James Ravilious

I have for some years now, been interested in the work by James Ravilious following the suggestion of a friend who thought his work would be of interest to me having remarked a couple of my photos were similar in feel.

James spent 17 years photographing the daily lives of his immediate community in Devon on behalf of the Beaford Archive amassing some 75,000 negatives which have become a social document on the disappearing ways of life for the small communities of North Devon between during the 70s, 80s, and 90s.  The work captured the landscape and the people of the area at a time of great change. The many characters he encountered appear time and again throughout the years, due to the way in which he worked by engaging with his subjects whilst they were at work or play and never set up a shot. James worked tirelessly to capture a way of life in all its reality portraying the humour and sometimes sadness in the hard life the people of those communities had to endure.

I will not post any of his images here for copyright reasons but I urge anyone with a similar interest to seek out his work via the books he wrote during the time, those released since his death and in particular the latest two both released 2017 “The recent past” and his wife’s book of his life “James Ravilious A Life”.

The Beaford Archive Here

Finally, Peter Hamilton of ‘The Independent’ sums up his work in this quote, ‘one of the great artistic and documentary achievements of photography in the twentieth century’.


Fine Grain​?

I have used Tetenal Paranol S film developer for Ilford fp4+ quite often over the last few years. This high acutance developer is a compensating developer producing fine grain with a good latitude of exposure.

For 35mm film, following a pre-wash, I use this in Paterson tanks usually 2 films at a time at 1:25 with agitation 10secs in every 60s for a total of 11mins @20°c. This has produced fine grain in the past whilst breaking from the recommended agitation method which is actually more agitation then I use.

The print here is from a shot taken in the Lake District at the end of last summer where it can be seen there is significant grain in the clouded areas. The cattle shed and the paddock gate was the main accent of attention for the photograph which I wanted to portray the rugged feel of the area particularly the huge post stone to which the gate is hinged.

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I admit the day was quite typical of the Lakes in that it was overcast and showery which is not conducive to a good contrasty print but I was not happy with the highlight grain which is more evident in the print than can be seen here.

By using a compensating developer with less agitation than was recommended I had thought that the grain would not be so apparent. I have come to the conclusion that this grain could be connected to a slight underexposure at the time of taking but could also be attributed to too much agitation, although i cant really see that in this case, and even too long a development time, again no more than the recommended.

Over the coming weeks, I will be looking further into this issue and maybe changing my developer for similar exposure photos. Ilford ID11 is one such possibility following using the Paranol S with a change in agitation or time in the first instance.

I will post further investigation.


Abstract or not?

I have switched from printing 120 to 35mm negatives this week as, having realised I have a quite a few cassettes rattling around in the fridge door from last years shooting with the F6, I should be printing some.

This particular printing session found me sorting through negatives from  the lake district where I captured the scenery as probably thousands of others do every year whilst always on the look out for something a little different. With that in mind I came across a couple of shots taken at the Claife viewing platform on Lake Conniston.  It was a very bright sunny day and not one conducive with photography so whilst approaching the ascent to the platform I made a mental note of the strong shadows being cast on the level immediately below the platform with a thought to exploring these shadows on my descent.

After taking in the views I grabbed the camera and dived under the platform. My first thoughts were to capture the shadows cast by people walking overhead but I soon realised those shadows didn’t really form well on the stone walls and formed a misshapen blob rather than the people shapes I had in mind.

I walked around the room to gain another perspective waiting for the moment the inspiration would come and I would see the shot. On standing looking down the wall my imagination was saying “caged”. I felt as though I was now standing in a cage where further along the wall the shape of a door in deep shadow was looking like a means to escape from this imaginary cage.

Moving parallel to the wall, a flatter position and one I would not usually consider, this deep shadowed area now looked as though some one had blown a hole in the wall and escaped the cage, almost a cartoon drawing of a prison breakout.

I came away knowing that I had seen the shot and had captured it thus turning an otherwise high contrast day which would not reveal a good photo opportunity, or so I thought, into a successful day for me.

Do you see what I saw that day?? Of course it could just be that after years of peering through a view finder I have finally lost the plot.

Cyanotype 2

Continuing on with cyanotypes I have been adjusting the negative over the last few days. Incidentally, this photo was taken on a Bronica ETRSI using Ilford fp4+ film developed in Paranol S and printed on Ilford classic fibre based paper.

To produce the negative for cyanotype the print was scanned into the mac via my Epson V600 300DPI, rescaled and saved as a Tiff. General adjustments to levels and brightness were then made in Photoshop CC  followed by bringing in both ends of the contrast levels before it was flipped and inverted via an adjustment layer to reveal the negative. A new fill layer followed adjusted to make a UV blocker of amber colour. A new curves layer was then added increasing the contrast for this particular image until I felt it was correct. This part needs to be done for each image individually. the negative was then printed on my Epson R3000 onto Agfa copyjet film sheet at A4 size.


As can be seen here the highlights are not correct so a further negative was made with adjustments. The darkness to the right lower corner is more to do with shadow over the photo taken on my iphone than the image itself as the print was still drying on my racks at the time it was taken.


This second cyanotype was a 170-second exposure and was toned in green tea for 25minutes after a wash, bleach, wash cycle. This seems to be nearer in terms of highlights, especially where water is involved and the toning is a quite pleasing colour.

The settings used here in the curves layer has been saved and will be used as the bases for adjustments in future cyano prints involving water. I have also saved info on the various papers I have used during these prints so I now have an exposure chart for the papers.


Cyanotype revisited

This week I have been taking another look at cyanotypes as I haven’t made a cyano for a while, and having a few shots that I thought would make a nice print followed by some toning, I set about making a print or two.


Above is one I made some years back and although I was reasonably happy I still thought the highlights lacked a little in tonality.

The method I have used in the past is to use a darkroom print which is scanned into the computer adjusted to greyscale and saved as a PSD. Next, adjust the levels at both ends bringing them both in towards the centre around 10% and reducing the contrast in the mid tones until the whole photo is balanced. This is followed by reducing the contrast again down to zero once or twice, to combat the extreme contrast of the cyanotype. The image is then flipped and inverted to a negative.

To produce the negative I use an Epson R3000 which has extra blacks ( good for digital Monochrome prints) and using a printer profile of Epson glossy, photo black ink not matt, I print out the neg on Agfa copyjet acetate which is available from “Positivity ltd” (they are on the net), “Permajet” also do transparency which they call digital transfer film.


In order to increase the tonality of the highlights, I am now working with using a negative which uses an orange fill layer designed to reduce the UV and hopefully bring some tonality into the highlights. This will require some experimentation using curves so more posts on this in a few days time, but for now here is the first using the orange layer which I will be printing.



Another way to keep vauable information built up over years is to keep a sketchbook.

I use a ringbound artists sketchbook by Seawhite. The paper is good quality and a good thickness to which I regularly add photos, drawings, comments and full detail of sessions. Studio session notes with lighting or flash diagrams are of great use to record and look back over before setting up for a future session. like wise for darkroom sessions where you can keep notes of settings for different enlarger heights when moving from one paper size to the next with the exposure compensation record. A narrative of work for a project is another good use of the sketchbook.

Over time many famous and not so famous photographers have kept sketchbooks, infact there is a book on the subject… Photographers’ Sketchbooks by S. McLaren & B. Formhals, 2014 Thames & Hudson.


Print Maps

In addition to recording general developing and printing data in an A4 note book I find that recording dodge and burn information is best done using a working print where I can sketch around the area then add times as minus or plus seconds. This info can then be the basis of any reprints at a later date.

Here is one I was working on the other day where you can clearly see the effect of burning in the sky for an extra 27 secs from the working print to the 2nd print. In this case the surning in at the end of the jetty was not enough so a third print was made. but when I viewed them together I quite liked the bright area in contrast to the rest of the print. Recording such information like this provides an easy visual reference. I use a traditional glass pencil (good art shops will have these as they are used to draw on ceramics etc) but having said that I guess a marker could be used.


Profile tool as a burning mask

I have been using one of these profiling tools instead of cutting a profile of the foreground every time I need to burn in a sky. Quick and easy to use… I just thought one day ‘what could I use for this job that could be re-useable’.fullsizeoutput_1c4d

You can see here the how shadow area can be manipulated to follow the outline of the foreground against the sky. Forming the shape is done by projecting the negative in the enlarger at a height that is comfortable and following the area to be masked off with the tool fingers. By raising and lowering with slight side to side movement during the burning exposure the sky is burned in without leaving an obviuos border.


The days printing session

Yesterday’s darkroom session revealed a couple of decent prints.

I use Rc papers for my initial assessment of prints where any that I think are worth further work are then printed using Fb papers and a change in developer. The film is Ilford fp4+ and was rated as standard 125 iso.

These were taken with medium format film on my trusty Bronica ETRSI. As I wanted to create a smooth soft feel to some of the prints I used my Hitech ten stop filter hand held in front of the Bronica which was mounted on a tripod whilst timing the exposure on the iphone.

I have cropped portrait, which is a departure from the usual landscape but I think it works here with a central view as opposed to applying the rule of thirds.

What do you think?



By the way the print wiper shown here is and excellent way to remove excess water from your prints without pulling at the paper as the scissor type wipers do. This is generally used to remove water from cars etc. with the print supported on the glass I just pull down then across. The profiled blade gathers the water then off of the galss onto a cloth to absorb the excess. The prints can then be dried on screens FB papers or hung to dry if RC.