Making developer from (totally) raw ingredients

Discussion in 'Alternative Processes' started by jjsomewhere, Mar 16, 2009.

  1. jjsomewhere

    jjsomewhere Member

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    Hi all,

    A question.

    Imagine you're on a deserted island somewhere on planet earth.

    You have no access to off-the-shelf photographic chemicals (nor to any industrially produced chemicals at all), including no access to your local drug store, diy store, supermarket or similar.

    You *do* have some basic laboratory equipment, and can assume that any naturally occurring plants, animals or minerals that can be found anywhere on earth are also represented on your island.

    You have an exposed role or two of generic b&w negative film and a small cave to use as a darkroom. How might you go about developing the film?

    Any ideas anyone?

    A trawl through Wikipedia suggests we might be able to obtain Catechol (a chemical commonly used for developing films) from fresh tea leaves. Apparently 25% of the dry weight of tea leaves is Catachin. We might then be able to heat the Catechol to make Pyrocatechol. But we're not chemists, so maybe this is all wrong.

    Alternatives might include getting the Pyrocatechin direct from horse or human urine, or Pyrogallol (an alternative basic ingredient in photographic developer) by heating Gallic Acid derived from Gall Nuts, Sumac, Witch Hazel or other sources. But this process looks like it might require Sulfuric Acid and involve hydrolysis, which is where it all get's messy.

    We'd then need an alkaline agent to mix with the Pyrocatechol to make the developer. Sodium Carbonate is often used, and Wikipedia suggests something like this might be obtained by burning dried seaweed, or from Borax, which would need to be mined. Either option sounds like it might be doable, at least in theory.

    If we wanted to get snazzy we might be able to add some Sodium Sulphite (which helps the developer keep longer by delaying oxidation) made from the mineral Mirabilite, if we could find any on our island. And just possibly we might be able to make some Potassium Bromide (which helps suppress fogging on the film) through a reaction between iron ore and Bromine, although making the Bromine would be a whole project in itself so that might be an unreasonable goal.

    For fixing we understand that plain seawater will provide a fix, given long enough, otherwise we'd need to explore making Sodium Theosulfate by (wikipedia again) heating Sodium Sulfite and Sulfur in water - the Sodium Sulfite derived (again, as above) from the Mirabilite and the Sulfur collected from the local hot spring. Umm, or something like that.

    Do any *real* scientists out there have any better ideas? We'd really appreciate some input from somebody who actually knows about this sort of thing. All of the above is almost pure guesswork.

    Many thanks for any suggestions.

    Jeremy.
     
  2. Don12x20

    Don12x20 Member

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    Do a quick search for coffee based developers.

    you can print on leaves. Or make a paper sensitizer based upon flower/leaf pigments.

    Seawater makes a fine hypo clearing agent (used by US Navy in WW2 and since...why waste fresh water until final rinse? the basis for the product "permawash")

    You may be on an island with a volcanic vent (sulfer based compounds)

    I guess you are presuming that a crate full of film washes up regularly?
     
  3. DarkroomExperimente

    DarkroomExperimente Member

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    I've used mint and rosemary from the garden...was a weak dev, but I got an image

    where would you get the alkali?....wood ashes?
     
  4. davido

    davido Subscriber

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    vitamin C

    Vitamin C can also be used as a developer. I did a quick google search and came up with this recipe:

    8 oz of water
    8 vitamin C tablets (1000mg each)
    5 teaspoons of washing soda
    Develop for 30 minutes, agitating every 30 seconds.

    If you had citrus fruit on your island, and you could extract the vitamin C. However, the washing soda is needed as an activator. So, don't know about where one would run across that naturally.
    An interesting article called Coffee, Tea or Vitamin C, Kitchen Chemistry in the Darkroom can be found here.

    -david
     
  5. Ian Grant

    Ian Grant Subscriber

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    The expression "taking the piss" comes to mind.

    I'm not being rude, the expression comes from the old practice of taking the urine from the gents urinals in London by boat in wooden barrels to the North East coast of England, where it was hauled up a cliff face to a chemical works to extract the ammonia.

    Urea breaks down to Ammonia, so that's one source of alkali :D

    Ian
     
  6. Don12x20

    Don12x20 Member

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    Lets not forget that many islands have large deposits of Guano. Often mined on south pacific islands for fertilizer. High in phosphates, etc.

    See Banaba Island, for an example of what's left after the aged Guano is removed.
     
  7. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    i don't think you folks have found anything to fix the images yet ... :smile:
     
  8. tim_bessell

    tim_bessell Member

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    Sea water?
     
  9. Akki14

    Akki14 Member

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    Doesn't work. Has been proved a few times and is what led William Fox Talbot(i think?) to go to Herschel about his problem and he suggested sodium thiosulphate (hypo)

    If you had a store and too much money to burn, bog standard fish tank dechlorinater is sodium thiosulphate (though not the Tetra branded stuff apparently). I found at Wilkinson's(UK chain of cheapstuff stores) they have small vials of this in the pet fish section but it works out to be quite pricey compared to buying normal raw chemicals (£2 for about 25g maybe?).
     
  10. Trask

    Trask Subscriber

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    How interesting that this thread came up, as I was just thinking of the scene in a movie I once saw - "The Killing Fields", I think -- where a man's survival in a prison camp depends on him being able to make a photo that can be placed in a fake or altered document. My memory is that they failed, as they couldn't properly fix the image.
     
  11. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    the sea water will get rid of the fixer ( like perma wash ) ..
     
  12. Ole

    Ole Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    It would be nice if the island is volcanic - you'll need it for the sulfur. Mirabilite is a "desert mineral", not likely to be found even on a desert island.

    Burning sulfur gives sulfur dioxide, which reacts with lye (sodium hydroxide) solution to form sodium sulfite. Allowing that solution to react with sulfur again gives you sodium thiosulfate.
     
  13. PhotoJim

    PhotoJim Member

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    Does the desert island have a mailbox? :smile: I could mail my film for processing...
     
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  15. greybeard

    greybeard Member

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    Sea water contains sodium, potassium, bromide, sulfate and bicarbonate ions. Therefore, in principle you could use fractional crystallization to get most of what you would need. It would be a bit like the Curies separating radium from rock, but what's time to someone marooned on a desert island?

    Taking some time out to find a volcanic fumarole wouldn't be a bad idea; once you have elemental sulfur, from any source, you are on your way. Having sulfur to oxidize to the trioxide would let you make sulfuric acid, useful in extracting gallic acid and for other purposes. Reducing sea-water sulfate to free sulfur might be a challenge; is there a chemical engineer in the house? (Carbon [i.e.--charcoal] reduction of sulfate might work if the thermodynamics are right, but I don't have a convenient way to check at the moment.)

    Presumably, this island has coral, shellfish, or at least carbonate rock available; burning the calcium carbonate to lime will allow you to make calcium hydroxide, which can be used along with wood ashes to produce sodium and potassium hydroxides---burn some of your sulfur (where did you get that, anyway?) to sulfur dioxide as Ole describes and you have solved the fixer problem.

    If you don't want to get your carbonate from the water, you could also reserve some hydroxide; left alone, it will absorb carbon dioxide and react to form carbonate, which is (conveniently) insoluble in concentrated hydroxide.

    I hope that you had the foresight to land on a largish deserted island forested by oak trees; not only would the ash provide alkali, and the galls, acorns and bark provide developers, but the fractional crystallization is not going to happen by itself by itself, so you are probably fated to spend a lot of time (and fuel) tending a fire!

    Any time now some folks are bound to show up and point out that our desert-island chemistry isn't environmentally sound and that our products don't meet Kodak's quality standards; when this happens, we will hijack their ship and sail home to get our film developed there! :smile:
     
  16. DarkroomExperimente

    DarkroomExperimente Member

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    the beach sand will contain silicon...so why not just make a digital camera?

    it might just be easier to draw pictures in the sand & maybe make a castle
     
  17. jjsomewhere

    jjsomewhere Member

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    Thankyou!

    Thankyou all for your replies to my posting. I particularly like Greybeards volcanic fumarole suggestion as it sounds very visual and the question originated from a discussion we were having regarding a short story idea.

    I'll keep an eye on the thread and reply in more detail.

    Many thanks again,

    Jeremy.
     
  18. Mike Wilde

    Mike Wilde Member

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    How are you going to go at this next ?)
    - how big an island do i need to raise a herd of cattle to kill off to extract the gelatin...
    - make the paper to make the prints with the cotton, and...
    - are we going to try to master reversal processing with horse piss developer, and then the special staining found after we make a second devloper refined from our wastes collected only after certain meals to attain a certain granularity?
     
  19. Mercedes

    Mercedes Member

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    Hi Jeremy
    This thread facinates me but, the problems are not sequential and the solutions have not been solved step by step. Would you mind if we make a novel, well a short story, in order to go step by step and all interested will go along with the development of the story as every step is solved with real answers? When the story ends the answers are real even if the events are fiction and the process can be used by everyone in their personal photographic experience.
    Mercedes
     
  20. DarkroomExperimente

    DarkroomExperimente Member

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    I volunteer to spend 6 months on a tropical island to get ground truth data
     
  21. Allen Friday

    Allen Friday Member

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    There was an episode of "Naked Science" in which the scientists had to make a photograph using watercolor paper, a silver dollar and a few other "lost island" items. They failed, mainly because they ran out of time. You might keep your eyes open to see if they rerun the episode.
     
  22. Mercedes

    Mercedes Member

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    raw ingredients

    The island must have drinking water, tropical, cold, dry, mediterranian, etc climate to get raw ingredients from it. Most uninhabited islands are this because there is no drinking water, so, the short story will have to be a supernatural one, that is an island inhabited but with people who know nothing about photography and have this paradise with, of course, a volcano:
    Hawaii before the arrival of the white men.
    A door is open under certain conditions, it could be atmospheric ones or psycological ones, supernatural ones, but you will have all you need in it.
     
  23. Marc Leest

    Marc Leest Member

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    one can make a perfect developer from headache tablets (tylenol etc) and toilet destop - Caustic Soda (sp?) .

    -m-
     
  24. Mercedes

    Mercedes Member

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    http://www.ecoenquirer.com/levitating-islands.htm
    Now, an island was considered in having permanent characteristics but see this article
    (Washington, DC) Unusual images of the Earth have occasionally been uncovered after declassification of hundreds of thousands of spy satellite images by the National Imagery Mapping Agency (NIMA). In one of the more spectaular images, gathered on May 25, 2005, the apparent levitation of at least two Caribbean islands above the surface of the ocean was captured (above).

    The islands are located in a large region popularly known as the Bermuda Triangle. The spy satellite imagery clearly shows shadows cast by two of the islands on the ocean surface in such a way that can only be explained if the islands are levitated above the ocean surface, in one case by approximately ten miles
    So if it can levitate, it can do whatever is needed.
     
  25. clayne

    clayne Member

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    Amusingly I was recently thinking about this lately (who knows why) - but based on some earlier discussion in this thread, can one use urine as a developer for silver-based films or is it just a non-possibility due to the lack of developing agents? I'm not about to drink sodium sulfite or metol. :smile:
     
  26. ntenny

    ntenny Member

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    The latter, I think, for most of us. But there's a disorder called alkaptonuria that causes a developing agent related to hydroquinone to be excreted in the urine: see http://www.cmaj.ca/cgi/content/full/172/8/1002, a case study that includes a portrait of the patient developed in his urine.

    -NT