For decades, I’ve used a custom form to log ‘important’ characteristics for each roll of film I develop. Recorded on this form are attributes such as: the dates between which the roll was shot, and where it was shot; what camera and lens(es) were used; what film was employed, and at what ISO; the type, temperature and ratio of the chemistry; and the methodology used in the film’s development.
After scanning the negatives, I then copy this information into my Lightroom catalog, where it becomes part of each image’s metadata. Having access to so much history has proven invaluable over the years — particularly when it comes time to develop some type of film I haven’t shot in awhile. For example, I recently purchased a 100′ bulk roll of FP4+, and a quick glance through my previous FP4+ negatives revealed that my historically “mixed” opinion of the film had everything to do with whether I developed it in HC-110 (insipid) or Rodinal (tasty).
But lately, I feel as if my development skills have plateaued (though I’ll admit, given my penchant for low fidelity images, this can be a rather tricky thing to discern). Is there anything else I can learn from all these negatives? Am I tracking all the data I should be tracking? Is there any additional information I could record, which might aid my quest for constant improvement? Thinking through the development process step-by-step, I realized the very first thing I do when I process a roll of film is to choose a musical album to accompany the development. And yet, not once, had I ever bothered to document this obviously essential step in the process.
Granted, logic suggests one’s musical selection should have no affect on the negatives… but until I actually start to track it, can I make this claim with absolute certainty? Perhaps negatives subjected to sleazy lounge music during the development process will have subtly different characteristics than those birthed to some avant-garde classical tracks? Might there be a difference between those punk rock negatives and those souped under the aural blanket of a Gregorian chant? Does listening to hard bop give me negatives like Gene Smith’s? Will classic rock nudge my negatives in the direction of Jim Marshall’s?
And so — partly because it’s utterly ridiculous and partly because “why not?” — I’m now documenting the music that accompanies each roll of film I develop. In the last several weeks, I’ve souped negatives to:
- Open by Brian Auger & Trinity w/Julie Driscoll
- The Madcap Laughs by Syd Barrett
- Bálvvoslatjna by Mari Boine
- Ege Bamyasi by Can
- Cowboy in Sweden by Lee Hazlewood
- Oxygène by Jean-Michel Jarre
- In the Court of the Crimson King by King Crimson
- A Cappella Choral Works (featuring the London Sinfonietta Voices) by György Ligeti
- Roots by Curtis Mayfield
- Einfluss by Roedelius & Arnold Kasar
- 2112 by Rush
Obviously, it’s too soon to learn anything from this experiment… but give me another 5 or 6 years, and I might have pooled enough data to form a cohesive theory. In the meantime, I think I’ll forget about applying for photography grants — the real money is in research, and this might just be my ticket. Silly? Maybe. But I’ve seen grant money thrown at far more ludicrous projects that this…
© 2023 grEGORy simpson
ABOUT THE PHOTOS:
“Multiplex” was shot with a Fuji Natura Black 1.9, using HP5+ pushed to ISO 1600 and developed in Rodinal 1:50. It was birthed to Jean-Michel Jarre’s Oxygène — still the best album ever recorded in one’s kitchen.
“Scythe” is from a Lomography Sprocket Rocket, using FP4+ pushed to ISO 200, and developed in Rodinal 1:50. Its development music came courtesy of 1967’s Open album from Brian Auger & Trinity w/Julie Driscoll.
“The Wall” was snapped with an Olympus Xa on HP5+ at ISO 400, and developed in Rodinal 1:50. And while it might have seemed obvious to have done so, it was not developed to Pink Floyd’s The Wall but, instead, to Can’s experimentally funky Ege Bamyasi album from 1972.
“Playline” was shot with a Contax G1 and a Zeiss Planar 45mm f/2 lens, using FP4+ pushed to ISO 200 and developed in Rodinal 1:50. Roedelius & Kasar’s Einfluss album, from 2017, provided the accompaniment.
“WRDSMTH Was Here” used a Fuji GS645S Wide 60 and some TMAX100 that expired over a decade ago, and which I exposed at ISO 80. Sound waves from the psychedelic cowboy lounge music of Lee Hazlewood’s Cowboy in Sweden helped agitate the Rodinal.
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