|Albumen print from a waxed paper negative|
This week, I want to talk a bit about paper negatives. I may have mentioned them before, but I've never made one before. They're actually quite simple to make. All you do is take a digital image, convert it to black and white, invert it, print it out and then apply oil or wax to the paper to make it translucent. That's it! Once those steps are done, you have a paper negative and you can ride off to print forever!
I made my first paper negative during the alt. process class where I'm TA'ing. None of the students were trying it out, so I made a quick laser print of an old photo I'd shot at one of Megan Jean's performances in Greenville, SC. I always did think Megan Jean would be particularly suited to alternative process prints, given the retro-Americana vibe of their music.
One of the other grad students had provided two white candles for wax, and we had a hairdryer to melt the candles. So I warmed up the candle with the hairdryer until it was soft enough to be pliable and began rubbing it across the paper negative print like a crayon. As it went, it left behind enough melted wax to soak into the paper fibers and make the image translucent. This is fairly time-consuming, taking about fifteen minutes at least to warm up the candle and get an even-ish coating of wax onto the image. It could be done much more quickly by melting paraffin or beeswax in a tub so the paper negative can be dipped in, or the wax brushed on. That would probably give a better, more even coating, too.
From the waxed paper negative, I made an albumen print that seems to have fairly good detail. You can see it yourself above, with a larger version linked HERE. My printing isn't perfect, but this was also my first albumen print. I don't know that the greater tonal range of albumen is enough of a draw for me to continue using it over salt prints. Salt prints are, after all, much easier to produce.
While I was working on waxing the first negative, I spoke with Jessica Somers (the professor teaching the course) about waxed negatives vs. oiled negatives. She said that her experience had been that oiled negatives took less time to make, but there was a problem with the paper getting over-saturated and continuing to shed oil for a while after coating. I decided to investigate for myself, using spray olive oil (the same kind used for coating pans and dishes for cooking). Spray would allow for easier, faster application and should apply a lot less oil than brushing or soaking the paper.
I was able to easily oil a second laser-printed copy of the same image. A few sprays from a can of olive oil began saturating the paper very well. I helped things along by rubbing the oil into the paper from the back with a paper towel, but I'm not sure it was strictly necessary. It may have helped remove extra oil, because after the paper dried (in about half an hour), it's been perfectly clean. Slick, yes, but certainly not shedding any extra oil.
|Left: Oiled Paper, Right: Waxed Paper|
So, Spiders, I suggest that if you're lacking funds or access to fancy-schmancy digital negatives printed on Pictorico or other transparency films, paper negatives are a cheap and fast alternative. Just be aware that they require more exposure time, reduce your contrast and are going to blur some fine details. But with alternative processes, is anything but the reduced contrast really a consideration? Eh, I guess that some people might be miffed about the fine detail, but those people are weird.
I'll see you again soon, Spiders. Hopefully next week!