Monday, April 18, 2016

Experiment In New Method For Intensification Of Wet Plate Collodion Negatives

  Recently I started being more and more interested in making traditional prints from wet plate collodion negatives using such processes as albumen, carbon, salt and others.  All of these techniques have different response as far as contrast and they all require negatives with slightly (or sometimes drastically) different density range.  Carbon and albumen in particular though call for a very dense negatives and sometimes it's not easy to achieve that with simply more exposure and slower development. 

  Traditionally two methods were used in order to up the range of a wet plate collodion negative after development: redevelopment and intensification.  Redevelopment is much more gradual of a process and, if done multiple times, allows the photographer to build the density to a desired degree with a lot higher amount of precision.  It is done in two steps - re-excitement of silver with iodine and then building density via pyrogallol-based developer with some added silver in it.  If one wants to repeat that step they are welcome to do so.  I have witnessed someone doing it over and over and over and over again and their resulting negative was beyond the printable range of any process known to mankind.  Even if one doesn't go overboard, redevelopment can take considerable amount of time.  Intensification, done in a traditional manner, consists of bleaching the negative with copper sulfate and potassium bromide and then bathing the negative in a weak solution of silver nitrate and nitric acid.  Intensification is quicker than redevelopment, but it's still a two-bath process and I wanted to find a one-bath method that would be easier to perform on location and would require only one extra bottle of chemistry.

  I would like to right off the bat say that I am fully aware of the following factors that I am not taking in account with the experiment described below.  First off, there are several methods of working with thinner negatives to increase contrast in the final print - masking negative, printing them with various intensities of light and so on.  So in theory it is possible to achieve a good print with negatives which have not been reworked after initial development.  In my case though I just wanted a quick way to up the contrast of a negative to be able to make albumen or carbon prints without masking, retouching, printing longer in the shade or reworking the negative with traditional chemistry.  I also know that the albumen print shown below is very far from being perfectly coated - all I really cared about while making this test was that the center of the print is even and can show the difference I was after and I think I achieved that.  One more note - the negative I made was nowhere near as dense to begin with as it could have been given proper exposure and development.  Still though, what I was after was the difference possible - doesn't matter than the neg is a bit thin, all I'm showing is what is possible with any given negative.  If it was more beefy to begin with well then intensification would have made it denser to the same degree.

  OK, with that brief disclosure out of the way I can go on telling you about my experiment.  In the past, when first starting to make negatives, I used a certain chemical to intensify my negatives that I did not want to disclose to the world because it has been discontinued by Kodak over a decade ago and I didn't want to drive up the prices on those meager leftovers that may remain in darkrooms yet to be discovered.  However, after being asked repeatedly what I was using I decided to experiment further with another idea that occurred to me before.  I thought to myself - why wouldn't a regular silver oxidizer work for this?  It would make the silver black and also essentially add to the size of the molecules by adding oxygen to them...  So here's that I did.

  I went to a local jewelry supply shop and picked up a small bottle of Griffith Silver-Black.  A solution used to add patina in various degrees to silver and other metals.  This 1oz bottle set me back a whole $4.97 after taxes!  Oh, and it's way cheaper if bought in larger quantities.

  When I got back to the darkroom I made a quick negative on a piece of glass that I scored in two places so it's easy to split later.  Exposure was 2 sec at f16 in late afternoon sun.  I probably should have actually given it 1sec only, because after 1.5min of development I saw that the shadows are starting to have too much tone and stopped development.  If I would have given it 1sec exposure I could have carried development to the usual 3min and then the negative would be really nice and dense.  No matter though - as long as I had an even negative to start with it doesn't matter what tonality it was.  

  After fixing in 20% hypo I split the negative in three.  Left side was to be the control, middle on was intensified with Griffith Silver-Black and the right side was intensified with my 'secret-sauce' toner.  I then dried my little negative thirds and printed them in direct sunlight on (yes, rather poorly-coated) albumen paper.  I think results speak for themselves.

Negative after fixing and two types of intensification

On a light table - left side is straight, center is intensified 
with Silver-Black, right side intensified with 'secret-sauce'

Three parts being printed with albumen
Left becomes right due to having to flip it emulsion-down

Final albumen print - it's quite a bit brighter in the highlights in real life,
I mean the edges are pure white, so let that be your guide

  A few cautions and notes on possibilities.  Griffith Silver-Black is TOXIC - says it right on the bottle.  Use regular caution that you should exercise anyway with chemistry - good ventilation, gloves, handle with care, etc.  Griffith Silver-Black is supposedly capable of gradually oxidizing silver to various shades desired in jewelry.  When I use my 'secret-sauce' I use it in super-diluted form (like 10 drops to 100ml of water or even less).  When I went to do the same (actually started with 30 drops per 100ml) with Silver-Black I didn't notice any change after a minute or so, became impatient and just poured some of it undiluted (from a dropper) onto the negative - the negative turned black immediately!  There's no reason I see why in theory a well-washed negative could not be taken to various degrees of intensification by using Silver-Black in a diluted form.  Another little note - with my 'secret-sauce' intensified negative seems to have a cooler bluish look to it, while Silver-Black is very neutral black or maybe even slightly on the warm side, which should facilitate higher printing contrast because of UV-blocking properties of warmer color.  However as you can see in the last picture above if there is a difference it's absolutely minimal.  What is indeed evident in that last picture that a negative that would be way too thin for normal albumen printing could be made to work very well with a simple one-bath intensification using silver oxidizer such as Silver-Black by Griffith.  

  Oh, and let me say that I have no real experience or knowledge in the particular archival qualities of the final negative.  It does seem to me though, that once silver is oxidized there's nothing else that can happen to it...  I mean it's black already, so I assume that after a good thorough wash (and maybe even varnish to protect it from scratching during printing) it should be good for as long as your grandma's blackened silver bracelet....

Griffith Silver-Black - Says POISON right on it, so treat with respect
You can see how much I used out of that 1oz bottle - barely any

  Well, I hope this has been a helpful read for those of you who wish to skip the endless redevelopment cycles and get a nice printable negative with a single, affordable solution obtainable over the counter or on good old eBay.

Anton Orlov

Monday, April 4, 2016

Kodak 3A 122 Film Camera Sees First Use After 50-100 Years

  It's not every day that I don't get to use a camera that probably hasn't seen film in in for many many decades, so I think this deserves a quick post.

  A few years ago I was in Duluth Minnesota and happened to acquire a few Kodak 3A cameras from an estate of a collector who has recently passed away.  There were 5 of them and all but one were in great shape.  Too bad, I thought to myself, that I will probably never get to use these babies since 122 size film has not been made since well before I was born.  Recently I have seen some people use them to make tintypes, since you can literally put a plate right where the film used to go and you would have a 3.25x5.5in image without the need to for a larger camera.  I thought about doing the same, but then felt bad as silver nitrate would surely corrode all the metal and bellows beyond repair.   So I forgot about the stash of 3As in my closet until last week, when lo and behold someone on Facebook agreed to sell me 12 rolls of 122 film at a price I could not resist.   So today was the day for the first roll to be burned and here is the prettiest of the 3As ready to be loaded.

  Kodak 3A cameras were produced between 1903 and 1915, so we can be sure that this one is over 100 years old by now.  The reason I chose this one is because of the beautiful Volute shutter on it - those were an upgrade to the basic model and sold for quite a lot back then.  The lens is a B&L Tessar f6.3.  My choice of the prettiest shutter rather than the most reliable (ball-bearing) one might have turned out to be more vain than practical, but more about that a little later.
  122 size film was produced from 1903 until 1970.  Somewhere online I saw information that it was made until 1972, but that seems to contradict the writing on the seal that I found inside the package.  The film expired in December 1972 (the latest date in the batch I bought is summer 1973) and this is how the seal looked.

  I highly doubt Kodak would for some reason extend their date of discontinuation, so I think maybe the folks who thought it was made until 1972 went by the expiration date...  

  A couple of days ago I thought about this - if I shoot this, how in the word would I develop film of this format since I don't have a spool for it?...  Well, I dug around online and found a simple solution pictured below.  Actually the guy who's entry I found made it a bit more complicated than my solution.  His method is probably a bit more sturdy, but mine worked just as well and with minimal effort.
  What I did was this.  I took a double 35mm Patterson plastic developing tank (which somehow survived in my darkroom despite the fact that I loath those tanks and always use steel ones for my film) with two adjustable reels.  Both reels were pulled apart.  When that is done you end up with one half of the reel that fits nicely onto the central shaft and another one that has too big of an internal diameter.   That's where the second spool came in handy - the skinnier half of that one was inserted into the wider one from the first set.  In order to make them fit into the tank I had to break off those little flaps onto which the film is laid while loading.  A happy surprise occurred when I took a 122 film spool to measure how far apart the reel halves would have to be - one of those notches on the central shaft made the top 'reel sandwich' stop at just the right spot for the width of 122 film!   And so here it is - my simple solution for developing 122 film in a regular Patterson tank.

   I won't claim that the film went on there willingly...  After 48-49 years of being tightly wound on a spool it was rather resistant to cooperation and it took a bit of cajoling and convincing.  After a brief struggle it did oblige.

  I exposed this 125ISO film giving it about 1 stop more light than would be called for with fresh film.  There's not too much to shoot around San Diego - lots of suburbia, beach (mostly less than picturesque), freeway, back alleys...  And anyway I didn't want to try to find something extraordinary to shoot because I really didn't know how it would turn out.  Development was normal for Verishrome - HC110, 68°F at 4.25min.  I was very happy to see that I had something on there when I pulled the film from the fixer.

  Unfortunately, when I went to hang it up to dry after a wash, I saw that the negatives were rather thin.  I'm not sure why this happened. Development was obviously correct judging from the density of frame numbers and arrows that were pre-flashed there by Kodak.  So my thinking is that the shutter was running a bit fast.  Another theory would be that the film lost some sensitivity during decades of storage, but I'm less likely to believe that - I have shot Verichrome film dating back to the 60s with my Rolleiflex and have always gotten good negatives (although the amount of base fog varied according to age and conditions it was stored in).  So, I think for the next roll of film I expose I'll chose another 3A.  I will also make it a point to stop by our local camera repair shop and have them test the speeds on all of the shutters.  They can give me a simple table of how those shutters behave at any given speed and also see if they behave consistently.  Either way - there are the two shots I could pull out out of the 6 exposures possible.  Printed using filter grade 5!   Yeah, they're thin....  Nothing spectacular, but relatively exciting nonetheless seeing how it's likely that this camera has not been used in close to 100 years and knowing that the film was probably made in the year of Woodstock Music Festival!

  Oh, another quick note - the film dried a lot curlier than usual and so it's a good thing I have a 4x5 glass negative carrier.  

  I know what you're going to say - those negatives are 5.5in long and so there's cropping involved!  Well, first off this was just a test and I really didn't feel like firing up my 8x10 enlarger for these rather sorry-looking negatives.  Secondly, when I do figure out exactly which of my cameras gives me best possible results and have some decent negatives I will actually print them the way they were meant to be printed - as contact prints on AZO paper.

  Thanks for reading this or at least skimming through the pictures!
Anton Orlov