If you're into the technical side of film photography, especially darkroom processing, then you definitely need to check out the work of Quinn Balazs. He's a community member from Alabama, USA who shares a lot of his darkroom work in his albums.
A quick look at his LomoHome will show you that he's more than an enthusiast when it comes to darkroom processes. A self-professed "professional amateur", Quinn experiments with different films, processing techniques, and equipment to create some of the most amazing images we've seen here in the community. While the images are wonderful, it's really his enthusiasm for film developing that amazes us.
Quinn not only shares his latest projects, but he also shares tips on how to effectively (and safely) work with the chemicals to achieve your desired effect. He even has the developing instructions on the front page of his LomoHome for anyone who's interested in trying out his developing process.
We managed to get a hold of Quinn to pick his brain about his work and learn a few things about film development.
Your new album of Harmon direct positive prints looks great. Did you always want to print the photos from that trip in black and white?
Traveling with no film and just with my trusty AE-1 at hand sort of limited my options. I bought film as I traveled, sometimes black and white was an option, but mostly it was not. Also, the tremendous colors of the Far East led me to shoot in color.
How do you get this high-contrast look in your photos? Could you share your process with our readers?
The paper is high contrast by design, I also follow the rule that increasing your development time by about 25% yields higher contrast. I do not, by any means, recommend the use of potassium dichromate by anyone. Hexavalent chromium is incredibly detrimental to your health, but I go against my own warning because I have an industrial fume hood and use a .22% dichromate solution as a dip post-fixative application. I cannot stress this enough, if you do not have a lab-grade fume hood, DO NOT use K2Cr2O7. It'll shave years off your life and is carcinogenic. I've probably, even with the hood, damaged my overall health.
Would you say you've mastered black-and-white film developing? How long did it take you to hone your process?
I'd say I'm a professional amateur when it comes to development in b&w. Many years off and on, probably making every mistake in the book along the way. But that's how you learn. If you don't mess up, you're not learning the process. I would not say I have mastered it, as I still do have the occasional mess up. You don't have any idea how many sheets of DPP I tossed because they weren't perfect. I strive for perfection and don't readily accept anything less. I've done gallery work, and I've done commissions, both of which push you to the absolute limits of what you can accomplish perfection-wise. I could work in a professional lab but I prefer my basement.
What is your absolute must-have when you're developing films?
When I am developing film, lots of things are necessary for the process. I need Ilford Perceptol, that is the paragon of B&W developer. Fix—I'm less fussy about it because it's basically a salt and any fix works. I lean towards Ilford Hypam but I can work with Kodak Rapid. But by far the most important element isn't chemical, it's auditory. I need music, the Grateful Dead most often.
Any plans for a new project or trip?
Well, I constantly have travel on my mind. I'm currently weighing the Middle East vs Europe. For a new project, I'd like to give platinum types a real go.
Could you tell us more about the places you visited on this trip?
From the starting point in Macau, we traveled through Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia. Into Bangladesh, up to Nepal for the Annapurna trek. All throughout India, arriving in India in time for Holi—which was fun. We traveled from Ahmedabad to Karachi and up to Lahore. However, we couldn't get visas for Afghanistan.
The experience was phenomenal. We meandered and wherever we needed to sleep we found lodging. I didn't go on this trip or any trip with a strict agenda. We had such fun in Gorakhpur, India during Holi. Bhang Lassi flowed while we were in India. Quy Nhon in Vietnam was also a great experience.
My takeaway from traveling, as I am always reminded, is to get out there. Get out there with a camera and there's no telling what you'll see.
Do you have any tips for anyone who would like to try their hand at developing?
Be patient. Above all, be patient. Relax. It's not a hard world to get into. Get yourself a Patterson tank and some easy-load reels. Start with D-76 as it works in 99% of all cases. One thing people don't realize is you don't need a lot of space. I have the luxury of space but started out in the bathroom that I shared with my cat. Pick up a camera, shoot a roll, and get the satisfaction that every image on that roll was realized by you and you alone. So what if the focus is a bit off? So what if you've slightly overdeveloped? It's just something to learn from next time. Be creative and success will follow.
What is your favorite film and developing technique?
My favorite film. . .hmm, that's a hard one. I have one for color and another for b&w. Portra 400 is my color go-to, and Ilford Delta 400 Professional is my b&w go-to. Although I am also a fan of Berlin Kino and I've shot a music festival using only Potsdam and Berlin Kino. For developing techniques, I lean toward the b&w process. C-41 is particular. A little too particular. I also like alternative processes and I very much like cyanotypes.
What does a perfect day look like for Quinn Balazs?
The perfect day is either when I've got a backlog of films and I'm in the darkroom all day or on a cool sunny day and I have a shoot planned.
We wish to thank Quinn for taking the time to share his story with us. Follow him at his LomoHome to be updated with his latest work.