Thursday, July 31, 2008


Today I took the salted albumen out of the fridge. There was still a lot of quite stiff foam on top but a lot of pale yellow liquid had settled out below. I scooped off the foam and filtered the liquid though some muslin into a pyrex jug. I was surprised how liquid it was I had expected it to be quite viscous bearing in mind it started out as egg whites but it was a free flowing mobile fluid. The yield from this was 400ml ie I lost 100ml in the clarification process.

I had been looking in the supermarkets for a flat glass dish to use for the coating process without success. Ideally it needs to be just a bit bigger than the paper ie about A4 and must not be metal and should be quite shallow. A dev tray might work but the ridges in the bottom would waste a lot of liquid.

The quest is now over the answer was here all along in the form of a plastic sandwich tray its just over 1cm deep and A4 width and just a little longer.

I will photograph the coating process and report back.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Large Format Photography Forum

It has been remiss of me not to mention UKLF before. A little over a year ago I was tramping over Malham Cove carrying my 5x4 plus the Blad for snapshots ( I must learn to pack lighter) when I met another photographer and got talking. He introduced me to the group and I have lurked and occasionally posted since then.

Anyway one of the members has pointed me in the direction of Jason Russell in the States who is a LF and Albumen man. His website looks interesting and I will be looking into it more and also the Contact Printers Guild which I had heard of but forgotten.

Preliminary results

We woke up to no electricity again! Seems last nights storm took out the supply and we didn't get power back till mid afternoon. Anyway I spent a bit of time cleaning and labeling dark slides so that I can start a proper record and then I loaded 18 sheets and made proper notes of which slides are loaded etc. It will never last.

Anyway last night efforts are dry and I have scanned them. I did this in colour as though they were trannies so that you can see the colour of the stain. It is not so pronounced as with my previous brew.

Lightroom is all very well but it lacks 2 things a film worker would like. Flipping for when as in this case the neg was upside down and neg/pos reversal. I have an home brewed preset to do the neg/pos but it then gives limited further adjustment but you can get an idea of what its like. In the scan it looks like the highlights have gone but I don't think that is the case. The neg looks to me as though it could stand a bit more development. The highlights are not fully black and some of the shadows are a bit thin. The scanner tries to correct this a bit so the neg looks a little different on a light box.

The last thing I found out was that my "new" 90mm lens can photograph the end of the base board. Must look at the ground glass more carefully.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Fresh on the Market

This is one of those ideas that seemed better at the time. Preston City Council has a gallery PAD and linked to that gallery is an Art market held once a month and it seemed a good way to get to speak to the public, show some work and sell a few photos - but...

Together with Jane and Pat I took a stall. We had been promised a Farmers Market to bring in the punters but when we set up at an ungodly hour on Sunday morning it wasn't there.

There were 2 other hopeful photographers and about 12 stalls in all. For the first few hours it was nice to talk to the other stall holders and the other photogs but it would have been even better if there had been some customers.

We went with low expectations but failed to meet them.

Breaking Eggs

Some time ago I visited the Bluecoats bookshop in Liverpool. I don't know if its moved now that the Bluecoats Centre has opened but it is worth a trip any time you are in Liverpool and the shop lies nicely between the Tate and Open Eye galleries. Anyway among all the remaindered and secondhand photography books was " Historic Photographic Processes - A Guide to Creating Handmade Photographic Images by Richard Farber" so I bought it. I have no idea if its still in print. The idea of albumen came following my visit to the Walker Art Gallery again in Liverpool and after a lot of Googling I fell back on Richard's book. His recipe for albumen seems to be classic but has one drawback it uses glacial acetic acid which is a bit dodgy and pretty hard to come by. However the recipe then dilutes 1ml of glacial acetic with 15ml distiled water ie a 6% solution which just happens to be white spirit pickling vinegar. I have made the substition now lets hope it works.

My Recipe is thus 500ml egg white, 7.5g Ammonium Chloride, 1 tablespoon pickling vinegar

Normally I only buy free range eggs but much as I like chickens to have happy lives I'm not planning to eat these so I bought Sainsbury's value eggs. It turns out that you need 15 eggs to get 500ml of egg white. There were only 15 in the box so that was lucky, and also lucky that I didn't break any yolks to contaminate the mix. The first stage process is straight forward mix egg whites, ammonium chloride and vinegar in a glass bowl and whip to a foam. The recipe maks a fuss about none metalict this and that all the way through but then says use an electric mixer - metal whisk - I don't think much stainless steel will go into solution.

The mixture now goes in the fridge to settle back into liquid before being filtered and left for a week or two to "ferment" and breakdown ready to coat the paper.

The proof of the pudding

This evening I tested the new developer. I may be a recent photography graduate but in my earlier life I gained a chemistry degree and like to think I understand the concept of an experiment. This process does not qualify.

I have tried out a new camera and shot 2 sheets of film each with a different lens and since this is a view camera 2 different shutters. I rate the film FP4+ at a none standard ISO 64 and am now brewing it in a developer I have never used before with only the hint that a similar but different formulation recommends 8:30 mins at 75F for FP4 at ISO 125.

All in all this is out of control and more of a test of film/developer latitude than a serious trial. But we have to start from somewhere so.

Temperature 20C Dilution 1:1:100 time 6 mins.

Result 3 sheets went into the dish with me suspecting that 1 of them is unexposed - note to self to improve record keeping etc.

As with my usual procedure once the film is in the dish I soak it with warm water and go and mix the dev. I suppose you could presoak in a more repeatable way but so far it has been ok.

Unlike the "kit pyro" I have been using both solutions are completely clear and do not turn brown when mixed in the water.

At these dilutions measurement is not that easy. I normally use 150ml of dev but measuring 1.5ml of concentrate seems a bit too much to ask so I used 200ml because there is a 2ml graduation on my syringe. If the police call I have a bit of explaining to do syringes, bottles of white powder and scales...

Anyway in it all went and after 6 mins out it came. Now my normal pyro mix comes out of the tank the colour of expresso coffee but not pyrocat HD no this is a bit tawny but I've seen old dev concentrates come out of the bottle browner. In goes the water for a minute then the fix and after a couple of minutes the top comes off the dish to see whats what.

Well 1 sheet is blank. But the other 2 have images. You can't judge results in the fix but it's nice to know that despite all the variables I got a result at all.

The negs are now washed and are drying I will scan them tomorrow and let you see what I got. Don't hold your breath waiting for Art they are Daniel Thwaites' grave important if you are a northern beer drinker but otherwise...

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Pyrocat HD

I have been using Pyro as a developer on and off for 2 years now and until now have relied on a prepackaged kit supplied by Retro Photographic in the UK. I have no complaints with the kit but its formulation is not public and if I am to undertake further refinement of the process I feel that I need full control and continuity of supply so I have concluded that I should mix my own brew. However there are so many competing formulae.

I have not tried any of them and do not know if the Retro Formula is derived from any particular published recipe.

I have therefore decided to follow the suggestion of The Unblinking Eye and start out with Pyrocat HD.

I therefore ordered the required raw chemicals and mixed away. The top photo shows the set up. I used the utility room away from food etc and equipped myself with latex gloves and a dust mask.

Pyro is mixed as 2 concentrates which are finally diluted and combined just before use. The dilute developer does not keep and oxidises quickly to a brown mess. The B concentrate has only one chemical Potassium Carbonate which is relatively innocuous. So I started with it.

In practice I decided to halve the recipe. This is fraught with some difficulties because some of the weights are quite small but 500ml is a lot of developer when you consider that 4 sheets of film only take about 150ml solution at a 1:100 dilution.

The instructions are first class. Potassium Carbonate is not that easy to get into solution so I used a large bowl and added chemical 1 teaspoon at a time and stirred like mad. Once dissolved it went back into the measuring cylinder to be topped up to 500ml. The result is above. Not I used de-ionised water not tap water to make the concentrate. I have had no problems using the tap water here for developing so plan to use it to dilute to working strength.

Gaining confidence I set off on concentrate A.

The photos show the packs of chemicals and the small chemical scales. These are said to be accurate to 0.1g. That is quite tight since the formula requires on 0.5g of Potassium Bromide. The mixing went without hitches. These chemicals dissolved quickly, even the phenidone which has to be mixed first with Isopropyl alcohol.

The formula and instructions are at The Unblinking Eye

NB in the UK Pyrocatechin is known as Pyrocatechol

Friday, July 18, 2008

About tutorials on this site

It is a little grand to describe these articles as tutorials as that implies a level of expertise that I do not necessarily possess. Instead please view these as a sort of note book recording my experiences. There was a cookery show called "Cooking the Books" in which ordinary people tried out recipes for celebrity chefs' cook books, that is what I am aiming at here. Where possible I will link to or quote the source of the process or technique and in words and pictures detail my efforts to carry out the procedure and let you know how it turns out. If all goes well I will end up with a useful tutorial if not well everyone learns from mistakes...

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Albumen II

I had not heard from Silverprint so I phoned today. It seems that some of the chemistry was out of stock but its now on its way.

I got out the other night and shot a few sheets of film so I will have something to try out the new Pyro brew on.

I am also looking up a recipe for vanilla ice cream, which I will write about later, to use up all the egg yolks left over from the Albumen process.

Continuous Ink Systems

Quite some time ago I bought an ink system for the Epson 2400 I have been using for colour printing but because I shot my last project on film the inks inks in the machine did not run low till now.

Yesterday I installed the gear. Now that its on and profiled it seems to be working fine but getting here was hard. The external tanks are connected to the heads by thin tubes and these are connected by even smaller plastic elbows. The one on the light light black was broken but still hanging together. Ink went everywhere. Fortunately the kit comes with spares (one) so I could fix it but I could have done without the mess.

I now need to start making a series of prints to fine tune the profiles and get myself ready for Fresh On The Market at the end of this month.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Sam Abell on Richard Prince

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Tate Liverpool

The Tate in Liverpool does hold quite a selection of photographic work. The new hanging is theme based and at the time of my visit was being used as a teaching resource by a number of different school groups. I am a long time fan of Andy Warhol and there is now a sizeable room given over to his work. I was also was surprised to find that a Richard Long “Stone Circle” in the show and it brought back a lot of of fond memories of my trip to Edinburgh to his “Walking and Marking” exhibition.

There are two photographers that in the past I have always had some worries about - Jeff Wall and Cindy Sherman . My concern in both cases has been that the photographs are so arranged that the photography appears almost incidental. In Jeff's case the photography is always technically impeccable but Cindy's always looks slapdash and I have never decided if that is deliberate.

The exhibition includes a Jeff Wall and several pieces of Cindy Sherman's work in particular a series of quite early prints themed around passengers on a bus. The series has been specially printed for the exhibition and I was left uncertain as to whether the pictures had been shown anywhere previously. However whilst these particular pictures are not going to win it any awards for studio lighting they do as a group give a valuable insight into how the entire project was put together and the various ideas Cindy worked through in bringing it to fruition.

The new hanging includes sufficient fresh work to make it worth a further visit when I'm next in Liverpool.

Klimt at the Tate

Last Wednesday I took a trip into Liverpool to visit the Tate. The permanent collection has recently been rehung and in addition there is a special exhibition - Gustav Klimt – Painting Design & Modern Life in Vienna 1900

Klimt does have some connections with photography and used photographs to assist in his painting. However from the point of view of my own practice the most interesting part of the exhibition was in the final room showing landscape painting work made in the late 1890s. The square format, the stylised trees, the compression of image planes - These factors inform a photographic aesthetic even if the actual images are not and never were intended to be photo realistic.

The exhibition also includes room sets and objects from the Wiener Werkstatte and again their philosophy speaks to issues I am currently working through concerning craft and materials and the photograph as a physical object in the hand.

One of Klimt's traits is the photo realistic face in an otherwise quite impressionistic portrait

Monday, July 7, 2008

Without Breaking Eggs

There is an exhibition currently at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool - Art in The Age of Steam. I visited it in June and wrote about it at the time. Now one thing I came away with was an appreciation of the image quality evident in the works of pioneering photographers.

A bĂȘte noire of mine is digital black and white photography - not because I am technophobic but because it so often lacks the subtlety of a wet print. This gives rise to two separate plans of action. One is to get to grip with inkjet/giclee printing the other is to look further into producing a fully handmade product.

The second of these ideas took its first steps today. I have ordered some scales and raw chemicals to mix developer and emulsion from scratch. The prints I so admired in the Walker used the albumen process so beloved of Eugene Atget so I plan to give the process a trial.

I will record the process both trial and error here.

A Fresh Project

I know in my heart that when I write this I am addressing an audience of one. However I have decided that I will publish progress reports on my projects as they unfurl but not in the same way as I did with the BA blog which ended up a bit James Joyce stream of consciousness and was probably impossible to follow. Instead I plan to use this space for a number of separate functions.

  • Firstly as a scratch pad to record my impressions of artists and photographers I come across
  • Secondly to act as a journal recording my adventures, if that is the right word, in photographic output. Despite my recent BA I am still a chemist deep inside and plan to write about archaic processes and my continuing struggle to make acceptable digital prints.
  • I am also looking to sell some work so I will record how that venture progresses.
  • And finally I plan to shoot some work so that there are some pictures to show.

The Graduate

The letter has come. I am no-longer a student - I have my grades and all that remains is to wait for the certificate and the ceremony. Thankfully I got the grade I wanted so I will be able to look my little sister in the eye.