The Large Format Paper Negative Conundrum

December 20, 2015  •  3 Comments

As I invest more time exploring the possibility of using paper with a hand-made silver gelatin emulsion recipe, I am starting to feel like this may not be a direction that I want to ultimately pursue.  

My motivation for creating my own large format paper negatives came from me using regular darkroom RC glossy papers as negatives for many years.  Based on my interest in the pioneering days of photography, learning the chemistry, and ultimately creating my own negatives is something that really resonates with me.  The ability to have total control over my entire creative process is something that I cherish. For example, by simply changing out Ammonium Bromide (AmBr) for Potassium Bromide (KBr) I can increase the contrast of my negative emulsion.  This is the level of control that I want in my work.  

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At this time, I can create very high-quality negatives using RC and single wight fiber darkroom papers and make any number of prints that I want ranging from the classic large format silver gelatin contact prints to advanced processes like Lith printing or even historic POP processes where I coat my selected paper by hand.  I have been doing this successfully for many years, but there is something inside that is pushing me towards going back to those pioneering days and really understanding the chemistry and making my own negatives and printing paper.  Not only does this resonate with me creatively, I love the thought of never buying commercial film ever again.  I have nothing against "progress" and mass production of whatever, it just doesn't appeal to me personally and while it may for others, that is okay too.  

This is probably why I create my own electricity with solar and wind versus emptying my pockets month after month, year after year, to the electric company.  Modernization in many ways has reduced current society to highly-dependent soft people in my opinion.  Why do I think this?  Because I was one of them.  I absolutely appreciate the advanced in medicine and many areas of technology.  I am talking about photography and sharing some of my personal insights and biases.  

Many of us don't know how to do anything anymore because it is done for us at scale by a manufacturer and at a price that we could never produce it for.  More efficient and a cost savings isn't always as good as it seems to me.  It is literally almost impossible to service a new car because it has more technology than rocket ships! 

I think many of these thoughts and feelings come from the same place where I value hand-made items, no matter what it is.  I love hand-made solid wood furniture, and I personally enjoy working in the workshop too.  I received a gift from a friend recently that was a handmade leather journal.  I was in awe of the craftsmanship, the raw material, and the simplicity of it.  I really treasure it.  

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I really connect with the art and sometimes imperfection of the creative process.  This is probably why I am not a professional digital photographer.  Everything is too perfect and sterile looking to me.  Just my preference.  

I have been coating my own POP papers and making large format contact prints for years.  I have no interest in doing that with digital negatives, although I have taught others how to do it.  For me, I want to keep it at the most basic level and enjoy every step in the journey from coating my negatives and paper, to hand cutting my mounting board and building my frame.  I don't "take" photos or "shoot", I create something that is special to me.  If it resonates with others, that is good, but it has nothing to do with what I create.  I may actually lose my mind if I hear another photographer say they are going "shooting".  End of soapbox.  

In regards to my current exploration of paper negatives, I am finding it very challenging to find a highly-available quality fine art paper that has the characteristics that I want.  The short list includes: proper weight and thickness, smooth surface, responds favorably to silver gelatin emulsion, and has the strong likelihood of being available for decades in the future.  Paper like Arches are classics that have been around for centuries, but I am not finding them suitable for coating for negatives for my style of work.  I am starting to come to the conclusion that my negatives may be on glass versus paper.  Glass plates are smooth, durable and solve all of the above concerns, but adds other challenges.  My biggest issue with not pursuing glass right out of the gate was the long term storage implications.  I may just have to get over it and build a solution that works for me.  

I am going to continue exploring hand-coated negatives for a while longer before I make any final decision.  I have everything I need from a tool and material perspective, so that is not a limiting factor for me.  

I will keep you posted as I continue on this journey.

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Tim Layton Fine Art
Hello Phil and Tim, both really excellent ideas!! This is the power of the group. I never thought of using the back of RC paper, which could be outdated, cheapest possible version, etc... That is one heck of an idea! Also, I have had other suggest the Red River paper, so I am going to take that queue and check it out. Thanks so much and stay tuned.
Have you tried some of the heavy weight papers from Red River paper? maybe one of their Art papers may work just a suggestion . . . enjoying reading your adventure into hand coating papers . . . I am still a New Bee to the paper negative process . Thanks for sharing
Phil Foss(non-registered)
How about coating your emulsion on the back of the rc paper that you previously
made negs with.--just a thought!
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