Recently we made a spur of the moment trip to Johnson City (Texas), a place I love to visit. It’s a town full of history, precious memories, good friends, and really wonderful art - plus there’s a plethora of wineries and cideries nearby and it’s chock full of excellent photographic prospects. I could go on and on about it. (No, they aren’t paying me to say all this, but I tell everybody I know that they need to get out there for a visit. Honestly, I like it better than Fredericksburg.. . . sorry Fredericksburg.)
It had been maybe a year since I did any large format photography. . . . or I think, anyhow. It had definitely been a good long while since I processed any sheet film; it took me no short amount of time to just locate my view camera. I couldn’t even remember putting it in the place I found it. So it was high time to get back into the saddle and this day trip was the perfect opportunity. Johnson City is loaded with the kind of things I enjoy photographing with a bigger camera.
We stopped for coffee in Dripping Springs on our way out, and I made two exposures there, but those will have to be shared another time because I ran out of steam in the darkroom on the day I made contact prints. My garage gets pretty hot during the summer, and the black plastic I use to create a dark space sure does retain whatever heat builds up; I guess the older I get the less I am inclined to tolerate too high of a level of discomfort when I am printing.
But I digress! It was a good day out with my Kodak 33a. I photographed in Johnson City itself, on the land that I’m pretty sure is part of the LBJ National Historic Park. It has lovely paths, interesting old buildings, and some obliging longhorns.
I was using Arista EDU 400 5x7 film, and a Protar V lens: the lens is always an added layer of adventure since I use the lens cap for exposure after I stop it down, usually all the way to f64. I tend to end up with negatives that are nice and dense, which makes for a good contact print. My scanner freaks out when I try to scan a 5x7 negative, so I don’t even bother (the file is a whopper, let me tell you); instead I just make the prints and then scan those. They might not have the same level of detail that a scanned negative would hold, but it makes my life easier.
Years ago I purchased a bumper crop of photographic paper for a super bargain price, including a bunch of Ilford RC Pearl. I’m not a huge fan of enlargements done on the pearl paper, but I have recently discovered that it makes lovely large format contact prints. The two images above are on that paper, as are the images that follow, which were made at the LBJ Ranch.
These two negatives weren’t as dense as I would have liked - in contrast to what I said above, of course! - but I am still happy enough with them to share.
This tree was my favorite from the ranch. I waited for what felt like 20 minutes for the sun to come back out before I made my split second exposure. It was worth the wait! It ended up being my favorite photograph from the day; the contact print you see below is on RC Pearl paper.
What I was really excited about when it came to my recent printing session, however, was the big box of Azo paper my Dad gave me. I may have heard of the paper, but I had no idea what it was, and according to Dad it could be exposed in the sun since it was made to be extra slow, exclusively for contact printing.
I loaded my freshly dried negative into the contact frame with a piece of this paper, plus loaded another contact frame with a piece to try making a photogram of pinecones in the sun, cyanotype style. Having read briefly online something about 15 seconds of exposure, I started with that. The paper turned completely black when I developed it. So I tried again, just with the negative this time, for 5 seconds. Still black. I walked outside and just kinda showed the negative to the sun: still black. I tried that same thing in the shade: still black. My next trial was with the enlarger, for a variety of times, and eventually after trying a minute exposure that way I saw a glimmer of an image, instead of completely white or completely black. I decided the enlarger bulb wasn’t bright enough, so I just switched on the regular darkroom light for 60 seconds and EUREKA it worked! Something on the paper was better than nothing; I washed the print and went back to using RC while I waited to see how the print would dry down.
I made a contact print of the same negative on the RC Pearl so I could compare the results. You can see them below - and I don’t know if a scan plus a computer screen will do them much justice, but my current plan is to rig up a brighter bulb in my darkroom and start using the Azo paper for my contact prints. It’s lovely, and the depth of the image is much nicer to my eyes than what I can get with the RC. Fiber paper always seems to be worth it! (Below, the first image is on the Azo paper; the second is on Ilford RC Pearl)