timothy wells



    I should have listened (Adventures in processing film)

    I should have listened…

    I had today booked in my mental calendar as “process film day”. It was the only day I had that didn’t have anything else booked, allowing me to take my time and not feel rushed. 

    Yes, I understand this is Super Bowl Sunday. I felt fine processing film and not worrying about watching the game.

    Maybe I should have been like the rest of the US and focused on the Super Bowl.

    I went to the lab and got started setting things up. I should have listened at this point. 

    I wasn’t feeling the ’process film’ mood but hoped once I got started, the mood would flip.

    I was processing color film today so I got the Cinestill Temperature Control System going getting the hot water bath started.

    I got the water heating up.

    I went into the film loading room and loaded up two rolls of 120 film.

    This, to pay myself on the back, was the one thing I did right today.

    I had four rolls, two rolls from two different shoots. I can only process two rolls at a time. I did manage to remember to load up one roll from each of the shoots, in case something went wrong. I’ve processed hundreds rolls of film and have never really messed any of them up.

    I have earned that merit badge now.

    I got the two rolls loaded up, no problems.

    I go into the processing sink and realize I hadn’t put the chemistry in the beakers and the beakers into the now 120 degree tub of hot, circulating water. A lot of good the hot water bath does if the chemistry isn’t warming up.

    I quickly get the chemistry jugs out and pour the developer into the developer beaker and the bleach into the bleach beaker. Unrelated, I was using the Cinestill C-41 developing kit chemistry.

    I put the beakers into the hot water and wait for them to get up to temperature (102 degrees F.) I was standing there looking at the chemistry and felt something wasn’t right but ignored that back-of-the-brain feeling.

    The developer reaches temperature, I put it in the Paterson Multi-reel developing tank, secured the lid and did the agitation dance. As I was nearing the end, the lid for the tank ‘burped’ and chemistry blurbted onto my shirt. What? Why did that happen?

    I take the lid off so I can pour the developer back into the beaker and it’s changed from clear (back of the brain feeling re-triggers) to black-blue. I look at the jug and realize I’ve used the stablizer and not the developer.

    Slumping of shoulders and foul words.

    I rinse out the tank and figure, I might as well go ahead and process the film. Who knows! Maybe I’ve invented a new process!

    Which, in theory, I did.

    Fast forward… Rinse the now stable film a bunch of times as I wait for the actual developer to get up to temperature. I resisted looking online to have the internet predict what will happen.

    I process the film, mix up a new batch of stablizer.

    I rinse the film. Take a quick peek at the at film. It has indeed stabilized. It was devoid of anything. Just the plastic that usually holds images.

    Ok, lesson learned. At least I now know stabilizer before processing and bleaching will erase your film.

    Luckily, I had ordered a backup set of chemistry. I wasn’t going to risk the stabilizer contaminating the developer and bleach. They were about at end of life anyway. (I tell myself.)

    I mix up all new chemistry.

    I go into the film loading room, thankful for having one roll from each shoot left and hoping they have something useful on them.

    I rush the film loading process (I had not learned my lesson) and realize I have my C-41 film next to my B&W film. I had one C-41 roll in my hand. I get it loaded on the spool, put it in the tank and realize, crap! How will I know if I’m grabbing the C-41 roll or a B&W roll. (For non-film processors out there, film is loaded in complete darkness so I couldn’t just look at the label to look.)

    Now you may suggest, “Put the lid on the tank so the loaded roll is protected, turn on the lights and find the C-41 roll.”

    Which did run across my mind. Until I couldn’t remember where the lid was and couldn’t find it as I ran my hands across the surfaces…

    I then vaguely remember the C-41 roll was a little away from the B&W rolls. If I could gently located the film and not bump them all together I would have a good chance of finding the slightly away from the rest C-41 roll.

    I did!

    I loaded it up and then spent a few minutes located the tank lid that had rolled under a shelf.

    Feeling like maybe things had taken a turn for the better, I get the chemistry up to temperature, making sure I did have the actual developer this time. These were the last two rolls from the shoots and really didn’t want to lose those too.

    I develop the film. Pour the developer back into the beaker.

    Pour the bleach into the tank and begin the process.

    Agitate four inversions every 30 seconds for 8 minutes.

    Going along fine. And then..

    Boosh! The pressure burps the lid again.

    And bleach burps out of the tank…

    Into the developer beaker.

    More foul words.

    I finish processing the rolls.

    They turned out fine.

    But now I no longer have 1000ml of bleach and my developer is now contaminated with the bleach that no longer is part of the 1000ml.

    At that point, I decide, “Done.” I had many rolls of B&W I was going to develop but I got the message. This was not a day for film processing.

    So now I’m preparing snacks so I can watch the Super Bowl. Like the universe apparently wanted me to do.










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