Every cloud has a silver lining

and at the end of every rainbow is a pot of gold.

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It’s not often that I rejoice at a weekend weather forecast of heavy rain. However with the attractions of the outdoors in fine summer weather my salt printing project has stalled somewhat. Now I could anticipate spending time in the darkroom without the feeling I was missing out!

A month or so ago I had made some alterations to the salt print process shown to me at a workshop and I have been keen to make further refinements. The process, for me, is time and space consuming and I need to be able to set aside at least a full day devoted to the task. My regular darkroom is a temporary adaptation of a shower room, too small for my salt print needs. Instead, I adapt a spare room where we still have the cots that our grandchildren used when they came to stay over. The cots have been outgrown and with a bit of plywood they convert into a useful, if low, work surface!

Once cut to size and salted, the paper is sensitised with silver nitrate and then exposed under UV light before processing. I use an adapted face tanning machice as my UV light source. Processing the exposed print involves five separate chemistry baths and five water washes – that’s a lot of trays and containers to find room for!

During processing, a salt print changes colour and density quite dramatically and to make a reasonable assessment of exposure times a test strip or print needs to be fully processed through to at least a reasonably dry print. With a shortened final wash and the assistance of a hairdryer to dry it off, processing my test print took a couple of hours but I was rewarded with an exposure assessment of between three and five minutes depending on the density of the negative. Last time round I had been overexposing by a stop or more, leading to lost shadow detail.

By early afternoon I was ready to start printing in earnest. I prepared a project plan which would enable me to process prints at ten-minute intervals and keep a check on which print should be in which bath or wash. My first batch would be for six prints and then after a wee break, a final batch of four prints would take me well into the evening before finishing.

Each time I process one of these prints I discover something new or something changes, apparently inexplicably. The process is serendipitous and I actually quite like that. Reprinting the same set of negatives gives the opportunity for comparison, for re-examination of each stage in the process and for appreciation of the beauty in whatever is the outcome. Perhaps next time I’ll rescan the original film sheets and/or remake the digital negatives with tweaks to the colour screening.

Meanwhile, the task of cleaning up, putting away, and restoring the room to its original purpose awaits!

Author: Donald Tainsh

A lifelong explorer of photography

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