Last weekend I said I was done writing about croissants. And I am. Really. But… This Wednesday and Saturday I baked croissants and I did it so much differently and it worked. So, I thought I’d tell you about that quickly and then intro pinhole photography.
How to make 12 hour croissants
So, croissants take time. But… how much time? Could I make them in just 12 hours? This Wednesday and Saturday I thought I’d give it a shot. Not because I wanted to write to you about croissants again, but because I really wanted a croissant and the idea of waiting until coffee shops reopened seemed insane. Here is what I did.
And… the croissants came out well. The 16 layers are definitely enough. But it was hard to roll the dough out. It didn’t want to listen and kept shrinking. I guessed this would be the case which is why I went with two book folds rather than my normal three letter folds. Less rolling for the win.
Anyway, before last quarters’ pursuits in leisure I could not have done this. I needed to follow the directions (mostly…) for 12 weeks to feel comfortable throwing them out. Sadly, for pinhole photography, I think I may have thrown the directions out before I even got started.
A name change
Since this newsletter will be less about croissants going forward, I’ve changed the name from “12 batches of croissants” to “Pursuits in leisure”. If you signed up to read about croissants and don’t wish to read about pinhole photography, feel free to unsubscribe. If you are sick of my late Sunday emails, please unsubscribe. I don’t want to be that email you archive every Monday morning without reading.
If you know anyone who would enjoy reading about my failures in pinhole photography please ask them to subscribe, especially if they have a clue how to take photos. I’m going to need help here and while the internet is full of great information, having someone to email with is so much better.
The photographic process
Photography is process that takes a special set of tools and chains them together in a defined way to create expressive art. For many of us, these tools and process have been abstracted into our cellphones. Hundreds of hours of material engineering, electrical engineering and software engineering have gone into making what was once an expensive and labor intensive pastime, an everyday expectation. It is a true feat of the modern age. But the abstractions that make the cellphone camera possible don’t merely make taking a photo simple, they also remove the artist’s ability to explore whole practices of the photographic craft by embedding those practices so deep in the bowels of your phone that only a madman would dare reach in. Luckily for us (at least for me) analog photography is still a thing.
I’m currently thinking that each week I will post 2 to 3 photos mostly because one seems both too easy and not educational enough. Here are this week’s.
As you can see, week one didn’t go too well. After taking the first photo it was clear to me that photography was going to be emotionally harder than baking croissants because failure is more complete here. Where failed croissants become buttery crescent rolls, a bad photo is just a bad photo.
To understand how ☝️happened, first I need to introduce my tools.
In photography there are three different tools. The camera, the paper, and the chemistry.
The idea of building my own camera is largely what got me interested in this project, so I’ll be focusing on pinhole photography as a pinhole camera is rather simple to build.
Once I decided I wanted to do pinhole photography, I started googling how to develop pinhole photographs and came across direct positive paper and caffenol developer. In my mind both of these were interesting simplifications that would allow me to explore how photography works.
Direct positive paper is photo paper that exposes into a photo as we see it. This removes the need to first develop a negative and then take a photo of that negative to create a positive. I’ve decided to use Ilford’s Harman Direct Positive Paper as that is what my corners of the internet recommend.
Caffenol developer is a concoction one can make at home with common ingredients which seemed interesting to try. It gets its name from caffeic acid (which is found in coffee) and was created at Rochester Institute for Technology sometime in the ’90s.. The ingredients I used are below. I got these from a few different places including here, and here, and here.
So… what went wrong
If photography is chaining together a set of tools to create an output, there is a series of compounding mistake vectors that can result in a failed print. The camera could be bad. The paper could be faulty. The light could be wrong. The developer could be exhausted. The darkroom could be too bright. The safe light could be unsafe. Oh, I’m sure there are more. To try and understand what was going wrong I changed something with each print.
Photo 1: My Dark Soul
This was the first print. I exposed it for 4 minutes, at night, in my well-lit kitchen. It was supposed to be a picture of Caitlin’s tomato seedling. I picked four minutes because that is what some instructions said would work but this paper is underexposed. You can tell this because of how uniformly the photo is dark. Underexposure can mainly come from one of two places. Either the pinhole in the camera is smaller than I think it is or the exposure time is too short. After wallowing in the tragedy of this first photo, I started researching exposure times more.
Photo 2: Mudslide
This photo was taken in the same conditions as the first on the following night. I exposed it for 30 minutes. Can you see Caitlin’s tomato seedling? Isn’t it wonderful looking?
The fact that the paper is less dark likely means that it was exposed better. This paper was a fair bit lighter when I went to bed that night, but it continued getting darker which likely means that my wash didn’t remove all the developer. I had been following advice that seemed to imply you didn’t need to fix these photos.
Photo 3: A Study in Pink
This is a photo of my bonsai at 1:10pm on a cloudy day. I exposed it for 10 minutes as I found some instructions from the photo paper manufacture that said that 10 minutes was the right amount of time for cloudy day photography. Those instructions also say that indoor photography with a pinhole camera should have a 1 hour exposure. My mind is fully blown that expose times between a cloudy day and inside differ by 6x.
To ensure I didn’t have the same continual developer problem, I made some homemade fixer out of lemon juice and water. The acid from the lemon juice neutralizes the developer. This generally worked and gave me a more stable photo to study.
The pink color is what undeveloped photo paper looks like when opened outside of a dark room which likely means that my developer isn’t converting whites very well.
The clear straight lines at the top and bottom of the photo are from a pair of tongs I laid over the photo to keep it flat while it dried. The tongs were not touching the paper, so this seems to be a shadow effect of some sort which makes me think that despite my fixer, some chemical reaction was still happening as the photo dried.
On Saturday night I founds Ilford’s recommended chemicals for this paper and ordered them. Due to the pandemic, it’s unclear when they will arrive, though the website seems to imply in two weeks. If they come before next weekend, I will definitely be using them as the photo developer feels like the weakest link. That said, if they don’t come I may consider building a new camera or doubling the coffee in the developer. We shall see.