Week Fifty, Pocket Premo C

October 20, 2017

Week 50 – Rochester Optical Pocket Premo C

Here we are, a half century! This one is for Russell my co-conspirator.  It is a little different this week but first the Camera – Russell’s new baby was made by the Rochester Optical Company, the Pony Premo is a little folding plate camera. The company was purchased by Kodak but I am not sure who made this one, it is an early one I think from around 1906 -10 ish. There are no markings for lens etc. I believe it to be a 105mm lens, focus by bellows on a sliding rail onto a ground glass hidden by a cute door. Old school marked aperture, shutter just I/B/T…I would only need T for timed! A spring loaded back takes plate holders giving an image size of 3 ¼” x 4 ¼”, There are 6 plates of which 4 were good, all housed in a leather pouch. A simple but lovely camera that Russell is rather taken with.

I said different and so it is, I would be having a go at learning the beginnings of paper negatives, one of the oldest methods of photography. A sheet of photographic paper is loaded under safe light conditions into the holders. The usual photographic taking process then developed in the darkroom producing a negative image. This is then placed over another piece of photographic paper, light exposed through it and developed for the positive image…that’s it in the simplest terms! Yeah right…

I lost Monday, picked up the camera Tuesday and acclimatized myself to it. I had 2 options of paper, fresh multigrade variable contrast and some aged grade 3, my reading told me the variable would be low contrast and grade 4 the preferred – grade 3 it was then. I cut the paper to size as we were just testing I wasn’t exacting. I chose a solid brick mural and setup on the tripod. ISO 6 was the suggest starting point for the paper and I chose to bracket the same scene at -1/0/+1/+2.

As you can see it went terribly! I developed in standard 1:9 paper developer, Frame 1 nothing! Frame 2 just went black in 30 seconds and attempts to control the other 2 failed. I did however have a hint of an image. I expected this to be hard so wasn’t to upset. I scrapped the dodgy holder and reloaded with variable for Thursday. I also had another read up discovering the paper was sensitive to blue light and a yellow filter was necessary! In the morning I had to go to Exeter for business where after telling my tale I was gifted some grade 4 paper, old but sealed. In the afternoon I selected a band stand and repeated my bracketing this time -1/0/+1.

Better! I developed these in Rodinal 1:100, it would be low contrast but much slower. 4 min each later we had some negatives! Not great but there. I attempted contact prints to see how they looked and they were hard work! Friday was a damp squib so I decided test the gifted grade 4 and repeat the previous set. I set up a still life of a globe on a box with plain grey background. Same bracketing etc. but this time I developed in double dilute paper developer. Again pleasing results but muddy and flat. I test printed all the same to get a feel.

I tried to improve on my favourite with some success and it was easier than the last set

Saturday I work, so I loaded up with the grade 4 as it was the best so far and aimed to rope a few boys in for some simple portraits. I just wanted 3 images with the same exposure so I could: develop 1 each in paper developer 1:9 – 1:14 – 1:19 to see if I could cut through the muddiness. Well! I fecked it up! Simple setup, still testing so nothing fancy needed, zone focus and we just snapped and counted.

First shot wig man I over exposed and as I pushed the shutter arm to close the shutter I must have caught the shutter set arm moving it to instant. Consequently the next image got a short double exposure, I repeated this on 3 and fumbled the holder removal pulling the dark slide. What an ass! Still not all was lost. I salvaged wig man just, I developed it 1:9 developer and that went fine. I also clicked that very first blank slide had probably been loaded the wrong way round! So the last day had arrived, try to make some images from what I had learned. I knew they wouldn’t be great but I would be happy with something to show. I loaded all 4 holders and walked the barbican. Frame 1 I over exposed and failed to save, frame 2 of the Citadel wall seemed to go OK. I realized frame 3 was a loss when discovering I hadn’t locked the bellows properly and the focus shifted, I made absolutely sure of frame 4.

After all that I finish with 2 tiny iffy images, am I disappointed? Hell no! In 5 days I have worked my way from nothing to pictures. This is an unforgiving process made to look easy by the skilled hands of folks like Don Kittle, they have however put a lot of work into it, so given time to improve I see some fun exciting adventures ahead. I will be doing it again for sure.

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