Photo journal

While I try to write something in this blog about my photographic journey and discoveries frequently, I find there are things I think about that I do not wish to share publicly or necessarily chronicle here. So in the style of Edward Weston, I have started a Journal/Day book where I can write more freely, express my “artistic thoughts”, plan future endeavors, note mistakes and corrective actions, and scribble whatever else comes to mind. I spend several hours a week on continuing education about photography, often learning about things I will never have the opportunity to try, but it expands the mind. The journal gives me a private space to work things out. I will keep this blog for displaying my work and to write about my experiments so that others may have a resource as long as the site lives.

I once created a website for sailing enthusiast to keep their travel journals online which had both shared and private modes. Perhaps one day I may do the same for photographers. I would appreciate any feedback you may have about creating an online vs paper journal. Use the comments below or send me a message via contact page.

Sepia Toning with Thiourea

I have been interested in the sepia toned images I have often seen online. My attempts at toning with selenium yielded a nice chocolate brown on Ilford MGFB WarmTone paper but was not so pleasant on MGFB Classic.

I ordered the Thiourea Toning kit from Photographers Formulary. It ships with chemistry to make 1Liter of bleach/reducer, 100ml of Thiourea, and 100ml of Sodium Hydroxide. Mixing the chemistry is straight forward and the instructions are clear and warn of potential dangers.

After mixing the chemistry and getting them all to room temperature I poured about 1/2 Liter into a tray and bleached 3 8×10 images to completion. The bleach is a bright yellow color and works in under a minute. If you wanted to do a partial bleaching for Sepia + Selenium you would likely want to dilute the bleach to slow the action.

I followed the bleaching with a 15 minute wash for each image removing all the bleach from the paper. The remaining bleach can be reused, so I returned it to its glass bottle.

Mixing the Thiourea and Sodium Hydroxide to its diluted state is where you can effect tone. The PF recommendation is 28ml +28ml + water to make 500ml. Other online resources are near that with 30+30+500. It is also stated you can vary the color by increasing or decreasing the amount of Sodium Hydroxide relative to Thiourea. Since the kit only offers 100ml of the toning elements, I decided to go with a 20+20+400 dilution, which would allow me to have up to 5 toning sessions. The toning solution does not keep beyond a single session.

I dropped in the first print and within 1 minute the image was a lovely sepia tone. A nice lovely golden but yet still brown tone that is so much nicer than the chocolate of selenium. The shadows opened up and highlight detail just seemed brighter. Second sheet same result, Third sheet ditto. What amazed me about this was that the three sheets were different papers 1 MGFB Classic, one WarmTone, and one MGFB ART. The resulting color when dry is almost the same, noting tonal differences of the base paper and lack of gloss on Ilford Art.

Overall I am pleased with the Sepia tone and will experiment more. I may even like it better than the black and grey tones for waterfall images.

UPDATE: see Part II of this article here

Ilford Art paper prints comparing Sepia Toned vs untoned, click for larger image.

Bromoil First Try – miserable failure

I stumbled upon and interesting series of videos on you-tube illustrating the Bromoil process. It looks kind of fun and is something one could do indoors on cold/rainy/hot day. Basically you bleach your image removing all traces of silver, Fix, dry, rewet, then add a layer of ink where your silver used to be. The gelatin is supposed to absorb the ink while the non-gelatinized portion of the image is mostly water so repels the ink. What you end up with look like an painting of your image. It can be any color of ink you choose.

I have a few test images I can use to see how difficult or easy this process is.

I ordered the bromoil bleach from Bostic and Sullivan, mixed it up, and successfully bleached and tanned two sheets of Ilford Art and one of the same image on Ilford MGFB Classic. The bleach is a bright green color and works quickly to remove the image. I completed removal of the silver with TF4 fixer and washed for 45mins. Then let the sheets dry for about a week. The matrix (silverless gelatin) is a nice light tan color at this point and the image is still barely visible .

After gathering up my bromoil supplies of inks, brushes, rollers, and stuff,I set out to try the inking process. I cut one of the sheets in half so I could work a small area to get the inking process down. It looks easy online.

I soak the half sheet for several minutes in about 75* water. Then I remove the sheet and dry it both sides gently with paper towels. I ink the half sheet all over with the brush is all directions and have a nice muddy grey until I use the foam roller to redistribute the ink. Still a little muddy but I can now see the image faintly. I drop it back into the water and presto the image forms, but without much detail in the shadows. I gently rub it with a cotton ball while still in the water and it moves some of the ink out of the white areas and lightens the shadows. Wow this is really easy. So I set my test strip aside and go about soaking and inking the full sheet.

This is where things fall apart. The full sheet does not perform the same way the little strip did. It inks up blackishly but then fades and gets muddy when re-wetting. I work it in and out of the water several times but can never really get the image defined.

I switch to my third sheet soaking and getting ink ready. Though this time I am trying a sepia ink. Things start out ok, but when I put the image in the water – I have a negative image. No Idea what caused that since I bleached and fixed at the same time as the other two. Except this is Ilford MGFB paper. But the stained matrix was a positive. So wondering if maybe the sepia ink is water based and not oil based. But can is same brand as the black and says oil on it. Gamblin Relief Ink – artists oils.

In summary, Ilford art probably not best choice or at least not a semi busy image on Art , Sepia reversing image, and I smell like mineral spirits. Other than that it was kind of fun.

Step 1 Presoak  top left.  Step 2 Bleach top right and midde right. Step 3 Fix and wash image barely visible, bottom right.  Original vs Inked test strip, bottom left. Click image for larger view.

Darkroom Underground Magazine


Tim Layton Fine Arts has launched a new Film centered magazine Darkroom Underground. The first issue was release July 1 and was chocked full of useful information for the darkroom and film enthusiast. The magazine will be published quarterly online with print editions possible in 2018. The Darkroom Underground publishes technical and creative articles in each issue along with featured photographers. See the link for more information and how to subscribe. There is also a facebook page for discussion of analogue film.

As someone who constantly reads and researches techniques, chemistry, and creativity this magazine is a welcome departure from the not 99.99% digital media out there. I wish Tim and his advisors many years of success.

Craft vs Art

Over the years I have seen various definitions of photography described as a Craft vs Art. I remember reading a story where a publisher referred to someone (Edward Weston I think) as an Artist and he scratched through the word and wrote Photographer. So what is the difference? There are countless websites and opinion pieces describing why photography is or isn’t art. But how we label ourselves is just as important as the label the public, critics, gallery owners, publishers, and piers might put on us. For me the difference is how we practice and pursue our end goals.

When we work solely to reproduce something as realistically as possible with the perfect exposure and darkroom/computer techniques, I believe we are working as craftsmen or artisans. Our goal is  to master the technique and process of chemical conversion of light to silver/pigment on paper. We spend countless hours determining development times, contrast, and tonality. Our opinions may change as to what is aesthetically pleasing over time as we change our process and mature. I consider most commercial and portrait photographers to be craftsmen vs artists. They are trying to create a socially acceptable rendition of the subject as dictated by others needs, even if they do have a unique look. Even artists who use photographic techniques as part of a mixed medium may only be practicing craft and not really making Art.

At some point we begin to formulate ideas of what the work itself means and how we can expand on those thoughts in the images we capture. An image of a tree is no longer a representation of the tree, but stands as a reminder for something else. Perhaps the photographer chose a different technique creating an abstraction of the thing or is able to express his views of the subject based on what he felt at the time the image was first visualized. His “Art” may be local to himself only. Others may not understand. A body of similar images with a coherent theme may lead one to better artistic expression. When we think of the self portraits of Cindy Sherman and consider the depth of thought that goes into her productions we can begin to see photography as Art. The social message is what defines her photographs as Art. In my opinion, Art occurs when we move beyond the “craft” of photography.

So when you or I photograph a tree as millions have done before us, is there a social message or meaning behind what we do? When we work to show the world a piece of forest in our corner of the world that they might not otherwise see is there importance to our work? If we capture the same tree over the passage of time and express what that tree means are we then practicing a craft or attaching artful meaning to our series? If a painter captures the very essence of our tree and is heralded for his realism or abstraction as art, what does that say about our representations?

Part of the crossover from craft to art lies in the life we lead. Beginning the creative journey is a conscious decision that must be nurtured while at the same time becoming experts in technique so we can free the mind and spirit to the point that we become artful. There may be many stages we pass through in our quest. It is not a linear pathway but a curvy confusing path with many branches and choices to be made.  We must understand the tools of our trade but not be limited by them so that we can one day express our inner selves in a two dimensional medium. If necessary, place reminders in your path to think outside of the normal box and take that alternative path . At some point we hope our images become the story teller and story, much as the practiced dancer becomes the dance.

As photographers we capture life in brief moments of time. So go live creatively and produce the work you wish to produce, become an expert craftsman or artist as you see fit, and show your work or keep it to yourself for your own enjoyment.   Life is art, experience it.