Ctein at work--dye transfer prints
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.
Last edited by falotico; 10-27-2013 at 04:32 AM. Click to view previous post history.
That Mr. Brown would be Jim Browning, a fellow Apug member ("dyetransfer").
Originally Posted by falotico
Thanks to AgX for his correction and my apologies to Mr. Browning.
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.
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 ..
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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.
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.
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.
I can't find the account for faloticoj on Flickr. It should be http://www.flickr.com/people/faloticoj/ but isn't.
Originally Posted by falotico
Could you please link it directly?
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.