So I did something odd this weekend: I successfully developed film using £8.65 of stuff I bought at Morrisons in a panic.

In true recipe-blog style, the backstory: I got a new lens as an impulse purchase (20mm f/2.8 AF-D, it’s lovely, never used anything that wide before), and since I was off out for a walk thought I’d shoot a roll of film to try it out with. Got home, set up to develop it, found there was no developer. Wait! There was a new bottle of developer.

Neither Iona nor I could open it. We tried for ten minutes before admitting defeat.

But, wait once more! Caffenol! Which I had vaguely wanted to try one day. Rapid googling confirmed, yes, it was achievable. Clock said 22.40. Sprint to Morrisons, and find everything (including their one single bag of washing soda) just before they closed up.

First attempt a bust, but I went out the next day with a replacement film, and after a more careful reading of the instructions, these emerged on Sunday evening:

HOLLOWAY Police horses Dennis Queuing Lunch stall

In terms of the actual process, I used the Caffenol C-M recipe from DigitalTruth with a bit of crosschecking against the Caffenol blog on the complicated issue of what on earth actually constitutes “washing soda”.

The eventual mix I used (for my own reference as much as anything else):

  • 500ml water (only making enough for one film) at ~20C
  • Add 73g “washing soda” – the recipe calls for 27g but the stuff I got is actually “Sodium Carbonate Decahydrate”, which means about 63% by mass is water. Stir thoroughly until it is all dissolved
  • Add 8g vitamin C – I could not *find* pure vitamin C so I bought the highest value supplement I could find, 1000mg effervescent tablets. Made a surprising amount of reddish froth but a good stir dissolved it all neatly. (Each tablet was 4g so this presumably meant 24g of miscellaneous other crap ended up in the mix – probably mostly sugar)
  • Add 20g of the cheapest instant coffee Morrisons had on offer – their own-brand stuff, tucked away at the bottom of a shelf. Stir this, again, until all dissolved.
  • Let the mix stand for a good ten minutes at least. (I did this in a warming bath to make sure it was up to about 20-22C, since it was a cold room)

Then develop promptly, don’t let it stand too long – I tried to pour carefully to avoid any sediment from the tablets/coffee, but there didn’t seem to be much. For this film, the recommendation was 13m30, initial agitation then a couple of inversions every minute – a bit longer than I’m used to but sure. Drain – delighting in the fact that this is fine to just go down the sink – and rinse with running water as a stop bath. I gave it a little longer than usual for rinsing (maybe 1m30-2m?) since it was still coming out brown-tinged after a minute.

Finally, fix – I was very cautious here as my fixer had ended up a bit ominously tinted after the last botched attempt, and had been sat out all night, plus Bergger recommend a longer fixing time anyway. So I erred wildly on the side of caution and gave it nine minutes.

And it worked! Some very fogged images and I may try some of the variant recipes in future – adding a little potassium bromide or iodised salt helps with this apparently? But it is also possible that when we get better light, trying this with 100 speed film will work much more nicely.

Lee of Portrush: a timeline

Five years ago I wrote about the Lee family of photographers, and foolishly used the phrase “over the next few posts”. Ha. One change of job, one house move, and one pandemic later, I’ve finally found the time to start putting it together…

Harbour Terrace and Causeway View – early 1880s

Robert Lee (the elder) was born in Antrim circa 1840. He married at Ballycastle in 1859, and emigrated to Lancashire, where he lived in Barrow until at least 1875, working as a joiner. In 1881 his wife Margaret was keeping a boarding house in Blackpool along with their two younger children, but he had disappeared from the census and, presumably, returned to Ireland.

He had started working as a photographer by at least 1884, when he is known to have been at Harbour Terrace in Portrush (and renting out a house in Ballycastle); shortly afterwards he moved to Causeway View, and produced photographs with a backing along these lines. The “Art Studio” name was used sometimes, but not always.

The name “Causeway View” continues in directories until around 1901, but the studio seemed to bill itself as Lansdowne Crescent or Lansdowne from 1890 onwards – see below.

Portrait of young boy (P047)

Giant’s Causeway – circa 1887 to circa 1896

By 1887, Robert had opened a studio at the Giant’s Causeway, though he may have been operating there earlier; there are some photographs of groups at the Causeway which use backings as above, without mentioning the studio. However, he soon shifted to labelling them “Portrush and Giant’s Causeway“, as below.

Group at the Giant's Causeway (P042)

Around 1890, he took his sons Robert (born c.1863) and Alexander (born c.1869) into the business, meaning that cards are often marked “Lee & Son” or just generically “Lee”, and began to focus his own attentions on developing hotels. The studio at the Giant’s Causeway was primarily operated by the younger son, Alexander, and was leased until 1896. His daughter Henrietta (born c. 1862) may also have entered the business around this point.

The Portrush studio was still at Causeway View until it was destroyed by a storm in 1888, and then rebuilt as the “Tower House“, adjacent to Lee’s other business, the (temperance) Lansdowne Hotel; both opened around 1890. The rebuilt Causeway View studio became known as the Lansdowne Studio, sometimes just Lansdowne.

Cape Town – circa 1895 to circa 1908

In the late 1890s, following the death of his wife in 1894, Robert Lee (the younger) moved to South Africa and established a business there, in the Electric Studio, 54 Plein Street, Cape Town. Cards from this period (from both ends of the world) often state “Portrush and Cape Town”, possibly with the Giant’s Causeway or Coleraine added as well. At some point his brother Alexander moved out as well; they continued in business for several years (and presumably through the Boer War) before returning by 1907/08, apparently after Alexander fell ill. The brothers married (in Robert’s case, remarried) and settled back in Portrush, where Robert ran the studio at Lansdowne Crescent, and Alexander established a studio at Bath Street. The two brothers continued in business, along with their sister & brother-in-law in Main Street, despite a major falling out in 1914.

Coleraine – 1898 to 1908?

Robert Lee built a terrace of houses on Railway Road, Coleraine, in 1897, one of which was opened as a studio in 1898. The properties were inherited by his son Alexander in 1901. The studio may not have been operated by a member of the family – advertisements suggest it was subcontracting to other photographers. Alexander Lee retained property here at least into the 1930s and the studio is last found in directories in 1913.

Bath Street, Portrush – circa 1910 to circa 1930?

This studio was in use from at least 1910 to 1925. It was the studio of Alexander Lee, and presumably was only opened after he returned from South Africa (circa 1907-8?). It may also have used the name “Bath Cottage”. Some photographs were taken of groups at the Giant’s Causeway and printed under this label, but there may not have been a studio there. Alexander did not pass the business on, and it closed at some point in his later years; he and his wife also ran a boarding house at the adjacent Leander House on Bath Street.

Family group at the Giant's Causeway (P004)

Lansdowne, Portrush – circa 1890 to circa 1915?

This name was used for the studio which succeeded Causeway View, on Lansdowne Crescent. It was in use from around 1890 onwards. Until 1901 it was operated by Robert Lee the elder, then inherited by his son Robert along with the adjoining Lansdowne House Hotel. The studio stopped being used at some point in the 1910s, and was itself leased out as a hotel (“Tower House”); this was operating as a hotel in 1915 and 1917, suggesting the studio had stopped operating by this point. Robert Lee then moved the family and the business to Main Street (below).

Main Street / L’Atelier, Portrush – circa 1900 to 1970s

The house and studio at 2 Main Street was built by Robert Lee probably in the late 1890s; it is not clear when it was put to use as a studio, but an advertisement in 1899 is looking for a shop assistant with experience in “fancy goods”. A contemporary image suggests that it sold a large amount of tourist souvenirs whilst also operating as a studio.

The property was inherited by his daughter Henrietta Leech in 1901, and in 1901 she and her husband were shown as occupying it and working as photographers. It continued to be occupied by her until it was sold to her brother Robert, who took over business there; this was by circa 1920. (Her husband had died in 1916 and her younger son, who had been expected to inherit he business, in 1917).

The name “L’Atelier” is identified as early as 1909, but it is not clear exactly when it started being used – probably after 1905. This studio was the last part of the business to work as a photography studio, and the name was retained right through to the 1970s.

Portrait of couple (P038)

Great James Street, Londonderry – 1925-27?

Very little is known about this studio – “Messrs. Lee of Portrush” took over a studio here in 1925, and were still operating it by Christmas 1927. The “Messrs” is slightly odd given that the two brothers had seemingly fallen out by this point, so it is not clear if they were working together. The card below suggests it was run from Alexander Lee’s side, however.

Studio portrait of young girl (P002)

Any comments below will be replied to by email if possible! I am always delighted to see new photographs from the Lees, and will see what I can do to help you date them. Please do get in touch.

Lee of Portrush: an introduction

One of the projects I’ve been meaning to get around to for a while is scanning and dating a boxful of old cabinet photographs and postcards produced by Lee of Portrush in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

At least five members and three generations of the Lee family worked as professional photographers in this small Northern Irish town – the last of them was my grandfather, William Lee, who carried the business on into the 1970s. Their later output doesn’t turn up much – I don’t think I’ve run across anything post-1920s – but a steady trickle of their older photographs appear on ebay and on family history sites. They produced a range of monochrome and coloured postcards of Portrush and the surrounding area, did a good trade in portrait photographs, and at one point ended up proprietors of (both temperance and non-temperance) hotels. Briefly, one brother decamped to South Africa (before deciding to come home again) and they proudly announced “Portrush, Coleraine, and Cape Town” – a combination rarely encountered. A more unusual line of work, however, was that they had a studio at the Giant’s Causeway.

The Causeway is the only World Heritage Site in Northern Ireland, and was as popular a tourist attraction then as now. A narrow-gauge electric tramline was built out from Portrush to Bushmills and then the Causeway in the 1880s, bringing in a sharp increase in visitors. And – because the Victorians were more or less the same people as we are now – they decided there was no better way to respond to a wonder of the natural world than to have your photograph taken while standing on it, so that you can show it to all your friends. Granted, you had to pay someone to take the photo, sit still with a rictus grin, then wait for them to faff around with wet plates and developer; not quite an iPhone selfie, but the spirit is the same even if the subjects were wearing crinolines. There is nothing new in this world.

The Lees responded cheerfully to this, and in addition to the profitable postcard trade, made a great deal of money by taking photographs of tourists up from Belfast or Dublin, or even further afield. (They then lost it again over the years; Portrush was not a great place for long-term investment once holidays to the Mediterranean became popular.)

Many of these are sat in shoeboxes; some turn up occasionally on eBay, where I buy them if they’re a few pounds. It’s a nice thing to have, since so little else survives of the business. One problem is that very few are clearly dated, and as all parts of the family seem to have used “Lees Studio”, or a variant, it’s not easy to put them in order, or to give a historical context. For the people who have these as genealogical artefacts, this is something of a problem – ideally, we’d be able to say that this particular card style was early, 1880-1890, that address was later, etc., to help give some clues as to when it was taken.

Fast forward a few years. Last November, I had an email from John Kavanaugh, who’d found a Lee photograph of his great-great-grandfather (John Kavanagh, 1822-1904), and managed to recreate the scene on a visit to the Causeway:

Family resemblance, 1895-2015
Courtesy John Kavanaugh/Efren Gonzalez

It’s quite striking how similar the two are. The stone the elder John was sat on has now crumbled, fallen, or been moved, but the rock formations behind him are unchanged. The original photo is dated c. 1895, so this covers a hundred and twenty years and five generations.

So, taking this as a good impetus to get around to the problem, I borrowed a scanner yesterday and set to. Fifty-odd photographs later, I’ve updated the collection on flickr, and over the next few posts I’ll try and draw together some notes on how to date them.

(Addendum: all comments below will be replied to by email if possible! I am always delighted to see new photographs from the Lees, and will see what I can do to help you date them. Many thanks for all the comments, and please do get in touch.)

Carolyn Mayben Flowers: the Lady Prospector of Porcupine

Working my way through some of the Canadian Collection on Commons this morning, I discovered a rather eye-catching picture:

Porcupine's lady prospector (HS85-10-24373)

“Porcupine’s Lady Prospector”, photographed at the Porcupine Gold Rush in the summer of 1911. Two things immediately strike the viewer: one is that the woman in the photograph is dressed decorously by the standards of Edwardian Canada, with a white blouse and a long dark skirt, despite the searing heat of that summer – Porcupine would later be devastated by wildfire – and the second is that she has a revolver slung casually on one hip.

There has to be a story here.

It turns out to be quite quick to put a name to her; the Timmins Daily Press captions a copy of the picture as Carolyn Mayben Flowers, and the Timmins Museum gives us still around in 1915, giving piano lessons. I haven’t been able to trace her after that, or indeed before. There is a “Cathaline Flowers” in Gowganda (aged 26, married, with a six-year-old daughter), but Gowganda is a long way from Timmins, and she doesn’t list herself as American…

I really should have thought of this earlier

Every now and again, I find myself with a pile of telephoto shots of something which was very hard to focus on properly, where I want to select the best few images and crop them for display. If I’ve made a hundred images, this can get very tedious – I have to manually zoom in on each one to see how sharp it is before comparing it to the next.

Tedious, repetitive, tasks. Surely, this is something a computer can do for me? Lo and behold, imagemagick saves the day…

convert -crop 1024x768+1632+1040 *.JPG -set filename:f 'crop_%t.%e' +adjoin '%[filename:f]'

..takes a series of 4288×2848 pictures, crops out the centre 1024×768, and drops this into a seperate file called crop_FILENAME. Skimming through these is far quicker…

I know, I know, trivial solutions. But it saves me a lot of time. And as a result:



…pictures of the woodpecker outside my living-room window, shot with a D90 and an old manually focused f/5.5 300m lens.

It works! I had almost two hundred frames to run through to find these (which may explain why they waited a month and a half for me to get around to it…)

Crustacean crossings

Things you never quite expect to see in suburban English cities: crayfish carefully picking their way across the road.




The first photo feels like I should edit in some 5mm-tall people fleeing the monster.

Photography was suspended briefly for a car to drive over it. (Literally: the wheels passed several feet to each side) The driver couldn’t see what was in the road, but guessed we were photographing something small and fragile, and looked at us with a very guilty expression as she passed…


I used bellows for the first time today – a bizarre-looking Heath Robinsonish contraption, but they worked. The camera was a modern dSLR, the lens a standard Olympus OM-mount 50mm, and the bellows unit emerged from a Soviet factory sometime in the 1970s. (It still has the factory inspector’s slip, signed in Cyrillic…)

These photographs were all taken in natural light with the bellows extended to around 350mm; I haven’t yet calculated the effective magnification, but from counting threads, my best estimate is that the field of view is on the order of 8mm across. The main problem was successful focusing – even at f/8 or f/11, the depth of field is still very low, and it’s possible to watch the area in focus travel up and down a surface as you move the lens.

These are all “horizontal” shots, with the item held up vertically in front of the lens – the bellows is set up for a tripod mounting, but it’s a very light tripod and the camera doesn’t lock on the mount firmly, so there’s a good bit of vibration in the system. Next time with mirror lock…


The rear of a cork-based tablemat.


Cotton weave on a (very worn) teatowel.


The tip of a pair of nail-scissors.