When my oldest daughter decided to help me develop some film, things didn't go quite as we planned.
Earlier this week I decided to tackle a pile of black and white film that’s been waiting to be developed for months. As I was setting up the chemicals my oldest daughter, Phoebe asked if she could help. Since I had four canisters to develop, each at different times, I readily accepted. I’ve been hesitant to let the kids help me with the developing process but at twelve-going-on-fourty-five-years-old, Phoebe is plenty mature enough to concentrate on the task at hand. Plus, I was excited to introduce her to this side of analogue photography.
With chemicals at the right temperature and the right kind of tunes on the iPod (funk and soul, of course!) we started dancing to the music as we agitated the film in the wetting stage.
Having Phoebe was really helpful. Our first two tanks had developing times that were 30 seconds apart, so I was able to start her developing process ahead of mine. With good timing and preparation we were able to finish the process together. Since I had four tanks to get through, it was a huge time saver.
I suppose the first clue that something was amiss would have been the dark, cola-like color of my developer, Ilfosol 3. I opened it about six months ago and it lives in my garage, which has seen a few temperature changes in that time. I’ve always stored my chemicals in the same place and I’ve used Ilfosol 3 when it was brown before, so I didn’t anticipate any problems, until I saw pink liquid drain out of the tank after the developing step. Undeterred, it was on to the washing stage for both of our films.
I noticed our film looked kind of pinkish but stranger things have happened. It was when the Permawash turned bubble-gum pink that I knew something was wrong.
Yeah, that’s never happened. Still we plugged on, but when it was time for the final, magic step—the reveal of the pictures on the negatives—this is what we saw.
As the father in “A Christmas Story” says..“He looks like a big, pink nightmare”. I was frustrated. Not only were two rolls of film ruined, but Phoebe didn’t get to experience the fun of seeing the pictures on the film. I was sure she’d be my darkroom buddy forever after seeing pictures appear on the film because it’s such a great reward after all the mixing of chemicals, timing of steps and shaking of canisters.
I quickly went back over the process in my head. Maybe I didn’t dilute the developer properly? This time I made extra sure to be very, very careful when measuring and calculating. Here’s what the next two rolls looked like and where they ended up.
GRRR!!! Six rolls of film turned out to be really, pretty garbage. My fixer was fine, even after the process. Here’s a shot of Phoebe testing it when we were finished.
The stop bath, too, appeared normal. It was still the same lovely shade of yellow at the end of our session. I can only infer that the developer went bad in the garage. Fortunately, there was none left after our disastrous session.
I didn’t get upset, although I did express my disappointment to Phoebe. I told her how fun that moment is when you unwind the film and see your pictures. I told her I was bummed that she didn’t get the same experience. “Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. That’s just the way it goes with film” is what I told her. She was really great and told me the next time I had film to develop, she’d love to help.