Developing my own film and then learning to print was the next logical step in my photographic evolution. It didn’t take long at all to understand the cause and effect relationship between a “good” neg and one that was under or over exposed. Printing was also a time of introspection for me. Once I slid the exposed print into the developer I allowed myself to reflect upon the process: would the print come out as I envisioned, would I be excited or disappointed. What would the final result look like. True, the introspection was brief as the time the print was in the soup was typically around two to three minutes. Still, it was a quiet moment in the process and allowed me to better focus on what I was doing.
At the time I really didn’t understand the full photographic process from exposure to final print. While on one hand, the old German who ran the photo center could be helpful, he wasn’t there to be your personal instructor. After a while I began to pick up on the finer nuances of the process – a well exposed negative had the potential for a fine print. So I began to record my shots when I went out shooting. I would patiently record the negative number, a brief description of the scene, the f-stop and aperture. Once I developed the negatives I would carefully review each one, looked for those that I thought to be well developed, compare it against my notes, and in the process, began to see what an over or under exposed negative looked like and how to avoid them when shooting. After a while, my consults with the German instructor on what was a good neg grew less and less while at the same time, we began a new phase of interaction.
Soon he began giving me insights on how to improve the print, dodging here, burning there, increasing or decreasing exposure, trying a different paper grade, and at some point, he introduced me to a whole new world – the relationship between the type of film and what chemicals worked best in the development process; to try different paper brands with developing chemicals other than the lab standard of Kodak D76. What happens when you dilute film chemicals, the difference in developing times when using Microdol X at 1:1, 1:2 or 1:3 ratios and why that extra time was needed for needed for film processed in diluted chemicals; that certain film types and speed were better for specific shooting scenarios. Up until now I had been shooting Kodak Tri-X 400 but, as a result of the experiments, began to shoot more and more with Ilford HP-5 and HP-7 films. While both did what they were designed to do, I grew more attached to the Ilford films. I liked the way the grain looked, the blacks seemed richer, the whites crispier and the mid tones seemed to have better definition.
Soon I realized that when I went out shooting with a single camera I was faced with shooting only color or only B/W. The conundrum was that there were times, many times as it turned out, that I wanted to shoot the same scene in both color and B/W. So I tentatively experimented with writing down what frame I was on, rewinding the roll, making sure that I stopped just short of pulling the film leader all the way into the canister, reloading the other roll of film, manually advancing until I sure I had passed the last exposure and then advancing another two frames to ensure I didn’t inadvertently double expose that last image that was exposed before I removed the roll. Talk about double trouble with Murphy all over this process. And, I can’t tell you how many rolls I inadvertently pulled the film lead into the canister when I didn’t stop the rewinding soon enough. After a while it was driving me crazy so I began carrying only one camera again. However, the appetite had been whetted and I was no longer content with shooting in only one medium. I fretted and fumed and decided it was time to revisit the camera shop by the Templehof air terminal in West Berlin.