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).

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