The abandoned croft house of Roddy Stewart

Memories rekindled of exploration with a camera on discovering a 40+ year old contact strip at the back of an old photo album.

In a few weeks time my wife and I anticipate celebrating one of the big milestones in married life. We’ve been looking through old photo albums and as we opened one from our student days a contact strip of black and white images fell out the back.

During most of the 1970s I took photographs with a Zenit E, a solid Russian brick of a camera with a 58mm Helios lens. My media of choice was slide film although on rare occasions I would use colour negative. I hardly ever shot on black and white film. Yet here was a black and white contact strip that I immediately recognised.

The original negatives are long gone and I never had any prints made but for whatever reason I had kept the contact strip made by the lab when they had developed my film. As I looked over the tiny pictures I began to remember what they were and why I had taken them, no doubt the reason I had kept the strip as a record.

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The pictures are of the abandoned croft house of Roddy Stewart, the neighbour and cousin of who in due course would become my father-in-law.

Roddy had given up his croft some time before and now lived out his remaining years up the hill and nearer the road in a house overlooking his old croft and Badenscallie Bay beyond. On my first visit to Badenscallie in 1973 the house still had a roof. A year later the roof had partly blown in. Seeing the photographs reminded me of the strong sense I had at the time that the house’s deterioration should be recorded, that by the following year there would be less of it to see. Nature was taking it’s course.

And so I walked across the hill with just my camera and a solitary 24-exposure roll of black and white film for company. The photographs record the sequence of my exploratory footsteps around and through the ruin. Looking back I remember the erie silence, the sense of being in a place where life had been lived, struggling with the challenges of daily living against the elemental forces of nature. A sense of life lived at the pace of the seasons and with the rising and setting of the sun. A hard yet peaceful life. Viewed now, the images recorded then have a beauty and a sense of being about them, reminders of what once was, thas I couldn’t just return them to the back of the album.

Why I didn’t have prints made was probably because at the time prints just weren’t my ‘thing’. It is likely that I had the film in my bag just for something to try on a dull day: most slide film of the time was a mere 64 or 25 ASA and I’m quite sure this black and white film would have been a ‘fast’ 400 ASA. The contact strip was clean so I scanned it and then as it pulled me in I decided to scan each individual frame and look at the story they told in more detail.

Here are all 24 frames, in order, telling the story of my journey some forty years or so ago. Hopefully I’ll return again soon and find out what has become of this place.

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Work in progress

The ongoing saga of my salt print experiments.

To date I’ve made a couple of attempts at salt printing: at a workshop back in April which I followed up last month with my first attempt at home. Feedback from a group of friends convinced me that I was on the right track and with a group exhibition planned for later this year, that I had a project worth pursuing.

My quest for exhibition quality salt prints took a step futher at the weekend with a marathon two-day darkroom session and a reworked process involving carefully selected art paper, gold toner and the usual large measure of luck.

Paper preparation and exposure

  • Image: Digital negatives prepared from Ilford FP4+ 4×5 sheet film.
  • Paper: Daler Rowney, The Langton Prestige 300gsm HP.
  • Salt solution: 2% sodium chloride applied by foam applicator.
  • Sensitiser solution: 1ml of 12% silver nitrate applied by pipette and hake brush.
  • Exposure: UV face tanner, time determined by test strip.

Print processing

  • Pre wash: tap water, 10 minutes with frequent agitation.
  • Salt bath: 1% sodium chloride, 30 seconds with agitation.
  • Wash: tap water, 10 minutes with frequent agitation.
  • Toning bath: Tetenal Goldtoner diluted 1:4, 5 minutes.
  • Wash: tap water, 5 minutes, frequent agitation
  • 2-bath Fix: 15% hypo with 0.25% sodium carbonate, 5 minutes each bath with agitation.
  • Wash: tap water, 5 minutes with agitation.
  • Hypo clear bath: 1% sodium sulphite, 5 minutes with agitation.
  • Final wash: tap water, 60 minutes.
  • Dry.

The above process was adapted from that detailed in the book The Salt Print Manual by Ellie Young. Limitations to space, resources and availability of materials necessitated some compromises:

  • For each wash I used single 40-litre plastic storage boxes rather than a two-tray set up with running water,
  • I used a ready made product, Tetenal Goldtoner, which I diluted to strength, rather than preparing toner with gold chloride solution which I simply couldn’t source in the UK,
  • My local craft supplies store does not stock any of the tested art papers recommended in the book but did stock The Langton Prestige 300gsm HP paper which met the specifications for being 100% cotton, acid free, gelatin sized and of sufficient weight to withstand all the washing.

I wanted to have a defined coated area which the negatives would overlap slightly, thus avoiding the sharp, straight edges of the negatives showing on the print. To achieve this I formed three masks from mountboard, one for the salt solution, one for the sensitiser and one to position the negative. By using separate masks I avoided contamination between the coatings. Once sensitised, the paper has to be exposed within two hours so I split my workflow into two batches, preparing four sheets at a time.

The first print was not much success, showing staining where the drops of silver nitrate from the pipette had fallen on the paper and then been poorly spread with very obvious brush marks. The second print was better and from the third print onwards results were very acceptable although by the final three, shadows were blocking up and the prints were becoming quite dark, a sign of too much silver.

I concluded that I had not sufficiently wetted the hake brush before starting and so for the first sheet it had absorbed rather than spread the silver nitrate sensitiser. As the session progressed the brush was carrying over a combination of salt and sensitiser from one sheet to the next leading to too great a concentration on the later sheets. I also noticed that the bristles on the hake brush became clumped together and because the brush strokes were constrained to the image area by the mask, this led to a grid-like pattern of sensitiser application, most noticeably around the edges and corners of the prints.

First negative printed: On left, sensitised with foam applicator. On right, sensitised with hake brush.

There was just enough silver nitrate solution left over to make a second print from the first negative. This time I spread it with a well wetted clean foam applicator. Unfortunately the paper was rather hurredly coated and each coat was not properly dried before exposing the paper which led to some dark banding in the finished print. However it did show me the difference that using slightly less sensitiser and a different applicator could make.

A couple of days later I had the opportunity to show the set of dried prints to my group of friends. It was interesting to observe their reactions and useful to hear their feedback. Perhaps I should not be surprised to find that prints I would have discarded are aesthetically pleasing to others!

I am greatly encouraged that my marathon darkroom session was not in vain. I’ll need to plan soon for the next one!

 

Getting the Blues

A cyanotype diversion

I’ve reached a hiatus in my salt print experiments while awaiting delivery of gold toner for a process I want to try. Meantime, I’ve had a cyanotype kit sitting in the corner unused since it arrived wrapped in Christmas paper, a gift from my younger daughter.

Today the sun shone and with nothing particular planned I decided it was time to try out the cyanotype kit. There are a variety of kits available to buy from several suppliers, this one was put together and sold by Stills Gallery in Edinburgh and is self-contained and comprehensive.

Two opaque plastic 50ml bottles containing the chemicals, Ferric Ammonium Citrate and Potassium Ferrocyanide needing only the addition of water, a foam brush, 3ml pipette, nitrile gloves and Fabriano art paper all contained in a plastic case which doubles as a tray in which to wash the prints. I needed only a plastic cup in which to combine the chemistry and a dimly lit room in which to coat the paper and let it dry.

I chose two of the digital negatives I’d prepared a few weeks ago for my salt print experiments, prepared a couple of pieces of paper and set them in the sun using my quarter-plate contact print frame. The first exposure was about 12 minutes and came out a bit dark so I reduced exposure for the second to 7 minutes.

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Kit box and drying prints
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First print, 12 minutes exposure
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Second print, 7 minutes exposure

Fun times. Going for gold next!

Seven days

Responding to a Facebook challenge to post seven photos over seven days.

From time to time I like a challenge, particularly when it involves photography, and it happened that the time was just right when I was nominated for such a challenge by a Facebook friend.

On the face of it, something quite simple: just post one photo each day for seven days and each day nominate a friend to join in. A chain-letter style bit of fun online. It was easy to jump straight in to accept the challenge, overlooking that the photograph should contain neither buildings nor faces. Given some thought, the true nature of the challenge was not in the frequency or regularity of posting but in the subject matter of the posts themselves!

It so happened that on the morning of the day I was nominated I had taken a camera with me on a fairly regular Saturday round of ferrying grandchildren, dog walking and weekly grocery shopping. The weather had turned wet but behind the purple-grey clouds was the promise of sunshine to follow and beautiful contrasty light sparkling on wet surfaces. I had my first post already in the camera!

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Day 1: Raindrops

There’s no getting around the convenience of a digital camera to record images that are to be posted daily but I wanted to use emulsion-based media where time and opportunity permitted.

That opportunity came on Day 2. I chose to use The Countess, a sixteenth-plate camera gifted to me just one year ago, having loaded its plate holders with direct positive paper. Not being a working day I had time to make exposures, develop, dry, scan and choose an image to upload.

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Day 2: Fallen blossom

With the working week under way, Day 3 was back to digital and what caught my eye was the bright colour of a group of flowers, or perhaps they were weeds (I confess to horticultural ignorance!), growing by the path while out on my lunchtime walk.

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Day 3: Orangeness

Like many others I awoke on Day 4 to the news of a suicide bomber detonating himself amidst a crowd of young concert goers in Manchester. As the day progressed the grim news unfolded of twenty two innocent young lives lost and around sixty injuried, many seriously. My thoughts dominated my choice of photograph to upload. Indeed I wondered whether to pause the frivolity of posting an image at all. In the end I decided to post, along with a summary of my thoughts.

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Day 4: The edge is not the end

Some days I pause a while when walking on the beach, to watch a ship as it approaches the edge of the world before falling over and disappearing from sight.

Reassuringly I find that ships appear from beyond the edge of the world and I watch them too, comforted to know that beyond the edge is not the end.

Today’s post is for Manchester, for those who have lost loved ones, for those who are suffering physically and mentally, for those who’s lives have been changed by what they have experienced, for those who have sought to help and to bring comfort. For the young people of our society that they might know there is hope.

Day 5 saw me return to the beach in search of some small details to photograph in the day’s bright sunshine, yet I found  my thoughts dominated by the idea of fragility.
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Day 5: Featherweight

 

An incredibly early start to Day 6 gave me time to wander the shoreline enjoying the soft morning light sparkle on the gentle ripples of a peacefully calm sea.

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Day 6: Specular sparkles

 

For all that this challenge started out as something fun and an opportunity to take a break from emulsion-based photography if only for the expediency of daily uploading, the bombing in Manchester on Tuesday weighed on my mind. I found myself looking not so much for subject matter to fit the parameters of the challenge but for images to express my emotions and reflections on that dreadful event and it’s aftermath.

What the final image of this series should be has been growing on me over the past couple of days. People from all corners of society have come together, helping, supporting and sharing. I’d like to think that this image is a reflection of the good in our society and of the hope that we have for the future as a result.

 

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Day 7: Society

Kissing in the dark

My eyes were closed as I savoured the moment with the object of my desires, gently feeling my way around in the darkness, the rythmic sound of the darkroom clock in the background as the sweet aroma of fixer filled my nostrils, knowing that at the tip of my fingers things were developing …

My preferred method of developing sheet film is six at a time in a Paterson tank with a MOD54 adapter. However if I have only one or two sheets that I want to assess, I resort to tray developing.

Tray developing is done in the darkroom, in the dark: no comforting warm glow from a red safelight, knowing where everything is laid out, relying on touch to gently work from tray to tray, listening keenly to the tick of the darkroom clock, shutting out all distractions to count down the seconds. It’s an intense spellbound time alone with just a piece of film for company. Strangely I often find myself closing my eyes as if to shut out the dark in the darkness.

The experiment

I’ve been experimenting with a zoom pinhole technique in an attempt to create a ‘look’ for a wee project I’m thinking about. It’s quite a simple idea: To use the ratchet focussing mechanism of my Intrepid field camera to adjust the pinhole projection distance during a long exposure with a lensboard mounted pinhole.

So today with good, bright conditions forecast I exposed two sheets of Harman Direct Positive paper and then two sheets of Ilford FP4+. With a five stop ISO difference between the two media it would be interesting to see the different results each would produce.

Direct Positive Paper

For the Direct Positive paper, exposures given were about three minutes – I feel four would have been better but I got what I wanted from the prints. The zoom range was from 190mm to 100mm with a 0.5mm pinhole. It felt difficult to match the zoom action to the time available and the second exposure was much the better for the experience of the first!

The first ran out of zoom and was zoomed a second time before the exposure was completed. It was also a poor choice of subject with a big slab of shadow on the right (left in the print!) that’s pretty much underexposed. The second is a bit underexposed but is close to the effect I think I’m looking for and my favourite from the day.

FP4+

The FP4+ exposures were over the same zoom range but with exposure times much reduced to around four seconds. I had expected that zooming over a shorter exposure time would be easier but actually found it rather rushed and very difficult to control.

The first is a bit jerky as I struggled to cover the zoom range within the exposure time. I was ready for it for the second exposure and though I like the result, the day was too bright to fully achieve the effect I wanted. The exposures were just too short – an unusual comment for a pinhole!

It’s been an enjoyable day: out and about with a camera, trying something different, taking food for thought from the results and of course, that sensual time in the darkroom!

A Pinhole Day Wedding

When my daughter chose Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day 2017 as her wedding day I just had to make an appropriate photographic record of it.

Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day has been an event on my calendar for some years, usually meeting up with a group of friends to make cameras, take photographs and encourage non-pinholers to give it a go.

When my daughter announced the date for her wedding, something at the back of my mind rang an alarm bell. No, it wasn’t the thought of giving a Father-of-the-Bride speech, it was the date itself – Sunday 30th April 2017 – the last Sunday in April, the day ‘reserved’ each year to a celebration of pinholing.

There was nothing for it. No father could ask his daughter to change the date of her biggest day and I wasn’t going to be the first! My daughter is sympathetic to my photographic distractions and we agreed that I would take some pinhole wedding shots on the day.

I chose to rely on my Harman TiTAN 5×4 camera and to make my exposures on Ilford FP4+ film as that combination could be expected to be more reliable and require shorter exposure times than something homemade and exposing on paper.

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The TiTAN, six sheets of film, a small tripod and a basic lightmeter made up a lightweight and fairly compact kit. Somehow I managed to waste one sheet, but the other five have worked out much as I hoped. The day was bright and exposures were all around eight seconds.

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Breakfast setting for a new bride
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Flower girl
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Bridal flowers
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Two white dresses
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The happy couple

I have yet to decide which one image to submit to the WPPD2017 website. I rather like ‘Two white dresses’ but I’m leaning towards ‘The happy couple’  as I think it sums up the day more completely. So far I have only scanned the negative but I’d like to print them too, perhaps as salted paper enlarged prints.

The Father-of-the-Bride speech? – I winged it and I think I got away with it!

Every first attempt has a silver lining

First attemps at making salt paper prints.

It is almost a month since I reported on my participation in a contemporary salt print workshop. Keen to put what I discovered into practice I’ve been gathering together the bits and pieces I would need that I don’t already have and also gathering images that I imagine would look good when printed on salted paper.

The weather over the past couple of weekends has been favourable so I’ve been out and about with my Intrepid field camera and have a good selection of 5×4 negatives to print from. The ‘contemporary’ process takes a scan of the original negative and with some editing in Photoshop produces what should be an optimised digital negative from which to make the final print. The digital element of the process has the added advantage of producing a digital negative of a size larger or smaller than the original and also means that the source image can be from a digital camera.

IMG_5456A few months ago I had been gifted a quarter-plate contact printing frame and saw my salt print experiments as an ideal opportunty to use it, so I would need to reduce my 5″x4″ negatives to 4¼”x3¼”. However, I don’t use Photoshop so first I had to rewrite the workshop instructions for what I do use, Serif Labs Affinity Photo – Basic digital negative preparation in Affinity Photo. The exposure time would be determined by a test strip to identify the exposure required to achieve maximum black. For maximum control of the highlights, in Photoshop / Affinity Photo and curve to create a denser negative together with a colour screen are applied. The instructions refer to a generic colour screen, which I used for this exercise, but in the workshop we created custom values by exposing a colour spectrum, processing the result, then finding the colour that equated to the brightest highlights.

I can’t say I fully understand the colour screen step and so I started off by picking an image from which I created four digital negatives, one as unscreened greyscale, and the other three screened with varying RGB values: 255:50:0, 50:255:0 and 25:50:0. These are shown below together with the print made (spot the schoolboy error – I overlaid captions on each negative but forgot to flip them!). The four were exposed and printed as one so the only variable affecting the print is the colour screen applied to each digital negative.

My darkroom space is rather limited (its primary function is a shower room) and has to be set up according to the needs of the process being undertaken. For salt printing, the preparatory function of cutting paper to size and coating it with a 2% sodium chloride solution could be performed elsewhere. However sensitizing the paper with 12% silver nitrate solution and processing the exposed paper have to be carried out under safelight conditions. Exposing the paper can be carried out either under the controlled conditions of a UV light source such as my adapted face tanning unit, or under sunlight ideally with a UV index of at least 4. Here in Scotland that amounts to a couple of hours either side of mid-day during the summer months … if we’re lucky! However it is to be exposed, the sensitized paper has to be kept in the dark until ready for exposure.

For my screening-test negatives I had my UV unit set up in the darkroom alongside my processing trays with just a small working area left to sensitize the salted paper with silver nitrate. This gave me a number of problems: the small working area, the wait in the darkroom for the sensitized paper to dry and once the UV unit was on I realised that the inevitable light leaks from it would potentially fog any other sensitized paper whether awaiting exposure or in the process of development. For the test, I was working with only one piece of paper but I would need to rethink my setup for making a series of prints.

I knew that to make any reasonable assessment of my test I would need to allow the print to dry down overnight so I stored my processing solutions (3% sodium chloride and 10% hypo fixer) in light- and air-tight bottles, restored the shower room and went off to sleep on a solution to the darkroom layout.

BFrom my test I decided to stick with RGB values of 255:50:0 and set about creating fifteen digital negatives. I laid them out five to a sheet of Permajet inkjet transfer film with the layout such that I could easily cut out the individual negatives.

I decided that this time I would set up my darkroom for safelight operations only and have the UV light box just outside in subdued light. I reckoned that a little exposure was inevitable but probably of negligible effect (and with hindsight I was right!). When I explored making dry glass plates about a year ago I had aquired a small shallow-drawer unit for drying the emulsion-coated plates and decided to use it as storage for the sensitised paper as I waited for it to dry. This way I could sensitize paper for the session then clear my work area of silver nitrate solution, pipette and brushes.

For the screening test I had run a test strip to determine an exposure time of 5½ minutes and decided to use that as a starting point. The only difference would be that the screen test was done in a 10″x8″ ‘modern’ contact printer while this session I would be using a vintage quarter-plate printing frame with much thinner glass that sat about 1cm further below the UV light tubes. I was also a little uncertain as to how my hypo solution would have fared from being stored overnight as it does not have much ‘shelf-life’.

Processing one image at a time (I have only one contact printing frame!) the first few prints came out of the UV light looking very dark and overexposed. That was to some extent to be expected and they would lighten up as they were processed through the salt bath and hypo fixer before rinsing. However they did not lighten up as much as I would have expected or wanted and so I reduced the exposure time as I worked through the negatives, down to five minutes, then four and a half and the final images just four minutes.

The colour of the prints changes as the process progresses and ultimately as the prints dry down they take on the typical sepia tone that I would expect. There’s a bit of bronzing to some of the prints which is likely due to the age of the fixer and inconsistencies in fully covering the paper when coating are apparent. I consider these all marks of individuality and a part of the image!

What I’m not too happy with is the loss of shadow detail in my prints. I suspect this is due to the curve I have applied when creating the digital negative rather than to the UV exposure given. When creating the digital negatives I adjusted the curve as I would for a ‘normal’ image whereas a negative for salt printing needs good shadow exposure and detail, does not need to be high contrast and needs sufficient density to allow silver chloride to change into metallic silver during exposure. If I have failed in creating the prints I had expected I suspect that this is the area in which I can make the most improvement. That said, for a first attempt under my own steam, the fifteen prints I made do have a ‘look’ and a ‘feel’ that I like.

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The final fifteen, 24 hours on from UV light box exposure and processing.

I coated and sensitized three more pieces of paper than I used. These lay in the drawer shaded from light ready to be forgotten about. However as I type up my exploits a day later, the sun is shining and according to the BBC the UV index should be about 3. Surely worth a try to see what an exposure to sunlight might do. I selected three of my favourite images, made up some fresh salt bath and hypo and exposed them one at a time for fifteen minutes each. Here’s how they look now that they’ve dried down a bit.

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Three ‘bonus’ prints, a couple of hours after exposure by sunlight and processing.

 

Hanging in the trees

Sunshine, Ilford FP4+ and trees. A perfect trio.

Since my Intrepid Camera arrived just a tad over eight months ago I’ve practiced with and shot regular photo paper, direct positive paper, glass plates and the cheapest Fomapan sheet film I could find. I reckon I’ve got the hang of it now so perhaps it’s time to splash out on the good stuff.

With the sun shining at the weekend I broke open for the first time, a fresh box of Ilford FP4+, set my meter for ISO 125 with a +1 exposure compensation for the Yellow Y(2K) filter I planned to use and headed to Gosford in East Lothian to photograph some trees.

I’m attracted to the form and shape of tree trunks and the texture of the bark in the sunlight. Perhaps there’s a series to be explored.

Here’s how I got on:

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The Techy Stuff

The Intrepid Camera (Mk 1), Rodenstock Sironar-N 150mm f/5.6 lens with Y(2K) filter, Ilford FP4+ 5×4 sheet film.

The sheets were developed with a MOD54 insert in a Paterson tank in Ilfosol 3 1+9 dilution at 20ºC for 4 min 15sec. Agitation by gentle rotation of the twirl stick, continuous for the first minute then 15 secs at 1 min 30 secs, 2 min 30 secs and 3 min 30 secs.

Scanning was with an Epson 4990, black and white points being set in the standard Epson Scan software.

A pinch of salt and a couple of pixels

Reporting on a fun and informative workshop to learn contemporary salt printing.

Contemporary salt printing workshop

One of the earliest photographic printing techniques is that of the salt print, a hand-coated two-step process. A salt solution is applied to the paper, allowed to dry then followed by an application of silver nitrate solution to form light sensitive silver chloride. When exposed to light the silver chloride is changed to image making metallic silver.

As metallic silver forms on the paper it has a masking effect which allows more time for development of the highlights and thus creates a greater tonal range than is found in other photographic print processes. This presents the photographer with the challenge of producing negatives capable of utilising the potential of the process. Furthermore the colour, tones and hues of the print can also be affected by variations in the chemistry and application of each solution.

These were the attributes of salt printing that first attracted me to the process some two and a half years ago when I attended a workshop introducing alternative photographic techniques. Although that workshop focussed mainly on cyanotype and Van Dyke brown printing, other processess were introduced and of these, salt printing was what caught my attention. It’s been a while and is about time that I followed up on my interest!

So it was that last weekend I joined a Contemporary Salt Printing workshop at Stills Gallery in Edinburgh, led by tutor Brittonie Fletcher. Stills has well equipped darkrooms and comprehensive digital editing facilities and Brittonie is Media Instructor at the Royal College of Art in London so my expectations were high. Also, Brittonie had been the tutor on that first workshop that so whetted my appetite.

The contemporary element of this workshop was the application of digital technologies to optimise the negative for the traditional process. Regardless of the source image and without altering the print making process, we would use digital editing tools to produce negatives on acetate sheet from which we would make our salt prints. As with any workshop, the purpose was to learn and understand the process. Any outstanding work will only be the result of application and practice in the weeks and months ahead!

Each of what turned out to be four attendees were asked to bring two or more digital image files, negatives or other media to work with. I took a selection of files, sheet film negatives and glass plates. The plates caused some excitement and we used one to make a comparison of a salt print made straight from the plate and another from an optimised digital negative produced from a high resolution scan of the plate.

Day 1

After introductions and a brief history of salt printing we got down to the business of preparing solutions, cutting paper and setting out the darkroom.

We prepared a 2% salt solution for sizing our paper, a 3% salt solution for the salt rinse bath and a bath of 10% hypo fixer. Finally we very carefully measured out silver nitrate (costly stuff!) to mix a 12% solution. These were the concentrations we would use for the workshop, however we were instructed that by varying them we could alter the final tonality, contrast and range of our prints.

Sheets of Fabriano 5 art paper were cut down to the size we would be printing. Notes about solution strengths and sizing times were made in pencil on the back of the paper before each piece was soaked in the salt sizing solution for three to five minutes and then hung up to dry.

While waiting for the paper to dry, we took our chosen images to the digital lab where Brittonie prepared digital negatives on Permajet acetate sheets from which we would make our first prints. The detail of preparing the digital negatives would be explained on Day 2 but for today the same actions were applied to each image file.

Back in the darkroom we sensitised our now dry, sized paper. A pipette was used to apply a few drops of silver nitrate solution onto the paper which was quickly spread by means of  Hake brushes or foam brushes. I chose to use a Hake brush, spreading the silver nitrate not quite to the paper’s edges so as to leave the brush marks at the edges. Others used foam brushes and applied to the edges or used masking tape for a clean line on the paper.

Our first step was to make a test strip. This would establish the required exposure to achieve maximum density and we determined a starting point for our prints to be eight minutes in Stills’ UV light box. Denser negatives might need a little more, thinner ones a little less. Salt printing is a printing out process and so the developing image can be examined as exposure progresses, subject to the negative and paper remaining in register.

Following exposure the prints were placed in the salt rinse bath for five minutes, followed by a short rinse in clean water before fixing in the hypo solution for about a minute. Finally the prints were washed in fresh water for a minimum of thirty minutes before being gently squeegeed and laid out to dry overnight.

First digital image file, Day 1
Second digital image file, Day 1

Day 2

The day commenced with a review of the prints that had been left to dry overnight. We made comparisons between coating techniques, amount of silver nitrate used, length of time the paper was soaked in salt solution and timings of the salt rinse and fix. It was very clear that each print was the crafted product of its printer, showing individual touches and the nuances that could be achieved with very minor variations in process.

But today was to be all about the ‘Contemporary’ part of the workshop title. We would spend much of our time in the digital lab learning how to optimise each image file and create our own digital negatives to print from. Files would be resized, a curve would be applied and a colour screen determined to produce maximum highlight detail. We used Photoshop CS6 and although I have had little experience of the program I was able to follow what we were doing and am comfortable that I can apply the knowledge with the editing tools that I use.

The glass plate image that I printed on Day 1 as a straight contact print from the plate rather than from a digital negative, has some fine detail in the shadow areas that didn’t show up well in the print. Today would be an opportunity to find whether that detail could be brought out in a print from a digital negative created from a high resolution scan of the plate.

With our digital negatives prepared and printed on Permajet acetate sheet, we returned to the comforting gentle red glow of the darkroom to complete the printing process by contact printing and processing as we had learned on Day 1.

Glass plate with hand-poured SE1 emulsion, Days 1&2

Conclusion

That was fun! And if fun wasn’t enough I learnt stuff that I can do and develop in my own style and time.

The printing process is really very straightforward and one that I can see being quite possible to accomplish in my ‘ensuite’ darkroom at home. Other than a UV light box, I already have all the equipment I might need.

Silver nitrate is the main expense and if I want to include a digital negative stage, Permajet acetate sheets are quite a bit more expensive than regular acetate sheets (which just don’t work). UV face tanning machines are readily and cheaply available and are easily adapted to small-scale use. Alternatively I could ‘go native’ and use a vintage printing frame in the elusive Scottish sunlight – there’s no reason not to at least give it a try!

Finally, I can’t close this without a little praise for both the tutor and the facility. Brittonie is a wonderful instructor, so generous with her time, knowledge and skills and is genuinely interested in her pupils’ work and development. Stills, as I have already indicated is comprehensively equipped to support photography practice of all styles, from historic processes through darkroom to digital and video editing suites with training facilities to match.

Senior Moments

I took a Trip to Falkirk for an Intrepid photo-outing. But not all went to plan …

The idea was to take The Intrepid and a half a dozen sheets of Harman Direct Positive paper for a walk around The Falkirk Wheel, a unique boat lift between the Union Canal and the Forth and Clyde Canal in central Scotland, and then on for a visit to the nearby site of the Antonine Wall and Rough Castle Roman Fort. For a few snapshots along the way I took my Olympus Trip loaded with Kentmere 100 film.

Two cameras, one to be set up on a tripod after careful consideration of the viewpoint then focused, loaded, light measured for calculation of shutter speed and aperture before the exposure could be made. The other in a pocket to be taken out, pointed at the subject and the shutter pressed to take the shot without delay.

Nobody takes a blind bit of notice to the Olympus Trip whereas The Intrepid attracts all manner of attention. People stop to look. They ask questions. They tell of their forebears using cameras like these. Their children have to see what’s going on below the dark cloth and their dogs are attracted to the legs of the tripod!

All of that attention when trying to concentrate on the process of taking a photograph with The Intrepid can lead to confusion for the old codger that I am! I made a complete mess of exposure meter readings and camera settings. Of my six sheets of paper only one came out as I had intended, one of two barges passing each other on the Union Canal above the Wheel.

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The remaining five were all either very under- or very over- exposed. However, one of these, of the entrance to Rough Castle Tunnel, although about three stops overexposed has been growing on me so I count it amongst the ‘keepers’.

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So there it is. Memories of a day out, exposures made, lessons learned and the sense of satisfaction from crafting the images back in the darkroom.