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Part of the Process: Ralph Brandi

Part of the Process is a series of posts that puts the spotlight on film photographers and DIY film developers.  These features provide unique experiences and perspectives on shooting and developing film while also showcasing diverse talent and film photographers around the globe.  If you are interested in being featured, feel free to contact me!

Name:

Ralph Brandi

Location:

Middletown, New Jersey, USA

Links:

Website

Instagram

Flickr

What other websites or blogs do you keep up with to feed your photographic interests?

PetaPixel and Film Photography Project.

What attracted you to film photography? How did you get started/introduced to shooting film? How soon after did you start developing?

I was shooting digital with the idea that I could shoot more and get better as a photographer, but what I found was that the more I shot, the worse I got. I found an original Diana in a junk shop in Levittown, PA for a dollar (holy grail for toy camera fans).

I took it to Florida with me on a trip to the Kennedy Space Center. My digital camera died after four shots that day, so the whole day was shot with the Diana. When I got the film developed, I was blown away; a place so associated with the 1960s in my mind (Apollo 11 landed on the moon 10 days before my 6th birthday) looked like I shot photos of it in the 1960s.

Diana // Tri-X

I found that by slowing down I was getting better shots, and by shooting with simple cameras I was concentrating more on composition, one of the only things I could actually effect with such primitive cameras. It was a year or two after that that I started developing my own film.

What do you like to shoot on a regular basis?

Landscapes, mostly; I like to shoot in the resort towns of the Jersey Shore where I live.

Pentax 67 w/ 90mm // Ilford FP4+

What formats, cameras, and films do you shoot? What do you like about the formats, cameras, films you prefer? 

35mm, 126, 127, 120, 4×5, Polaroid pack film, SX-70, 600, Spectra.

What types of film do you develop?

C41, black and white, and E6

Tell us about your first experiences in developing your own film.  How did you muster the courage to give it a shot? What resources did you use?

I was spending a lot of time on a site called Vox, which at that time was a host for blogs run by early blog software maker Six Apart. One of the people I met there was a young woman from Montreal who was also a film shooter. She convinced me that developing film was fun, cheap, and easy. She educated me on what I needed to get (basically a Paterson tank and a room I could make dark), and I was off to the races. She was an art history student at a university in Montreal who was torn between art history and art making. I lost track of her when Vox shut down, but I owe her a lot.

What is your development process like now?

Lately I find myself shooting mostly medium format (Rolleiflex, Pentax 67, Kiev 88) or large format (Sinar A1, Calumet CC-401, Wanderlust Travelwide, Intrepid 4×5 Gen 1) because it slows me down and makes me think about by shots.  I still shoot 35mm, but I’m never happy with the results.

Rolleiflex MX-EVS w/80mm Xenar  and Hoya R72 filter // Rollei Infrared 400 film

I load the film into my tank (I have three Paterson tanks) in a bathroom that I can make dark by covering the window with a piece of cardboard. After loading the tank, I head to the basement and the utility sink between my washer and dryer.

I usually develop with Rodinal 1:50; it provides a reasonable balance between graininess and speed. Occasionally, I’ll stand develop at 1:100 for an hour, but typically only if I have a real oddball film and can’t find anything about what the development time should be. I use the Digital Truth Massive Dev app on my iPhone to time black and white development, and an old app called LabTimer to develop C41 or E6.

Canon Canonet QL17-GIII w/ 40mm f/1.7 // Tri-X

If I’m developing black and white, I’m not as picky about temperatures; if I’m within 2-3 degrees of 68F/20C, I figure I’m okay. If I’m developing C41 or E6, I pull out a picnic cooler and fill it with hot water, about 115F, put my chem bottles in that for about 15 minutes, check the temperature, and go when it’s around 102F. For black and white, I use water for stop rather than an acid bath between developer and fixer, and I changed from using Ilford Rapid Fixer to Photo Formulary TF-4, which is alkaline and doesn’t require hypo reduction afterward. For C41 and E6, I use the directions that come with the kits.

Kodak Retina Ia w/ Schneider-Kreuznach Retina-Xenar 50mm // Kodachrome 64

I use the Jobo press kit from B&H for C41; for E6, I use the kit that the Film Photography Project sells. When I’m done developing, I use a modified version of the Ilford 5-10-20 rinse process.  Basically, I do each twice, so it’s more of a 5-5-10-10-20-20 process. Last thing is a bit of Kodak Photo-Flo surfactant into the last rinse, then onto the rack and into the shower to dry. After they dry, I cut the negatives, put them in Print File negative sleeves, and scan; medium format uses a BetterScanning negative holder; 4×5 and 35mm get the standard ones that came with my Epson 4990.

What’s your processes regarding scanning, enlarging, and/or printing your work?

I have scanned my own film for most of the time I’ve been developing it. I’ve started to learn how to print with an enlarger. I have this oddball enlarger called an Enfojer that was developed in Croatia primarily to print and enlarge phone photos, but that also includes the ability to print from negatives. The enlarger I received was faulty, but at least I received one; most of the backers from Indiegogo never did, and they appear to have been shut down recently. Like I said, the enlarger is faulty, so I’ve had to hack it to get it to work, but I’ve been pretty happy with the results.

Wanderlust Travelwide 4×5 camera w/ Angulon 90mm f/6.8 // Tri-X

I’m currently looking for a more traditional enlarger. I’m also spending a lot of time playing with old-fashioned traditional methods of printing like cyanotype and gum bichromate. These typically use a hybrid methodology where you print digital enlargement negatives, because they’re contact print methods and nobody wants to look at contact prints of 35mm negatives. I’ve been learning about how to use step wedges to calibrate the production of the digital negatives, which I produce on an Epson 3880 printer. Given that I’ve scanned my photographs for the past ten years, this kind of hybrid process works well for me.

What equipment are you using to develop your film and why?

Paterson tanks. I bought into it early on and have never seen a reason to change for the most part, except for 4×5. I was using a MOD54 with a large Paterson tank, but backed a new tank on Kickstarter that uses half the chemistry: Timothy Gilbert’s SP445. I find it really easy to use.

Intrepid 4×5 Model 1 w/ Schneider-Kreuznach Symmar-S 150mm // Arista Ultra 400

For chemicals, I’ve played around but settled largely on Rodinal. I like grain and Rodinal produces that grain. It’s a good fit. I played around with HC-110 (too similar to Rodinal) and Pyro when I first started shooting 4×5 (too toxic and never saw the benefit). Back when I was shooting mainly toy cameras, I also used Diafine a lot; the speed boost it provides was very useful for those cameras.

Are you content with where you are now with your shooting and developing? Do you have any future plans or ambitions ?

I always keep learning. I think my photography is getting better, but have had bouts of lack of inspiration. I think my attempts to get better at printing and my exploration of alternative processes have been my way of dealing with that.

Polaroid 250 w/114mm f/8.8 // Polaroid 669, on-site image transfer to Arches Watercolor

Kodak Brownie Hawkeye Flash // Tri-X // Printed Cyanotype

Have you completed any notable projects or in the process of creating something from the film you have shot and developed?

My initial “project” was more of an ongoing philosophy; I am not a fan of nostalgia, and I found film useful in subverting nostalgia. Then my dad died.  I discovered why nostalgia hasn’t been bred out of us via natural selection. I learned a lot, but it messed up my photography for a few years. I spent time exploring different aspects of photography trying to figure out where I was going. More recently, with the changes in the political climate, I’m finding a need to return to subverting nostalgia.

Polaroid 250 w/114mm f/8.8 // Polaroid Chocolate 100

What advice can you give to others who are interested in shooting and developing film but are apprehensive about getting started?

Dive in. It won’t always work the way you think it should, but you’ll learn a ton, and get better. Even your mistakes might turn out to be things of beauty and wonder. Don’t be afraid. Every failure contains the seeds of success; you try something and fail, you know to try something different next time. Only by exploring will you find your way.

Agfa Clack w/ 95mm lens // Ilford FP4+

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