Uist Croft

I spent quite some time trying to find an Olde Worlde house in the Hebrides but, apart from its manicured museums, there seemed to be very few. On reflection I'm not surprised, as who in their right mind would want to live in a drafty, damp byre when double-glazing and central heating is the sensible alternative? There are plenty of shells of old 'black houses' standing alongside their modern replacements but this one has survived perhaps owned by an exile from the City!

negative print uist

The full uncropped image looks flat even on grade 2 1 / 2

I had a very wet visit to North Uist and I took this shot between rain showers in a village under the shadow of Bhein Mhor using a Nikon FM2 with a 35 - 105mm lens set at f8 1 / 60 th on Kodak Plus-X film, which was developed in Pyro PMK developer. The light was predictably soft and so even this initial, uncropped print on Agfa Multicontrast RC paper looks rather tired and flat printed on grade 2 1 / 2.

Having travelled so far to find a Uist cottage I decided some effort and imagination in the darkroom might yield a good result and so I began with some test prints to see what I could do to improve the sky.

Taking the initial exposure of 12 seconds I tried several variations of burning in the clouds and finally arrived at an additional exposure of 10 seconds at grade 1. I used a soft sheet of cardboard to create a curved mask over the cottage and the lower grade avoided both harsh grain as well as encouraging tone to appear in the lighter areas of sky. The two triangles of clear sky required a further exposureof 6 seconds to blend the clouds into the hills. The foreground too had extra exposure to frame the cottage and balance the composition.

croft uist print black and white

The darkened clouds now look rather bland and need to be cropped out

In assessing the second print, the white walls are almost too bright and more definition between clouds and roof is needed as they are almost the same tone. The huge area of monotone cloud troubled me as well: if the there had been more detail or highlights within the clouds then they would have had the effect of making the cottage seem to shrink under the impending storm. Instead the clouds look bland, occupy nearly half the print area and would have to go!

diagram technique printing

Simply darkening the perimeter needed to be countered by selective bleaching

The final print was made a few days later on Ilford Multigrade FB Matt paper developed in Agfa Neutol WA made up from liquid stock. Whenever the printing scheme becomes complicated I record the grades and times used and then it is a fairly easy matter to transfer this information to a different paper stock. Ilford paper is slower than Agfa and about a grade lower in contrast, but for simplicity the printing diagram shows the original Agfa settings. I increased the amount of burning in around the edges of the print and the new cropping is a more intimate image of the cottage.

I planned to use Farmers Reducer to selectively lightened areas in the print so I finished the printing session with three prints of slightly different density to give me a choice as much to guard against any mishaps with the bleaching stage. The reducer can be bought as a stock liquid but I prefer to buy mine as powder from Silverprint. I make a stock solution by dissolving 100 gms of Potassium Ferricyanide in a litre of warm water and keep this in a brown glass bottle to reduce the detrimental effect of light on the solution. To make a working solution for local bleaching I add equal parts of Pot Fer solution with a 10 percent solution of Ilford Hypam fixer: about 5mls of each in a plastic film pot with 20 mls of water. The solution has a straw colour to begin with but changes quite quickly to a pale blue when it is more or less exhausted and a fresh mix is needed.

I wanted to define the edges of the roof against the hills and clouds, which had similar tones. Using a fine paintbrush and cotton buds I gradually etched away the tone a little at a time. As soon as a change of tone can be seen it begins to act quickly, reducing the silver to pure white so at that point I immediately rinse the print, dab it dry with tissue and work on a new area. When I had finished bleaching I washed the prints for a further 20 minutes to remove all traces of bleach and fix before toning the print in selenium.

selenium toned print

The tighter cropping gives a more intimate record of the cottage and selenium adds a hint of colour