I processed black and white film in my bathroom recently. A task that I rarely seem to perform at all anymore. Something that used be such a regular occurrence in my life, a core ritual that was necessary for the evolution of my photography has become a rarely used skill. Digital has changed the patience that was involved when making an image.
At first I felt a little out of practice and a bit apprehensive to take on the task of processing my film, I could easily just drop it of at a photo lab to have them process it, a digital way of dealing with black and white film, but no I decided to recall that skill set and carry on, while also keeping calm.
The first task involved mixing the D-76 powder, figuring out the correct starting and finishing volume of water required. Then the stop bath and the fix, easily accomplished. Then loading the film on to the spools, that part always has me worried the most, but like riding a bicycle I loaded all of the rolls with no problems and a lot faster than I thought I would, I used to spool hundreds of rolls a month when I worked in professional labs. Then mixing the working solution, figuring out a simple ratio and getting the temperature correct. Then putting out the stop bath and fix so it would be ready when the development time is up. Then making the film wet. Developer goes in agitate in required intervals. Then developer comes out stop bath goes in then comes out and fixer goes in then out. After this you can look and stare in amazement because there are images on the film. Can’t look for to long though have to get the film washing for the required time then the PhotoFlo and hang to dry in a dust free environment. Not an easy task in a house that has pets.
After the immense amount of knowledge skill required to expose the film properly there is still much more that needed to be accomplished in order to get that film to a point where you can make great images.
This is where the process takes a major detour from the good old days. Now I fire up the film scanner and every image get scanned so I can scrutinize all the images in their high resolution glory. In times before computers were our darkrooms I used to cut the film in to strips and insert them in clear plastic pages then make contact sheets. Then spend days, weeks, months… years looking at simple tiny images all in a row to decide if I feel that an image is good enough to print. Then I would print an 8×10 proof print and spend days, weeks, months… years looking at that to decide if that image should be printed properly on fiber based paper for archiving, taking more care with my dodging and burning etc and then archival washing and drying so that the final image might be good enough for display or even a sale.