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Size does matter

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While doing my film grain site, which keeps growing over time, I started having the obsession with large magnifications of eyes. And it recently dawned on me that doing a photo series on eyes might be a cool thing. With that little obsession I made my way to the photo lab this weekend to try a few things out.

To start well, I did a bit of cleaning. I suspect that none of the equipment there has been cleaned. Ever. And on some of the projectors you can see the ‘shadows’ cast by dust somewhere in the machine on your prints. Which – at least for the mildly obsessive-compulsive – is a bad thing. And it meant I found myself disassembling some of the projectors – thus learning a bit about their inner working for the first time –, cleaning the dust out of them and noticing that we have two kinds of projector systems. There are ‘Western’ projectors (I think ours are from Italy) and ‘Eastern’ projectors from Checheslovakia. It seems you can exchange the lenses between projectors of the same type, but not between the different types.

And then I made my prints. Enlarging an eye to fill a 30cm×40cm sheet requires huge magnification. I needed to rearrange projectors to do that, placing one right at the wall and projecting the image on the wall opposite it. With a 70mm lens that gave an image height between three and four metres, leaving me with sufficiently large eyes. A few things were extra obstacles in this. With that massive enlargement, light intensity is really low. Which in turn makes it really hard to focus the image properly. Particularly as you cannot be close to the image and adjusting the focusing at the same time. Using a small aperture could have solved this, but I really didn’t want to go beneath f5,6 as even at that size I needed exposure times between 200 and 300 seconds (read: eternities) to get the results I wanted. Particularly for the first attempts with exposure testing being needed this just took ages.

But I got reasonable results in the end which give me a collection of eight eyes with a bit of face around them now. They can be nicely arranged in a pattern and arranged by brightness, for example. Apart from looking cool, they are also a nice example of the grain you get from different films. Going all the way from the Adox CHS25 film at ISO 25 which still looks reasonably smooth even at this size to HP5 pushed a stop to ISO 800 using low-dilution Rodinal which gives clearly visible grain.

Large prints hanging to dry

Of course this whole process requires significantly more effort than sitting down with Photoshop. And its results can easily be less perfect because of technical constraints. But having the the final prints just feels better. For one thing because of their sheer size. And for the other because many of the steps involved in creating those pictures were done by myself.

January 28, 2008, 0:57

Tagged as bw.

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