Sunday, July 07, 2013

The Tower Drive-in/Texas Sky

Rule, Texas

It's been a frustrating week. Back last weekend I was doing some tests to zero in on exactly how I want to make digital prints of the theater pictures (Epson Hot Press Natural paper with a neutral setting of the Advanced Black and White driver looks promising) when a heat wave rolled in and stopped everything. It isn't just hot, the humidity is sub-tropical. There's no way the modest air conditioning we have in our old house can begin to reach proper heat/humidity operating conditions for the printer. Also, Tuesday a package of Fixxons® Waterproof Silk Screen Positive Film—which I found superior to Pictorico® OHP film in earlier tests—arrived, but I don't dare unseal the package at 78° Rh. I'd been hoping to make a final round of digital-negative-Pt/Pd-tests, but it's also impossible to get the darkroom where I do the platinum printing down to the necessary heat and humidity levels. Even if I could output a negative I can't make finals. It's meaningless to do "tests" without proper operating conditions.

This digital capture of the Tower theater was one of the pictures I worked with before the monsoon rolled in. Looking at the test print yesterday, I realized that before last year's travels, if I'd come across this print my reaction to the sky would be to think someone had gone way overboard on post processing. Skies "don't look like that." Well, they never do back east where I've always lived. But in fact this, and even more so the print, is a really accurate portrayal of what the back-lit clouds above the vast Texas high plateau actually looked like in mid-morning on June 4. The sky was an extremely pale blue, but in places the clouds were were so thin the blue showed right through them. The clouds overhead were much heavier. The whole scene was both delicate and storm-threatening at the same time.

No aggressive processing is needed, either. I'd used -.66 exposure compensation to make sure there was no clipping of the cloud values. This left the gravel field a little too dark, as expected, easily fixed in ACR with the Exposure slider. To get the sense of the transparent clouds near the horizon transiting to the heavier tone at the top of the frame, a combination of some pull back of blue in the grayscale mix combined with minor pulls of the White and Highlight sliders back in the Basic panel made a convincing result.

It may not be easy to see in the online display, but the stuff near the center of the frame, left of the screen, is a tank farm. I'll have to review the pictures to get a count, but a remarkable number of theaters I visited were directly adjacent to, or even surrounded by, oil or gas tank farms. But it really isn't that surprising. The fastest way to put a drive-in theater out of business is for the land it's on to rise in value, or become a desirable location for a WalMart. An undesirable location—like next to a tank farm—can keep property values and taxes low enough for a drive-in operation to thrive.


Matt said...

Carl, have you gotten to finish your testing of the Fixxons® Waterproof Silk Screen Positive Film? As a fellow Pt/Pd printer I would be interested to know your results. I have been using the OHP film for a few years but never was in love with it.


Carl said...

Matt, I've decided I prefer the Fixxons to Pictorico, but with a caveat. It blocks less UV which of course means shorter printing exposures, but more importantly, longer potential density range. Base blockage is a kind of fog, in effect taking away a couple of the bottom steps of the density staircase. After a lot of testing I find I can get negatives with enough range to make beautiful prints with the most basic of all formulas: straight sodium palladium and ferric oxalate with no contrast agent or restrainer at all. This gives the smoothest possible tonal scale in the print. I've finally settled on adding a *tiny* amount of Na2PtCl6 just to reinforce the blacks and deepest picture values.

The downside is that it is more "sticky" than Pictorico, although at least in my way of preparing the sheet for printing, neither substrate can be printed safely without a barrier (1 mil mylar).

I know most folks have not had a sticking problem with Pic (or not noticed it because they only made a print or two of each negative--the transfer of fibers from paper to negative can be subtle enough to take several printings before it becomes obvious) but at least one printer I know bought a new package and immediately encountered a sticking problem. These products all change, over time and batches, so we may hear more about excessive adhesion if the material has changed.

Since I think a mylar layer and a vac frame are essential with either material, I'll take what I see to be the better tonal quality I get from the Fixxons printed with absolutely minimal additive.

Matt said...

Thanks Carl, I will have to give it a try. Glad you are having good results with it. Keep making prints!