Cyanotypes are one of the oldest photographic processes dating from 1842 discovered by Sir John Herschel (that man invented a HUGE amount of things among which: sodium thiosulphate fixer (hypo), the actinometer, various moons of Saturn and Uranus etc.). He saw the process as a way of reproducing notes and the like. This is where the name ‘blueprints’ comes from and is still being used today for building/construction plans. Anna Atkins is the women who used this process as a form of photography making photograms of ferns and other plant life. She is regarded to be the first female photographer. Ever.
The light-sensitive chemistry in a cyanotype consist of equal parts potassium ferricyanide and ferric ammonium citrate solution. The cloth in this case, is then being immersed in this solution, squeezed and left to dry (in the dark of course ;-)). The cloth is then being exposed and ‘developed’ in water, rinsed, squeezed and dried. Not very insanely difficult like some other processes. The blue comes from the formation of ferric ferrocyanide, also known as Prussian Blue.
I never liked the blue colour of the cyanotype process, I still don’t. For nature and portraits the colour just feels unnatural to me. But, one can give the image a different colour by ‘toning’ the print in tea or wine. To me it tends to get more appealing that way. But when I arrived at the Picto meet last Sunday there were people laying on curtains outside in the sun, making a life size photogram cyanotype style. The results were awesome!
The man who prepared these large cloths, Claude Bouchez, had a couple left and asked me if I would like to try a sheet at home. Well, yes of course! So, I came home with 2 meters by 1 meter large curtain, prepared as a cyanotype for me to expose. Yesterday I did. I had the figure in mind differently than it came out but well, a first timer anyway!
Last Sunday we had our 3-monthly gathering of Picto Benelux and this time it was time for the wet plate collodion ambrotype process. Jeroen de Wijs and I prepared for a demo and Sunday morning Jeroen arrived at my place so we could drive together to Rixensart Belgium.
We decided to take my gear with us to do the demo and Jeroen prepared his “speech”, brought some lenses and examples of old original ambrotypes and ferrotypes. Bart wanted to drive so when Jeroen arrived we started packing everything into our car. Time to leave…NOT. The car refused to start (while it did half an hour ago..). So, loaded everything out of the car in to Jeroen’s car, not enough place for Bart so we left him behind, and finally took off to what turned out to be my worst demo ever 🙂
All photos are the courtesy of Stefan de Pauw.
Once arrived I started setting up the darkroom tent with help of others, filled up the silver tank etc. etc. The theoretical part went well but took quite a bit of time since everything had to be translated to French (Belgium). Not that that was a problem but the light diminished quite rapidly and by the time we were ready for the practical part of the demo it turned out to be quite a challenge.
The darkroom tent was inside with the temperature around 24 degrees (thanks Jacques, really 😉 ). I blew the dust of the plate, poured collodion on and placed it in the silver tank. So far so good. We anticipated to making the photo outside, it was pretty decent weather so that would work great. Once outside it was pretty damn cold, around 6 degrees. Positioned the attendees and got ready for the photo….guesstimated the exposure time around 15 seconds f4.
Went inside, got into the darkroom, pulled the plate out and developed…oops, that did not look very good…developed plate showing stains but no image… Oh well, let’s put it in the fixer bath. Black…and ow..I didn’t place the plate correctly on the holder so it fell into the tank.. Luckily Kal was handy enough to get it out for me (thanks), broke the plate (thought that was supposed to bring luck but I guess I should’ve shattered it into a million pieces) and I set up for a new one.
When we got outside the light was even less (of course) so we finally decided on an exposure time of 2 minutes. Not as many people gathered for the photo this time 😉
Two minutes were pretty long in the cold so everybody was glad to be able to go inside again, looking forward to seeing the result of trembling for two whole minutes. I got back into the darkroom, developed the plate and…not much on the plate again besides some very obvious peeling. Darn…got outside, placed it in the fixer (good this time) and wow, some faces turned up from the dark. But for the most part it remained just dark.
The show must go on so I dried the plate and prepared to varnish. Heated the plate, heated the varnish, poured it on the plate and… gone it was. This only happened to me once with the plate Quinn made from me. I blamed it on the difference in alcohol being used back then but this was all my chemistry, working fine just 2 weeks ago. And now it decided to eat up my plate. Oh well, showed everyone just how cumbersome this process can be, including me 😉
So..that was the end of that. I blame the peeling on the huge difference in temperature, about 18 degrees, the low UV light outside combined with the older collodion resulting in a lower-sensitivity which does not help in this case and resulted in too dark images. As far as the varnish is concerned..not sure. Will have to check it later to make sure it works again.
Last but not least: the self-made darkroom box by Rene Smet. Really pretty although it seems a bit tight for as a working space so have to keep the plates small I suppose but pretty nonetheless!
Enjoy my post about this failed demo and see you next time 🙂
Finally today was our second meeting at Picto Benelux in Rixensart (BE). The topic treated was (brom) oil printing. It started with a short theoretical introduction and was followed by multiple demonstrations by different people. Extremely interesting as it was my first intro in oil-printing. It was quite fascinating and definitely made my list of things I want to know more about.
The demonstration I followed the most was by Andre Devlaeminck and the following photos are of his work(ing). I’ll add a short description of the process (stolen from Wiki – too lazy to make up my own words now 😉 ) including differences between bromoil and oil printing.
“To explain the bromoil process, it is helpful to look at the oil print first. The prints are made on paper that has been coated with a thick gelatin layer and has been sensitized with dichromate salts. Exposure using a negative for contact-print leads to hardening of the dichromated gelatin, in direct relation of the amount of light received. After exposure, the print gets soaked in water. The non-hardened parts absorb more water than the hardened parts, so after sponge-drying the print, while still moist, one can apply a lithographic ink to the oil-base. The non-mixing character of oil and water results in a coloring of the exposed parts of the print, creating a positive image. The ink application requires considerable skill, and as a result no two prints are alike.
Bromoil prints are a direct variety of this process: One starts with a normally developed print on a silver bromide paper which is then chemically bleached and hardened. The gelatin which originally had the darkest tones, is hardened the most, the highlights remain absorbent to water. This print can then be inked like the oil print.”
The advantage of bromoil is that you can enlarge a negative using your regular enlarger as the paper has a normal sensitivity to light. The oil process requires you to contact-print a negative because you can’t use your enlarger for exposing your paper. It needs UV light to work, meaning you’ll have to create a negative the size you want your final product to be in. Unfortunately there are (hardly) any papers available (screw you digital world!) which you can properly use for the bromoil process. Thus reverting back to oil printing without the “brom” will be inevitable in the end.
I started a bit late with taking photographs as I was too busy watching so the images will start explaining things a bit further down the road. The papers have been prepped already, exposed, developed, bleached, rinsed and the inking has already started.
With normal household paper you can get rid of the excess water; you only want the swollen gelatine to be wet to repel the ink.
The inking starts when there is hardly anything visible on your paper due to the bleaching. You can however see the relief and then you kind of know the inking will have its effect. The parts where the gelatin has hardened due to exposure the ink will stay (dark parts) and the parts where the gelatin is soft it absorbs the water which on its turn will repel the ink (lighter parts), hereby forming the image.
The ink can be applied by a small roller and / or different brushes., the first being the least precise of the two. You can also start applying the ink with the roller and working the image with brushes. In my understanding you first make sure you create an even layer of ink on the paper, then making sure it gets into the emulsion and than you start working the image by creating the lighter parts and the darker ones. The more ink the darker and by tapping on the paper with a clean brush you can remove ink in order to create lighter parts.
When you think you stippled enough (and or the print is drying up which means the inking will no longer have effect) you have to soak the print again. This will wash of the excess ink on the soft gelatin parts cleaning up the light parts giving you a better understanding of the light parts in the image and where you would want to improve it further. After a minute or so get the print out and place it back on your working space, repeating the household paper session of course to get off the excess water. This has to be done in such careful manner as not to smear the ink all over the image and ruining it.
Anyway, I had a wonderful Sunday afternoon and I hope my post was not too messy, unclear and full of flaws. If so, let me know, I’ll adjust it asap as it’s important the information given is as accurate as possible. Again looking forward to the next Picto Benelux Meet!!
🙂 Indra 🙂