The poignancy of the photograph comes from looking back to a fleeting moment in a floating world. The transitoriness is what creates the sense of the sacred.
Cyanotype Toning formulas
I’ve been working with cyanotype toning baths awhile now, and while I haven’t figured out which ones work best or which one(s) I prefer, I have some basic approaches I’ve locked down.
For the most part, I prefer the effects you get when you first bleach back the print, either for a short while (just until the shadows go from blue to purple, 30-60s) or for a long time (until the image fades to a pale brown/yellow and only the deepest shadows remain a faint gray/blue). Toning without bleaching is very slow and as a result the paper/highlights stain more than I’d like.
Light bleaching results in much of the blue remaining in place, so that the toning happens over it. Heavy bleaching replaces the blue with another color. It can be disconcerting to watch the image fade away, but it’s equally thrilling to watch it come back—often very quickly—once it hits the toning bath.
So far I’ve only tested sodium carbonate bleaching, I still need to test whether ammonia or other alkali work better/differently.
|Instant Coffee (Nescafe)
||Dissolved in 180F water, remaining water added to cool
|Green Tea (sencha)
||Steeped in 180F water for 10m, remaining water added to cool
|Black Tea (English breakfast)
||Steeped in 180F water for 10m, remaining water added to cool
|Wine Tannin (home-brew grade)
||Dissolved in 180F water, aged overnight
Some preliminary color notes:
- Instant coffee gives muted tones. If bleaching is mild, the coffee tames the blues to a deeper navy. Longer bleaching gives slate blue tones. However, if you bleach back the image to yellow, it never fully recovers, and you end up with a faint gray/brown image. Coffee doesn’t stain the paper much at all, which is nice.
- Green tea can vary widely. With mild bleaching, it give a split tone, turning the shadows purple black and the highlights rose gray. More bleaching can make the final image eggplant black. Green tea doesn’t stain much at all.
- Black tea seems similar to green so far, though it stains the paper quite brown, which does make the end result look quite different.
- Wine tannin is the quickest way to a pure eggplant black. Unlike tea, it’s more pure in color. And it doesn’t stain the paper much either.
Timings vary, but my current MO (working with prints that have been dried and aged at least overnight) is:
- Prewet print 5m
- Bleach (short/long)
- 3x wash
- Tone until desired color achieved (10 to 60m)
- Wash until water runs clear
Another method I have tested is this one (found here):
- Prewet 24h aged print 5m
- Tone until the highlights go tan (5-10m)
- 3x wash
- Bleach until shadows go purple (30-60 seconds)
- 3x wash
- Soak in weak hydrogen peroxide solution for 30 seconds
- Return to toner until shadows go black (~15 minutes)
- Wash until water runs clear
Some possibly useful web links about cyanotype toning:
These are the Caffenol formulas I’m currently using for both film and paper developing. The ingredients should be dissolved one at a time in half the final volume of water, then the remainder of water added.
|Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C)
|KBr (for 400 speed films or higher)
Process: 15m development at 68F.
Paper (mostly Harman Direct Positive):
Process: 2-5m in developer, 30 seconds water stop bath, 60 seconds in paper fixer, wash 3x, 2m Permawash, 3x wash (5m each; sometimes I have to soak them longer to get the pink/brown staining out).
Also, this PDF is a useful thing to keep handy:
I can never remember how much area each format of film covers, which is a useful bit of information to have when you are keeping track of how many “rolls” you’ve run through a batch of chemicals (monobath, for example).
So here it is:
1 roll 36 exposure 35mm film
= 1 roll 120 film
= 4 sheets 4x5 film
= 1 sheet 8x10 film
I’ve been using Cinestill D96 Monobath for black and white film developing recently. I still think Caffenol is the better option in terms of environmental safety, but the convenience and speed of a monobath can’t be beat: 8 minutes to develop and fix film, followed by 3 quick rinses and a short soak in distilled water/rinse-aid and you are done.
It’s temperature-sensitive, so you need to warm it up first, but even so you can realistically develop, fix, and archivally wash BW film in less than a half hour.
And as far as I can tell there is no downside, aside from the cost (~$20 per liter, which can develop 16 rolls of 35mm or 120 film, or 64 sheets of 4x5 film), and the need to dispose of it safely somewhere once it is exhausted. I think the negs look just peachy.
I mainly shoot HP5—rated at asa 200—these days, so the method I use is this one (after pre-wetting for 5 minutes in water at the same temperature as the monobath):
normal development: 75˚F for 8 minutes*, with minimal agitation†
pushed/higher-contrast (for alt pro contact printing): 83˚F for 8 minutes
*As per the monobath instructions, you are supposed to add 15 seconds per previous roll developed to the 6 minute minimum processing time to account for the gradual degradation of the fixer, but only up to 8 minutes total. I just simplify things by developing all rolls for 8 minutes.
†My approach is slightly different than Cinestill’s: Agitate gently and constantly for the first 30 seconds, followed by 5 inversions at the top of every minute.
A photograph or a collection of photographs that ignores its usual objective is equally perverted. Perverted photography doesn’t sell a product or communicate a message. It’s not meant to be decoded, but to keep you in the process of looking. It’s layered and complex. It mirrors and triggers you without end and for no good reason, and that is erotic.
I need to get back to this blog, particularly posts where I actually write things. I spend a fair bit of time keeping notes on photographic processes I am trying to get a handle on, with the end goal of locking down a reliable method, and to create ‘cheat sheets’ to have handy when I return to them. But most of the time these notes end up unorganized and unarticulated (oftentimes I go back to the last or best example of a practice to see how I made it). I tell myself I need to create my cheat sheet, but rarely do.
So my idea is to post them here instead. Not for the primary purpose of sharing it with anyone else, but rather to stash my own set of instructions in a public place. I’m not even sure why I think so, but somehow I have the sense that writing things down publicly is more motivating than simply keeping notes in a private notebook or text file.
In the artist of all kinds I think one can detect an inherent dilemma, which belongs to the coexistence of two trends, the urgent need to communicate and the still more urgent need not to be found.
D. W. Winnicott
Provincetown, MA. August, 2018.
Look, the trees
their own bodies
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
the long tapers
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders
of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is
I have ever learned
in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.
— “In Blackwater Woods”, by Mary Oliver
Sentences on Photography by Torbjørn Rødland
- The muteness of a photograph matters as much as its ability to speak.
- The juxtaposition of photographs matters as much as the muteness of each.
- All photography flattens. Objectification is inescapable.
- Photography cannot secure the integrity of its subject any more than it can satisfy the need to touch or taste.
- Good ideas are easily bungled.
- Banal ideas can be rescued by personal investment and beautiful execution.
- Lacking an appealing surface, a photograph should depict surfaces appealingly.
- A photograph that refuses to market anything but its own complexities is perverse. Perversion is bliss.
- A backlit object is a pregnant object.
- To disregard symbols is to disregard a part of human perception.
- Photography may employ tools and characteristics of reportage without being reportage.
- The only photojournalistic images that remain interesting are the ones that produce or evoke myths.
- A photographer in doubt will get better results than a photographer caught up in the freedom of irony.
- The aestheticizing eye is a distant eye. The melancholic eye is a distant eye. The ironic eye is a distant eye.
- One challenge in photography is to outdistance distance. Immersion is key.
- Irony may be applied in homeopathic doses.
- A lyrical photograph should be aware of its absurdity. Lyricism grows from awareness.
- For the photographer, everyone and everything is a model, including the photograph itself.
- The photography characterized by these sentences is informed by conceptual art.
- The photography characterized by these sentences is not conceptual photography.
So this blog has its first confirmed reader, which means I ought to post more regularly again. Which I will do soon. Lots of things cooking these days, especially in the cyanotype arena.
Oh, what a catastrophe, what a maiming of love when it was made personal, merely personal feeling, taken away from the rising and setting of the sun and cut off from the magic connection of the solstice and the equinox! This is what is the matter with us, we are bleeding at the roots, because we are cut off from the earth and sun and stars, and love is a grinning mockery, because, poor blossom, we plucked it from its stem on the tree of Life, and expected it to keep blooming in our civilized vase on the table.
dehisce de·hisce | -ˈhis dehisced; dehiscing
- intransitive verb
- to split along a natural line also : to discharge contents by so splitting Ex: “seedpods dehiscing at maturity”
There is a Japanese word for things made more beautiful by use, that bear the evidence of their own making, or the individuating marks of time’s passage: a kind of beauty not immune to time but embedded in it.
Mark Doty / Still Life with Oysters and Lemon: On Objects and Intimacy
I am no longer sure, although once I was, that we can improve the world with a photograph. However I’m still convinced that bad photographs make it worse.
Photographer Alice Zoo, on accidents:
An ongoing fear of mine is that my most successful projects come about by accident: that they are a last resort, or an experiment, or a mistake of some kind, that I end up following through with and come to find that they’re truer or more authentic-seeming than my more intentional or carefully-conceived work.
For example: when I had the idea for my most recent project, A Formal Feeling, I was reacting to a set of circumstances over which I had no control. Last summer I was coming towards the end of my Masters, and I had been in the beginning stages of the final assessment Major Project I’d originally planned to work on, when various family losses began to pile on top of one another to the extent that I could no longer see my way ahead. In late August I kept returning to the opening lines of a particular Emily Dickinson poem, and so eventually I decided to make a project about the traumas that were clouding my view, with the poem as its basis. I had a title and nothing else: no imagery, no idea of what shape the project might finally take.
Starting out, I thought the project might be a lot more abstract than the way it ended up. This was the first image I took for the project that communicated what I’d been envisaging. The bewilderment, the slight blur of the body against a dark, still, natural backdrop; more impressionistic than my usual work, but it represented my experience at the time with accuracy.
As time went on, I shot many different kinds of imagery for the project, and some patterns began to emerge. The project began to hold its own shape. As it transpired, this image didn’t fit with the rest, didn’t speak to the title in the same way as the other images, and it wasn’t hard to make the decision to exclude it. Still, I return to it now, and am reminded of those first harsh days of striking out afresh, into the unknown of the project and of the new circumstances I was in, and how valuable image-making was to me then in a very tangible way. The ability to give shape to the raw strangeness of unfamiliar and deep-lying emotions by way of a photograph felt like a kind of release: my feelings could be named, even if not in words.
A Formal Feeling ended up being, amongst other things, an exploration of distance, of remnants, of the ways we choose to preserve certain things rather than others: how often we privilege the preservation of fictions over blunt, material reality. I had thought the project would convey my feelings: in fact, it was a way of pushing my feelings away, of holding them back behind the glass of a camera lens. This first image, in all its oblique honesty about myself and my experiences, was irrelevant, just as I myself was to the project at large.
You see what I mean about my fear that my best projects are accidental: the eventual work had very little to do with me, and I was only ever following its thread. (Or rather: the work is mine, but is based on a series of impulses that I cannot verbalise to myself, and so feels beyond my control.) The extension of this fear is that I’ll never find a formula, and that my projects are things I alight on by virtue of blind luck, and I may never land upon another. And so the image means something different to me now: where once I saw in it my confusion and trauma, I now see my creative predicament: my grasping around in the dark for a new thread to follow.
(Link is dead now, probably because of the Tumblr purge)
Earlier this year, I did a “The Setup”/Usesthis interview, discussing all the tools I like to use. It was fun to do, especially since it is one of my favorite blogs to read. I’ve adopted loads of tools of all kinds myself having read about them there.
Honored to have a print up in the Bakery Photo charity auction again this year, with that image from my Life at Waist Level series. So many great images in the show, looking forward to getting up to Portland, ME to see them all in person soon.
So I shot my first zone plate images the other day, using the Pentax 67 zone plate cap (f64) that I made using a Pinhole Resource zone plate. For fun and for reference, I shot lensed images alongside each shot, using the 110mm 2.5 lens. The camera was mounted on a tripod and the zone plate exposure was 8-Mississippis long (using Pinhole Assist as a meter).
The film was Ilford HP5, developed in Cinestill Df96 monobath, scanned using a Nikon D610 and Negative Lab Pro.
Pretty happy with this, though I need a better black background to have it go fully dark, which is what I intended.
There is an old lyric that says “the brushwood we gather and tie it together, it makes a hat. Pull it apart, a field once again.” Such is a way of thinking in old Japan, one finds beauty not in the substance itself, but in the weave of shadows, the light and the darkness, that one thing against another creates….A noctilucent jewel which exudes its glow and color in the dark, and loses its beauty in the light of day. Were it not for shadows there would be no beauty.
Junichiro Tanizaki, In Praise of Shadows
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