Sunday, November 28, 2010

Selenium Surprise

Kallitypes never surprise me with their unending ability to surprise me. As soon as think I can predict what the results will be, I get blindsided by chemistry and physics and any number of other things that feel my understanding of the world needs to be taken down a peg or two.

Last night was such an example. I decided to give selenium toning a try with the kallitype prints I made last week. I was expecting to just mix a batch of it and get an idea for how long it takes to tone to a more neutral shade. Instead, I watched in horror as my first print instantly turned a brilliant shade of "poo".

Selenium toned at 1+9
I thought I was being crafty by diluting the stock toner a bit more than would be used for silver gelatin prints. Normal recommendations are in the 1+3 range. I opted for 1+9. This was still potent enough to ravage the entire print in about five seconds.

Ravage might not be the proper term because by the time all was said and done I ended up with a final print that looks like it was handcrafted from chocolate milk. The actually print looks much nicer than the scan. The gradation of tones is fantastic and the bleaching effect gave it an extremely soft quality.
How the print looked seconds before toning
The real problem is that I got a very brown print while trying to make a sort of brown print less brown.

The small victory is that now I know how to make a very brown print should the need arise.

Selenium toned at 1+100
After a bit of head scratching I mixed a new batch of toner. I decided the original batch was way too strong and I should try to make an overly dilute solution. This time I mixed it to 1+100.

Thankfully the print didn't instantly turn to poo-chocolate. At first there wasn't much change. I took my eyes off it for a few seconds and when I glanced back it was already making a run for brown. In less than a minute the highlights had bleached more than I wanted and the shadows were losing density so I yanked it from the toner before another semi-catastrophe.
The same print, un-toned.

I'm not a big fan of what happened with the deepest blacks of the original. It's a less than flattering brownish tone. I don't like how much it bleached the highlights and softened the finer details. The one redeeming point is it separated the tones in the shadows and the darker mids.

Selenium Toned at 1+200

With only one sacrificial print left to work on I was getting a little nervous. I didn't bother mixing another batch of toner. Instead I just dumped another liter of water in to make a dilution of 1+200.

I'm happy with the results of this. It toned in under two minutes and gave the neutral-ish tones I was looking for. The deep blacks went slightly cooler and the mids and highs shed their brown qualities.

Original print without toning.
I can't express enough that these scans are not doing the prints justice. The actual prints have subtle tones and coloration to them that the scanner can't pick up and I can't really explain in writing.

Here's the process that worked the best:

Selenium Toning:

I started with prints that had been previously fixed, washed and dried. I soaked the prints for 10 minutes in a water bath. The prints were then placed in Ilford Selenium Toner diluted 1+200. The prints reached the tone I was looking for somewhere between 60 and 90 seconds. After reaching the desired tone, I moved the prints to a bath of Kodak Hypo Clear at standard working strength (1+4 from stock) for about 3 minutes. The prints were then rinsed for about 15 minutes and hung to dry.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

My Dearly Departed Digital Friend

Like every other night for the past week, I found myself wide awake at 3 a.m. today. Any reasonable person would probably have been trying to get back to sleep or doing something productive or seeking medical attention. I sat around missing my D1h.

I'll be perfectly honest with the fact that I have an emotional attachment to that camera. I'm aware how idiotic it sounds that I consider that pile of metal and circuits to be a friend, but it's true. And when it stopped working properly almost two years ago I was devastated. I can't count the number of adventures I've been on with that camera. Its underwhelming 2.6-megapixel sensor helped produce some of my all-time favorite images. We've both fallen into the same river (which, surprisingly, was not how the camera met its end). It was tough. It was loud. It was heavy. It was marvelous.

It was easy to see last night that, judging by the pile of dust gathered on top of it, I hadn't picked it up in some time. Not that I really had a reason to anyway. At first I thought the problem was just a bum CF card. But when D1h refused to acknowledge any of the cards I knew were working, the gravity of the situation hit me. The part that was hardest to swallow was not that it couldn't be repaired (because I'm sure it can) it's that I wouldn't ever have it fixed.

Unfortunately my dear D1h is now a disposable item. Just like so many other items of the digital age. Having it repaired would be like having my top-of-the-line laserdisc player fixed. Or refurbishing my Motorola DynaTAC (Thankfully I don't own either of these items, thus I have no concerns over their demise)

The economics of the ordeal is one major reason to leave D1h shelf-bound. A used body can be picked up on eBay for less than $200. This is $1400 less than I paid for mine six years ago, which was $2900 less than someone had paid for it new just three years before that. This camera can currently be bought for 4% of its original price and the cost of repair would likely exceed the cost of replacement. But I don't want a replacement.

The other reason not to repair it, the one that really hurts, is that it's just not good enough anymore. In its day, it was a magnificent beast. But that was nine years ago. To a digital camera that might as well be 90 years. D1h can no longer compete in this world.

Mourners (left to right): Franken-Graphic, Hasselblad, N80, Retina, 4x5
And the worst part is, D1h is just a child compared to it's co-workers that gathered around for an impromptu funeral. Hasselblad, like me, is in its late 20's. 4x5 is 31. Retina just turned 58. Franken-Graphic lost track a while back but parts of it are damn near 70. And each of the elderly cameras is still capable of producing beautiful images, much more than D1h ever was or will be able to do.

Granted, some of the geriatrics have their quirks and limited functions. The Retina sticks in the slow shutter range and the self-timer is broken. Franken-Graphic only has two shutter speeds that work, a number of missing screws and a distrust for any artificial light source other than M-sync flash bulbs. All but the N80 are incapable of metering.

Unlike D1h, if any of these were to stop working I would have them repaired (actually N80 might have to be replaced). It wouldn't take a computer scientist to fix the classics. All you need is a grandfatherly figure with tiny spectacles and an abnormal appreciation for springs. If one of the old-timers broke, it would be tangible. A bent spring, a broken aperture blade, torn bellows, or simply gunked up. They wouldn't be stopped by one inanimate piece of silicon's inability to talk to a separate inanimate piece of silicon. They wouldn't even be stopped by a dead battery as all but N80 contain no battery. D1h used some of the single worst batteries I've ever encountered. They were expensive, didn't hold a charge for very long, and would inevitably suffer from death by memory.

The older cameras I use have passed the test of time. They have proven over the decades that they contain some of the finest mechanics and optics ever used to make an image and they continue to prove it every time I release the shutter. But even the finest optics ever made wouldn't change the fact that D1h will always be a D1h. In less than a decade is has been surpassed time and time again by cameras that are becoming increasingly more intelligent than the majority of their operators.

I tried one last time to bring D1h back to life in the hours before the sun came up today. It wouldn't have been the first time that I successfully ignored an electronic problem away. I was amazed that the battery could still take a charge. The shutter will still fire and it gives all the physical impressions of a camera that still works. Sadly, that's just not enough.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Kallitype Part 2 - Chemicals

I'm pretty sure my landlord thinks I'm cooking meth. My apartment is littered with chemical bottles of varying shapes, sizes and suspicious nature, and central Florida is the meth capital of the southeast. I've had to explain on more than one occasion that all this stuff is photo-related. And besides, I have all my teeth. (A very strong defense against being labeled a tweaker/Florida native).

These are the least threatening containers. They have fancy labels. Very professional looking. There are others smaller brown glass bottles that have a piece of masking tape on them with notes scrawled in Sharpie. Those make people nervous.

I've said before that I'm basically using Sandy King's recipe posted at Alternative with a few modifications.


Chemicals appearing in my collection:

- 1kg  Sodium Citrate powder
- 500g  Sodium Thiosulfate crystals
- 500g Citric Acid
- 500g Sodium Sulfite
- 100g Sodium Carbonate
- 50g Ferric Oxalate powder
- 30g Potassium Dichromate crystals
- 10g Silver Nitrate
- 10mL Gold Chloride

There's actually an easier way to accumulate the chemicals needed for doing Kallitypes. Photographer's Formulary sells a prepackaged kit that will make about 30 4x5 prints. The chemicals I bought will do approx. 200 4x5 prints (with some leftovers) and does not cost anywhere near 7x the price of the kit. The other difference is, well, most of the chemicals. The way I do it is considerably different from their way. But I guess that's part of the beauty is the number of different ways to make a Kallitype.

Obviously there is a lot of mixing to be done. Here's a lesson from high school chemistry. Start with distilled water; about 3/4 of the total volume you need. Add chemicals. Mix to dissolve. Top off with water to make your final volume. Also, a lot of these are percent-solutions. Like a 10% solution of Silver Nitrate is 10g Silver Nitrate with water to make 100mL. A 1% Sodium Sulfite solution is 10g with water to make 1L. Make sense?

I use a total of eight different solutions. Sensitizer solution A and B, developer, restrainer, clearing bath, toner, fixer and hypo clear. 

Please don't sue me. To prevent yourself from having a reason to sue me, wear appropriate safety gear for mixing and working with chemicals. Some of this stuff is rather nasty and will burn you, blind you, cancer-ize you, or make you cough a bunch. They might also help burn your house down. Each of these has a MSDS (material safety data sheet) available on the internets. Gloves are a must; I use black nitrile because I like to be fashionable. Eye protection is also advisable. Respirator. Chemical apron. I think I already posted on this so read it if you haven't.

Making stock solutions:

There are two parts to the sensitizer that are made as stock solutions and then mixed in equal parts just before use. I mixed these under a red safelight and keep them in amber glass bottles. Might be overkill but I'm not taking chances because these are pricey chems. Be careful with silver nitrate because it will stain skin brown and can possibly blind you should you get it in your eye. And its a strong oxidizer so it will help to make a small fire a really big fire. Ferric Oxalate is quite toxic too so handle with care.

Sensitizer Solution A
10% Silver Nitrate solution

Sensitizer Solution B
20% Ferric Oxalate solution

With the chemicals I bought I could make 100mL of each solution. That's 200mL working solution, which will coat 200 4x5 prints or 100 8x10s. That's a shitload of printing. Since the chemicals last much longer in powder form I only mixed up a quarter batch, making 25mL of each solution. 

Ferric Oxalate is a bitch to get into solution. When you mix your powder into the water if forms what can be best described as a slurry. Like you had a milkshake made with sand, and now it's melted. Gritty milk. At this point you have two options. Stick it in the microwave for a while and shake a bunch. I don't recommend this. To me there is something inherently stupid about nuking toxic chemicals where I also make my burritos. The alternative is option two. Patience. Mix the powder and water. Shake the hell out of it until you get pissed off at the lack of progress and then go to bed. When you wake up it will have gone from gritty milk to clear liquid. Magic. But don't get all excited and try to use it. Keep waiting. I tried making my working sensitizer about 20 hours after mixing the stock solutions. The Ferric Oxalate looked clear, but when I added the silver nitrate it formed a precipitate and I was left with a mini aquarium. Sand on the bottom, liquid on the top and a fish. (I'm lying about one of those 3 things). My second attempt at mixing a working sensitizer was about 48 hours after mixing the stock solutions. This worked much better. No precipitate formed. Lesson learned: Ferric Oxalate takes forever to go completely into solution!

The rest of the chemicals are boring in comparison.

Restrainer stock solution
5% Potassium Dichromate

The restrainer will help to boost contrast. I use 7mL per liter of developer. Your mileage may vary, different strokes for different folks, or any other cliche you feel like applying. This gets added to the developer, not the sensitizer. 

Potassium dichromate compounds are carcinogens, toxic, skin irritants and oxidizers. Do not taunt potassium dichromate. 

20% Sodium Citrate solution

There's room to experiment with the developer. Different developers will give different print colors which will be affected further by toning choice. This is an un-toned print with sodium citrate. It's a nice warm brownish black. There are other developers that use things like Rochelle salts, borax, tartaric acid and sodium acetate that all give different results. I'll try them out later.

The developer will need to be refreshed after a while. I've done 6 or 7 8x10's with no problems and I'm not sure how far I can push it.

Clearing Bath
3% Citric Acid solution

I haven't run into problems clearing prints with a single bath. The clearing agent can also be divided into a two bath the same way you would use a two bath fixer when doing silver gelatin prints. When the first bath gets funky, make the second bath the first bath and use a fresh second bath. I mix this fresh before each printing session and so far have had no problems getting the print to clear.

750mL distilled water
50g Sodium Thiosulfate
10g Sodium Carbonate
2g Sodium Sulfite
Distilled water to make 1L

Finally something that's more than one chemical. Mix in the order listed. I mix a fresh batch after every 2 or 3 printing sessions so I'm not sure what the actual capacity is.

Hypo Clear
1% Sodium Sulfite solution

Word on the street (internet) is that you can use standard Kodak Hypo Clear or equivalent. Haven't tried that yet but it makes sense. It's doing the same thing (chemically) that it does with film and silver gelatin prints. This is another one I mix fresh before every printing session.

This is where it gets expensive. The toners are noble metals that replace most of the silver in the print. Not only does it alter the color, but it also improves the archival qualities of the print. The standard choices are platinum, palladium, gold, and selenium. Apparently you can also tone with uranium but, I mean, seriously...uranium? Really?

The only toner I've tried so far has been gold. I've gotten results ranging from super-deep purplish black to pink. I like the deep purple but could do without the pink. I haven't really found the secret to consistent toning results.
Gold toned.

I chose gold because it was relatively cheap. I love the look of platinum toned prints but at $40 a gram I'd better be able to snort the stuff, too. Palladium is about $25 a gram. Gold works out to about $10. Selenium is dirt cheap in comparison. I'll hoping to try that next for some more neutral tones. (Selenium doesn't actually replace the silver. It converts metallic silver to  silver selenide which is supposedly more archival. Kodak Rapid Selenium Toner and other brands should work fine.)

Gold Toner 
150 mL distilled water
1g Citric Acid
1mL 5% Gold Chloride solution
Distilled Water to make 200mL

I mix this just before printing. I use just enough to cover the print and discard it afterward. I'm still trying to find a way to get consistent results.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

World's Shoddiest UV Box

I'm going to get this out of the way now and apologize for the quality of the photos. I don't own a functioning digital camera anymore (I loved my D1H, I miss my D1H) so these were shot with a borrowed point-and-shoot shitbox and using it was an indescribably excruciating experience.

I can't vouch for the safety of this contraption. So far I've manged to not electrocute/set fire to myself or anything else but I'd still have to say - build at your own risk.

For the time being I'm limited to doing 8x10s as my largest prints so I didn't build an enormous UV Box. There's ample room to go to 11x14 if I ever get a larger printer for digital negs and theoretically I should be able to do 13x19; however, I haven't tested how even the light is near the edges of the box. Six CFL blacklights give me an exposure time of 10 minutes for Kallitypes.

Materials used:

1. A 56qt/53L Sterilite plastic storage tub (on sale at Target for about $4)

2. 6x Feit Electric 13W CFL Blacklight bulbs ($5 each from Home Depot)

3. 6x plastic lamp holders ($1.50 each from Lowes. I chose these because wiring the connections are recessed a little into the mount)

4. 12x #8-32 washers and nuts (the screws came with the lamp holders)

5. 6-8 ft of wire (I used some 14 gauge wire I had laying around my toolbox. Probably overkill because if my calculations are correct (I doubt it) this thing only draws about 0.7A and 14 gauge is rated to 17A. I'm not an electrician so if anyone wants to weigh in with wiring recommendations...go for it.)

6. An extension cord or lamp cord or anything with a plug end. (I had the end of a cord from an old microwave or something laying around. You can probably pick up a cheap lamp cord for a few dollars.)

7. Krylon Fusion satin white spray paint. (About $4 from Ace Hardware)

8. Electrical tape

9. Wire nuts

Total Cost: Somewhere around $50

How it's made:

Tools needed:
- A drill with assorted bits
- A screw driver
- A wrench, socket, or pliers to hold the nuts (god that sound terrible)
- Wire cutters/strippers

The plastic tub was originally clear. I searched for white plastic and black plastic or anything that wasn't clear but found nothing suitable. While they are out there, they were either the wrong size or didn't have a reasonably flat bottom. The solution was to spray paint the interior. Plastic is difficult to spray paint but the Krylon Fusion worked great. I washed the tub and let it dry before painting (they can be a bit greasy fresh from the store). No need to sand since the paint somehow bonds with the plastic. The finish doesn't appear to be in any danger of flaking off. I gave it two coats but it still glows through quite a bit.

After the paint dried I placed the lamp holders where I wanted them (no exact measurements, just eyeballed it) and marked where the screws would go through. I drilled the holes out just slightly smaller than the screws and I don't remember what size bit it was. Then I drilled a slightly larger hole on one of the ends of the tub for the wires to exit.

The next part was kind of tricky. Actually more of a pain in the ass that smelled bad and made a mess. The lamp holders are meant to be mounted to a standard electrical box and the wires are meant to be tucked away behind them. I wanted to keep all the wires inside the box so I ended up drilling holes in the plastic lamp holders for the wires to pass through. The plastic is pretty durable and took a lot of swearing to drill through. Also, the drill bit gets hot and starts to melt the plastic some and it smells like someone threw a load of plastic forks into a campfire (it wasn't me I swear, I'm a better camper than that). Five of the six lamp holders need two holes drilled. The last holder in the chain only needs a single hole. Just be careful that you don't apply too much pressure while drilling because it seems like these things would be really easy to crack.

Once the holes were drilled I cut lengths of wire to run between the lamp holders. Strip the ends of the wire and attach them to the proper poles on the holders. These holders have two screws for each the hot and neutral connections which is very convenient. The final length of wire is a bit longer to run through the box. Once of these days I'll get around to securing it into place.

After all the holders were wired I secured them to the plastic tub with the screws provided and fastened them on the outside with the washers and nuts. I was going to use some Locktite on them so the whole thing didn't fall apart, but so far they're holding their own.

The last thing to connect was my hacked bit of extension cord so I could plug this thing in. I used some wire nuts found in the bottom of my tool box that had accumulated from other electrical endeavors. I added some electrical tape because it seemed like a reasonable thing to do. After that, I installed the bulbs and nervously plugged it in. Much to my surprise, all the bulbs lit and I didn't die.

When I'm making an exposure I sit it on the floor over my contact frame and plug it in. Using a step-wedge I determined the proper exposure for Kallitype to be 10 minutes, which is much faster than I expected. Maybe in the future I'll add an inline switch so I don't have to keep trying to find the outlet in my bathroom darkroom.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Kallitype Part 1 - Supplies

I am constantly telling myself not to buy anymore stuff. But when I take on a project like this, buying new stuff is unavoidable and my apartment struggles to keep up with the ever increasing demand for more space. I also tried to make this a more economical endeavor. Why spend $150 on a new printing frame when I can grab a vintage (ancient) one on ebay for $15 or make an even bigger one for $6? Why spend a $750 on a UV exposure unit when I can stake my claim to World's Shoddiest UV Box for about $50? There were a few places where I opted not to cut corners, but these were areas critical to the print's success.

The majority of the things I bought for this project were from Bostick & Sullivan. They cater exclusively to those of us that take on these endeavors. They have every raw chemical you could really need and their prices are quite reasonable. I get the impression they take serious pride in their products and that is increasingly rare, so they get my tip-of-the-hat. I'll detail all the specific chemicals later, but if you're curious now, I'm mostly using Sandy King's recipes outlined at Other good sources for odd photo wares are the Photographer's Formulary and Digitaltruth Photo.

While the chemicals are extremely important, you're going to need a way to measure them, store them, and prevent them from killing you. OK, safety first. Amazon is a great place to pick up some cheap medical and lab supplies. First on the list is gloves. I use the nitrile exam gloves because they're extremely durable, chemical resistant, and stylish. The only draw back is that they smell, uh, funky. And this consequently makes your hands smell funky. I'm willing to sacrifice pleasant hand odor to prevent them from turning brown because of the silver nitrate or getting chemical burns from any number of other things. Also be sure to protect the eyes. Having a comfortable pair of splash proof goggles is a good idea. The only problem is that the anti-fog pair I bought tend to gather condensation on the interior surface at an alarming rate. Kind of like they were fogging up. You might consider some type of respirator too. Several of the chemicals don't play nicely with lungs. In powder form they also tend to blow around a lot when you sit them directly under an air conditioning vent. It might be a good idea to wear some long sleeves and a chemical apron.

Now that you're rubberized from head to toe you can start measuring out the chemicals. I picked up an American Weigh AMW-100 (made in China) 100g digital scale and it does a great job for how cheap it is. The max load (100g) is fairly low but that's OK because most of the chemicals needed are 30g or less. The only chemical needed that will max the scale is the Sodium Citrate for the developer. It takes 200g so I just do four loads of 50g. I use medium sized weigh dishes on the scale and scoop the chemicals with some plastic spoons.

For mixing the chemicals I use distilled water because the tap water here is questionable at best. Having a neutral pH with the water is definite plus (some of the chemicals like the world acidic, others like it alkaline, but they're all pretty stoked by neutrality. It also helps preserve the archival nature of the prints so that 500 years from now you should still be able to enjoy them.) I already have a 1L graduated cylinder for mixing film developing chems but I also picked up a Kimax 1L Beaker and a 250 mL Beaker. A glass funnel is also a decent idea.

Only a few of the stock solutions are stored for any period of time. The 120 mL amber glass bottles from Bostick & Sullivan are great for storing the two parts of the sensitizer and the dichromate for contrast control. I already had a few unused 1L plastic photo chemical bottles laying around to store the developer and fixer. I mix the rest of the chemicals at the start of the printing session and get rid of them afterward because they exhaust quickly and don't store well. Some of the quantities used are incredibly small. Having a few shot glasses around to mix them in is a good idea. I've found that disposable syringes without needles are good for measuring out tiny amounts of solution accurately. The only problem is that some states require a prescription to buy them because they assume only diabetics and drug addicts would have a need for them.

I mix the stock solutions for the sensitizer and coat my paper under a red safelight. It might be overkill since the chemicals are not extremely light sensitive but it gives me peace of mind that I'm not destroying things before I even use them. When I coat the paper I use blue painters tape to attach the corners to a sheet of glass. This keeps the paper from moving around and curling. I use a goat-hair hake brush to coat and have been happy with the results. The other option is to use a glass coating rod. I use Arches Platine paper. It's pricey but highly popular for hand coating.

To make the exposure you need to contact print the negative to the sensitized paper under a UV source. I picked up a small Kodak auto-mask print frame off ebay on the cheap but it's only capable of making 4x5 max prints. For larger prints, I make a sandwich out of a 10"x12" sheet of glass, a piece of thin black foam from the kid's crafts section of Joanne Fabrics, the sensitized paper, the negative, and another 10"x12" sheet of glass on top. It's all held together with a mini spring clip (from Home Depot) at each corner. For the UV source, the easiest thing to use is the sun. Being in Florida, the sun is terribly intense, and I have a paranoia that anything left under it for too long will melt. Probably unfounded but the other reason I built my own UV box is that I do most of my printing at night. I'll detail how it was built later but it's main parts are a large plastic storage bin and a bank of six CFL blacklight bulbs and the associated hardware to make it all light up. I used a Stouffer uncalibrated 21-step wedge to find my standard exposure time which turned out to be 10 minutes.

At this point, all that's left is develop the print. I had a few 8x10 developing trays left over from my old darkroom and rounded out the rest of my needs for trays with glass baking dishes from my kitchen. The setup I use requires six trays for chemicals plus a container used as a makeshift print washer. Print tongs are handy to have at this point as are the nitrile gloves. I hang my prints to dry on a plastic clothes hangar with metal clips (which is the same way I dry my film and freshly sensitized paper).

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Lessons in Alt Processes

My latest obsession has become Kallitype printing. Why? Good question.

For the last few years nearly all of my printing has been done on my Epson P.O.S. on Ilford Paper. I've been surprisingly happy with the results. But I missed the good old days (nights actually) I spent in my parent's basement doing traditional silver gelatin printing. At the time I was shooting black and white 35mm developed (poorly) in a dark bathroom. Looking back at the old negatives makes me shiver and the prints I was making would get an F+. Not a complete failure but not something I ever wanted to look at again. But it was fun!

I've wanted to get back into printing but my current apartment makes that seriously difficult. At least when I develop film, the combination of a changing bag and a daylight tank make processing in my kitchen a breeze. The basement was an ideal location but there are no basements in Florida. I have a bathroom with no windows but the door is about as light-tight as a greenhouse and its size will make claustrophobes twitch. The other issue is equipment. I still have my enlarger. It's still in the exact same spot in my parent's basement a thousand miles away. However, it's set up for 35mm and I've been shooting 120 and 4x5 almost exclusively for the past five years. I thought there wasn't anything I could do, until I made a trip back home last month.

My mom is huge into family history and will never hesitate to show off old family photos. It's strange that I had never really looked at them before, but when I did I was blown away by the quality of some of the turn-of-the-century prints. The studio portraits, like most of the era, were shot under north light with dreadfully slow plate cameras. And they were gorgeous. But some of the prints had a very different feel to them and I had no idea what they were. To the internet! I started looking at various processes being used around that time and trying to match the results to the old family photos. I still don't know what the photos I was looking at actually were, but this got me interested in old photo processes. And believe it or not there's still people doing this kind of thing (sort of). After reading about these I realized that I could actually pull-off making these prints in my apartment.

Here's why:
1. They don't need an enlarger. They're contacted printed from camera negatives or inkjet negs printed on transparency film.
2. They're not really sensitive to light. At least not in the normal sense. Most of the sensitizers are only responsive to light in the UV part of the spectrum. Sunlight will expose them but a weak tungsten bulb won't do anything.

So after a bunch of research I decided to go with Kallitypes. I really like how they look. There's an infinite number of ways to vary the tones. They're not all that expensive to make. And I can make them in my kitchen.

At this point I'm going to skip over details of the actual process. I promise I will go into great detail of my methods in the near future. Believe me, you will hear all about the World's Shoddiest UV Box. This is more along the lines of my impressions of the printing process and the lessons I've learned after my first two sessions with it.

This is the first print I made. Exciting, huh? To me it actually was. It was the culmination of a lot of planning, mixing chemicals, building things, and hoping this whole ordeal was not going to be a complete failure. It proved that World's Shoddiest UV Box actually worked (this was a 5 minute exposure). It proved that while given the opportunity to screw up any number of things - I hadn't. It took until the fourth print for things to go wrong.

I'll apologize now for the scans. They don't do the prints justice at all. I love my scanner (Epson V700) and it does an excellent job with film. It did not do well with these prints. It seems to have serious trouble with the incredible density of the shadows and the slight texture of the paper surface. What looks beautiful to the naked eye is made into a noisy mess. If anyone has suggestions for scanning these I am listening.
After another test exposure, I made this print from a 4x5 negative in an ancient print frame found on ebay. This one made me nervous. After a Kallitype is exposed, the latent image is visable on the paper. So I knew it was there. When you put it in the developing bath it develops in about 3 seconds...excitment. It then begins to look progressively worse...disappointment. It's not until the print gets put in tray after tray of varying chemicals that it really comes back to life. When I put it in the toner it looked terrible (this is gold toned by the way). Eight minutes later it was looking much better. After a quick wash and a four minute swim in the fixer it looked pretty decent. By the time it had dried I was blown away by how good it looked.

I'm not going to post the next print that was made. Despite reading over and over again that this process requires a dense and super-contrasty negative I decided to try and print a very thin negative. Mistake. I ended up with a super dark muddy mess where the only interesting bit is the brush strokes at the edge of the paper.

This is the last print I made on my first night. It highlights a lot of things that can go wrong. First of all, I coated a lot more of the paper than I needed to (light pencil marks are really hard to see under a red safe light). This isn't a huge problem except that I found it seems to exhaust toner like it's its job. The blotches on the forehead and on the rest of the paper are probably caused by water that got onto the sensitizer when I kind of dropped the paper into the bathtub. Pro-tip: DO NOT DROP FRESHLY COATED PAPER INTO BATHTUB. It's not like the tub was full but there's an excellent chance it wasn't entirely dry from the last time I used the shower. The other possibility is that there was water left in the brush from rinsing it off between coatings. Now I don't rinse the brush either. If you look closely at the bottom of the paper you'll see what looks like crinkles in the paper. This is from trying to jam the print into a tray that was too small for the paper. Always make sure that the trays you're using (in this case it was actually a glass baking dish) is larger than the paper you're trying to put into it.


Acting on the suggestion of no fewer than two people I've decided to share my adventures in photography with the rest of the internets. Most of it, I'm sure, will be meaningless to the vast majority of the world. But hopefully, to a select few, there might be something of value.

The question I get the asked the most is, "Why the hell would you want to do that?" This is normally in reference to some laborious photo task (the least of which is shooting film) or, less commonly, to growing my own vegetables. To address the first, it's usually the case that whatever I happen to be doing provides the quality and aesthetic that I'm looking for in an image. And these are things that just can't be done with a digital camera. To a lesser extent, it also fulfills some subconscious need to do things the hard way. Concerning the latter, just tastes better. That and my contempt for the world's industrialized food system, etc, etc, etc.

I'm not anti-digital. It has its uses. While working for newspapers I found them indispensable. (And quite honestly the image quality didn't matter all that much since the photos I worked so hard to get were normally run just large enough to be visible and then further mangled by the press...) What you're shooting with and how you're printing is a means to an end. The end result, the final image, is all that really matters. So if you can accomplish what you're after with a digital point and shoot and an inkjet print by all means go for it. If nothing else, it'll be significantly cheaper. But for what I'm after it means lugging around a 4x5 camera and filling my apartment with suspicious looking chemical bottles. There's also the intangibles. It's fun. And to me, there's nothing more exciting than opening my developing tank for the first time to see what (if anything) I got.

On the flip side, there's soccer moms. The ones on the sidelines with $10k worth of gear all set to full Progam mode and who are more than willing to give their work away for free just to see their name in print while undercutting professionals at media outlets that have a corporate policy of free is better than good.

I can't promise that I'll try to avoid ranting on the modern digital world and other such things. But I'll try to try.