Silver Gelatin Printing?

My Silver Gelatine Printing Process

My work bench with enlarger, saunder easel, rolls of unprocessed film, and some 5x4 inch contact sheets, the wall behind is decorated with an assortment of prints postcards and other ephemera. The head of the enlargr is raise showing the cool soft blue light of my Zone VI enlarger head.
My work bench with enlarger, saunder easel, rolls of unprocessed film, and some 5×4 inch contact sheets.

Here’s my process for making a print on silver gelatine paper. Printing on silver gelatine paper is rewarding and relaxing. It is not cheap however, so my process aims to tease as much detail as I can out of test strips before commiting to a full sheet of 8 x 10 inch silver gelatin paper. It is the ultimate way to relax, if I am  not printing to a dealine, ie and exhibtion.

Process the film.

Two rolls of 120 format film hanging inside a drying cabinet
Two rolls of 120 format film hanging inside a drying cabinet

Dry it and cut into strips.

Two rolls of 120 format film, ready to be cut and sleeved, along with gloves a penci and 2 sleeves, with 2 strips to labelthe sleeves
Two rolls of 120 format film, ready to be cut and sleeved

Set up the sink.

With Developer, Stop Bath, Fixer One.

The first stage of prnt processing, using onlly Developer, stop bath and fixer in my grey sink with tongs in each tray. A white tray for developer a grey one for stop bath and a red one for fixer
The first stage of prnt processing, using onlly Developer, stop bath and fixer.

Make a contact sheet to edge black.

Edge black is the pont where the edge of the film disaapears.  So I start by making a test wedge usually of 3 second bursts. After the stop bath, and fixer a quick rinse. Turn on the lights and look for the time that the edge of the film no longer shows, that is my time for the whole contact sheet. This has 2 disinct technical advantages. I can assess my exposures and development of the film. Noting any deviations that may be needed at the enlarging stage.

A test strip of a proof sheet floating in the rinse water the tray is a modifed print procssing tray with grey tubes feeding water in and holes drilled along the edges to allow water to escape
A test strip for a proof sheet floating in the rinse water

Process the paper, Devloper 2 minutes, Stop 30 seconds, Fix 2 minutes.

Wash the final outcome for 10 minutes.

Dry and anotate, file away.

My filing sytem, showing a box labelled with dates anbd film format and 2 rolls of film with their numbers annotated inclding processing dates and sequencial number.
My filing sytem, showing a box labelled with dates anbd film format and 2 rolls of film with their numbers annotated inclding processing dates and sequencial number.

Choose a negative to print.

Peruse my contacts, and choose a negative. Either form my archive or from the current contact sheet I’m working on.

Set up ealarger making sure the negative is in focus, sometimes, I shoot out focus on purpose.

A Saunders easel with the other tool I use in the darkroom, a Peak Focus finder, a set of Ilford multigrade filters and an anti-static brush.
A Saunders easel with the other tool I use in the darkroom, a Peak Focus finder, a set of Ilford multigrade filters and an anti-static brush.

Print

Expose for the highlights and change filters for the shadows, or split filter, mostly split filter these days. Test until I’m happy with the outcome, this may mean some extra burning and dodging to acheive a ‘balanced’ print.

Other tools used in the darkroom, an opaque board to mask off areas of test strips and prints, glass to hold negatives flat while making a cotact sheet, multicontrast filters, anti-static bruch and top left my notebooks for taking notes as I work.
Other tools used in the darkroom.

Process

Process the paper, Devloper 2 minutes, Stop 30 seconds, Fixer one, 2 minutes.

Rinse.

Print processing, using onlly Developer, stop bath and fixer in my grey sink with tongs in each tray. A white tray for developer a grey one for stop bath and a red one for fixer.

Fixer two, 2 minutes, Hypo Clearing Agent, 3 minutes, and archivally wash [10 minutes for resin coated papers, 60 minutes for museum quality fibre based paper].

Dry, & flatten

Mount if I am exhibitig the work framed.


About the author.

Stuart Murdoch is an Artist and Part time Photo Educator, with over 30 years of teaching experience. He contemplates many things photographic. His ruminations include his own work as well other’s and the aspects of technology that impact on the sharing and consumption of Photographs. And of course the act of making and taking photographs in the 21st century. Photobooks sit quite high on his radar too these days.
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Back in the Darkroom

seven prints at 8x10 inches that Ian Lobb saw that prompted me to enlarge and exhibit all are a mixture or the natural and man made with neither dominating.
Seven  8 x 10 ‘work prints’ pinned to my darkroom wall.

Another cause for recent reflection was an encounter I had with Ian Lobb a few years ago. I asked him to look at some of my silver gelatin prints, which he did, over coffee in Fairfield.

choice of paper for this body of work in not yet final here are some of my options in my darkroom
Choice of paper for this body of work is not yet final here are some of my options in my darkroom. Forte Fibre based on top of Ilford Multigrade Fibre based paper.

He appeared enamoured by one body of work that I have been sitting on since about 2006, as it only consists of 6 or 7 prints.

The body of work was a response to Robert Adams’ book, Summer Nights. The first edition of this book has 38 images in it.  The date of the first edition is 1985. This means I may have been exposed to it whilst studying my undergraduate degree. Ian Lobb would have definitely been aware of it. He knew what I was talking about when I discussed my motivations for printing them. I acquired my copy  of the book in 2003.

I had no specific idea in mind while making the pictures however. I simply went for a walk one morning in a quiet country hamlet 3 hours north of Melbourne, and shot a whole roll of 120 film in that short time.

the contact sheet that I am making up to 9 prints from
the contact sheet that I am making up to 9 prints from

Because of Ian’s response I have decided to print the images to exhibition stage. I have work prints from about 2017 that are 8×10 inches. But in this instance I feel a larger size will really make them shine so I am beginning the process of making the final prints. Paper brand and final size is yet to be determined. I have started with Ilford Multigrade Fibre based paper at 12 x 16 inches.

Re-examing the contact sheet this morning I feel I may be able to push the series out to 8 or 9 prints. This is unheard of for me. I consider one good picture per 3 or 4 contact sheets adequate.

The first print in the rinse tray.
The first print in the rinse tray.

I want to finish with a quote from another of my favourite photographers, Frederick Sommer, that goes some way towards  my reasoning behind making these prints:-

“… When you go out to make a picture you find you are moved by something which is in agreement with an image you already held within yourself.”
– Frederick Sommer


About the author.
Stuart Murdoch is an Artist and Part time Photo Educator, with over 30 years of teaching experience. He contemplates many things photographic. His ruminations include his own work as well other’s and the aspects of technology that impact on the sharing and consumption of Photographs. And of course the act of making and taking photographs in the 21st century.

☛ Website | Flickr | Instagram | Photography links | s2z digital garden | Tumblr

From Doom-scrolling to Darkroom

St.Albans paddock with pylons and burnt grass
Circa 1989, St.Albans 19 x 19 cm silver gelatin print. Printed 2021

Today was the beginning of the term break for me as I only work 3 days a week now. I managed to procrastinate online all morning. I fitted in some quality time in my darkroom after lunch though. I have a solo exhibition application in the works. So if I’m accepted into the space I want to have plenty of time to make the best quality prints I can. The negatives span more than 30 years of shooting film and are mostly images that I have liked for and of themselves. But may not have fitted in with other series and bodies of work I exhibited in the past.

It’s a bit weird working with such old negatives. I started in my first year of University with a Mamiya medium format TLR camera. I used Microdol-X as my developer in those days. I now use a Hasselblad as my main medium format camera. Recently switched to Xtol too, a commercial developer also by Kodak. Prior to switching I had used a home made developer called D25. I’m still using the same film though, Kodak T-max 400.

Papers too, have changed radically since 1989 when I was at University. Now most papers are multi-contrast as opposed to graded. This is actually a good thing as I feel I can eke more out of a negative using the 2 extreme filters, 00 and 5. A technique called ‘split filter printing’.

I hope then to better match my expectations of an image using the split filter printing system, and a variety of home made paper developers. Compared to my University days, when a neg may have been put aside due to it not being able to printed well on a single grade of paper.
The differences between cameras and eras seems noticeable. The developer not so much. I switched film developers mainly for environmental reasons but technique also played a part in that decision too. I touched base with an old teacher a couple of summers back and he suggested the change.

The weird part is as I’m not really working to a fixed time frame, I have all the time in the world to muck around as I make each print. Some are just “falling” out of the enlarger, others are requiring many test strips and prints. I plan on exhibiting about 14 to 18 prints. Pinned directly to the walls of the gallery.

I applied to exhibit in October 2022.

Fingers crossed.

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