Thursday, November 17, 2005

The Argyrotype Image

Argyrotype? On Wednesday I wrote about "Maurice," an Argyrotype image. If you aren't a chemist or photographer you probably don't care to know anymore about Argyrotypes. So if you don't want to read any further, it is okay!

Until fairly recent photographic history there were no enlargements. Negatives were the same size as the resulting image because the negative and paper coated with chemistry were sandwiched together and exposed to a light source....usually the sun. Viewcameras were know the big boxes on a tripod where the photographer disappeared under a dark cloth to focus and expose the film or glass obtain a 5x7, 8x10, or 11x14 negative. There were all kinds of formulas for the chemistry that was spread on the paper that was sandwiched with the negative.

Probably the best known today are platinum, palladium, cyanotype and Van Dyke Brown. Today these processes are called alternative processes as opposed to silver gelatin enlargements. My suspicion is that very soon a silver gelatin print will be considered an alternative process also as digital printing becomes the norm.

In 1992 I fell in love with a Platinum print, Stand of Trees, by Dan Burkholder. It was a 5x7 contact print. It was lush and sensuous. I bought it and I never grow tired of looking at it. But that image ignited my desire to try some of the alternative processes. Just a few obstacles stood in the way. I needed a view camera and lens and I didn't know anything about any of these processes.

First came the camera. Frank Armstrong found it for me in Massachusetts. He went to buy some used equipment from someone and they had this very basic view camera, a lens and two boxes of film for sale for a $100. What a find. I love that simple little view camera.

Next I took a one day workshop on making platinum prints from Steve Goff. It was daunting and I felt like I was wasting liquid gold....well liquid platinum everytime I had a "failure." I can assure you that there are lots of test prints and failures in making any kind of photographic art print. But from the workshop I did end up with a contact printing frame and a UV light box.

If platinum was too expensive to practice on, I'd try something else until I got the knack of this hand coating paper and making properly exposed negatives for good prints. I bought a Van Dyke chemistry kit. It worked okay but while I was looking on the net for more information about the Van Dyke process, I found Dr. Mike Ware. Dr. Ware is a chemist and photographer who has studied extensively the formulas for early photographs and in many cases has revisited these formulas in light of today's knowledge of light sensitive materials.

Dr. Ware wanted to achieve a less expensive 'user-friendly,' more stable plain paper silver process and that is how he developed Argyrotype process which, as I understand it, replaces silver nitrate with a soluble salt of silver having a non-oxidising anion.

I purchased the chemistry and started making Argyrotypes. I corresponded with Dr. Ware on some questions and somehow everything just fell into place. I was making good images with this process. Good deep dark browns, delicate highlights. I was happy! And not only was the process working but at the same time I started shooting the pears.

It was a match.

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