Developing Mural Prints
I'm a first-time poster on APUG and am very excited to be a part of the community. Hopefully this isn't a redundant thread, and if so, please direct me to the appropriate thread and I'll take this one down.
With the advancement of digital scanning and printing technology, museums and galleries are turning their eyes to huge, beautiful prints. A professor of mine recently started exhibiting in Germany and they requested that his prints be 40" x 50". That is soooo big!
My professor (along with many other working artists) turn to professional printing services to accomplish prints this big. They drum scan the negative and use a (correct me if I'm wrong) hybrid printer emitting RGB light onto photographic paper and develop within the printer. This costs an incredible amount of money. My professor invested about 15k into these prints, without getting any gear. That money went directly to the printer and the prints went directly to the gallery in Germany.
Now, I understand this is an investment and what better investment can their be (i.e. investing in one's self)? However, I don't have the funds to do that at this time. How do those of us still working with traditional materials in traditional darkroom spaces compete with the size and quality being produced by advancing technology? How can I process prints 30"x40" or larger?
I'm interested in hearing the variety of techniques out there. I've heard of people developing in wallpaper trays, but there is not much literature out there and very little detail on forums. I've also thought of creating a series of dip-tanks made of Plexiglas (similar to a big, thin fish tank with multiple chambers) but I am not an engineer and worry that the water pressure would force the Plexiglas apart.
Please post your techniques with detailed explanations or links to outside literature.
I bought some plastic wallpaper trays and cut and glued them together to make longer troughs. Also project onto the floor (or wall) and use a string wrapped around the knob to focus. I made 30x40" prints and not too hard, but need to be careful of crimping the print when processing with the rolling and unrolling.
Your question and related ideas have been discussed many times. This page contains a number of links to APUG discussions related to your question:
I assume you're talking about color prints? The simplest way would be a custom-built drum processor. That's the first step, with many many
many more to follow. By the time you get good at it, everyone will already be weary of huge prints anyway, and the next trend will be displaying 35mm contact prints. Sounds like your "professor" is just blindly following the herd and expects everyone else to do so too. But
there simply is no cheap way to do it. If you're not paying someone else, you're going to have to invest in some pretty serious equipment,
supplies, and space to do it yourself. If you're persistent, building your own gear can be fun, but it would be wise to take some shop classes,
and indeed also learn how to fabricate Plexiglas.
The photo marketing guru Mary Virginia Swanson said in an interview (LensWork #70) that the Number One Problem photographers have is not paying attention to their cost of sales. That is, they spend carloads of money on printing and mounting, and after the gallery takes 50%, there's not much left to pay themselves a salary. oops...
It might work if your professor has a fairly reliable sales pipeline. (I wouldn't want to have to make $15K just to get back to zero.) I do know of a fairly well-respected photographer who prints huge, mounts on plexiglass, sells a fair amount of work at top-end galleries and teaches at a community college to pay the bills. Want to work that hard and not make a living?
The problem with the huge print approach is that, absent some consumer demand, you are likely to spend a serious pile of cash and end up with a bunch of prints that take up quite a lot of space. In five years, after your skills and aesthetic have evolved, you'll wonder why you spent all that time and money on an incomplete vision.
My advice, stick to smaller prints and concentrate on making a ton of them to refine your vision. If you're good enough, eventually someone will pay you to make big prints.
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Plexi tanks will work, but as the point has been made, there may be structural issues with making them beyond a certain size. There was a video that I think you can find online about a photographer who makes pinhole images using color paper. His camera is a trailer he pulls behind his truck. His prints are so big, he lays them on the floor, pours RA4 chemistry on them, and brushes it around with a mop to develop the prints.
I've printed a lot of images larger than 40"x50" and there's 3 ways I've processed then depending on the space available,
1. Temporary trays, just wood and polythene lined.
2. Place in the darkroom sink (mine's 6ft long) and process using sponges. Quite economic.
3. When I had a horizontal enlarger I'd just spray the chemicals onto the emulsion, but I did have a darkroom geared up for this as we also applied photographic emulsion to various supports by spraying, some of these were significantly larger.
I usually modified the developer to prevent aerial oxidation and used a higher than normal dilution to ensure slower and more even development.
Smaller than 40x50 I'd see-saw through trays large enough for the papers width, as mentioned above.
Processing large black and white prints is a totally different ballgame than doing RA4 color. In the latter case, your number one cost
consideration should be, how expensive is it to replace your lungs? Some people are going to learn the answer to that the hard way.