Vietnam

Learn from this mistake... My adventure with Ilford PAN F and a jetlag. by Cristian Geelen

Happy new year to you all!

First blog post of 2019. And let me start off by saying that I appreciate every single one of you that takes the time to read my articles.

Thinking in soundtracks…

I was supposed to write this earlier in the day but I had a severe case of procrastination and I finally bought magnum contact sheets. Than my monkey mind got tricked in by looking at my scans again because if all the master could make it look that beautiful back in the day. I should’t have a problem with all this modern equipment!

Well…

I actually don’t have too much problems with scanning. Except of those pesky Vietnam negatives. Did some tweaks on my more recent scans I took on an estate close by. And my self confidence was restored.

Yes! I did not suck as hard as I was thinking I was!

So with those tweaks. Got my Vietnam negatives in the scanner again. And they still are the same…

That triggered a track from the band Down - Learn from this mistake

I always seem to think in lyrics or soundtracks or whatever if I do something. Don’t know why. But that is just how my brain works.

How it happened…

Everything went well actually! I found film in Ho Chi Minh. Got through customs with a hand check. In China as well as Vietnam. And got the film home safely.

Like I told you in the last blog post, the security officers treated me so nice. Hand checks were never that easy. So if you are a security agent at Chinese or Vietnamese customs. You are appreciated to treating this film photographer so nicely.

So I came home…

And being as excited as I always am I immediately got to work. Backed-Up all of my digital files. Threw the into Lightroom. And of I went.

Same goes for my analog shots…

I do all of the processing myself…

Processing yourself is way more fun than bringing it to a lab. And with the amount of rolls I have shot I am getting quite proficient in it.

You have so many advantages like, being more cost effective, in charge of your own quality, experimentation, magic. (Yes developing and printing analog film really is magic…)

But because I am so proficient my ego got the best of me…

I apparently had a jet-lag!

So that means I am human after all…

Into my dark bag I went…

I popped everything into my dark bag. Rolled the films on the spools. Got it in the Patterson tanks safely without light. That part… Went well… Like it should!

Than the developing started. Mixed my chemicals according to the massive dev chart.

BTW! I haven’t mentioned it in this article. But the film I just in Vietnam was Ilford PAN 400.

I love Ilford.

And unfortunately they did not have HP5+. Or at least I could’t find it…

Anyways. Back to the story…

What happened during developing is that because I was so tired and almost fell asleep I mixed up the order of the treatment. After I was done I have gotten in the fixer first and than the stop. It should be the other way around…

I still had and image but the grain was bigger and harsher, and there were some glows over the film. And weird other stuff.

I never would have have taken a risk normally. And especially not if it was work for a client. But somehow this one time I slipped up.

So why write about it?

So why write about it huh… Well. If everything went well in life we never would have gong any better. You need to indeed learn from your mistakes. Even if at the moment a situation doesn’t look import, in this case being tired. It would never make me a better developer. Or a photographer!

Also appreciation…

We are so lucky now with all the digital stuff. Writing this article with Magnum contact sheets next to me gives me the realization how much of a craftsman all of them were, and are.

We all hopefully know that a good photograph is not made by the camera. Even if you have the most advanced device ever. And that thing in your pocket is no slough either. You still need vision and creativity to make an image. Composition is everything…

But I am more trying to say is that everyone in that book, or even wasn’t in that book was so more aware of what they were doing. Craftsmanship and thinking things though were the order of the day. While the internet now is complaining about no dual memory card slots in the new Nikon Z1, they just had one roll. And for 36 exposures the same set ISO (ASA). And after that when it got send back, it was all in the hands of the gods. Than a lab technician came into play. The list goes on and on…

A bit more technical…

If you are curious how I developed it…

My recipe for this bunch was:

Rodinal 1 to 50.

Ilford Ilfostop 1 to 19.

Ilford Rapid Fixer 1 to 4.

Developing time 24 minutes since I pushed the Ilford PAN 400 to 1600. All of that on 20 degrees Celsius.

I always love to push my film. And this time I chose Rodinal. Other times I use Ilford DDX. Actually. That is now my preferred developer…

And now for the photographs…

Cris! They look like crap! Well… Yes, if they would have looked pretty this story would have been a lot shorter haha. They are shot on a Nikon FM2n with a 50mm f 1.6 AI. 50mm is totally not my focal length… But it is what it is. My 35mm was on my digital one. And I always travel minimal. But I immediately got my hands as soon as I got home on a new old 35mm AI that will replace the 50mm.

For comparison. There are some later developed photographs. Same method. Only not screwing up.

But now… A few minutes later when I am looking at them again they actually are not that bad. At least aesthetically. But you have to ignore the tint shifts and other weird spots you see haha. And I seem to have a memory they looked worse when they came out than they look now.

Here there Vietnam photographs. (Navigate by pressing the buttons on side).

As you can see there are spots and tint shifts. The inversion process was like always. Smooth. And right on time.

Same process. But not get the order wrong. Images are way more clearer and sharper.

Conclusion.

People say that black and white is the most forgiving format to develop. And is less prone to mistakes. Of course they are right in comparison to color film. But that does not mean they are bulletproof.

You still need to get your hours in and fine tune you whole process.

Take your time…

You only have one shot with your negatives. So give them the attention they need…

Going to Vietnam, Listening to an old lady singing Celine Dion songs, and freezing in China by Cristian Geelen

Bags are packed…

I started writing this post in a stuffy hotel room in China. Meanwhile in the background the television was on, and a lady with a mustache singing Celine Dion songs. All of this together in a perfectly choreographed dance with her partner. Gotto love Chinese television…

So what the hell was I doing in a stuffy hotel room in China?

Well… I was on my way back from a trip I never would have expected to take this year. Vietnam!

I didn’t have that much time…

It was a short trip. I only had two weeks, and I had to make a short detour through China. Not that I was complaining, but China was freezing my balls of so cold was it! The downside was that having a long layover is that it will eat your time up at your final destination.

But with everything in life. You need to see the positives of it. And that gave me some thing to do some sightseeing in China itself. Despite I didn’t bring winter clothes. Silly me…

I just checked the weather in Ho Chi Minh and that is it!

The start of my adventure…

My adventure started about two weeks earlier give or take. Hopped on the plane in the middle of the day. Got all my baggage checked by security. And off I went.

In my research I looked for stores in Ho Chi Minh that sell Ilford film, and maybe some other analog stuff. This, because I was trying to minimize the chances of film going through an X-Ray scanner. Those scanners say they are film safe. But most of the time only to 800 ASA and I guess when you value your work you just don’t take the chance. It can leave some ugly glow across your film or some even more ugly lines. X-Ray is also light. Just very strong. The security personal did noticed my camera gear btw, and treated it with all of the care it needed. But more on that in the conclusion of my story.

The lady with the sign…

Anyways! After about and eleven hours I arrived in Beijing. And my whole plan for the layover was to do some sightseeing and maybe rent an sleeping pod for a couple of hours somewhere. But to my surprise there were two lovely Chinese ladies with a sign and my name on it! Also the name of some other travelers.

There was a little confusion because of the language barrier. But after a lot of talking with hand and feet the end conclusion was: Free hotel room!

Woohoo!

I like free stuff! But maybe that is because I am Dutch haha.

It turns out that you get a free hotel room with your plane ticket when you fly with China Southern airlines. Who would have known…

So got my 72 hour visa. Everyone got a sticker except for me. :( And took a long shower in the hotel room.

Sightseeing time!

My fellow companions of fate were a Dutch couple, a dude with a Roomba, and a German couple. We exchanged numbers during checking, because when you encounter these kind of surprises it is always smart to sort of have a line to each other in case something is the matter. And we all wanted to see the great wall of China.

So here we went! In the taxi, of to the great wall. And getting some Chinese money in the process. I called them Yen, but that is Japan. Sorry Japan! haha.

Because it was so freaking cold the great wall there were no crowds there. So for me that meant great photo opportunities!

Time for some noodles and onward with my journey…

And so I did…

After another six hour flight I arrived at Ho Chi Minh airport. We all split up to our final destination but the German couple was looking for a place to stay. And told them I was not staying in the party district, but in hostel at a district that was more easy going. I am not much of a party person, and my main goal was to photograph and chill out.

2019 is going to be a busy year for my with some hard to photograph places. So this was my sort of work / vacation trip.

They liked the sound of that and decided to join me.

I am so they did because they turned out to be this trips amazing souls.

If you follow me and my projects and travels I always met a person or persons that will make everything worth while. India there was the Professor. Claire and Ricky always have a special place in my heart. Chana. And the list goes on and on… If I didn’t name you, believe me, I didn’t forget you.

And now Tino and Alina. Thank you so much for the wonderful time I had while I was in your company.

Time to kill…

We could’t check into the hostel yet because we had to wait until two ‘o clock. So that meant time to kill.

Btw, the hostel I was staying in was DaBlend hostel. It was the cleanest hostel I have ever stayed in. Everything was so well organized. And the personal, especially Khoa are the coolest. So if you are like me and just want to do some work while chilling out if you are in Ho Chi Minh go to this place. Here is a link.

It turned out Alina is a photographer too. So after we dropped our bags and had some ice coffees we went out to do some photography. Got some great shots in, and walked a lot and had loads of fun.

Dragon Ball Z hands and time for bed…

We ended the super lang day with some beers and some food and some more beers on the roof. Apparently after I have had some Saigon beers I get Dragon Ball Z hands. Who would have known…

Time to rest…

Getting my hands on some film…

Ah morning! Time to be productive. I do my best photography alone and I also needed to get my hands on analog film I went out not too late. During my research I found the croplab.

Croplab didn’t have the film I normally use. I am a big fan of Ilford HP5+. But all they had of the Ilford brand was PAN 400 and Ilford Delta. In the end I chose to ho with the PAN 400.

Never had that one before and had to make a decision on the spot. So PAN 400 it was!

After I bought it I did some research during my rest moments. And it turns out it is not that common that you can get it here in western Europe. So that made it even more exciting for me! It was one big surprise how everything was going to turn out.

More on the results of the developed Ilford PAN 400 photographs in the blog post after this one.

The upcoming days…

The upcoming days were filled with everything I have planned. Went to a monastery close to the Cambodian border. Altough it was very cliche, but a big part of the history of Vietnam went to the Cu Chi tunnels and also shot some guns, and of course, plenty of more photography.

It broke my heart…

I do have to say this. And this is a reprimand to all tourist and I am very serious about it. At a couple of places. And especially the the religious places. There were a crapload of people misbehaving. And no, not young people. People of all ages, but especially the “elder” crowd.

It broke my heart that at a place where people were performing these very old traditions the tourists treated it like it was the McDonald’s.

Behave! Don’t be a dick! And keep your mouth shut! And also put that selfie stick in a place, or selfies in general, at a place where the sun doesn’t shine.

I am not doing that at your home either!

So if you read this. And you have the feeling that I am addressing you, I probably am.

Observe. Don’t consume!

You should know better…

Back to the fun stuff!

We took public transportation to most of the locations. But it takes a while. So at one time we were completely beat, and also a little scared that we weren’t able to get into the city because Vietnam was in the finals of the AFF Suzuki cup (Soccer). Luckily we entered the city just in time before the final whistle. Had to make one stop. But when the final whistle blew the city exploded in joy!

Haha at one point we had to celebrate with a group of Vietnamese people who were so excited to see us. Can’s of beers! Lot’s of photos with the foreigners! And chanting and cheering!

Congratulations Vietnam on the cup!

Time to get home…

Of course I want to tell you every other bit of this adventure. But i will spread those across future stories. Or maybe when you see me in real life, you can buy me a beer and I will tell you anyway.

It was time time for me to pack and head home. Lot’s of photos. Digital as well as analog.

The route i was going to take was the same one as I took on my way towards Vietnam. But now with a crapload of analog film.

I told all of you earlier that film can’t really handle X-Ray scanners that well. So I asked everyone security officer if they were able to hand check my film by hand.

And they did!

I guess this also counts like everything in life. Just ask politely, put up a big smile, and tell passionate about the gear you have. And don’t feel entitled to anything.

All of the security officers treated my film with all the care they could give it. As they did with me. Some even got excited to see it. That gave me a comfortable feeling.

If you don’t want to risk it anyway. The alternative is to find a place that can process your film. Developed film can not be harmed by scanners.

The reason I bring undeveloped film home with me is because I want to be in complete control of the developing process.

A couple of days later…

Now I am back at home. Already thinking of the next adventures I will have in 2019…

Not listening to Chinese Celine Dion, but to the Doors on vinyl.

Having the daunting task to go trough all of my work. That is always quite the project by itself…

Alina and Tino thanks again!

Merry Christmas you all of your that have taken the time to read this blog post.

The next one will be about the analog photographs I took and the developing process.

And remember…

It is Christmas 365 days a year…

- Cristian