Although I grew up before cameras went digital, many people are surprised to hear that I've never actually developed my own prints. To be honest, as a child all my photos went off to Truprint or Boots to be processed, but even when I was at art college and we had my only formal photographic training, in the form of a 2 week module, I didn't actually venture into the dark room. If the truth be told, back then I really didn't care much for the chemical smell emanating from the airlock style doors.
As a photographer, this lack of experience has always kinda bugged me. I mean sure, I understand the basic steps for photo developing, but I'm a big fan of learning through doing. I'm also a big advocate of learning old practices as they help with the modern photographic process.
Despite this nagging feeling in the back of my mind to develop and print my own photographs, I never bothered to pursue it with that much vigour. So when I popped into the newsagent a few doors from my East London flat to discover that part of their closing down clear-out had unearthed some vintage 1970's board games and toys, including a 'Radionic Photographic Kit', I couldn't help myself!
To be honest, I wasn't entirely sure what I had bought until I got it home.
Although slightly battered, the kit was still sealed inside, and contained a basic camera (and by basic I mean reeeeeeeeeally basic!) along with photographic paper, developer, fixer, and a few assorted bits and pieces for the developing process.
I had kind of expected the chemicals to be rather expired. After about 40 years of sitting in the attic of a shop, the fixer had obviously got bored and tried to make a break for it!
First task was to build the camera. As I said before, it's extremely basic. Basically a box with a single lens in the front. Aperture is controlled by fitting different sized openings to the front of the lens. There's no shutter button, mainly because there's no shutter. To start taking a photograph, you have to remove the lens cap. To finish, you replace the lens cap. Focusing on the lens is achieved purely by pulling the lens out or pushing it back in... and it's quite stiff so that it doesn't leak any light in!
Rather than a viewfinder, you focus using a matte screen which you attach to the back of the camera body. Because it's in line with the film plane, the image is upside down and reversed, much like the human eye.
So, with everything put together, I went out and picked up some fresh developer and fixer from the Pro Centre. Probably got more than I need, but it's not overly expensive.
Next I needed a subject. I opted for my plate of fruit on my kitchen worktop, and after focussing the camera, I was ready to start taking a photo.
Now here's the fun part...
Once you've focussed, you need to mark where the camera was and which direction it was pointing, because once the camera is loaded with paper, you can't see anything through the lens.
Inside the kit is a changing bag. This is basically a big black bag with two sleeves. You put the camera inside, along with the paper tray and the envelope of film paper. Inside the bag is complete darkness, so you can load the paper into the camera without exposing it to any unwanted light.
Then it was a case of putting the camera back, and taking a photograph. The exposure calculations given in the instructions are all for outside in daylight, so I had to use a combination of maths and guesswork. One of the main problems was that the paper was 40 years old, so I didn't even know if it would even work. Secondly, it's sensitivity was likely to have gone way down.
Working on the assumption that the camera was around f/16 or thereabouts, and that the paper sensitivity was around ISO 2, I went for an exposure of 4 minutes.
During that time, I mixed up my chemicals. Both the developer and the fixer needed 1:10 ratios, so using the syringe provided, I measured everything out.
Now the cool thing about this kit, is that the camera actually has it's own built in developing tank! That means no dark room is needed. You literally squirt the developer into the back of the camera, rock it back and forth to make sure it's covering the entire surface of the paper for 2 minutes and then drain out.
You then put in the same amount of water to rinse, and then after draining, squirt in the fixer. After another 2 minutes of gentle rocking back and forth, it's time to drain the fluid out one last time.
Then, the moment of truth! After removing paper tray from the camera, there it is, in all it's glory... an extremely contrasty image of some clementines haha.
I'm not entirely sure what happened to give a random squiggle on the bottom half. My initial thought was that my exposure time was off, but actually, the white of my kitchen worktop is definitely white, and if I exposed for any longer, the highlights on the clementines would be blown out even further. I'm putting this down to 40 year old paper. Either way, this is the first photograph that I have developed by hand. It isn't much, but I have a slightly smug feeling inside me.
At some point I may try and get some new paper. Before then I think I might do some more experiments with this old stuff, keeping in mind how contrasty it is.
I know one thing... photography is fun!