A fitting tribute

Having been inspired to and informed about salt printing by workshops at Stills, it seemed fitting that one of my salt prints should be auctioned to raise funds for Stills.

Over the spring and summer, one of my projects was to prepare a set of salt prints to be displayed as part of an Edinburgh LoFi group exhibition that was scheduled to take place during September. Unfortunately, at the last moment the exhibition was cancelled due to emergency building works necessitating closure of the venue.

News of the exhibition being cancelled coincided with an appeal from Stills for print donations to a fundraising auction in aid of the work they do to support photography in Scotland. Established in 1977, Stills was the first dedicated photography centre in Scotland and remains the only space dedicated to photography in Edinburgh. The gallery, darkrooms, editing suites and workshops have played some part in my own photographic journey and so it seemed appropriate to submit one of my exhibition prints to the auction.

But there was a snag. The auction I would be submitting to was to be an anonymous online one requiring that prints should be 10×8, unmounted and unsigned. My exhibition prints were 10×8 but were signed, mounted and framed. As such, they were ineligible!

After some thought, I realised I had a set of work prints from my penultimate printing session. Some of these were not what I was aiming for but there were a couple which I had considered using as final prints. I picked the best one, signed it on the back below my pencilled process notes and handed it in to Stills.

In due course I received an email accepting the print. The auction, for a total of eighty four anonymously donated prints would go live at the beginning of October, culminating in an exhibition of the prints in Stills Gallery from 18th until the afternoon of 20th October when the online auction would close.

In the evening of 20th October a live auction was held of prints donated by named artists well known in Scotland and beyond, many of whom have had exhibitions within Stills. Some of the reserve prices in the catalogue were eyewatering! I went along after work to experience the live auction, have a look at the exhibition of online auction prints and to find out if mine had sold.

I never scanned or photographed the print that was auctioned but I do have photographs of the set of mounted exhibition prints. Here they are. The print submitted to the auction was the work print for ‘Sinuous Attachment’, second in the set.

Of the eighty four anonymously donated prints, ten were unsold, most sold for prices between £20 and £100 and just two sold for more. The top price was £160. I was astounded to learn that my salt print raised the second top price of £120. I know and respect many of my fellow anonymous print donors. Although this was in no way a competition, to be judged by public auction has been a surprising, humbling, and ultimately encouraging experience.

Between them, the online and live auctions have raised much needed thousands of pounds for Stills at a time when arts funding is tight. I’m pleased to have made a small contribution. Stills introduced me to salt printing through one workshop and gave me the knowledge to develop my own process though another so it seems fitting that the print I donated was the product of that involvement.

Shoebox pincam: Problem analysis and resolution

My shoebox pincam wasn’t performing as expected. I couldn’t rest until I had it sorted.

The problem

The shoebox pincam has been more difficult to master than I had anticipated. In my previous blog post I recorded the design and construction, followed by a test exposure which I estimated to be a little over exposed. This was followed by an exposure that I expected to be good, taken on an outing to a tidal island and for which the pincam had been planned. That second exposure was uselessly overexposed and after some consideration I put the reason down to my error in metering the scene. Yet I’ve been unable to settle comfortably with that conclusion and so I set out this last weekend to have another go with the camera.

To recap: the camera has a constant radius curved image plane to be loaded with four (originally five) 5×4 sheets of direct positive paper taped together to make a 5×16 (originally 5×20) image. After the first two exposures I realised that the angle of view did not extend to a full 180º, but only to about 145º. By adjusting the support for the paper to accommodate only four sheets not only did I save a sheet but I avoided an ugly vignette at either end of the image.

For my testing on Saturday, I returned to the same riverside location that I had used for the original test. Conditions were much as they had been before and I made a similar exposure. When the image was developed I was surprised to find that each of the sheets making up the image were differently exposed/fogged. On the one hand I was puzzled by this while on the other I was relieved that the problem was clearly not one of my metering of the scene as each sheet had received the same exposure!

Assuming a light leak, I made some alterations to the light baffling on the lid of the shoebox, reloaded and returned again. This time all four of the sheets were clearly fogged, but not to the same degree. On one of the sheets there was even a clear difference in the pattern of fogging across it. It was enough to make me suspect either my safelight or (less likely) that the box of paper was bad.

Sunday was a dull, wet day but I have a pincam made from foamcore that is completely covered in gaffer tape rendering it effectively rainproof. I decided to make two exposures with it, one on paper loaded in the total darkness of a changing bag and the other on paper handled as it would have been for the shoebox pincam under the regular safelight in my darkroom. The results convinced me without any doubt that the paper was being fogged by proximity to and time under the safelight.

Towards the end of the afternoon the rain eased and the sky began to clear. By that time I had devised a support-cum-guide to speed up the process of lining up and taping together the individual sheets of paper. I had also relocated the safelight so that I would be working in its shadow and further away from it. With about two hours of daylight left and I decided to head out again for the riverbank. I had no expectation of there being enough light to make a full exposure but actually a couple of stops underexposure would better show up any fogging.


First test image

First testMy darkroom is a temporary setup in a shower room. The walls are matte white and the work surface glossy white. For a safelight when taping together and loading these sheets I had used an old bicycle rear light which gives off a weak red glow, set on the work surface.

Had it not been for what I now recognise as fogging in the right-most sheet, I would have said this image is just overexposed a little with perhaps a light leak from somewhere. However with hindsight I realise that the rightmost sheet was exposed longest to the safelight and closest to it. The light edge to the  left-most sheet should also have alerted me to fogging as the cause.

Second image (not originally intended as a test!)

IMG_5922Again, I should have realised this was fogged rather than overexposed. The vignetting at either end is clear and with direct positive paper any unexposed portion should be black.

When loading these sheets I had set up my regular deep red safelight, positioned on a hook about 1.2 metres above the work surface. Taping each of the five sheets together takes some time and I was doing so with the paper face down on the glossy white surface. Under the red glow it was difficult to see where the edges butted together to place the tape. I took all five sheets from the box at the same time so all were exposed to the safelight for the same length of time, probably three or four minutes.

Third test image

IMG_5923These sheets were loaded under the regular darkroom safelight as before but this time removed from the box one at a time, as needed, and kept face down on the work surface as much as possible. I had to reposition the tape on the third sheet and it probably had more direct exposure to the safelight as a result. The light edges all around each sheet suggest that fogging was occuring from light reflected off the work surface.

Fourth test image

IMG_5924This was loaded much the same as for the previous image. At this stage I was looking to the camera construction as the source of the fogging and had reworked some of the light-baffling and sealing on the camera. I was becoming more proficient at taping the sheets together which I think has led to more consistency in my handling of the paper and the subsequent degree of fogging.

Fogging test and resolution


This is the test pincam in the rain (left) and the two images which clearly show the difference between the paper being loaded entirely in darkness (centre) and having been handled under and exposed to for a couple of minutes, the darkroom safelight (right).

To resolve the fogging problem I moved the safelight to a different hook so that it would be further away from the work surface and in such a position that I would be working with the paper in my shadow. IMG_5920

I also made from black foamcore and mountboard, a support and guide that would both prevent surface reflections affecting the emulsion side of the paper and assist lining up and taping of the sheets. A second piece of mountboard was used to cover each sheet as the taping progressed, thus minimising and equalising the exposure each sheet received from the safelight.

Final test

IMG_5931Although this is almost completely black due to underexposure by two to three stops, the black is actually quite a joy to see. Had the paper been fogged while being loaded, that black would at best have been a lighter shade of grey. There is no suggestion of fogging around the edges of each sheet and consistency of exposure across the entire image is clear.

Conclusion … and a final thought

It has taken an entire box of Direct Positive Paper to reach but I reckon I can safely and comfortably conclude that the problem has been fogging due to overexposure to the safelight. I can also conclude that a resolution has been found.

One final thought: I’ve been using Harman Direct Positive Paper for almost four years. Why have I not noticed this before? The answer is that without realising it, there have been times that I have! Mostly I load single sheets directly from packaging to camera or film holder, often in a changing bag, and there has been no problem. However there have been times when paper has to be cut to size. Often, cutting a single sheet does not expose it sufficiently to be fogged but if I’ve been cutting a batch I’ll have had a growing pile of paper sitting in the light. Those are the cut sheets that didn’t produce the same contrasty ‘punch’ that I expect and love about this paper. Lesson learned!

All that remains will be for me to make a few good exposures in the weeks ahead. And they will have to be good as I have only one box of paper left. There’s no room for error either as I’ve discovered that it is currently unavailable from Harman and out of stock wherever I’ve looked!