Alex Bond is one of the few photographers making black and white photos using traditional darkroom techniques. Each print is made on baryta based fibre based silver rich papers. There are only a few manufacturers of this paper left in the world. Alex uses Foma paper from Czechoslovakia.
Black and white photos made on silver gelatin fibre based photographic paper are the gold standard for print makers and collectors worldwide. The baryta base layer is white clay. This gives the print beautiful soft creamy whites in the high tones. The rich silver gives the middle and darker details great depth.
In this age of digital technology, what are hand crafted silver gelatin prints? Hand crafted prints are made by projecting images via an enlarger.
Exposure manipulation is done by hand. Because of this each print is potentially unique. Techniques such as burning in and dodging are performed. Unlike modern digital, several exposures are made on a single print. Sometimes special masks are made of cardboard or film to assist.
After exposure I develop each print individually in open trays in the darkroom. They must be developed, stopped and then fixed. Unlike modern plastic papers, traditional prints require more attention. Careful washing must follow. Each print is treated in hypo-clearing agent before receiving a final one hour wash.
Once dry the prints must be inspected. Some may require retouching using spot inks. Final prints are then toned in selenium to maximise their archival quality. This is followed by a final wash and drying.
Bull Creek tree ferns is an image I am yet to print. It was made in 1988 on a friend’s property at Bull Creek, in the Cradle Mountain Valley, Tasmania. We had spent a wet day hiking through myrtle forest and tree ferns on the slopes above Lake Cethana locating the old survey pegs.
In my backpack I had my wooden field camera, one lens (the only one I owned) and 6 sheets of film. The tripod I carried in hand was used more as a walking aid than for any photography. It was covered in dirt, mud and all manner of leaf litter, as I used it to support myself down steep slopes. I still have that tripod and it works fine, although these days I have opted for lighter ones.
During the day I used up my 6 sheets of film at various locations. Several images were made of Bull Creek in a deep valley where it runs through the property. Here the forest canopy was thick and light levels very low. Exposures ran to minutes even though I was using black and white film I had rated at 200 ASA.
Towards the end of our day the sun broke through briefly illuminating the forest and tree ferns with back light. I used my last 2 sheets of film making a vertical and horizontal format image of this scene. The image required additional exposure which it did receive, but did not receive reduced development, which it should. The exposure was several seconds, with a 90mm lens on a tripod. With split grade printing on multigrade (my preferred method), it should print up successfully into a 16×20 inch fibre based print.
At the time I made this image Bull Creek tree ferns, the property was pretty much in the back blocks, but now borders Lemonthyme Lodge.
Below I have listed four photographic print types using silver and chemistry as their basis. These include traditional silver gelatin fibre based prints, Polaroid prints, Type C colour prints and Cibachrome or Ilfochrome prints. There are many others, including a whole range of printing substrates available to digital printing. If you have a favourite printing process please leave a comment.
Traditional silver gelatin fibre based prints
Traditional silver gelatin fibre basedprints have a baryta base (made from a clay) that accentuates the perception of image depth, tone and luminosity compared to today’s commonly used plastic coated papers. In recognition of this standard, manufacturers of inkjet material are now trying to mimic this richness of tone in silver containing prints by developing “traditional” inkjet substrates.
Fibre based prints have been in existence long enough to have a proven track record of image stability.
You can read more about what is involved in a typical printing session here.
Polaroid prints once came in a range of sizes and types, from the small SX-70 style instant colour prints up to a massive 20×24 inches. Polaroid sheet film, like the one pictured here, was exposed and processed in Polaroid’s own film holder. The holder was mounted on the rear of the camera, the film exposed and then the holder and film removed. The exposed film/print sandwich was then pulled through rollers within the film holder, breaking gel pods containing the chemistry to instantly develop the negative and positive. After about 30 to 60 seconds the sandwich was peeled apart, revealing a Polaroid print on one half and the negative on the other. Sx-70 style films were ejected directly from the camera immediately after exposure and developed before your eyes. Polaroid prints could be colour or black and white. Not all Polaroid processes yielded a usable negative, so each print was unique.
The 4x5in print above of Dune Cabbage was made with Polaroid Type 55 positive/negative film. With Polaroid Type 55 4×5 film, each exposure yielded a positive 4×5 Polaroid print and a 4×5 negative that could be used in an enlarger for printing.
C-Type Digital Prints
C-Type prints are regular colour prints made on photographic paper, they make up the majority of photographic prints people have made at the local mini labs or at professional laboratories from colour negatives and digital files.
The “C” stands for chromogenic, the nomenclature that Kodak used back around the 1940s. Today’s C-Types are usually produced by digital printers using laser light, such as Durst Lambda or Lightjet printers. Photographic papers must be handled in total darkness and only exposed to image forming light. The paper is then processed in RA4 photographic colour chemistry. This is very different to inkjet printers which spray inks or pigments directly onto the surface of non light sensitive paper or canvas under daylight conditions.
R-Type and Ilfochrome Cibachrome Prints
Before the advent of digital printing, colour prints made from colour slides, also referred to as reversal or transparencies films, required a different process to colour negatives. Kodak, and others, produced positive to positive photographic papers for creating prints from reversal films. These were referred to as R-Type prints, the “R” for reversal, and used R-3 chemistry.
Ilford Cibachrome paper was another popular way of making colour prints from reversal films, with one of the most stable colour processes. This was a positive to positive process, the colour layers being already present in the paper, rather than in the chemistry process. The image was formed by a dye destruction chromolytic process using a bleaching step in P3 chemistry. Cibachrome became Ilfochrome in the 1990’s. In 2011, Ilford announced it would nolonger continue Ilfochrome production.
The dust jacket of the book Gone Bush, edited by Roger McDonald, describes the Australian landscape as diverse. The writers’ essays in response to this landscape “explores a country defined by ideas of naming and possession”. In the next sentence if further elaborates that the collection of short stories by twelve Australian authors also “… illustrates the fragility of an environment sometimes easier to hate than love….”.
The bush is a commonly used name for that area of relatively nondescript land covered in shrubs and vegetation. You can find remnants within the suburbs or it can also be a remote place far from any settlement. Unlike its fancier sister, Nation Parks, with her well defined borders, the bush is invisible on maps. Nor is it considered to hold any particular attractive natural feature or other value.
It is this invisibility and its relationship to the idea of naming and possession and therefore our perception of it that intrigues me. When further coloured with a love-hate sentiment it possibly flies under the radar of public scrutiny and enters the murky jurisdiction of bureaucrats. The area of land affected must be enormous. In European culture, maybe our problem is that we don’t have a name for this land. Not only does the nameless remain unspeakable, by definition it can be of no value and so it remains invisible to our psyches.
Ferns Polaroid Type 55 positive negative film. Polaroid is quite a remarkable photographic medium. Quite apart from the instantaneous imaging it could provide, the prints themselves are quite unique in their characteristics. Polaroid introduced the Type 55 P/N film back in 1961. It produces both a positive print as well as a black and white negative which could be enlarged.
This image was made in my parents’ home garden one summer. I had just purchased a Polaroid 545 film back for my wooden field camera and I was eager to try out some 4×5 Polaroid film. My only previous experience of 4×5 sheet Polaroid was as a student at Curtin University in the 80s doing a photography unit elective as part of my science degree. Watching 4×5 polaroid develop in just a few seconds was magical stuff, was also expensive and was why the tutor used it sparingly.
Alas, Polaroid Type 55 positive negative film is no longer made. It was rated around 50 ISO on the box which, in my eagerness, is what I exposed the image above at. Great for a well exposed print, big mistake for a negative if you want to print from it. In Ansel Adam’s Polaroid Land Photography, 1978, it states that there is more than one stop difference between the effective negative and positive print speeds. Their tests gave an effective print speed of 64 ISO and a negative speed of 20 ISO (page 288). This speed difference would in some way explain my difficulty in matching the polaroid print (in this instance) with an enlargement on fibre based from the polaroid negative. Indeed the polaroid negative is visually thin and would indicate underexposure.
Today I was printing from the Polaroid negative for the first time, using the Polaroid print as a reference. Try as I may, I could not achieve the same degree of tonal separation between the fern edges and the dark shadows. Yet the Polaroid print itself captures it beautifully. I have not given up though, I might have another try in the darkroom after a bit of thinking about it.
The Impossible Project (https://www.the-impossible-project.com/) are still manufacturing instant films in some formats.
Photo Canning River Kent St Weir Perth. Printed this morning in my darkroom, I made this image last weekend just after some recent rain. It was rather impromptu in one sense. I had been out earlier walking the dog, minus my camera, and noticed that in the late afternoon the weather had abated and everything was becoming wonderfully still. When I returned home I grabbed by 2 1/4 square camera and went back to the river in the fading winter light.
This image is of the Kent Street Weir, using my Bronica SQA and 105mm lens. Exposure time was 8 seconds at about f16. Film was TMax 400 developed with LC29, with slightly less than normal development. Scan is from a 7.5 x7.5 inch Foma RC print.
Looking Glass Magazine – Tales from the lens -Batteries Not Included. I am delighted to have several images and a short essay published in this month’s Looking Glass Magazine. That two of those images were made literally down the street from where I live in suburban Perth is even more satisfying!
Looking Glass Magazine is published in the US by Laura Campbell and is available for a small subscription. It has featured works by international photographers Paul Caponigro, Alan Ross, Ansel Adams, to name a few. If you are serious about the possibilities of new ways of seeing, then you need to view the images of serious workers. You can get further details off the Looking Glass website or facebook links.
Magazine front cover of Seal by David Roberts. Issue #8, Aug/Sept, 2015: George Tice, Kimberly Anderson, David Roberts, Gary Nylander, Chris Faust, Alex Bond, Gordon Undy, Scott Stillman
Laundry shed, Margaret River. I didn’t set out to deliberately make this image. Call it exploration or perhaps just a happy accident. I had my medium format camera set up on a tripod outside my late grandparents’ farm house looking out across the paddock. For whatever reason, I abandoned my initial plan and turned the camera 180 degrees back onto the shed behind me. The sun was hitting the north face, with some of the aged grey weatherboard almost reflecting specular light. In stark contrast the other side of the shed was in deep shadow. Only the sunlit heads of dried grass swaying gently in the breeze created a bridge between the two opposing tones. The portrait lens on the camera allowed for a tightly composed image. It accentuated the visual tension created by the weatherboard’s converging perspective culminating at the shed’s corner. That corner also delineates the image between sunlight and shadow. There is further tension within the image created by the vertical planks of the doors which run at right angles to the wall planks. Across the composition there is a repetition of rectangular shapes and opposing tones. The image oscillates between a perceptible three dimensional perspective realised by the shed’s corner, to an image reduced into two dimensions by its columns of tone and shapes. In the original 11×14 inch silver gelatin print, the three dark windows above the barn door hold good shadow detail allowing some internal window frame to be seen.
This image of my late grandparents’ laundry shed, Margaret River was made with a Bronica ETRS and printed on Foma fibre based 11×14 inch silver gelatin paper. I find the composition pleasing for its underlying visual tension, repetition of shapes, opposing perspectives and tonalities.
I have just reposted a collection of about 40 contemporary Canning River photographs in a 50 page publication. The photographs were made around the Kent Street Weir within Perth’s Canning River Regional Park.
During 2011, I used my old Yashica 124G twin lens film camera to make daily images of the parkland. Sometimes I went back to a location with my large format film camera. My medium of choice was black and white film, preferring to avoid colour. This allowed me greater freedom without the distraction that colour introduces with its potential for idealising or embellishing. The area photographed spanned about 2 km of river. To this day I continue to make images of the parkland and river, as part of an ongoing project in recording its environment.
I often make my more personally satisfying images when I am alone. It’s not that I don’t photograph when in company, it is just easier to immerse myself more fully with my subject when alone. When I am in company there is always an imperative or priority which more often than not tends to prevent me from connecting more fully with what I am seeing.
I seek quietness, stillness. My eyes are constantly scanning, yet at this early stage I may not be conscious of looking at any one particular thing. Suddenly I am conscious of something catching my attention, my eyes returning to it over and and over, reading tones, shapes, textures and colours. How the object would look in black and white, or would be better in photographed in colour? My attention now focussed I consider my potential subject more carefully.
There may be technical problems, my eyes and brain see more than what film and camera is capable of recording. Is this worth a photograph? Can I resolve the technical problem or should I reject the idea of a photograph?
I look away, turn around, and there just a few feet away below the trunk of a swamp sheoak is the soft glow of a tendril like branch. It is the delicate shape of a broken paperbark resting upon a carpet of sheoak branchlets. I shift my camera and tripod, focus, insert the film holder and make the exposure. In a few days this branch will disappear underwater. The samphire wetlands around the Canning River will fill with winter rain.
Canning River Perth oxygenation trail. Tryptich made of three 8×10 inch hand printed silver gelatin fibre based prints. Matted and window mounted using 100% cotton rag museum board. Framed in 100x40cm aluminium – colour graphite.
Each image is from a three sequential 35mm frames, made down stream from the oxygenation tank at Greenfield Street.
Made during conditions when the wind is relatively calm and the river flow rate is slow. The oxygenation process creates bubbles which form a thin white foam on the surface of the water, creating fascinating patterns.
First published in “Lost in Suburbia” in 2013. This is the only images in my Canning River exhibition “Dissociation” which were made from 35mm format.
I go for long walks in the bush or along the coast with my wooden field camera, a few sheets of film, a tripod and sometimes a tent and food. I like to take my time to absorb the environment, to rediscover and to reconnect. My direct involvement with the materials and techniques for making an expressive photographic print is of importance to me. I continue to develop my own films and hand print all my black and white silver gelatin prints in my darkroom. read more