I’ve processed a lot of film. My first rolls were processed in the bathroom sink when I was a 13 year old kid. Later, I had the run of two darkrooms in my high school; they were crazy enough to give me a set of keys and I almost moved in. One of my first jobs was as the darkroom technician (and as an occasional photographer) for the Comox Valley Record on Vancouver Island in Canada when I was 16. That job cured me of any desire to be a photojournalist, but it cemented my passion for processing film.
I went on to work in one hour labs in three different cities, eventually working at a custom photo lab that incubated in what had been the dish washing room of a former Umberto Menghi restaurant location in Vancouver. It was nestled in a heritage building that was originally constructed as a bank. When that lab was set up, the building was split between an antique book store on the main floor, commercial photo studio on the top floor, and that tiny little photo lab in the basement.
Access to our lab was gained by ringing a bell above the door to the alley or by climbing two flights of stairs to the photo studio and then descending down three flights; It was somewhat like finding a speakeasy and my first question to any strange photographer that rang that bell was, “How exactly did you find us?”
That little lab processed film for many of the commercial and fashion photographers working in Vancouver. Rocket Repro moved from the wash pit it started in, to a location in Gastown that it’s occupied since 1994; I’m still there… a few days a week.
With my hands immersed in film processing chemistry for the last 30 years, I’ve developed (no pun) a few things; gnarly cuticles and a sensitivity to Metol (one of the developing agents in popular commercial film developers). It’s a common affliction for those with life long darkroom addictions.
Kids, Wear Gloves!
There, I’ve said it… do as I say, not as a I’ve done.
A number of years ago, I was introduced to an eco-friendly “Do-It-Yourself” film developer mix by my friend Lisa Marr who runs the Echo Park Film Centre in LA’s Echo Park neighbourhood. This developer is a mixture of ingredients that you can find on the supermarket shelves; Instant Coffee, Vitamin C, and Washing Soda (Sodium Carbonate). Best of all there’s no Metol in it. It’s affectionately called Caffenol. My video shows the quantities, and the order, in which the ingredients are added in order to have it compound correctly. Thorough mixing is required between each ingredient to ensure everything is dissolved. Because there aren’t any preserving or specific buffering agents in this mix, it has a limited shelf life; therefore it should be used within a few hours of mixing.
Below are a few of my images that were shot on medium format film, specifically HP5+ and expired Tri-X pan 320 professional, and processed in Caffenol.
About the Author
Ross den Otter makes things using a variety of media. Photography, paint, wax and metal are his preferred options. You can find out more about Ross on his website, follow his work on Instagram, or reach out to him through Facebook.