Film photography · Medium Format · Photography

Horse chestnut tree

Back when I was a boy, horse chestnut trees such as the one pictured here, would have been bracing themselves for the soon-to-arrive annual attack of schoolboys desperate to harvest their fruit of conkers. Here in the UK (and maybe elsewhere, I don’t know), conkers was THE sport of the school playground come autumn-time.

For those unfamiliar with the activity, a conker is a hard, nut-like seed produced by the horse chestnut tree. They fall from the branches around October time. Or, as used to be the case, they would be knocked violently from the branches by thrown sticks and stones or pulled from branches climbed by brave individuals. Each conker would be safely cocooned in a heavy, spiky outer shell that, when ripe, would split to reveal the brown, polished, wood-like ovoid within. If you were lucky you would find a previously undiscovered tree that had dropped it’s fruit on the floor. Such rarity! Such treasures!

The game is played by making a hole through the centre of the conker and threading it with a length of thread – often a shoelace – and securing it at the bottom with a knot. Two opponents would then face off and take in turns to swing their conker with force, bracing the thread tautly across the top of the back of their hand, with the intent of shattering their opponents conker.

Dedicated proponents of the sport would engage a variety of techniques to harden their “team” of conkers to maximum hardness. Baking them in an oven, or pickling them in vinegar were both methods reputed to give a conker a shell that would challenge a diamond on the moh scale. Champion conkers would be given names and attain legendary status in the schoolyard.

These days the horse chestnut is in reprieve, the sport of conkers largely consigned to history by the youngsters of today. Part of this was down to a series of bans issued by schools fearful of children with conker fractured knuckles or missing front teeth, although nowadays it’s probably mostly because of videogames and the internet. Isn’t everything?

Horse chestnut
No longer in high demand

Bronica ETRSi, Zenzanon 75mm f/2.8 & Fomapan 100. Ilfotec DD-X 1+4 8mins @ 20°

Taken on 23 August 2020

23 thoughts on “Horse chestnut tree

  1. The squirrels in our neighborhood are determined to plant as many chestnut trees in my garden as possible and even if I don’t manage to get them in time before they sprout here or there I find other of the leavenings……

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  2. Yes, video games and the internet have ruined so many things. It’s truly sad.

    Out of curiosity, are you still having issues with spots on your Fomapan negatives?

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    1. As someone who started playing video games back in the 70s and hasn’t stopped yet, I can’t really criticise them. 🙂

      The internet though, as much as I love the world’s knowledge at my fingertips and the opportunity to see things and communicate with people I never would otherwise, has some significant downsides. I think it’s fuelled intolerance and (ironically) ignorance and, in my case at least, seems to have caused significant wastage to my attention span. It was better when it was just a bunch of nerds (of which I would class myself as one). 🙂

      The Fomapan was a faulty batch with an overly hardened remjet layer. I contacted Foma about it and they gave me some instructions on how to develop it and avoid the spotting – although it requres some ethanol for the final wash, which I don’t have to hand. They sent me a few rolls of replacement film too, which was good of them. and that arrived literally 10 minutes before I wrote this!

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      1. Wow! Crazy timing, eh?

        I’d be interested in the instructions provided to you by Foma, if you don’t mind sharing. A recent roll of Fomapan 100 I shot had serious white specks as well, so I think I unfortunately received some of that faulty batch as well. It’s incredibly frustrating. I have a lot of Fomapan in my stash so I hope it doesn’t plague any of the rest of it.

        Their discussion of an overly-hardened remjet layer is a bit puzzling, however, as Fomapan 100 doesn’t have a remjet layer… These days, the only films I’m aware of that do are Kodak’s color motion picture stocks. Since the discontinuation of Kodachrome, no still film stocks contain remjet that I know of. Foma R100 *might* (I’d have to look it up), but again, that’s a positive motion stock. Anyways, I assume it’s just a difference in terminology in their part of the world.

        I suspect they simply added too much hardener to the emulsion, resulting in it clumping together during development and sticking all over the film as dense little clusters, thus causing the white specks in the prints/scans that many of us have now experienced. It was nice of Foma to respond the way they did, and send you some new rolls. That’s awesome. Real customer service has become a rarity.

        P.S. Being a fellow nerd, I desperately miss the days before the internet.

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      2. It’s just me getting my terminology mixed-up and typing the wrong thing. It’s the anti-halation layer, not remjet (I probably just blurted out remjet because I know that removal of that in stocks like Cinestill causes halation. 🙂 )

        The instructions they sent are as follows (note that the first section – with the ethanol solution – is for already developed film):

        In case of your already exposed & processed negatives we recommend to you the following procedure to remove the residues of remaining anti-halo layer:

        Prepare working solution in minimum with 40% of ethanol (optimally 70%).

        Put carefully the films into spiral´s developing tank or a spiral with the film into similar transparent container with enough ethanol solution, with emulsion layer inside of the cylinder tank/container.

        Keep the negatives in this solution approximately 45 minutes and make moderate movement each 4-5 minutes.

        Wash sheets of the negatives in running water from tap for 2-3 minutes.

        Make standard drying including wetting agent (FOTONAL).

        If you may decide to use also other films from the same emulsion number, we advise you to follow this procedure of processing:

        Exposed films put inside of the spiral´s developing tank.

        Pour distilled water or water without minerals into this developing tank and keep the films in this solution for 20-30 minutes. Occasional inversion is convenient. This solution, ca. 600 ml, is possible to use in maximum for 2 rolls.

        Immediately after pouring the water out you can fill the tank by developing working solution keeping standard conditions of developing, best using more alkaline developer, e.g. FOMADON R09.

        After developing we recommend to stop process just by water bath, best running filtered water, in minimum for the time of 30 seconds in water´s temperature 12-18° C. Using acidic stop bath like FOMACITRO and others is not convenient in this case, because there are needed alkaline baths to help with dissolving the hardened anti-halo layer.

        Standard fixing.

        Wash the strips of the negatives in running water for 20-30 minutes (according to higher or lower temperature).

        Use ethanol solution and other steps (1-5) as described in previous paragraph.

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      3. Yeah, the anti-halation layer; that make sense. And you’re right, since remjet in part serves the same function in motion stocks, it’s easy to switch the two in thought. 🙂

        Thanks for sharing Foma’s guidance. I may try it with my already developed negatives and see if it works to remove the specks. However, finding ethanol is no longer a simple task…

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      4. You’re right about finding ethanol. While I can find (and already have some) isopropyl alcohol, ethanol is hard to come by, at least in smaller quantities. At the moment it appears cost prohibitive – I could probably just buy some rolls of non-faulty film for the price I’d be paying to faff around rinsing the rolls I have in an ethanol / water solution.

        Unless I buy the cheapest bottle of vodka I can find and try that. 😀

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      5. Oh, by the way, I finally got my test roll of expired Kodak Ultramax 400 developed and scanned that I put through my recently acquired Canon Sure Shot Max. There’s no great art in anything I shot, but everything turned out! Metering seems to be mostly spot on, and the auto-focus was almost always accurate. Even in difficult scenarios it did great. I’m pleased.

        Several frames do seem to have an odd anomaly near the frame edge that almost looks like a light leak, but I don’t think it is due to how consistently uniform it is, and also based on its color; I think it’s actually an irregular lens flare that happens when the sun is at a particular angle. It’s a bit odd, but it actually adds some character to a few frames. Have you experienced anything like this when shooting yours?

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      6. I’ve not noticed anything like that with my Sure Shot cameras, but I did have an oddly uniform light leak on a Samsung Fino that I tried a few months ago. Upon investigation it appeared that it was a light leak in the lens barrel assembly – it looked like a bright curve of light at the edge of many frames, always in the same place.

        Does the Sure Shot Max have a lens that extends when it’s switched on (I know the Telemax does, but not sure about the Max)? If so, that might be a possible cause.

        There are a few examples of similar things here:

        https://www.photo.net/discuss/threads/olympus-stylus-epic-mju-ii-artifacts.5501138/

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      7. Well, it doesn’t extend in the same manner as the Tele Max because there’s no need for it to move way out so additional elements can slide into place to achieve the longer focal length, but like all auto-focus point-and-shoots the lens barrel assembly does indeed move in and out. It has to in order to focus, even on fixed focal-length cameras, so there’s always going to be a “gap” there on any camera, regardless of design, unless of course it’s fixed-focus (or “focus-free,” as they used to call them). I guess it’s possible that light could be traveling through the crevice between the body and the lens barrel if it’s not internally sealed well all the way around.

        The few frames that show the “issue” on the roll I shot are far more subtle than what you linked to. What I’m seeing also isn’t curved (it’s more like a rectangular block, or two), nor is it dispersed across the frame like typical light leaks are. Furthermore, it’s always blue in hue, without any of the warmer orange/yellow/white that’s normally seen with light leaks when shooting in daylight. Maybe at some point I’ll post an example online and show you what it looks like. It is a bit of a mystery. The film chamber door seems be nice and tight and the foam around the film cartridge window looks pristine so I don’t think those are the culprit. If I ever take a look at my negatives on a light table I can probably start to narrow down the likely causes.

        Considering it is only really noticeable on three or four frames (it’s very, very subtle on a few more), out of 38, I’m not too worried about it. I just thought it was an interesting quirk. Who knows, maybe it’ll become an endearing “feature” of this camera. After all, I don’t shoot point-and-shoots when I’m aiming for technically superior shots. I use them with my family and when I’m just trying to have some fun without lugging around something bigger. I think this “issue” is irrelevant compared to the “normal” geometric distortion and chromatic aberration present. 🙂

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      8. I think I’ll just write off the remaining rolls and keep them for testing stuff. I could buy some vodka, but I don’t drink the stuff so it would be purely for the purpose of developing this batch of Fomapan. I think I’d be wiser to buy some non-faulty film instead. Especially given the faff that would be required to give it a booze-bath. 🙂

        It’s good to know that it’s just a bad batch of film though. I like Fomapan 100.

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      9. You’re probably right about it not being worth the grief, especially if you don’t have that much of the faulty stuff. I’m a bit worried because in addition to a stash of 24/36 exposure rolls I also have two 100′ bulk rolls. I sincerely hope the rest of my stock is okay, and that the 24 exposure roll that had issues was the only one. Time will tell. I really like Fomapan 100 as well.

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      10. I bought a few rolls here and there, so I did not buy them *all* at the same time. That’s at least slightly encouraging. I do need to go dig all of it out of my fridge and look at the batch numbers, though. Unfortunately, I’ve already gotten rid of the box for the roll that had issues, so I don’t know what batch it belonged to. I’m sincerely hoping none of the rest of what I have is problematic. Do you happen to have an official list of faulty batch numbers from Foma?

        It’s ironic, as my budget is limited and I bought Fomapan for the very reason to save as much money as possible.

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      11. Okay, thanks. I thought maybe when you emailed Foma they informed you of the affected batches. I might reach out to them myself and ask the question. Thanks again for all your help and insight on this issue, and the Sure Shot Max!

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  3. I like your writing on this post. I have now added links to this post on my blog. I’ve responded in the comments (on my two conker posts) and given the link to fellow bloggers and also added it beneath the writing on both volume one and two of Bonkers About Conkers. Here’s to horse chestnut trees, conkers and happy memories…

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    1. Thanks Mr C, that’s very kind of you.

      It’s a somewhat nostalgic subject nowadays. While I enjoy nostalgia very much, I also subscribe to Franklin Pierce Adam’s quote: “Nothing is more responsible for the good old days than a bad memory.”.

      While it’s very easy to look back with rose-tinted specatacles at things that now seem nicer than perhaps they actually were, some activities – conkers included – deserve the accolade of being a good thing now mostly lost, I think.

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