Suggestions for a starter Contact Print setup
all this fervor over Amidol has me rethinking a contact print setup.
What I would like is a suggestion of what would be the basics for this? What would be a good paper/developer to start with?
I have a safelight and tongs. I have some smallish trays that I use for my 4x5 developing.
The part of me that was was a student for so long has an idea to make a print frame using an old cheap clip-type 8x10 frame. The part of me that has a good job now thinks I should just buckle down and buy a new frame.
I know I can be nominated for a stoning for stating this but...even with all the great press it gets, Amidol is not going to happen. One big problem I have is that my time and throughput is quite limited. I may only get a few things to print, a couple of times a month. Mixing up Amidol and letting it go to waste doesn't seem like it will be worth it. Long shelf life appeals to me. If I can rebottle the developer for a later session, that is even better.
Also, I will be doing this in the same bathroom my kid uses and I have been known to drip a bit of developer here and there. I get it cleaned up, but the thought of toxic chemicals and stains doesn't appeal to me. I guess that my local hair salon probably dumps more toxics into the bay in a week than my darkroom will in my lifetime, but I would like to minimize that as well.
From my own research, I was leaning towards the Azo/BW-65 combination. It seems to have a good reputation, and I like the fact that the Phenidone is listed as only "slightly" toxic. The glycin is moderately toxic, so that is a drawback.
Ah, I long for the days when I had access to a darkroom with a LF enlarger and a print processor. I guess I didn't realize how cool that was. An automatic print processor probably will get the stones flying as well, but given time constraints, it seems like a luxury. Unfortunately, electron microscopes have all gone digital, so there is no chance to sleaze my way into the darkrooms.
So, any suggestions are invited and welcome!
If you don't want to use Amidol and Azo paper (shhhh don't tell Michael), you can always go back to my old standby - RC or fiber paper and Dektol. I generally keep a few bags of Dektol powder handy, and mix up a half gallon as I get the urge to do something. If you play around with the distances, you can use a small bulb and either a stopwatch or a darkroom timer. For the printing frame, if you don't want to spring for a real frame, two pieces of clean glass will work - but they must be clean. I finally got most of the "right" items, but it took a while, doing it piecemeal.
If you want to forego all developers, you can get "sunprint" or "blueprint" paper and make cyanotypes. To print them, them, you just need sunlight and water.
And if you want to save some money and get more "arty" prints by hand coating them, you can buy cyanotype kits from Photographer's Formulary for, IIRC, $20 -- they claim enough to coat X number of 8x10s, but based on my limited use so far, it looks as if it'll coat ten times that number. The two main chemicals are barely toxic, and if you're willing to tailor your negative contrast to suit the process, you might not need to even keep the (pretty toxic) potassium dichromate contrast enhancer around (I don't use it every time I make prints, only when negatives call for it -- and then I use one drop in enough sensitizer for 2-3 prints). Lock the three bottles away where you keep your film chemicals, and get into the habit of wiping up the counter and floor after a session -- it's a good idea anyway, since your film developer is likely to be at least as toxic as anything you'll use for silver gelatin printing.
Originally Posted by SteveGangi
All you need beyond that is some foam brushes, fiber reinforced watercolor paper (so it doesn't wrinkle), running water (or a supply of water you can use to tray wash/develop), negatives to print, contact frame, and sunshine. You can, if you choose, tone the prints in plain black tea (I brew it cold, Red Rose brand, double drinking strength) to vary the tone from the rich, deep Prussian blue with white highlights, continuously to nearly neutral black with slightly pink/tan highlights. Tea toning is also said to improve the permanence of prints, which otherwise can fade if exposed to light (but will darken with exposure to air and not too much light, or with a light treatment with weak hydrogen peroxide solution).
As for contact printing frames, check eBay -- I regularly see frames on there that will take 4x5 or 5x7 prints, including the nice adjustable Kodak frames (that's where I got mine), with two leaves like an enlarging easel under the glass (though they usually aren't correctly listed as printing frames, but rather as picture frames or "unidentified photo equipment" on a good day. I got two of them (one Kodak adjustable to 4x5, which will take 5x7 with the leaves removed, and one simpler one in 3 1/4x 5 1/2 postcard format) in a lot of darkroom equipment for $10 plus shipping.
Photography has always fascinated me -- as a child, simply for the magic of capturing an image onto glossy paper with a little box, but as an adult because of the unique juxtaposition of science and art -- the physics of optics, the mechanics of the camera, the chemistry of film and developer, alongside the art in seeing, composing, exposing, processing and printing.
I used BW-65 a number of years ago and it was OK. I've been using Ansco 130, also available from PF, and like it better for use with Azo. I can get prints that are similar to amidol, although warmer toned and not quite so well separated in the shadows.
I'd recommend you going ahead. I love contact prints.
Anso 130 has a really long shelf life once mixed. Its not amidol, but not really bad either. Dektol will turn Azo blue. BTW, Azo has a reaaalllyyyy long shelf life!. You will need to adjust your neg developing times for Azo, not something you will need to do with enlarging paper.
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There are 1-10L kits for amidol available for under $20, which may seem expensive compared to bulk raw chemicals. The Weston formula has all you need to mix Michael Smith's formula with a little left over.
To prevent messes, I put a sheet of plastic over the counters and floors and work in a large but shallow plastic storage tray.
A bucket of kitty-litter absorbs most liquids.
If you look in the "Darkroom Portraits" thread, you can see my bathroom contact printing setup. Here's a quick link--
If you're contact printing 4x5" you can use 5x7" trays with about 250ml of amidol developer at a time, which shouldn't be outrageously costly or wasteful, particularly if you can join in the group purchase. That would be 2g amidol per session.
One of the things I did when I started using amidol was to get a better range of tray sizes, so I don't have to mix more than necessary. I used to use 11x14" trays for anything 11x14" or smaller. Of course, you only need to do this for the developer tray. Another attraction of small trays is that you can put a few of them in a big tray to control spills, or to use a water jacket, if you want to try to be really precise about temperature.
Weston's light was just a lightbulb with some cloth over it. He could adjust the height to control exposure times. If you look at the picture, you'll see that I use an Ikea halogen desklamp with the UV filter removed. You can't see it in the picture, but it's plugged into an Omega Pro-Lab timer mounted on the wall, and there's a Jobo LED safelight on the wall as well.
You can find old spring back contact frames on eBay for not too much money, like the old Kodak wooden frame in my picture. I like an oversized frame, but 5x7" frames are really cheap, if you prefer.
For 5x7" and 4x5" contacts I just cut 8x10" Azo down to 5x8" with an office paper trimmer, and clean up the dry and flattened prints with an X-acto knife and straightedge later.