Help to diagnose a problem

Discussion in 'B&W: Film, Paper, Chemistry' started by David Henderson, Apr 8, 2005.

  1. David Henderson

    David Henderson Member

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    Hi

    Three months ago I hung prints of some of my better b&w photographs in my office/studio at home. Some of the prints have begun to develop patches and blotches, sometimes accompanied by a shift to sepia. Most of the blotches are light but one or two are dark. Other prints are for the time being apparently OK. The question is of course why because there's clearly something here that I need to control. The obvious suspects are the environment, the frame, the mounts, the print-making itself, and light. A little information about each

    The house is 75 years old, and the room in which the photographs hang had been painted about a month or so before hanging. The wallcovering has been there for 20 years, periodically painted.

    They are framed in black Nielsen Classic frames and with the exception of the window mounts ( see below) everything in there was supplied with the frames.

    The mounts were admittedly bought in a hurry and are Daler-Rowney white-core ph neutral mount board. This is not claimed to be archival . But the damage is not confined to areas of the prints near the board and there is no apparent damage to the substantial area of paper actually in contact with the board. All the problem lies within the mount window where the image is.

    The prints are made for me on Forte Polywarmtone fibre semi-matte and are untoned. Other prints from the same batches kept in archive boxes and/or photo-paper boxes are OK so far.

    All these prints have been through a flatbed scanner a couple of times- but so have others that appear undamaged.

    The room is north-facing so no direct sunlight. The room has multiple low power halogen spotlights. There is no apparent relationship between how these lights are angled and tyhe prints that are starting to discolour/blotch.

    Any thoughts please? Clearly I can get more prints made, but there doesn't seem to be much point until I'm sure this won't re-occur.

    Thanks

    David Henderson
     
  2. ann

    ann Subscriber

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    perhaps, a lack of proper washing. The break down can occur at varying times.

    I don;t think the other materials are old enough nor in place long enough to bring about a break down of the print.

    My first thought was inadequate washing, this would have or could have shown up if the prints had been toned, but as that is not the case , you are just beginning to see the effects.

    I would take these back to whoever printed them and talk with them regarding their workflow, etc
     
  3. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    This will fall into either of the following: Either incomplete fixing or inadequate washing.
     
  4. geraldatwork

    geraldatwork Member

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    As the Don said.
     
  5. Bob F.

    Bob F. Member

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    Classic sounds of inadequate fixing - especially the sepia toning: this, I think, is printing-out of unfixed silver compounds.
     
  6. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

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    Are these prints covered with glass?

    My first thought is "environment". Do you know what type of paint was used? I know there has been talk of oil-based paints out-gassing and the phenols released having a bad effect on RC prints - and I can imagine that Fibre prints would not be immune. Glass would slow the attack, but not prevent it completely. It sounds, also, that the window mat is protecting the surface somewhat.

    It is possible there is an accumulative action ... borderline incomplete fixing and washing - followed by chemical degradation.
     
  7. David Henderson

    David Henderson Member

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    Thanks for the replies so far. It might help if I added the following. Most of the paintwork in the room is water -based .

    If, as seems possible, the problem is fixing/washing, then would this be more apparent/apparent more quickly on prints exposed to light than those kept in boxes. If this is the case then I'd be reasonably convinced that this is the answer.

    David
     
  8. Bob F.

    Bob F. Member

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    Very much so: it's the action of light on the unfixed proportion of the emulsion that causes it to print out.

    You can check with a residual fixer test on the border of one of the prints. I think Photographer's Formulary sell one.


    Bob.
     
  9. NER

    NER Member

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    In their seminal article titled "How to Fix and Wash for Permanence," ("The American Annual of Photography, 1944"), Crabtree, Eaton and Muehler (Kodak Research Laboratories) reported that heat and humidity - not light - accelerated the deterioration of the silver image caused by inadequate removal of hypo residues. The problem you describe sounds very much like "sulfiding," and is owed precisely to the cause identified here and by others responding above. I do not think your problem can be due to incomplete fixing because if that were the case the images probably would have darkened long before you managed to get them into their frames. I would not rule out that possibility, however. Obviously it is important that fixing be complete and that problems can result when a print is removed too early from the fixing bath. A contaminated fixing bath can also be responsible for staining, but that explanation seems out of order here given your account of the problem. If your prints are not dry-mounted and if the problem you describe is owed to retention of hypo residues as suspected, they can be treated (i.e., fixed twice, cleared, and washed) to arrest, or at the very least slow, further deterioration; however, the possibility of making new ones exists and doing so would seem a better alternative. As you probably know, there are simple colorimetric tests for checking residual hypo levels in prints to assure that their washing is complete. You might consider resorting to those. The careful choice of fixing agent, the use of either a hypo clearing agent, hypo eliminating agent, or both, and good washing technique are all factors affecting the removal of hypo residues and therefore the stability of the silver print.
     
  10. photobackpacker

    photobackpacker Advertiser Advertiser

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    David

    Are the prints overmatted to avoid contact with the glass/acrylic?
     
  11. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    I agree that it's a fixing/washing issue. In addition to exposure to light, there may be an issue of the microenvironment inside the frame that's accellerating the process that causes the staining, which could explain why you're not seeing it in the prints that are not framed.
     
  12. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    I'm not sure if it'e been mentioned already but to go along with the fixing/washing that has been brought up. I agree. One thing that I was guilty of early on was not that I didn't fix properly or that I didn't wash enough but that I was being too frugal and using fixer too long. The stuff had depleted and within weeks and months, I was seeing deterioration in the print.

    I agree that it's probably too early for environmental issues to show up. So my advice is keep track of your fixer depletion and wash archivally.


    Michael
     
  13. Bob F.

    Bob F. Member

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    Slightly on topic.... "The Permanence and Care of Color Photographs: Traditional and Digital Color Prints, Color Negatives, Slides, and Motion Pictures" is available for download at http://www.wilhelm-research.com/book_toc.html . Despite the title, there is a lot of info on B&W permanence and the use of different mounting methods & materials too.

    Cheers, Bob.
     
  14. chuck94022

    chuck94022 Subscriber

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    I would agree with others that it sounds like a fixing/washing problem. However, you said two things that caught my attention. First, you said you had the prints made. This sounds like you went to a professional printer. If so, you probably have some recourse with them.

    Also, as noted above, you seem to indicate that the print itself is not mounted on a board (behind the print), but just attached to the window board (on the front). Is this the case? If so, what is in contact with the back of the print? Or is it just floating with nothing between it and the wall?

    I'm just trying to get a better picture of what you have.

    -chuck
     
  15. David Henderson

    David Henderson Member

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    To pick up on the questions raised in your replies.

    Yes, I am aware I have recourse to the lab if its their problem which is looking increasingly likely. However I do want to be reasonably sure and informed on this not only because I have a good relationship with them but also because I have well over 100 similarly specified prints here in boxes. The issue doesn't stop with those I have on the wall, for doubtless some of those I have in boxes would deteriorate similarly when framed.

    Some of the prints now discolouring/blotching/fading were several months old when I framed them, using a method I expected to change in a few months. They had however been stored in boxes to that point, in the same room in which they are now displayed.

    The prints are taped loosely to a window- mount (overmat in USA-speak?) to hold the print in position. A margin of about 1/2" of the photo-paper shows between the edge of the window mount and the edge of the print. The prints are not touching the glass. Behind the print is a board supplied by Nielsen which has several clips that spring into place behind the frame and hold the whole package firmly together. Bear in mind please that there is no visible damage or staining to the paper at all- just to the printed area itself - and that the damage to the prints is not confined to the edges.
     
  16. Bob F.

    Bob F. Member

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    The mounting method you mention seems flawed. It sounds like there is no archivally sound material between the back of the print and the back board of the frame which is usually hardboard (which is almost certainly acidic), however, not enough time has passed for that to be relevant - probably...

    Is there any discolouration to the part of the print covered by the mount board - i.e. parts not exposed to direct light and is all discolouration on the print side and not on the back of the print?

    I just noticed you are in the UK so my suggestion of Photographer's Formulary's residual hypo test kit is a bit moot. I don't know anywhere to get such a kit in the UK, however, you can use a drop of 10% selenium toner on the white border of a print. If the drop turns red/brown after a couple of minutes the print is insufficiently fixed. If it is clear, or a VERY feint colour then the fixing was OK.

    Bob.
     
  17. George Papantoniou

    George Papantoniou Member

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    I'd agree with Bob, that the hardboard (if it is in contact with the back of the prints) is the source of the problem.
    I still have to tell a story that an Ilford technician once told me, about a series of mounted prints that went bad (bronzing, as they call it) overnight. They (Ilford) were called to find out what happened, and they realised that the reason for the bronzing was that the carpets in the hall the prints were hung were cleaned the day before the bronzing occured. The detergent used to clean the carpet probably released chemicals in the air that entered the frames and infected the emulsion, causing a strong oxidation of the silver. He also told me that the worst environment for photographic prints to be hung in is beauty salons (salons de coiffure), because of the harmful chemicals used on the client's heads...
     
  18. dancqu

    dancqu Member

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    Perhaps coincidence. Those stored were first in a batch; a batch
    gone bad with spent chemistry. Dan