainly due to the fact that I chose to buy a brand new Walker Titan XL even though it is, in fact, fantastically priced, compared to the likes of Gandolfi and Linhof equivalents (and in my opinion built to the same standards). If I was to have bought an alternative make of new camera £2,000 could have been the bill for the camera body alone!
Setting up the Darkroom
The next step for me was setting up, or as I saw it, adjusting, my darkroom to process sheet film. Stupidly, I first began by assuming that, if I adapted one of my large Paterson roll film processing tanks, I could get away with it and emerge triumphant from the darkroom with a negative to challenge anything done by the masters.
In short, the first attempts at this half-baked, cheapskate method bought results that I hardly had the heart to scan. Some emerged, from the wash, displaying streaks that would not look out of place on tie-dye clothing. Other faults crept up on me and were only seen in the dried emulsion on the light box. Some however did, astonishingly, make it to the scanner, only to be swiftly rejected when the first results arrived in Photoshop.
I could not believe that moving up a format size and using the very same tank that I had processed the very same film in, with the same developer, could produce such astoundingly bad results. Baffled as I was at this time, I searched the photographic discussion forums for large-format workers and read accounts of people who were using 'proper' large-format processing equipment and still experiencing similar problems.
My Paterson adaptation-design would never work and it was down to ground with a thump when I realised I had a camera with a load of expensive supplementary kit that, to all intents and purposes, I could not, at this moment, produce a good picture with.
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