Ctein at work--dye transfer prints

Discussion in 'Color: Film, Paper, and Chemistry' started by falotico, Oct 27, 2013.

  1. falotico

    falotico Subscriber

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    I visited the photographer Ctein last March at his home near San Francisco to buy some dye transfer prints. He had announced that he was closing down his dye transfer operations (although he still has laser and other color prints available) and I wanted to examine his portfolio to see which photographs I should buy. I'm glad I did because with dye transfer prints it is practically impossible to get an idea of what the actual print looks like from the image posted on his web site. There is no way to judge the richness and depth of color in a dye transfer except to see the object itself.

    Ctein gave me permission to photograph him and to put these photos on the internet. I have posted more than twenty other photos from the session at my account--faloticoj--on flickr.com. The first image is of Ctein in his dark room holding three wratten filters to separate the primary colors of red, blue and green. Next to him is the enlarger which he used to expose the raw matrix material.

    Ctein used the Eastman Kodak dye transfer process and materials. He has visited EK and discussed his methods with people there. The man who invented the Kodak dye transfer process, Louis Condax, is shown in a vintage photo next to the trays of dye solution. Ctein has contacted Condax's son and has studied notes and DT materials which belonged to Louis Condax. Ctein noted that both he and Condax did not mind if the tanning developer oxidized a bit before it was used to develop the matrix emulsions.

    The next photos show Ctein laying the magenta matrix on a final print which already has a cyan image on it; then finally, removing the yellow matrix from the dye bath.

    Ctein varied the method recommended by Kodak by increasing the exposure of the red light matrix by several minutes. Alas, such artistry will be lost since he has run out of Kodak materials and will no longer be making DT prints. He told me that he had contacted EK when they announced that they would discontinue producing DT materials. He asked them how many customers do you need to continue making these supplies? They told him, "You don't understand--you yourself already buy sixty per cent of what we produce." So there was no market for this process.

    However a Mr. Brown(?) has manufactured matrix stock which should be a close substitute for the Kodak materials--it differs in that it is orthochromatic while the EK product was panchromatic. Ctein also says that the Kodak yellow dye is no longer available--yellow dye is a bugaboo in color photography. However another substitute should work. Dye transfer is still with us, but the magnificent Kodak version is gone with the wind. Ctein was a master of that process.
     

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  2. AgX

    AgX Member

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    That Mr. Brown would be Jim Browning, a fellow Apug member ("dyetransfer").
     
  3. falotico

    falotico Subscriber

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    Thanks to AgX for his correction and my apologies to Mr. Browning.
     
  4. DREW WILEY

    DREW WILEY Member

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    Another correction .... the predominant Kodak process all along was never panchromatic, and involved prior separations either from color
    transparencies, or direct in-camera black and white separations. The Pan Matrix product was a different approach directly from color negatives,
    was far less common, and apparently, Ctein is the last practitioner of it due to the extinction of the special film itself. Ortho or blue sensitive matrix films are still being made and used, but not by Kodak, and not for general distribution at this time.
     
  5. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    my cousin / uncle used to do dye transfer work
    he has some at his home. they are absolutely beautiful ...
    its too bad there are so few people involved with this process today ..
     
  6. falotico

    falotico Subscriber

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    I'm very glad that there are more dye transfer processes out there. I have seen some of Jim Brownings prints at his web site, but I can't judge their full quality unless I see them in the flesh. The Cteins are just beautiful and perhaps I will figure out a way to photograph parts of them which illustrates the rich detail and unique colors they exhibit.

    The Kodak dye transfer system I consider unsurpassed--IMHO--partly because its inventor, Louis Condax, used innovations that other processes lack; and partly because its materials are among the finest and are not used in other processes. Ctein I consider a master of the process, but alas he has run out of raw materials. Kodak DT images should last hundreds of years if stored in the dark, however I have heard that it is not perfectly light stable, which is a disappointment. I'm taking no chances and illuminate my examples only when I am showing them.

    Condax developed mylar supports for the relief matrices which allow for reliable registration; and he also invented a more efficient masking system which produces an extra set of matrices to transfer a much greater range of dye tones to the print. This produces probably the deepest gamma and the broadest range of hues available in color photography. Of course Kodax DT prints used thorium as a mordant for the dyes. This is a radioactive element and a Haz Mat license is required to use it. Kodak dedicated a wooden coating machine to apply the thorium nitrate to the blank print paper and after Kodak stopped manufacturing DT supplies the company burned this wooden machine so it could not contaminate anything. Some processes out there might still use thorium.

    Condax invented a way of coating the thorium on the paper to give a more detailed image, US pat 2,952,566, and this kind of print paper was probably the finest in the world for DT. Using panchromatic matrix stock removes another generation of duplication from the final image; plus it fits in to Condax's masking system. I have indicated in an earlier post that Ctein has a technique which exploits this panchromatic character.

    Unlike Technicolor dye transfer the Kodak process did not require color timing. In Technicolor the matrix had to be at a particular temperature, the dye at a specific ph and the transfer take exactly the right amount of time or the print would be too dark or too light in that color. In the Kodak system temperature and ph are controlled only loosely, but the matrix can be in contact with the final print for a short or a long time. Once the matrix is applied to the print then the dye solution reaches an equilibrium and no more dye will transfer no matter how long the matrix remains in contact with the print. A set of matrices will deliver the same color values repeatedly. We may never see the like again in our lifetimes.
     
  7. Richard Man

    Richard Man Member

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    Did Ctein show you "the fridge"? I purchased a couple small prints and the Space Shuttle print when he had the "last hurrah" print sales. I wanted a space print from him since the 1980s, and it is one of the most precious prints I have in that sense.
     
  8. DREW WILEY

    DREW WILEY Member

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    No hazmat license is required to obtain thorium nitrate, though there are certain shipping restrictions. The secret seems to have been in the way Kodak layered it into the paper, so that the paper didn't need to be mordanted just before use like other options. Some of us have experimented with uranyl nitrate. There have been many variations of this process over its long history; and in its heyday, commercial versions of materials were made not only by Kodak, but by Color Corporation of America, the US Army, certain Hollywood interests (for still image prints from movie frames), and at least two other companies. I'm am experimenting with version of wash-off relief, which is easier to control than the later tanning process of matrix film, but takes a little longer to develop. But I suspect your last paragraph, falotico, is erroneous. The transfer step is fairly fussy, regardless, esp to pH variables. And letting a matice sit too long will result in a lot of dye bleeding. Dye Transfer could easily be revived if there were enough people interested in it. The biggest danger is the extinction of appropriate transparency or slide films themselves. And it's damn hard to work from acetate base, which are not dimensionally stable. Pan Matrix film is
    a different subject. It is unlikely there will ever be a market demand for that again. I hope I can find enough time once I retire to work with
    my supplies of Efke matrix film. So far, I've just practiced the chords and figured out the basics, including how to make very precise color
    separations with current films. I already have plenty of 8x10 transparencies on hand to work with.
     
  9. ndrs

    ndrs Subscriber

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    I can't find the account for faloticoj on Flickr. It should be http://www.flickr.com/people/faloticoj/ but isn't.
    Could you please link it directly?
     
  10. falotico

    falotico Subscriber

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    Here is the address for the flickr.com page containing my photos of Ctein: http://www.flickr.com/photos/106822406@N08/

    I hope it works.

    What I recollect from my visit to Ctein was that I asked him how long he left the matrix in contact with the print paper and he said it didn't matter. I have a specific memory that the dye will reach a saturation point and that is the maximum amount of color which will transfer. Since I was familiar with the theory of the Technicolor imbibition process it amazed me that time was not a critical factor. Ctein washed his print paper with a clear fluid containing acetic acid--that provided the proper ph. Otherwise there was considerable latitude in the amount of time allowed for the transfer. That might be a characteristic of Kodak DT. I found the Condax patent 2,952,566 very informative.
     
  11. Photo Engineer

    Photo Engineer Subscriber

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    There were two dye transfer processes.

    One use Matrix Film which was blue sensitive only and required a set of separation negatives made from an original transparency. It also required contrast and color correction masks in many cases. This is the process re-created by Jim Browning, which is excellent BTW.

    The second uses Pan Matrix Film which is pancrhomatic and which prepares the mats directly from color negatives in one step. This is the process used by Ctein.

    Both Jim and Ctein are great creative artists and masters of analog color printing.

    PE
     
  12. DREW WILEY

    DREW WILEY Member

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    falotico - there's tons of chatter about this subject over on the DT forum. It isn't really the sharpest process out there, by any means, but
    prolonged transfer times just slow down the entire printing session and allow excess dye bleeding. Some people even ferrotyped them right
    after the last transfer to quickly dry them. The idea is to let all the dye transfer off the matrix. This can differ a little from dye to dye; but once it occurs, you then move on to the next color of the transfer. How much dye the respective matrices absorb is determined by the acidity of the baths and numerous other tricks which make the process so flexible. To my knowledge, Ctein worked exclusively in the pan matrix process. I haven't visited him for awhile, but even the look of those prints is somewhat different than those made by the conventional blue-sensitive process, which is to be expected, because the starting point is itself so different (chromes vs negs), and the controls in between are likewise different. But even the dyes involved can be specially tailored for specific subject matter - the ultimate example of this
    is how different dye sets would be chosen for particular Technicolor movies, then they would match the decor all filming, and whole set design to coordinate with it. ... sometimes I get totally distracted from the whole plot line of some classic old Technicolor movie just by
    observing the skill of the filming. Some dye transfer printers like Ctein stuck strictly with official Kodak dyes. Others fiddled around quite a
    bit. This potentially affected archival considerations, but that's a relatively contentious subject in its own right.
     
  13. Ctein

    Ctein Member

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    Minor corrections

    Hi, John!

    I want to correct a couple of minor technical points, just so no one gets confused as to what I'm doing/have done.

    I'm not doing “laser prints,” these days; I'm doing inkjet prints. So, the two kind of prints I offer are dye transfer prints from my existing inventory (with no new ones being made) and inkjet prints on an ongoing basis.

    Regarding matrix exposure, I didn't just increase the exposure time for one matrix when necessary, it was for all three. With long exposures, they all need to receive equal exposures or else reciprocity failure can cause color crossover (true for both Pan and Ortho Matrix Film).

    Regarding the discontinuance of dye transfer supplies, it wasn't all the supplies that I was buying the majority of towards the end, it was only Pan Matrix Film, which was discontinued several years before the rest of the dye transfer supplies.


    pax \ Ctein
    [ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
    ======================================
    -- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com
    -- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com
    ======================================
     
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  15. Ctein

    Ctein Member

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    Dear Drew,

    I think we may be into a bit of semantic confusion. It depends on what you call “excessive.” With Kodak materials, I don't find any difference in print sharpness between the minimum time it takes the die to fully transfer from the matrix to the paper and twice that time. None whatsoever. So it really is insensitive to transfer times once it goes to completion. The process is very sensitive to the pH of the dye baths, but not so much in the transfer stage. Conversely, temperature seems to have no effect in the dye bath stage, but colder easels make it harder to transfer the die to the print. Again, though, temperature tolerances are pretty wide; at least 10 or 20°. Compared to other darkroom processes, this is ridiculously forgiving.

    By the way, I actually found someone within driving distance who wanted to buy my enlarging equipment! I'm amazed. That gets rid of most of the heavy, pain-to-ship stuff. Still got lots of small stuff to dispose of , not to mention quite a few boxes of Pan Matrix Film and jugs of Kodak dye… But gradually the darkroom is disappearing. Yay!


    pax \ Ctein
    [ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
    ======================================
    -- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com
    -- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com
    ======================================
     
  16. frotog

    frotog Member

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    Are you finding the results of your digital process to be any more or less satisfying than the work you've done with dye transfer? I ask because after seeing the Eggleston retrospective I was most blown away by the inkjet prints which appeared to have an even more lovely color rendition than the dye transfers.
     
  17. DREW WILEY

    DREW WILEY Member

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    I personally thought Eggleston's work lost all its charm and "authenticity" once it went inkjet or even big. It was very off-the-cuff and needed something small and intimate. Assembly processes in general are never particularly sharp compared to conventional options, though I guess it's all relative, and a DT print might look sharp compared to a gum print, for example. The power of dye transfer is really in the richness and transparency of the dyes, and not ultimate detail, which never existed to much extent in Eggleston's work anyway. I find the transparency lacking in inkjet, which are obviously opaque inks composed of both dyes (lakes) and pigments. But to each his own. Dye transfer varied wildly in quality, depending on the practitioner. A lot of the clock-in/clock-out commercial examples were pretty disappointing. Eggleston himself is not a printmaker, so it's hard to know what his personal expectations were.
     
  18. DREW WILEY

    DREW WILEY Member

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    A related note is how all hell broke loose once some of Eggleston's images were reissued in inkjet, which certainly appeared to be a marketing
    decision trying to squeeze more juice out of the lemon by getting around the "limited edition" stipulations of the previous DT portfolios. Since
    much of his work is currently considered "collectible", previous collectors were infuriated. Dye transfer is itself geared to serial prints, but certainly not at the ease or inexpensiveness of inkjet. This is more an ethical issue than a technical one. But the fact that DT's are much more costly to produce, hence inherently rarer, gives them a perceived value in the eyes of some collectors much higher than a common inkjet. That's why some of us don't even mess around in that realm. I print all my own work, and simply don't have time to mass produce any single image, even if I had the inclination to do so. People foolish enough to collect for "investment" take their chances.
     
  19. DREW WILEY

    DREW WILEY Member

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    Ctein - please remember you were working with official Kodak papers. Those of us mordanting our own paper have somewhat different parameters. I certainly don't have enough track record yet to pin down all the relevant variables, but the dyes don't seem to "anchor" to hand mordanted papers in quite the same way. Even the time between mordanting and actual printing seems to be an important factor, just as is was in the early days when things like M-1 alum mordanting was common. I have no idea what is specifically being done with the current German transfer paper, but I'm pretty certain that the actual manner in which Kodak installed the thorium nitrate into their commercial paper had a lot to do with its storage properties for convenient use. Adding uranyl nitrate right at the time of mordanting seems to help, but it certainly isn't the same thing.
     
  20. marfa.tx

    marfa.tx Guest

    transfer time: DT transfers to "completion" -- if you roll the mat down, count to 3, then pull it back up, you will have a mottle -- not to 'completion.'

    Kodak DT paper was two layered. there were two mordants in the paper. it also has a noticeable color cast to it. one reason folks back in the day, used other paper (BW fixed out). Several small labs had internal preferences, but the retouchers weren't happy since those papers didn't respond the same to their magic wands...
     
  21. DREW WILEY

    DREW WILEY Member

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    The yellowishness might have been due to the type of gelatin used, not just the mordant present. Tranfer times are typically in the range of
    several minutes per dye, not seconds. There are some ongoing hypotheses about gelatin too, even among those of us using fixed-out paper, regarding what is best. Jillions of variables, really. The one key variable I can't pin down yet is simply enough free time to do this kind of printing! But I find it appealing from the tactile standpoint.
     
  22. Photo Engineer

    Photo Engineer Subscriber

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    You must remember that the mordant in DT paper was evenly distributed throughout the gelatin and not just imbibed at (more or less) the surface as when you use Alum. This creates what is called "case" or surface hardness and limits or slows penetration.

    A better hardener than Alum (Aluminum Sulfate) is Zircotan. It is basically Zirconium Sulfate and has a very good mordanting property as well. Better, I think, than Alum.

    Whatever the case may be, DT in the final EK form is gone forever and all anyone can do is approach it.

    Many Kodak papers were pigmented on purpose to give pleasing tones. I am not the expert here, but it seems to me that a pleasing cream tone may have been used.

    PE
     
  23. falotico

    falotico Subscriber

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    Ctein--I am grateful for the help in posting reliable information on the internet. Have you posted any of the prices of the remaining DT prints yet?
    I saw some of your ink jet prints and I thought they were wonderful. Right now I am concentrating on DT while they are still on the market. I recall that you had about 300 prints in your portfolio and I saw about a third of them. I will try to get up north sometime and see the rest of them, although there are still some in the set which I saw I would like to buy. Frankly I'd buy the whole collection if I could but I got five of the numbers wrong on my lottery ticket so I will have to wait.
    Has anyone established the light stability on the yellow dye? I keep hearing contradictory things.
    We should get one of the galleries in L.A. to do a DT exhibition. I will lend my collection if anyone is interested.
     
  24. DREW WILEY

    DREW WILEY Member

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    Thanks, Ron ... I'll make a note of that. It will be nice to have a couple more mordants options on hand to experiment with, since the nature
    of gelatins on available fixed-out papers is not a constant, and choice of mordant seems to be related. I'm not particularly worried. I've got
    other options for commercial color printing per se; and given the modest quantities of DT prints I expect to be able to make after retirement, don't mind doing it the old fashioned way. Meanwhile, if a commercial transfer paper does become available... one less headache. But
    improvising is some of the fun of the process, I suppose...
     
  25. Photo Engineer

    Photo Engineer Subscriber

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    Drew, Kodak and others patented thousands of mordants for this type of use. You will find many references to guanidinium salts and polymers in these patents. There are also mordants containing Nickel to help adjust the hue just as the mordant in DT is chosen to do something similar.

    PE
     
  26. Ctein

    Ctein Member

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    Dear Drew,

    I am not prescribing, I am describing. My descriptions were accurate enough for MY process. Obviously, you change the materials, anything can happen.

    pax / Ctein