Robert Adams' roll film developing technique

Discussion in 'B&W: Film, Paper, Chemistry' started by JamesMorris, Aug 27, 2013.

  1. JamesMorris

    JamesMorris Member

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    I was reading an essay by Todd Papgeorge on Robert Adams, and came across this explanation of his film developing technique for "The New West":

    http://www.americansuburbx.com/2011/07/robert-adams-missing-criticism-what-we.html

    It involved the use of shallow custom-made trays and required that Adams make a loop of a single roll of film by taping its ends together and then manipulating it through several trays of photographic chemistry, all in pitch blackness. This procedure, requiring thirty-five to forty minutes start to finish, was more time-consuming (and finical) than that undertaken by beginning photography students developing their first negatives in plastic tanks, and considerably more so than that employed by experienced photographers developing, in larger tanks, up to four rolls of the same type of film, or even eighteen, in another, trickier procedure employing yet another kind of tank and steel racks. But for Adams, this painstaking process was essential, because, more than any other technique he knew, it promised that his negatives would have smooth, unmottled development, allowing the sky areas of his bright prints to appear seamless as they burned away at the high end of the photographic tonal scale toward absolute, paper white​


    This sounds like stand development, right? Anyone know for sure, and why he taped the roll in a loop rather than use tanks? I wonder if he was doing development by inspection.
     
  2. erikg

    erikg Member

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    No I don't think that is stand development. Basically it sounds like tray development of sheet film, except with a loop of 120 film. It that case agitation is continuous, and gentle. He was/is after smooth even development, stand would not be my choice for that.
     
  3. AJH

    AJH Member

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    It sounds like nonsense. Very likely he would never been enable to tell two rolls apart which were shot identical and processed differently. It is processing with mystification in mind. Not fogging :smile:

    If it is panchromatic film how would he inspect the development process? Using IR?

    BTW it sounds more like continous agitation which is not recommended for BW. Although is only dipped briefly and the developer flows along the film. Highly risky because of the stripes which may form.

    Not the same but Andreas Feininger used to laugh his balls off reading about all this earlier Ansel Adams invented mystique in image forming.

    And then later Ansel Adams thought it quite OK to distribute images digitally reproduced on screen or in print. So much for the need of special handlings.
     
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  4. MDR

    MDR Member

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    Interesting thank you, I agree with erik that this doesn't sound like stand development maybe semi-stand at best but again I doubt it.

    AJH there are chemicals that allow you to desensitize the film for certain wavelengths thus allows you to use safelights during the development process. Development by inspection is done by many large format photographers and yes they do uses nightvision glasses/goggles.
     
  5. Trask

    Trask Subscriber

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    It does bring back to mind an early experience I had developing film, which involved a heavy ceramic roller half-immersed in a bath of developer. You looped the film under the roller, held one end of the film in one hand and the other in the other, then ran the film through the developer by raising and lowering your hands left-and-right. In darkness, of course. I remember doing this a few times, seemed to work OK. I've often thought of using PVC pipe to build a super-sized Minox-like tank that would take 35mm film, emulsion outwards. Something to look forward to in retirement!
     
  6. Arctic amateur

    Arctic amateur Member

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    Ansel Adams died in 1984. Were these technologies available then?
     
  7. ChuckP

    ChuckP Subscriber

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    I can recall seeing a video about David Plowden and he also developed 120 film in some kind of tray system. Anyhow he didn't use the normal tank with inversion agitation. It's very hard to get a perfect large area of bright tone. I suppose you really need that ability when working with big open landscapes.
     
  8. MartinP

    MartinP Member

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    Sounds like normal "see-saw" development, with liberal additions of bullsh!t in the article. This was how people would develop rollfilm, back in the old days, before daylight-tanks were common and when most emulsions were not yet panchromatic. When complete darkness was needed for the new panchromatic emulsions, daylight-tanks gradually became more popular among hobbyist users. I still recall the method being detailed on the film-information sheets in the box with Verichrome.

    The "amateur" user, with one roll to develop, would have trays (often the same trays that were used to produce the contact-prints from the film) of dev stop and fix laid out, then the roll would be held with one end in each hand and by lifting and lowering the hands alternately it would be moved through the bath, from one end of the roll to the other, in a see-saw motion. If the film was sufficiently insensitive then it could easily be developed by inspection using this technique, otherwise development would be done on time.

    The "professional", on the other hand, would typically be using a deep tank system with a cage containing the reels and sheet hangers. The cage was lifted out of the tanks and tilted to drain momentarily for agitation. This is how I developed customer films while working in a lab. The cage we used would take twelve 4x5" or six 10x8" sheets, or umpteen reels, and development was always very even using replenished D76.
     
  9. erikg

    erikg Member

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    Jobo processors use continuous agitation and they do quite well with b&w. Develop by inspection can be done without goggles, Weston did it, people like Michael A. Smith still do. I don't get the remarks about Ansel Adams, this is about Robert Adams' technique, and his prints speak for themselves.
     
  10. Gerald C Koch

    Gerald C Koch Member

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    When I started developing film it was 120 or 620 size. Kodak's directions said to put a film clip at each end of the roll and see-saw it in a tray of developer. This was easy to do as the film of the time was orthochromatic and a safelight could be used. Same method for stop and fixer. This was a common practice at the time since developing tanks were not usually available. The method was the antithesis of stand development as the film was constantly in motion. Old photo books often illustrate the technique.
     
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  11. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    Just out of curiosity, how did you wash the films?
     
  12. JamesMorris

    JamesMorris Member

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    Thanks for the answers. I guessed stand because of the amount of time stated.

    Must have taken a while to develop 500 rolls that way.
     
  13. Gerald C Koch

    Gerald C Koch Member

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    The bath tub worked very well.
     
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  15. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    Maybe they were more interested in quality than quantity?!
    I have a hard time believing someone of that era would think in the same terms of quantity that a person of today would.

    What I love about older techniques is that often they rely on the very simplest tools available. There's an elegance to that, to not be reliant on anything more than a tray and a completely dark room, along with significant skill to make that work. Of course technological progress can be wonderful too. I love my daylight tanks, or even my rotary processors, but I'm actually a little bit curious about this technique, and some day when I have a perfectly dark darkroom, I will probably try it.
     
  16. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    I bet it did. My mind is locked too heavily in roll film washers and Ilford rinsing techniques.
     
  17. erikg

    erikg Member

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    His era is not so far from our own, in fact Robert Adams is still working. But yes a great example can be found in his work of a dedication to a simple straight forward approach and a willingness to work hard. I hope that notion isn't totally gone today.
     
  18. jim appleyard

    jim appleyard Member

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    So, is there any real advantage to Adam's method, or is it just another way to achieve the same goal?
     
  19. michael_r

    michael_r Subscriber

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    Just another more labour intensive (and risky) way to achieve the same goal.
     
  20. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    A washed out plastic bucket worked well too. In my case, it was with 616 panchromatic film, and the Kodak Tri-Chem packs.

    I may have had more patience than some 11 year olds :smile:.

    And with respect to the Robert Adams technique referred to initially, it may have been one of the few ways at that time that an individual photographer could achieve what was essentially continuous agitation.

    Nowadays, when the continuous agitation choice is relatively commonplace (JOBO, Sidekick, homemade alternatives) we may be prone to taking it for granted.
     
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  21. ic-racer

    ic-racer Member

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    I suspect he was taping two 120 rolls together. Because the image area is so close to the edge of the film, 120 development in reels is frequently problematic and he found a workable solution. After years of experimentation I found the Jobo 1500 reels, rotary development with T-max film and T-max developer give even development right up to the edge of the 120 frame in most cases. Thus saving me from those time-consuming measures.
     
  22. Ronald Moravec

    Ronald Moravec Member

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    Developing film means precision and repeatability. This offers neither. The photos are not bad, but the prints border on terrible. Sorry my opinion.
     
  23. mfohl

    mfohl Subscriber

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    What's an Ilford rinsing technique? Are there more than one?
     
  24. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    http://bit.ly/16PKIxt

    First search result. Page 10, Figure 13.
     
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  25. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    Why do you consider this method imprecise and not repeatable? If you think about it, it is very similar to develop sheet film in trays. What is the difference?
     
  26. michael_r

    michael_r Subscriber

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    Agreed. I do find it "risky" in the sense there is a lot of manual handling/manipulation, and rather cumbersome. But with practice and proper temperatures/timing, I don't see why it would be any less precise or repeatable than any other method.