Making Silver Gelatin Emulsion is an Art Within at Art
As I continue my journey of making my own silver gelatin emulsion from raw materials, I am quickly realizing that making emulsion is an art within an art. I continue to fall deeper in love with my craft and explore new areas after three decades of work.
My goal is to coat my own negatives (paper and glass plates) with an emulsion that I created in my laboratory and then continue that theme into hand selecting time-tested papers like Arches and others for my printing substrate and coat them with emulsion recipes that date back to the origins of modern photography. All of my work will be large format contact prints using a very simple lamp that hangs above my work bench. I want to take my art and craft to the simplest possible form so that I can more deeply explore my subjects.
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Having control at a chemical level of my negative and print emulsions is the ultimate triumph for me creatively. I hope to master each process as time passes and create impactful and meaningful photographs that tell important stories of my time.
The research of Dr. Burt H. Carroll and Dr. Donald Hubbard between 1928 and 1934 which was published by the National Bureau of Standards is the seminal research work in silver gelatin emulsion theory as far as I know. Dr. Carroll went to work for Kodak in 1933 and retired 1962. Dr. Donald Hubbard joined Dr. Carroll in 1925 at the National Bureau of Standards and he was a Fellow of the Washington Academy of Science, member of the American Chemical and Optical Societies, and of the Association for the Advancement of Science. He was honored by the American Department of Commerce with a Silver Medal for Scientific Attainment, and by the Societe Fran~aisede Photographie with the Niepce·Daguerre Medal.
I wonder what it would have been like to live and work with men like this? Luckily for us, their work lives on through their research and through photographers like me. This is one reason why I am an advocate for traditional silver-based photographic processes because I want to keep the art and science of silver-gelatin chemical photography alive and not be forgotten in our digital world.
My new photographic research and work runs in parallel with my life's pursuit as I begin to work off the grid in my simple cabin and darkroom. I create my own energy from solar and wind, source my water supply, stay warm with trees that I harvest from my land, and I only use the resources that I need to live. I plan to plant a prairie on part of my land in the near term which is a commitment to nature but also provides me with endless opportunities to photograph the flora and fauna at will.
It seems that every area of my life and work is being distilled down to the basics and fundamentals. While this was not the plan, the two have come together and I am now aware of their relationship as I move forward.
I will continue to write about my experiences as I continue with failures and successes in the coming days, weeks, months, and years.
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Keywords: analog photography, black and white, contact printing, darkroom, dry plate, emulsion, film, fine art, large format, photography, silver gelatin emulsion
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