Info on the cameras and printing processes I work in

Over the last 10+ years I’ve been doing photography there has been a gradual change as to the methods I photograph the world around me. Starting in what seemed like a normal manner, 35mm shooting a bunch of color slide film, some black and white film. Occasionally getting prints made. With a slight dabble in digital photography.

Eventually moving onto large format photography with a 4×5 camera, then an 8×10 camera, then a 7×17 panoramic camera and not finally big groundglass of a 12×20 camera. These are large cameras, with large cumbersome sheets of film and film holders. The formats 12×20 and 7×17 were used in the early 1900s for photographing large groups of people, hence them being labeled as Banquet cameras. The formats are used almost exclusively in contact printing, meaning the negative and resulting print are of identical size (no enlargement). One of the key aspects of a contact print is the complete lack of grain, and when desired there is a complete sharpness through out the entire print. For comparisons sake, take for instance, a common 35mm negative (what most people are familiar with) is about 1.4 square inches in size. These negatives are commonly enlarged to 8×10 inches, now the area of a 12×20 negative is 240 square inches. Big difference and this is the reasoning for the complete lack of grain apparent in a contact print. Although all of this is pretty irrelevant, as the equipment I use is merely what works for me.

To follow suite with the gear-headedness rampant in the photo world…. I use what many would consider ancient equipment. I have shot with a various formats from 4×5 to 7×17 to 12×20 to more recently with an 8×10 camera as well as my “small” travel camera a medium format Hasselblad 500CM.

I have settled on printing in what were common printing processes from the early 1900s, late 1800s as well as working extensively in the Wet Plate Collodion process. In recent times these process have been labeled as Alternative Printing Processes.

Some info on the processes I work in:

Wet Plate Collodion

Also called a tintype/alumitype/ambrotype/etc. The most obvious example of a wet plate collodion photographer is Matthew Brady’s tintypes from the Civil War. This process involves coating a sheet of glass or blackened metal (a plate) with a collodion mixture. This coated plate is placed in a tray or vertical bath of silver nitrate and water. The plate becomes light sensitive at this point. After a few mins, the plate is removed from the silver nitrate and placed in a plate/film holder, loaded into the (large format) camera and the plate is exposed similar to shooting a negative. Exposures with wet plate are rather long. Some older collodion mixture I use has exposures in broad daylight of multiple minutes. Once exposed the plate needs to be developed/processed while the plate is still wet. If the sensitized collodion dries… ruined plate. It’s a very time consuming process, really prone to errors and imperfections as can be seen in most all modern practitioners (myself included). A wet plate collodion is actually a negative, however, when done on a piece of blackened metal or black glass, the negative becomes a positive due to light reflecting off the silver that makes up the negatives density. It’s a strange optical illusion, but extremely gorgeous. I’ve done a few plates on clear glass and then backed the glass with velvet or painted the back black to create the positive. This process has been my main photographic pursuit in the last several years.

Platinum/Palladium Prints

The platinum/palladium print (pt/pd) is commonly reffered to as one of the most respected and admired printing methods around. The process is one of the most archival in existence and usually limited only by the permanence of the paper itself. A platinum/palladium contact print is an exquisite process when done successfully, creating a wonderful tonal range and a resulting print that, in my opinion, is unable to be copied by any other means. The process uses 3 separate solutions, used in different proportions (depending on contrast needed) to create the emulsion liquid. Its then coated on the paper, dried, sandwiched with the negative, exposed to UV light, removed, processed in a developing solution, cleared in 3 successive baths of a weak EDTA solution and washed and dried and then mounted in many forms.

Gum Bichromate Prints

In addition to making straight platinum/palladium prints, I have been working in the process of combining layers of Gum Bichromate (or Dichromate) with my base platinum/palladium print. The Gum Bichrom process uses gum arabic, watercolor pigments, and ammonium dichromate to create an emulsion liquid that is coated onto paper and printed in the same method as a pt/pd print. The combination of gum bichromate and pt/pd creates an unlimited scale of color possibilities. The tone of a straight pt/pd print can be combined with a single layer or multiple layers of colored gum bichromate creating a seemingly endless range of tones. The prints are inherently still monochrome, but the difference is in the tone of that monochrome and the ability to add different colors to different ranges of the resulting print. Much like I was told when first learning this combination process, adding gum layers to an already successful pt/pd print can do nothing but enhance the success of the print. It is truly a gorgeous process, one that takes many hours of work and experimentation, but well worth the effort.