George Hare Improved Field Camera
Normally I get a camera, chuck in a roll - develop and scan – assess then repeat in the hope of improving and learning something along the way. Well this week is a little different and honestly a lot earlier than we intended! We don't normally plan but Russell part purchased this old girl some weeks ago with an idea to research, tweak and repair its case then test before deciding if it was going on the shelf. When he first got it there was no makers name to help identify it. A lengthy trawl of the tinternet revealed it as THE GEORGE HARE IMPROVED FIELD CAMERA. Built between 1890 and 1899, a large format bellows plate camera made of wood, brass and leather. The compur shutter on the front probably replaced the original curtain shutter, its housing being in the box now replaced with the more traditional type on a front plate of wood which doesn't quite match the quality of the rest of the body. The lens is brass with no name or size on it but I guess 4 inches-ish or 100mm in new money. It came with 5 double sided glass plate carriers now neatly set up with black tin sheet film cassettes for 4 ¾ x 6 ½ inch in size.
The film size presented a problem, had it been 4x5 or 8x10 then buying a pack would have been ok as it would get used up eventually but the odd size might not raise its head again for a good while. There was however a pack of film in the case! It was Ortho and expired in the 1950s! Yes 65 years ago, this could be problematic but hey, worth a shot. I took the pack and a holder home to attempt a load. A quick google told me Ortho film could be loaded under safe light conditions which was a bonus, being able to see what I was doing. Next day back to Russells and we went out to shoot it. We took the nice wooden tripod and I set about taking my first LF pictures. I did everything I thought I should, focusing under a makeshift black sheet I stole from wifelys fabric stock using loupe, making notes on EVERYTHING! Loaded carrier, pulled back dark slide…pop! Done, repeat, I thought it went well. Straight home to develop. Now, I had tested some film off cuts prior and there was some fogging. After a chat with film gurus Erik and Craig a suggestion of using paper developer to cut back the fog and add contrast was offered as an option so I gave it a go, again under safe light meaning I could watch it unfold! Unfold it did… very quickly…too quickly! They went very dark. I would normally scan here but I can't at this size so straight to contact print, and they printed OK!
Process proved I got 2 holders and loaded 4 new sheets, this is where it gets sketchy, I came down with a virus, I spent 3 hours over those 4 shots dodging rain and feeling increasingly awful, the final shot was a real effort to concentrate. The following days were somewhat blurry but I developed the first one in a more diluted version of the first but that was way too weak so I went for plan B, a 1:15 Rodinal mix which I found I could control by eye and ended up with 3 fairly good negs. I was at this point suffering fevers lost voice etc. and had no drive whatsoever. Last night, Sunday, I knocked out some feeble prints and viewing this morning I am compelled to do them again tonight. Hopefully when you read this there will be 5, maybe 6 reasonable scanned prints to see below.
For a first foray into LF on a strange 130 yr. old camera with much expired film I think I did ok. I learned a great deal and had fun to start but sadly fate dealt me a curve ball and spoilt it a bit. Using the Ortho film under safe light conditions was a highlight, a rare chance to watch the whole process unfold. Then going straight to print allows me the fun of saying for the first time – I made a photograph!
Update – a heavy waste basket and several hours later it is clear that my skills, read lack of! Just are not ready for these difficult negatives. I am not disappointed, I am lucky to get images from 65 year old film left in a loft. Strangely the 2 first dark images printed best.
To see more photos click below