Error and trial

My last blog ended with my newly coated glass plates laid out to dry on the cardboard lined shallow metal trays of my drawer unit …


My last blog ended with my newly coated glass plates laid out to dry on the cardboard lined shallow metal trays of my drawer unit and the front of the unit covered over to ensure it remained light tight.

On the dry plate workshop we’d laid our coated plates on upturned mugs on a shelf unit in a darkroom cupboard where they could safely be left to dry overnight. When we returned to the dried plates they lifted off the mugs with ease.

However my plates were placed wet, with emulsion spill on the undersides, flat onto cardboard. When I went to lift them off for storage they were well stuck! Prising them off tore and lifted bits of cardboard with them. Lesson learned. Next time I need to devise a support to keep the underside of the plates raised off the cardboard (which is still useful for catching and absorbing drips and spills). It all adds to the individuality of each plate and what is stuck to the back surface should not affect too much the image recorded on the front. I should be able to scrape off most of it once the plate is fully processed and dry.

Drawer tray and plate holders. Prising off stuck plates tore the cardboard tray liner.

Most of the plates I stored in light tight boxes, interleaved with baking paper to (hopefully) prevent sticking and damage to the emulsion. I was surprised at how soft and fragile the dried emulsion felt. I did however, load the first four plates I had poured into holders for The Countess, and one of the 5″x3″ plates into my 2014 WPPD pincam, ready for use when the first opportunity arose to try them out.

That first opportunity came about with the happy coincidence of arriving home early from work on a bright evening and a visit from the grandtwins. I set up The Countess in the garden and we took photos. I’d decided that I would make a start by treating the SE1 emulsion as I would Direct Positive paper which I am very familiar with. So, rating the emulsion at ISO 3 I determined an exposure of about 1 second at f/22. We exposed all four plates – at only six years old the twins love getting involved with my cameras and Isla insisted on taking one of me. She did well to hold the shutter open with only a little nudge of the camera for the one second exposure.

After the twins went home I set up the darkroom and developed the plates, one at a time. I used some Ilford Multigrade 1+9 developer at about 20ºC that I’d originally mixed and used about four weeks ago and stored cool and dark. This keeps image contrast in check and gives time to develop by inspection. Each image was fully developed after about four minutes with very gentle agitation. I used Ilfostop and Ilford Rapid Fixer before rinsing very gently in two water baths.

These first four plates each had a different ‘quality’ of emulsion coating. The first two had been poured with SE1 diluted with 25% Photo-Flo, the third with straight SE1 and the fourth with 15% dilution. Visually, under the safelight, the first two were clearly thinner and more patchily covered. The emulsion on both began to lift in the developer and had to be handled extremely gently through the remainder of the process. On plate three the emulsion appeared so much thicker but also with some unevenness and it took twenty seconds longer for the image to appear in the developing tray. On plate four, the emulsion had a good, even coating that stayed the course of the processing without giving rise to any concerns.

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To say I am pleased with these is a massive understatement. The exposures all look to be good so my estimate of ISO 3 for the emulsion seems about right. The images look to be sharp, which is pleasing as I have only used the camera at infinity focus prior to these which were taken at about 1.5 metres.

Once the plates are dry I will contact print them. I would like to make enlargements, perhaps printing on SE1 coated art paper but my enlarger is only good for 35mm. It will be something to save for a trip to the darkrooms of Stills or Photoworks.

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