Brendan Gara Photography

circular arguments


I’ve got an itch for buying prints, not photographs but aquatints. I like the way they can reproduce a scene with an absolute minimum amount of information, but still impress the feeling of being there. I like the smudges, the washes of monochrome, the imperfections, and the missing bits, the two-dimensional flatness, and the three dimensional imperfections of the paper. It’s rougher, rawer and more tactile; less is more. Photography often falls into the more information is better camp, from the tips of your toe to the edge of the world in focus, sharpness and 3d “pop”.


An upcoming work trip overseas and the thought of carrying film stock around the world and shooting old cameras got me thinking that perhaps I’m being obtusely anachronistic in shooting film and especially Tri-X.

I thought the idea through, I could move to a digital body that uses the lenses I already posses.

Option 1, I could buy a used Fuji X- Pro body and a M adaptor. But I wouldn’t be able to use the optical viewfinder and would have to zone focus, or try and use an EVF viewfinder. And then I’d have to either try and update my four year old MacBook to Mavericks so I could use Lightroom 5 (which I could get under my creative cloud licence) or try and get to grips with “silkypix” whatever that programme is.

Option 2, I could just buy a “tele- converter” for my X100 and shoot at my preferred view of 50mm, but then because the camera is the old model, I wouldn’t be able to correct for distortion.

Option 3, I could stretch finances and buy a second hand M8: my 28mm and 40mm lens would be 35mm and 50ish mm so that’s a bonus, and it would mean I could enter the digital leica world, albeit with an 8 year old electronic camera that isn’t supported any more if it breaks, and I’d have to buy UV/IR filters, otherwise black would look purple.

In the spirit of fair play I downloaded some samples of M8 DNG files. I can read them in Lightroom 3 so I wouldn’t have to try and upgrade to Mavericks, wouldn’t have to learn “Silkypix” and could just get on with it. No disrespect to those who shared the files on the web, they’re nice, but no matter how I tried to stuff them up, I just couldn’t get them to look like how I wanted them to. Curves, noise, film grain, Tri-X simulations in DxO, nothing. They just looked…clean, sharp, distinct, and just a little bit like I don’t really care about them.

So back to where I started from. I don’t need to upgrade to Mavericks, I don’t need to learn another image processing program, and I don’t need to buy any more filters. It was an entertaining few days, but I’m now going to shoot everything at sunny 16, develop in old coffee grounds and print on “tea soaked toilet paper” – tannins are archival right? It might not be sharp or clean, but it’ll be closer to what I want to show.

The two “flat” photos shot on 5X4 film with a 40-year-old MPP field camera.

Back to travel photography soon, as we’re away again on a shorter European trip.





  1. Brendan, my word those are nice. I tend to go for bold and grand but I’m not alone as you know but this look is terrific. Would you be willing to be more specific about how you did that. Is it a development technique alone or did you have them printed this way? I have a couple of rolls of TriX from my France trip, one of which I have not developed, and would enjoy trying something new. This would open lots of possibilities for the M7 especially with fall and winter on the way.

    • Thanks John, there’s nothing wrong in bold and grand, I just tend to generally prefer more intimate “lived in the land” shots when shooting landscapes: Mary Randlett is a good example.

      Both these shots were on HP5, I think it’s better in 5×4 than TXP or Tri-X, but on the flip side, far prefer Tri-X in 35mm or 120.

      Both developed in Rodinal at 1:100 stand development (which to me means agitating once every 30 minutes in 90 minutes).

      We lived in Dumfries and Galloway in Scotland for 4 years and one thing I’ll always remember about that area is low sun and tree lined hill tops: there would always be trees silhouetted against the skyline, and in autumn/ winter they would stand out as skeletal shapes against the smooth fields. These pictures were all taken along my daily commute, and on occasion circumstances allowed me to get a camera in the right place at the right time. I tended to shoot into, or very close to into the sun, and then hope that I could recover the shot by stand developing.

  2. Some follow up questions. Have not tried stand but do use Rodinal. I few turns (agitations) every 30 min during the total of 90 min. Does that apply regardless of what you shoot the film at? I tend to set ASA at 200 when using 35MM TriX and 240 with 120. Would that change the stand or agitation times for you or does it matter?

    Ireland/Scotland are on the bucket list and was curious if you were going there for photography along with tourism what season/month would you choose?

    Thank you.

    • I shoot Tri X at 250 whether it’s 35mm or 120mm. No other reason than I’m both lazy and hate calculating stuff, but comfortable with variation: there’s enough latitude in the film to cover that small difference. I can’t see anything between 250 and 320 or 400 and 420. With Portra I’ll shoot Portra 400 at 250 and Portra 160 at 125. As far as processing B&W goes, if i think it’s going to be difficult then I’ll use rodinal (or RO9) at 1:100, turning the tanks over twice at 0, 30, 60 and 90 minutes and then draining, rinsing, fixing at about 100 minutes or so. I’ve shot at up to 6400 and got useable negatives (they are thin though) and HP5 I’ll shoot at between 250 and 1600 and use the same dilution and time. If I’m “taking care” of negatives then I’ll use HC110 at 1:47 for 7 minutes for both 35mm and 120mm.

      To be honest there’s so much latitude in b&w film, I tend not to believe in “seconds” or other fussy things. It’s inherently a flexible medium, your shutter will be out by a bit, your metering will be out by a bit, your developing will be out by a bit, your scanner will be out by a bit etc etc, it’s cumulative variation. That maybe explains my uneasiness with digital?

      Scotland- whenever you can go will be good but the midges are hard work in the summer, so April- June, and then September- November. Ireland- I don’t know- another personal project to shoot when I get the time. If you come over give me a shout.

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