A chance to make a contribution to analog photography
I had a dream last night – about emulsions, of all things (and not even chocolate emulsions). Sir William De W. Abney, who wrote ‘Photography with Emulsions – A Treatise on the Theory and Practical Working of the Collodion and Gelatine Emulsion Processes,” in 1885, started a thread on APUG. This is not quite as bizarre as it sounds. As you read his book, it sounds for all the world like a web forum. He quotes other emulsion workers, and talks about the successes and failures of what, to him, was still a cottage industry. Quite chatty and readable. He used canning jars and cheesecloth. He and his contemporaries would have loved the internet. It’s probably a good thing for us they didn’t have one, because they actually got some work done.
I share this because I believe photographers who are working for the preservation of analog photography are missing a really good bet – handmade silver gelatin workshops with Ron Mowrey (PE). Skip a century in your imagination, and here is a man “inventing” silver gelatin papermaking. Before commercial industry and patent production slammed shut the door on information exchange, the first photographers were out there, rolling their own and talking about it. We can do that, too.
It seems obvious to me that it is time for a pre-active approach. Reactive isn’t enough. Pt/pd, cyanotype, carbon – these processes are all wonderful and worth learning, but at this stage it is mostly that – learning. Silver gelatin is a chance to learn, teach, collaborate, and contribute to photography. There are hundreds of emulsion formulas, dozens of papers, countless developers and toners. This is fun stuff, folks. Give it a try. Ron is trying to empower us. Let’s help him.
One of the things that I think has been overlooked in this is that we need some new equipment, like plate holders. I going to be sending some 4x5 plate holders to barryjyoung, so he can have a design to work with. Can anybody lend him an 8x10 holder?
I'll second the recommendation for Ron Mowrey's workshops. There is no one else out there teaching this part of the craft in this way, certainly not with the depth of knowledge that Ron has and has been willing to share.
I took Ron's workshop a few months back in NYC. I signed up for the exact reasons that you made in the post. I wanted to empower myself for the future.
Here is what I came away with:1. emulsion making is a full time job. 2. consistency and repeatability are very important to me and it is difficult to achieve. 3. someone or a group of investors might want to start a small plant to produce these papers for the rest of us. 4. I've sent Michael Smith a large check in the belief that it will cover me for the remainder of my photo career. 5. while we only spent 5 days doing this I prefer "ready made" paper for all the right reasons. 6. Everyone should at least learn how to do paltinum printing as it is very easy and the results are wonderful. Not as expensive as believed to be when good photo paper is going for $55-100 box. 7. I DO believe that a few people will walk away from the workshop and go on to produce one of a kind photos on a one of a kind paper that they themselves created. -will they then share those recipes?? probably not...8. it takes more than just some skill to coat paper properly. It also takes a good backround in chemistry. This is serious stuff. One goof and you messed up the entire day or couple of days. (sometimes the emulsions have to sit for a period of time)
Do take the workshop if so inclined. Ron is a wonderful and I mean wonderful man who is is tackling this vertually by himself. I know that somewhere out there in Analog land there are a few emulsion genius's just waiting to bloom. Me-I only have a limited amount of time to do my work and want to maximize that as much as possible....
I could lend him an 18x24cm plate holder - I have two wonderful book-style plate holders which fit normal 8x10" cameras. It shouldn't be difficult to adjust the opening to 8x10".
Originally Posted by Brian Miller
-- Ole Tjugen, Luddite Elitist
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Denise, Peter, David, thanks for the comments.
I must say that Peter stepped up to the bat when it was his turn at making a coating, and hit a home run the first try. Remember Peter? Great talent with coating. And his photos are superb.
And you have to go see Denise's photos made using the Azo type emulsion. My wife and I have enjoyed seeing all of the photos on her web site. www.dwrphotos.com - go take a look.
As much as I'd love to consider myself an 'emulsion genius' I'll have to deny that it takes as impressive a skill set to make emulsion as you might think. I took Ron's June PF workshop. I spent the first month afterwards pretty much full time, but it's been part time at best since and I'm very satisfied with my progress.
A couple of caveats: 1) A little chemistry and a lot of experience with b&w is important, but I was a botanist, not a chemical engineer. Never took Physical Chemistry 2) I have concentrated on one aspect: contact printing paper. You're absolutely right about this being huge. To me, that is the irresistable attraction. I want something I can sink my teeth into. Silver gelatin has a rich history for a reason. I look on handcrafted Ag emulsion as a classic alternative process, except far more dynamic than most. Each photographer will be able to put her/his own artistic spin on it. Who could turn that down for a box of soulless commercial paper? (That's a joke, by the way. I believe the 'soul' comes from the artist, not the materials) I still do my "paycheck" printing on Ilford Multigrade. I will as long as it's available.
No, Ron's class is not pre-digested and spoon-fed, but I have to believe there are countless photographers more than capable of being part of the silver gelatin Renaissance. As the saying goes (more or less) "If I can do it, anyone can." And I repeat, it's a fun trip.
Regarding sharing recipes: A number of months ago I emailed you and the rest of the members of the New York class the paper recipe I'd modified from Ron's class. I didn't hear anything back from you. I'm very willing to share anything I've learned with anyone who has taken Ron's class.
Denise, I agree with everything you have said. I haven't made the leap into hand coating yet but Ron has allowed me to test and evaluate his silver chloride contact printing emulsion. I can say from first-hand experience that it works. The second thing I can say about it first-hand is that consistency from batch to batch is attainable. Bear in mind, its Ron doing making the emulsion and coating the paper, not me. I'm sure the learning curve is steep.
All that aside, this does open up a new dimension to the art that hasn't been used much for a good hundred years. My fullest support to everyone who tries it.
Maybe I'm just using the lack of dedicated space as an excuse. I'm sure Goldfarb has been cookin' emulsion there in his Manhattan apartment. If he can do it there, anyone should be able to do it.
Thank you for the encouraging endorsement. Your opinion carries weight. I hope that more people get a chance to see how doable emulsion cookin' is. Even "dedicated space" isn't necessary. Like any activity, from quilting to darkrooming, it's just easier to not have to share space with the rest of life.
And it gets more compelling to learn a handcraft by the week. Especially in photography.
The cover story of this week's issue of Science News is "computed photos". Amazing. I suggest everyone interested in photography familiarize themselves with the issue. The current crop of digital cameras are the stone ax and wood club step between analog photography as it was known 50-100 years ago and the technologies of computational photography being developed as we speak. I don't know much about digital photography, but I do get a sense that there is still quite a bit of hands-on. At least you still have to take a RAW file and manually do something or other in Photoshop. If my intuition proves out, those are the manual steps that will be ancient history very, very soon.
The photographic art that will excite collectors won't be the limited editions made from standardized, reproducible materials (analog or digital), but the handcrafted print - by its nature a unique work. Of course, this is already true with pt/pd. I hope people will consider how retro/artsy/impossible the process seemed as recently as the publication of "The Keepers of Light" in 1979. Silver gel is in that same position today.