I’ve started to have a bit more time – not much, but a bit! – for processing images from last year that in part I hadn’t even had developed, never mind scanned. However, a few weeks ago I took a substantial number of films away for processing (the fridge door is now half-empty again!), and I’ve been scanning film ever since. The images here – added to the Assynt gallery – are both from the same bay, made an hour or two apart (at most). The first image is on Fuji Velvia 50, and is actually the later of the two:
I think I’m not finished with the processing of the second image, but I want to include it here since it represents a bit of a personal triumph (yes, this may seem slightly pathetic to you!), in that I feel I have finally managed to process Kodak Portra 160 the way I want it:
What is interesting about this on a personal level is that I had tried using Portra quite a bit last year, in part because great photographers like Dav Thomas rave about the tones and dynamic range that it offers. However, I spent much of my processing time fighting to get anything like a semi-decent image from the film scans: everything had subtle but unpleasant greenish colour casts that I couldn’t seem to get rid of: terribly frustrating. Attempting to get skin tones on portraits right was impossible, and landscapes were no better. I should add that this is very subjective: I felt I never managed to get them quite right for me.
Part of this, I now think, was about trying to force myself to get it right too quickly. The key issue is in part simply a matter of white balance and temperature adjustment, but there is much more to it as well, and I just couldn’t get it right. I stopped engaging with Portra last autumn, but in about March of this year I read this detailed article by another enthusiastic Portra user, Tim Parkin. Whilst I didn’t think of this article yesterday when I had my Eureka moment, now that I look back at it, I realise that I had indeed begun to incorporate some elements of Tim’s processing technique. I feel I can go back to the article in detail and work through the parts I really want to use on my images. It’s as if I’m befriending Portra again.
What is key to this development is that it comes in several stages: firstly there was an initial enthusiasm which rapidly became an experience of frustration, eventually leading me to abandon Portra altogether. However, subconsciously the wrestling with Portra was still going on, for why would I have read Tim’s article unless I had intended to use it? Much later, when I had some time and what I loosely call ‘brain-space’, I found I could return to a Portra image and incorporate sufficient key elements of Tim’s techniques to make it work for me. This image here happens to be the one that I started playing with, and at some point I need to finish working on it.
None of this process should come as a great surprise to me because in my academic work this happens regularly. I will often read a book or an article, but struggle to fully understand or engage with it and then simply ‘forget’ about it and read something else. However, I then find my subconscious has been working away at the first text, perhaps with the help of the second, and when I need to write something that would benefit from the first, it simply ‘works’. I go back to it, for sure, but the key arguments and opportunities it offers to develop an argument are already clearly delineated and internalised. I know that it just needs time and patience to let it seep into my system – at least, that’s what it feels like!
Now I can observe that my engagement with photographic techniques seems to follow a similar pattern. I need to cultivate more patience, which those of you who know me will realise is something of a challenge! 🙂