Traditional Silver Gelatin Fibre Based Prints are made by hand and involves the use of traditional darkroom, light sensitive materials and chemistry.
In a darkroom you project an image onto photographic paper, much like you would project an image onto a wall with a slide projector. When making black and white prints the photographer can work under a red or amber safelight which the paper has reduced sensitivity to, hence the red in the darkroom images. A more detailed explanation follows.
Making Traditional Silver Gelatin fibre based prints
Silver gelatin prints I make are made on Czechoslovakian silver gelatin fibre based photographic paper. There are only a few remaining manufacturers of this silver rich paper remain worldwide. The technical benefits of fibre based baryta paper is greater detail and definition, extended tonal range and excellent archival properties. It is the standard for fine art photographers worldwide.
All prints begin with a black and white film negative. The negative image is projected via a light source and focused with a lens onto the photographic paper under darkroom conditions. Controlling of image detail and contrast within the print employs tradition techniques of holding back exposure in some parts of the print while giving additional exposure to other parts. This is all done by hand placing objects into the light path of the projected image to affect a change.
After exposure and still under darkroom safelight the paper is placed in a developing tray where the silver image develops. The paper is then transferred to another tray of stop bath, to arrest development, then a third tray to fix the print by dissolving away the remaining light sensitive parts of the print. It is then washed in water where it can be inspected under normal room light.
After the initial wash the print is treated in a solution to help remove any residual fixer within the paper fibre, then washed for a further 2 hours. When the wash is completed the print is air dried face down on plastic screen mesh.
The final stage improves archival permanence. The print is toned in selenium, then rewashed and dried again before dry mounting onto 100% cotton rag museum boards. The photograph’s title and signature is penciled under the print on the front, the rear of the board is stamped, signed and includes the negative number and the date the print was made. The museum board and print is then placed behind a window mount and glass within an aluminium frame.
The entire process to complete one print can take several days.
My direct involvement with the materials and technique for making an expressive photographic print is of importance to me, so I continue to develop my own films and hand print all my black and white silver gelatin prints in my darkroom.