Thursday, July 7, 2016

Blogging for Thor: Geometric Progress

Hi Spiders. I'm sorry I haven't been posting lately, I've been working on other things. Like photography with an actual camera. I've also just been feeling a bit down lately. I do have a post tonight, even if it's a bit short.

Overall, the Silver Geometry Project is going well. I've pretty much got color control down, though I do want to experiment and find more colors to introduce. I'd love a more reliable green and a true black. Palladium might work for the black, but daaaang is it expensive. So I'm hoping to find an alternative. I can get pretty close to black by using a potassium salt and silver nitrate, but I'd like another option. My only green choices so far are under-exposed cyanotype (very fugitive) and solarized silver nitrate with a sodium salt (takes way too long, and is very dull).

The biggest challenge is creating the original pencil designs, the "geometry" that underlays the chemigram and photogram. If the geometry isn't interesting, even the coolest chemical reaction generally won't save it. So I'm studying a lot of geometric art. Deco, constructivism, and futurism mainly. Abstract expressionism... maybe. There are some interesting painters from the 60s and 70s that I'll probably take a look at.

I feel like the project is on a good path. I just need to push it further, and really have the designs and the chemistry come together perfectly. I've had a few successes so far!

Oh, and I'm really enjoying the small scale. I started with five inch squares, and then tried some three inch squares. Surprisingly, the three inch squares seem a lot easier to work with and create complex designs for. They're certainly easier to paint, but the mixing of chemicals overwhelms them more easily. There's just not much space for a chemical spill that doesn't become the focal point of the entire image.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Blogging for Freya: The Importance of Lite

Silver Geometry #1, kosher salt
Silver Geometry #1 (reprint), 'lite' salt.
Hello, Spiders! It's been a while, and I'm sorry. I've been having a rough spot. Hopefully things are looking better! I'm certainly being more productive!

Lately, I've been back at work on the Silver Geometry Project, because there's a few shows I want to submit pieces of it to. I think they work better as 'stand alone' pieces than my thesis work does. The thesis work needs the artist statement, the titles, and some context to really be understood fully. I think that's a weakness of the thesis, and I'm working on it as I research ideas for new pieces. Silver Geometry, though, has really strong images even if the conceptual framework is looser and less rigorous. So they're what I'm working on right now, and trying to push to shows.

While I have been making new designs, I also started to re-visit some of the designs where I like the drawing, but feel that the prints didn't work out. It's been interesting, since there are a lot of little elements that are outside of my control in the process. I've also been experimenting with altering how fast I work.

Silver Geometry #13, with most of the value variation lost
This week, I tried to create more variety of value by moving the photogram material around pretty rapidly. It worked out well, but the resulting values were so delicate (created after only minutes of sunlight) that all it took was a little hesitation and distraction for a blast of bright, direct light to nearly obliterate the delicate shading. So, while I like the idea of more controlled value variation, I probably need to do that on one print at a time, instead of shuffling my attention between several prints at once. I may also need to do that on overcast days, or even inside through a window. Direct sunlight just moves the reactions too fast.

In these recent prints, I've also been manipulating the chemistry more directly. I created some lighter blue colors by diluting the cyanotype chemistry with water. I forced the silver nitrate to turn violet and red instead of brown and black by using "lite" salt instead of regular salt when preparing the paper. Since "lite" salt is a mixture of 50% potassium chloride and 50% sodium chloride, it causes a dramatically different coloration.

Up next is really small prints made from scraps of the larger sheets of Rives BFK that I'm using for the 5x5s. These are about 2.5 inches square, so the designs have to be a lot simpler. I think that'll be a fun challenge. I'm also considering some 5x5s where the chemigram component is extremely simple, and all the visual interest comes from the value added in the photogram stage. It's been a super busy week, but I'm hoping to get a good bit done this weekend and next week!

Check back in soon, Spiders!!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Blogging for Thor: Writing in the Dark

Skotograph by Madge Donohoe, 1920s-30s.
What should I blog about, Spiders? I ask myself this every week that I haven't got an on-going experiment or process that I'm fiddling with. Earlier today, I was considering a post about lumen prints made primarily with opaque objects, like fruits and vegetables. The primary exposing agent in such a case would be the chemical interaction between the photo paper and the bio-matter, not light. Light might expose the uncovered areas of the paper, but anything that happened on the covered areas would be explicitly chemical. That's interesting to me, since it's photography without light. That should be impossible, right? Photography without light is... what? Chemistry? Chemography? Or... Skotography?

I looked up what the Greek root-word for "darkness" would be. Skotos, it turns out. Then, I had to wonder if 'skotography' is a word? Yes. Yes, it is. It's two words!

Scotography (another way to spell the same word, because going from one alphabet to another is a bit flexible) is the medical practice of using non-visible wavelengths of radiation to create images. X-Ray photography is, therefor, scotography.

There's also Skotography, which was a spiritualist practice in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The idea was that, in darkness, spirits could project energy onto photographic material and produce images. Skotography was the high-tech version of a seance, or table-rapping. Treating photography as magic has a long history, about as long as the history of photography itself. Today we have 'aura photography' or Kirlian photography. And ghost-hunters that use their cameras to image the supernatural. And, there are, of course, still people who believe in skotography.

People are weird, but the few supposed skotographs I've found are actually fairly interesting in appearance. There's even a French artist who is doing a modern project inspired by the work of Madge Donohoe, a popular skotographer during the 20's and 30's.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Cameras and Caramel

Caramelized sugar, the product of thermal decomposition. SCIENCE!
Today I came across an absolutely awesome blog: Serious Eats. They are serious about cooking, as they should be. It's serious stuff. Even though my MFA thesis project is created with food, it does seem odd to feature a cooking blog on a photography blog, doesn't it? No. It doesn't. Shut up, Spiders.

One of my oldest friends shared an article from Serious Eats: How to Make Rich, Flavorful Caramel Without Melting Sugar. And it's everything I love. It's food, it's science, it's kitchen-friendly, and it's easy! I was so excited after reading this article, that I had to share it with everyone. All my friends, my Instagram followers, and you, my lovely Spiders. It seemed, though, that most people were not as blown away as I was. So, I'm going to explain why this article is amazing.

It's the science of an ordinary process (caramelization) being dissected, studied, and used to make something far more amazing than you could manage without understanding what is really happening. It's about not being satisfied with the surface, and digging deeper into the mechanics so that you can really take control of a situation.

The writers at Serious Eats are, like Alton Brown, showing that cooking is all about chemistry and physics. There's another article where one of the writers goes in-depth explaining why bleached flour has its place and why, in fact, the bleaching is entirely useful. It's sometimes essential to use bleached flour. Until reading it, I assumed that bleaching flour was just an aesthetic concern. It isn't! It causes important chemical changes in the flour that give flour new capabilities.

How is this all relevant to photography? It's relevant because all photographers should ground their practice in a thorough understanding of how their tools work. If you don't understand the physical processes involved in photography, you're not going to be able to exploit them properly. You won't be able to end-run around problems, or bend the mechanics to your advantage.

Take something simple like a lens flare. If you understand why and how lens flares happen, its easy to avoid them when you don't want them, and control them more precisely if you do want them.

...Oh, and I'm absolutely going to try burying a sheet of photo paper under a layer of sugar, caramelizing the sugar, and seeing what the resulting chemigram looks like. I will not eat the caramel sugar produced, because it will probably absorb some nasty chemicals from the photo paper. I do have high hopes for this idea, though!

Friday, May 13, 2016

Blogging for Freya: Beyond Beginnings

Three Cheeses – Digital Scan
I find the obsession with original prints a little odd for photographers. Recently, as part of my graduate school program, I had a year end review of my current thesis project. I make lumen chemigrams which are inherently unstable, and can't be chemically fixed without altering their appearance. So, for the images to be viewed later, they have to be digitally imaged and reproduced. The "original image" is transitory, because even if stored in a dark environment, the prints continue to develop and change due to chemical residue from the food used to create them. The digital image is the "final print" because the physical print is a dynamic event. So why are people hung up on wanting to see that print, not the digital version?

In every understandable way, the digital image is the photograph. It's the final print. The original, food-covered paper, is not really a 'print' at all. It's my subject for a photographic image. It's not actually a photographic print in any useful way, since it can't be viewed in its "actual" state for more than a few minutes. It's not much different from a sand mandala or water calligraphy. If you're there when it happens, you can see it. Otherwise, the only way to experience it is through a photographic reproduction.

And yet, repeatedly, the panel of reviewers were upset that they couldn't see the "original" prints. They made the assumption that the original prints must have more depth, more texture, more dimension, richer colors... but they don't. Honestly. I've seen them, I work with them, I scan them. In almost all the cases, there's no visual information in the "original" that isn't in the photographic reproduction. The only significant difference is that the paper surface of the "original" might have a different texture, tooth or reflectivity than the digital print. 

But, dang, the reviewers were fixated on the idea of seeing the "original". I was even accused of teasing the viewers by 'dangling' the idea that there was an original print at all. You need to know that there is a subject print, to understand what's happening and what I'm doing, but you don't need to see that subject print. Generally because, by the time I've finished everything and am presenting the work to an audience, those subject prints are no longer anything like the image you're seeing. They've lost contrast, lost color, sometimes completely decayed into dull swirls of brown and grey. They're not interesting anymore.

This odd fixation on the idea that there is some inherent merit in the "original" print just because it is original is so strange to be. Photography is all about reproduction. It's all about making an aesthetic choice to capture a single moment of some event and present it to others, far removed in time. If you're going to demand to see the "origin" of any photographic image, aren't you questioning the very reason that photography exists?

Friday, April 29, 2016

Blogging for Freya: Fun with Food

Transference #2 – Orange juice, rice, milk, flour
Ugh, I'm getting so bad at this, Spiders! I'm supposed to blog for Thor! But I forgot entirely last week, and this week I was at game night. Sorry, Thor. At least Freya alliterates well with this week's topic! And, as a fertility goddess, she's more suited to a post about food!

My thesis project is going well. I've hammered out an artist statement that's concise and meaningful, I've produced a good start on a body of work, I've got lots of new places to go with that body of work, and I'm enjoying my work!

In short, I'm making 'chemigrams' with food, or the ingredients of food. Playing around with different bits of food science, baking, and cooking to produce chemical reactions that cause photo-paper to change color under sunlight. So, they're 'lumen prints' in that they're made on darkroom photo-paper exposed to sunlight, but they're chemigrams in that the only thing used to make them are chemically active, not negatives or inert objects. The paper does really react to the chemistry. Acids, bases, oils and salts all have distinct effects on the paper, aside from simply altering how much light reaches the surface.

The biggest problem has been that I have classes and work during the day, so I tend to leave home soon after getting up, and get home shortly before the sun goes down. That's made it extremely difficult to get much printing done. But the weather is finally turning sunny, and classes are almost over. I hope to get a TON of work done this spring and summer! I'm finally really excited about my projects, too. That's so important, because now I'm actually motivated to do work.

The failed baking soda / vinegar volcano print
My latest experiment was building a baking soda and vinegar volcano on a sheet of photo paper... it didn't come out super well. The baking soda worked fine, even created some nice patterns, but the vinegar turned the paper an unpleasant poo-like brown. I have some ideas on minimizing that, so I'll try the experiment again. Probably later today!

The next idea I have to work on is creating a webwork made out of the stringy bits on bananas (I'll have so many bananas left that I'll probably make banana bread) and the smaller stringy bits found on orange slices. The challenge will be to use the right paper. Since the banana strings and orange strings are so thin and small, it needs to be a paper that reacts to light quickly. Otherwise, I'm afraid that the light will burn through these small objects and leave a very low-contrast, poorly-defined image.

I may also give a shot at printing an image that's immersed in boiling water. I've done underwater prints before, so I know they work. Making the water boiling could be fun! I'll probably do that with something that I suspect will react strongly with boiling water. Maybe milk or yogurt, which may begin to curdle and burn? Or cheese, which may melt? It'll be fun! I could even freeze the paper ahead of time, and then pour boiling water on it while it's still frozen. I know if you do that with film it can shatter the gelatin base, causing a crackle effect. I don't know if that would be visible on photo paper, but it's worth a shot!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Blogging for Thor: The Shape of Things to Come

Silver Geometry Print #2: Silver Nitrate and Cyanotype
Hello, my lovely Spiders! I'm doing very well; I hope you are, too? Great.

Last week, I talked about beginning a new project. For the moment, I'm calling it "Silver Geometry" but that's likely to change since I've already made at least one image without any silver in it at all.

Step-by-step for
Silver Geometry #1
The biggest challenge so far is the fixed 2 day exposure time. With such a long exposure, the d-max of some chemicals is reached too quickly. If I want to preserve the colors created various levels of exposure, I need to work more quickly and then cover the area with an opaque block.

My first experiment using cyanotype and potassium dichromate provided a sad example of this kind of d-max failure. I was attempting to add rectangular areas of reduced exposure to the circle-based chemigram, but even leaving the opaque rectangles in place for 6-8 hours at a time, the exposure equalized so rapidly that no trace remains in the final image. There should have been four lighter areas intruding into the circular pattern. They're gone.

If I want to continue using faster-reacting chemicals like cyanotype and dichromate, it appears I'll have to create a color with varied exposure, get it to whatever tonality I want, then "seal" it by placing the opaque shape back over that area for the rest of the exposure.

There is good news, though! The first image worked out wonderfully and the
third image came out nicely, too. The third image hasn't got very strong shadows from the paper and tinfoil triangles I used, but it was enough to make faint impressions in the silver rectangle on the right, and to create a gradient in the uppermost cyanotype stripe.

The second two prints also showed the rather lovely potential from painting the chemicals next to each other, and allowing them to overlap and mix. I'm in love with what's happening on the third image where the silver nitrate and cyanotype solutions mixed together.

In the future, I'm going to be incorporating kallitype chemistry, possibly some toners, and experimenting with painting different salts onto the page to alter the color of the silver nitrate stains. This project is looking so fun, Spiders!

I'll be using Instagram to document the progress and layout of each print as I move through the stages of designing the geometric drawing, painting the chemistry onto the paper, setting up the photogram objects and then moving them around during the exposure. So if you want to follow me for updates, that'd be pretty awesome. I love seeing Spiders on social media!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Blogging for Thor: Physics, and Chemistry, and Geometry, Oh My!

Photogram by Lazlo Maholy-Nagy, for inspiration.
Last time I did a long-term project, it was about paper. I decided that I wanted to form a new habit. So for 251 days, I made a photograph of paper every night. It was a great experience, and I even got some nice images out of it. Some crappy ones, maybe even mostly crappy ones, but overall it was a good project. The core of the project was a set of four rules.

Since I enjoyed the project so much, I'm going to start again. Not the Folded Paper Project, but something similar. Another project with a strict set of rules, a time-table, and enough scope that I won't have to worry if each one comes out perfectly. I want that kind of structure and freedom. I'm trying, and so far succeeding, at enjoying art again. Hopefully this will add another dimension.

My thesis is all about food, so the exotic chemicals I've been experimenting with aren't appropriate. That's where this project comes in. I'll be using alternative photographic processes, whatever chemicals I find appropriate to use. So I can experiment with salt, cyanotype, maybe even platinum or gold! I'm giving myself a lot of room here to experiment with chemicals.

This project is going to be a lot more complex than the Folded Paper Project. I won't just be taking pictures. Instead, I'm going to be making mixed alternative process prints that combine elements of chemigrams and photograms. 

So, instead of a set of "rules" there will be a set of "steps."
  • Step 1: Draw a geometric design on a 5x5 square of smooth-finish cotton rag paper, using light pencil lines. Only two different types of geometric shapes can be used (circles, squares, hexagons, triangles, etc).
  • Step 2: Paint alt process chemistry onto the geometric design, filling in each shape with chemistry to create a sort of alt process coloring book. Chemicals from up to two processes may be used for this.
  • Step 3: Layer photogram materials of varying opacity on top of the paper once the chemicals have dried. These photogram objects must also be geometric, and only use two shapes. At most one of the two shapes can be shared with the drawing.
  • Step 4: Expose the print for 2 days. During that time, the print can be moved, and the photogram objects re-arranged.
  • Step 5: Scan the final image.
I'll be setting up the first one of these experiments tonight, and exposing it tomorrow. I'm very excited to see how this works!

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Blogging for Thor: A Recipe for Success

Hello Spiders. As you know, because you read everything I post online, I have been struggling with graduate school. I've always struggled to fit into the Fine Arts community, and it's been particularly bad this year, after not having to worry about it for six years or so. I've been more focused on education, community engagement, experimentation, learning and process. But to succeed in graduate school, I need to be thinking about conversation, experience, presentation and conceptuality. Super fun, right, Spiders?

It was speaking with David Hilliard, the visiting artist for my graduate class, that I was finally able to articulate these difficulties and start coming to a resolution. I've been looking at work by people like Alison Rossiter, Chris McCaw, Brittany Nelson, Marco Breuer, and Christina Z. Anderson. What I needed to do was focus less on the process as the work, and more on the finished image. I'm turning things around and using the techniques I love to make images that are beautiful and engaging on their own.

After talking with David, I went back through my archives and started looking for the really unique, engaging images. I settled in on the food-based lumen-chemigrams that I began experimenting with two years ago. There's a small gallery of them on my Flickr (LINK), but I never really pursued the idea. It was fun, though, and it actually meshes very well with what I've been doing recently at grad school.

My nod to process, and to experience, is to frame my prints as the product of a recipe. The prints exist as themselves, pieces of art to be visually engaging and aesthetically stimulating. But, with each print, there is a recipe. The materials and process used to create that print, listed plainly. In fact, there is literally a recipe, on a recipe card. I work in the kitchen, that's been the center of my process since I left undergrad. Everything I've been doing has been safe for the kitchen, and generally the kitchen has been my darkroom. I carry the same experimental desires I have with photography into cooking, so why not bring things full circle?

The recipe cards I've been making for each print frame the print as a product of my own past, my interests, events in my life and hopes for my future. The same way a cake recipe might be "Kathy's Birthday Cake" and carry with it all the significance of the event it was created for, my photographic recipes are things like "Orange Rice Mitochondria" and carry with them my memories of a favorite book (A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L'Engle) as well as representing my interest in biology, science and evolution. Each recipe carries a personal snippet that ties the image back to my life.

So, seriously Spiders, this shit better be Fine Art. Because, I'm actually enjoying it, and I am tired of starting over.

My main task is going to be creating new prints despite terrible weather (apparently New England does not believe in sunlight until July or something..) and tying the appearance of the print to the actual driving force behind the print. My next piece, pH Balance Of Milk And Citrus, needs to actually incorporate the ideas of balance, chemical forces, and somehow reference the destructively complementary nature of acids and bases. Fun, right? Actually... yes!

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Blogging for Thor: Stepping Up to the Wet Plate

Today, I made my first wet plate that I actually made myself from start to finish. It's pretty cool. The exposure came out a bit dark, though, which is sad. And it's suuuuuper dusty.

I tried dropping the keys I was holding about 4 seconds before the end of the exposure, but it didn't really register. It just made the image a bit blurry. Though, the exposure was 75 seconds long, so I'm sure some of that blur is just my hands moving.

Overall, it was an enjoyable experience. I wish it wasn't so toxic, expensive and involved to make wet plate images. I'd love to shoot my buddies up here. I have so many ridiculously good looking friends here in Boston, it'd be awesome to make wet plates of them all.

The coating came out fairly well, though. That's nice.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Blogging for Thor: Salty Colors

I've been wondering for a while if you can apply chromoskedasic chemistry to alternative process prints. It turns out that, yes, you can. Chromo chemistry will affect salt prints.

Now, before all you Spiders get excited and scurry off, the chromo chemistry tests are so far not terribly dramatic. The activator (potassium hydroxide) definitely seems to have restored some of the redder tones in the print. I applied activator to the leaves in different ways. Stabilizer, so far, has very little effect. It's buffered fixer. The stabilizer was applied roughly to the negative space of the image.

All these results should be taken with a note: the print I tested on is probably one of the worst examples I could have used. Chromo chemistry works best on un-exposed highlights, and these prints are super solarized photograms. There are no highlights left.

So this weekend I'll be doing a regular salt print to test chromo chemistry on. It'll be interesting to see what happens with that.

Also, I decided to see what happens after sunlight and time are applied to a chromo-salt print. So I have this print soaking in a dilute solution of stabilizer and activator, sitting in a metal foil tray, next to a window. I'll check it for changes tomorrow!

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Blogging for Thor: Developing Developments

Day 7 of Exposure, Unsalted Silver Nitrate Print
I've currently put my "un-salt" prints on hold for a bit, but I'm sure that I'll be back to them soon. Part of that was finding out that the "cupric chloride" I got from Bostick & Sullivan was actually cuprous chloride. That little difference means quite a lot, since cuprous chloride is a fair bit more dangerous to work with than cupric chloride. It's also not water-soluble at all, so even if I wanted to risk it, I couldn't make a solution out of it. So, that sucked. I do still have several more chemicals, including cesium chloride, that I'm looking forward to testing out. For right now, though, I'm focusing on my actual prints instead of pure research.

What I've been doing lately is making scans of the prints as they develop. This means not only do I get to track the degredation of the print once it's made, I get to see what's happening as the exposure goes on. Since my exposures are upwards of two days, this works pretty well. I'm expecting this will go faster once there starts being brighter, hotter days again.

Overall, I'm enjoying getting a glimpse at the work from the other side. Normally I only get to see if out of the frame when it's finished exposing. I might lose some detail and registration this way (since I have to take the print out of the frame, remove the photogram object, then reassemble the thing after scanning) but I'm getting a lot more information. The process of development is really more fascinating than the process of print decay.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Blogging for Mani: Worth their Salt

It seems like everyone is loving on salt prints lately! In the last few days Christina Z. Anderson and J. Keith Schreiber have posted some very in-depth and interesting material about salt on the Alternative Processes Facebook group. Really, Spiders, that's a great place to be if you're working in alt processes.

Christina Z. Anderson's post (HERE) was about the fancy-schmancy new paper by Hahnemühle: Platinum Rag. It's designed for (duh) platinum printing, but also produces good results for all manner of other processes. Diana Bloomfield used it to do a multi-layer gum print without any additional sizing! That's pretty impressive. Aside from the coolness of this (expensive) new paper, I enjoyed seeing someone else doing the same kind of rigorous testing that I'm doing with chemistry. The difference between gelatinized and non-gelatinzied paper is something I'm also going to end up testing, too.

Keith Schreiber's post (HERE) is more a general thing about salt printing. He talks about how it can have an even longer tonal range than platnium printing, which I didn't actually know. Kinda makes me wonder what the point of platinum is, since everyone always gushes about it's incredible tonal range. Plus, at the end of his post, he links a Salt Printing PDF from a printer working at the Fox Talbot Museum. More fun things to study! I also like that he provides very clear examples of various toning effects. It's nice to see well-documented information. I feel that's a big downside to the book by Christopher James. He gives examples of toned photographs, or variations on a process, but he doesn't provide (often probably can't, since he sources his examples from numerous other artists) side-by-side examples so you can see the difference between Approach A and Approach B. That side-by-side is hugely important to me.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Blogging for Thor: Deadly, Deadly Chromium!

6 hour exposure of dichromate test print
After my Facebook conversation last week with Johannes Schmidt, I decided to investigate the interaction of dichromate and salt printing for myself. The flaming reds and oranges he was able to get from dichromate make a perfect contrast to the verdigris green that solarized silver salts can produce with sufficient exposure!

So, I made a small salt print (the normal way, with 3% kosher salt), then added a drop of 5% ammonium dichromate to the top left and a drop of 5% potassium dichromate to the bottom right. In the middle of the print, I sprinkled the cream of tartar. Cream of tartar is chemically potassium bitartrate (KC4H5O6), which is a form of tartaric acid.

Again, my discussions with Johannes suggested that adding tartaric acid to a salt print should produce some variations of color. In the future, I'll test this further by mixing up a tartaric acid solution, probably just cream of tartar in water. Then I'll coat that solution onto a salted paper, in addition to regular sodium chloride.

Just to add some variety, I put a Red Nightshade leaf onto the salted, dichromated and tartarated paper. Then I exposed the paper for about 6 hours in sunlight, from dawn till around noon. Once I'd scanned the image after the first exposure, I let it sit out in sunlight (without the leaf) for another 2 days before I scanned it again. I've continued to leave it unprotected, so I'll be scanning again in a few weeks.

After 2 hours, the red color in the dichromate was lovely. Unfortunately, after the two days of sunlight, the dichromate had turned mostly violet, while the silver was the expected green. The cream of tartar had left slightly darker spots, but I'm not sure if that's just because it affected the original 6-hour exposure, or if it chemically created a reaction. Further testing is required!

I also did some tests on Potassium Iodide and Potassium Chloride salt prints. I'll have those results up on Flickr in the near future. They haven't been washed and fixed, yet. That's on the agenda for today, though!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Blogging for Thor: Chemical Crossovers

Potassium Dichromate (K2Cr2O7): a rather nasty
but potentially beautiful little chemical
I really enjoy the ability of social media to bring together artists from all across the world. After posting yesterday's blog on the Alternative Photographic Processes Facebook group, I got some wonderful responses from Serdar Bilici, Johannes Schmidt and Mark Osterman. So, instead of sharing some of my own work today, I'm going to be discussing ideas from these fine folks.

Serdar informed me that he had previously made images using silver citrate, silver tartarate and silver carbonate instead of a silver halide. Unfortunately, he did not have any scans of these images, but he did say that he found them either too low in d-max, or too high in contrast for negative printing. Here's a list of what he said he used to create the different silver compounds

Silver Citrate = Silver Nitrate + Sodium Citrate
Silver Tartarate = Silver Nitrate + Tartaric Acid (maybe from cream of tartar?)
Silver Carbonate = Silver Nitrate + Sodium Carbonate (soda ash)

Basically, all that means that silver compounds aside from halides can likely be used to print visible images. I'm going to give these a try most definitely, especially since soda ash and cream of tartar are so easy to get. Sodium citrate is available from the university lab, so I'll be giving that a shot as well.

Mark Osterman discussed with me the fixing ability of potassium iodide. Previously, I had fixed several prints in 5.6% potassium iodide, but not noticed any significant difference in the result from the more traditional sodium thiosulfate fixer. If anything, the potassium iodide leaves a warmer tone in the fixed image, but both fixing processes remove a lot of the color from a salt printed image. Mark says that, in theory, a salt print fixed in potassium iodide should turn yellow as the silver is converted to silver iodide. He also recommended that I find a copy of Records of the Dawn of Photography, which is a published version of Talbot's early notebooks. Unfortunately, that book sells for over four hundred dollars and there aren't any circulating copies in my local libraries. I may be able to visit a nearby university (I'm in friggin Boston) and make scans or notes. I'll have to look into that.

The most interesting conversation, though, was with Johannes Schmidt. He told me that he'd run across some literature a bit over a year ago that suggested adding salts of organic acids to the standard sodium chloride and silver nitrate mixture used in salt printing could alter the color of the print. He mixed up solutions of potassium or sodium compounds of acetate, ascorbate, formate, succinate and tartrate. These solutions were applied along with sodium chloride to paper, which was then sensitized with silver nitrate. He also tested the effects of dichromate, iodine and photographic developer on the silvered paper. There are some truly lovely results, especially from the dichromate. In fact, I'm going to borrow some ammonium dichromate from the university and do some tests of my own with applying it to salt prints.

Who knows, maybe I'll give up on this whole "photogram" thing and just create my images through pure chemistry. Chemigrams are popular, right?

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Blogging for Odin: Orderly Presentation

Well, Spiders, I'm a bit late with today's blog. Six days late, actually. Unfortunately the only excuse I have is that I simply didn't get around to editing all these images and patching them together into a cohesive scan. The beginning of the semester has been a little stressful, and I've been trying to keep it all together. But, I do hope to have an entry for tomorrow, too!

After my experiments with photograms, I decided I needed something more controlled to really do a proper test of these different halide solutions. So, I created a little digital "test sheet"that has a smooth white-to-black gradient, a 15% medium grey bar, and a six-step zone chart that has 100%, 80%, 60%, 40%, 20% and 0% black. Using this test sheet, I can tell if one compound has more contrast, less contrast, exposes faster or slower, and get a much wider range of tonality than by using photograms. I'm also controlling the process further by printing in one of the university's UV exposure boxes, instead of in sunlight.

So far, my results aren't mind-blowing or anything.

The potassium iodide (KI) is really.. ugly. I mean, there's just not anything redeeming about it, especially not once it's been fixed. Maybe it's nice in the "latent" form, just after exposure, but even just a salt water wash makes it muddy and unpleasant. Fixing it just turns it to a dull, rather hideous brown.

Ammonium chloride (NH4Cl) is extremely similar to sodium chloride (NaCl). The only difference I can see, and it's quite subtle, is that the ammonium chloride seems to be a little bit warmer. There are two tests for ammonium chloride because the first test had some pretty hideous staining. The second test, though, was slightly compromised because I waited a full day between exposing it and fixing it. This almost certainly caused some fogging in the paper before the fixing.

Bromo-Iodizer has the most interesting results, providing warm yellow highlights and soft brown shadows. I can certainly see some uses for this coloration, but I'm personally not a huge fan. I do like the long-exposure greens that it produces, but I'm not sure if I like it enough to continue working with the Bromo-Iodizer. It's quite nasty stuff, and I may be able to get similar results by simply using potassium bromide and potassium iodide together, without the presence of alcohol or cadmium.

Assuming that I've recovered from my current head-cold by tomorrow, I'll be giving a test to potassium chloride and potassium bromide, both of which arrived recently. I was able to mix up a 3% solution of both, coat and dry some test sheets, but didn't have time to apply the silver nitrate or do a test exposure. So those salted papers are waiting for me in the lab!

Toss some positive vibes my way, Spiders. I could use 'em for this little plague.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Blogging for Thor: Saline-ent Findings

Sorry for the terrible pun, Spiders, but I'm running out of witty references to salt. This week, it was hard to wait to blog! I was so very excited about the results of my latest experiments. I think this weekend I'll be at the university, making some test prints. I have a hairdryer now! And I'm awaiting the delivery of more chemistry for further testing, too.

Here's what has me all worked up: I successfully printed photograms with non-chloride silver salts. I tested out potassium iodide and Old Workhorse Bromo-Iodizer as catalysts for salt printing, along with a sodium chloride control print and an ammonium chloride side-test. Everything produced a clear, visible image. I'm going to discuss first the basic parameters of the experiment, the controls, and then get into the preparation and results for each halide solution.

Test sheets prior to exposure.
All but one show significant fogging.
Controls: Each of the four prints was made on a sheet of Arches Platine paper, all the same size, all taken from the same full sheet of paper, and all coated at the same time. All four test sheets were first painted with a solution of the chosen halide, then allowed to dry and stored in butcher paper for 3 days while I waited for good printing weather. The night before printing, each paper was given a single coat of 12% silver nitrate, allowed to dry overnight in a dark box. Despite being in a dark box, the drying time was too long. Each test sheet showed discoloration when the box was opened. I will repeat these tests with fresh-dried sheets soon.

Bromo-Iodizer Solution: I used the Bostick & Sullivan Old Workhorse Bromo-Iodizer directly out of the bottle, with no changes to the solution. The solution is easy to coat, and has a strong yellow color that makes it easy to tell where your paper has been coated. It smells strongly of alcohol and should be used only in well-ventilated areas. The bottle should be capped immediately after the solution is extracted.

Potassium Iodide Solution: This chemical comes as a transparent/white crystal solid. I mixed 6 grams of the crystals into 200ml of water to make a 3% solution. I didn't use nearly so much, but I didn't have a small enough mixing container to measure less than 200ml water with accuracy.

Ammonium Chloride SolutionThis is a shiny white powder that does not readily dissolve in water. It required a lot of stirring, and left a film of bubbles and fragments floating in the solution. Again, I mixed the same 6 grams of solid to 200ml of water, resulting in a 3% solution.

Sodium Chloride SolutionFor sodium chloride, the control solution, I used Morton Kosher Salt. As with the other two dry chemicals, I mixed 6 grams of solid to 200ml of water, resulting in a 3% solution. This is a medium-strength salt solution by standard salt printing guidelines.

The prints were made in windows at my apartment, on a clear, sunny day. I exposed all four prints for 2 hours before pulling them and scanning the resulting images. None of them have been fixed, though I may do a potassium iodide fixing test just to see what happens.

Bromo-Iodizer Print: Unlike any other salt print I've seen, this one came out blueish-green, but mottled with little flecks of a more yellowish green. I was told to expect some issues due to the high alcohol content of the bromo-iodizer, but the green color was totally unexpected.
Potassium Iodide Print: This print is much paler than a normal salt print, more of a tan than a brown. It's still fully detailed, just lighter. I really want to see this printed again without the fogging, so I know what it looks like in a "proper" exposure.
Ammonium Chloride Print: Very similar to sodium chloride, though the pre-exposure fogging makes it difficult to read nuances of hue and tone. I'll have to do more specific experiments regarding the different forms of chlorides to see the exact effects of ammonium vs sodium. If there is a visible difference, it's that the ammonium chloride has a cooler, more purple tone to the browns.
Sodium Chloride Print: Exactly as expected, though unfortunately tainted by the long wait between silver coating and printing. Silver chloride, if left in contact with organic matter (like the paper), will self-expose even in darkness. That results in the violet-brown staining of the paper, and the extreme violet outlines around the image.

So, my final thoughts? I'm very excited to have proven to myself that silver chloride is not the only halide that can be used in salt printing. The potassium iodide image is considerably blander than I had hoped for, but the strange jade color of the bromo-iodizer image gives me hope for future tests. I still haven't tested potassium bromide by itself, or tested non-potassium forms of bromide and iodide. I know from previous experience that potassium chloride isn't the best form of chloride to use, so maybe potassium bromide and potassium iodide aren't the best forms of those halides, either. I'm going to look into obtaining other solutions of bromide and iodide, maybe even some alternate forms of chloride. The ammonium chloride is similar enough to sodium chloride, but I've yet to test pure potassium chloride to see the result. I've only ever used it in a "lite salt" mixture: 50% sodium chloride and 50% potassium chloride.

There's just so much more to do, Spiders!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Blogging for Thor: What's in a Halide?

The three common silver halide precipitates:
AgI, AgBr & AgCl (left to right)
Hey there spiders! I'm gunna hit you with some SCIENCE!

Modern silver gelatin photography uses the term "silver halide" a lot. In film and in paper, the term gets tossed around in reference to the light sensitive salt used to make photographic images. "Halide" is not a specific chemical, though. There's no such element as "Haline" on the periodic table. Instead, "halide" refers to a group of chemicals: chlorine, bromine, iodine, fluorine, and astatine. So a silver halide is a silver compound with any of those five elements. Two of the silver halides are weird, so I want to go into detail on them!

First off, silver astatide isn't used in photography because astatine is extremely radioactive and compounds using it decay in a very short time. So, while silver astatide does exist, it isn't physically feasible to use for any practical purpose. The short half-life of astatine means that it's difficult to study even in laboratory situations, so the light sensitivity of silver astatide isn't even well documented.

The other weird silver halide is silver fluoride. It exists, it isn't radioactive, but it still isn't used in photography... for the most part. Silver fluoride exists in three forms: disilver monofluoride, silver monofluoride, and silver difluoride. None of these forms of silver fluoride are useful in traditional photography, primarily because they react with water. Depending on the specific fluoride compound, they will either oxidize violently or break down via hydrolysis. Because of the inability to use silver fluorides in combination with water-based chemistry, silver fluoride was long ignored in photography. However, in 1966 a US patent was filed for a process where silver fluoride could be vacuum deposited onto a surface along with gold, and treated with boron trifluoride vapors to create a high-resolution, extremely low-speed photographic surface. It appears, though I'm not an expert at deciphering patents, that this research was carried out in connection with the Polaroid Corporation, by a scientist named Joel M. Peisach. I've had no luck tracking down any further literature or contact information regarding this process, and certainly no examples. It's extremely disappointing, even if the complex process and materials required put this technique far outside the reach of anyone working outside a laboratory environment. Still, it was really, really cool to find out that silver fluoride photography does exist.

Silver chloride, silver iodide and silver bromide are all widely used in different forms of photography. Each compound produces different tonal ranges, color palettes and contrast ranges and functions in different photographic processes. Generally, silver chloride is the form used in salt printing.

Why the big science dump, Spiders? Because I'm all about breaking the rules and getting into the how and why of things. So, who's to tell me that a salt print uses silver chloride? Why can't it use silver bromide? Or silver iodide? Or a combination of two halides? Or all three halides? Why can't it be as halide happy as it can get, Spiders? It's about to get like that, Spiders. I'm searching for ways to make "salted paper" images using silver bromide and silver iodide in addition to, or in place of, silver chloride.

Fortunately, I found this weird stuff called "Old Workhorse Bromo-Iodizer" in my university's alt process lab, and I found Potassium Bromide for sale from Bostick & Sullivan. I need an iodide solution, but I'm sure I can find it. After all, iodine isn't exactly hard to get a hold of. This is going to get crazy, Spiders.