Darkroom Digest: Restarting My Journey With Silver Gelatin Dry Plates

September 23, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

After a year of building my house and my new darkroom totally off the grid, I can finally get back to work.  It has been an incredibly rewarding and also difficult journey to get to this place, but I am grateful for all the blessings and lessons learned.  

I kicked off my St. Francois Mountain Pure Platinum print project back in May.  My original intention was to use sheet film and X-Ray film as my negative medium to create pure platinum prints.  

I have been wanting to get back to creating custom emulsions (dry plates and contact printing paper) for a long time.  My St. Francois project is the perfect excuse to use dry plates in the field and see if I can create some platinum prints from them that meets my criteria and approval.  

I plan to expose a few plates when I am out working on my project over the next year and hopefully be able to learn a few things along the way and also use some of the prints in my final gallery.  

I am not aware of any contemporary photographer creating silver gelatin emulsions from raw materials for their large format dry plates and making pure platinum prints.  If I am wrong, please introduce me to anyone that is.  I would love to connect with them.  I am creating dry plates for my large format view cameras (4x5, 5x7, whole plate, 4x10, 8x10, 5x14, and 11x14).  I only have three cameras (4x5, 8x10, and 11x14).  The other formats are from reducing backs on my 8x10 and 11x14.  

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I should probably address my motivations for wanting to create and use silver gelatin emulsions and dry plates before I share the rest of my thoughts.  As you can probably imagine, I like to be as self-reliant as possible.  In fact, this was one of my biggest drivers for buying my land and building my home and darkroom totally off the grid.  I wanted to slow life down and be able to explore my photography more deeply.  I have made all of the time and financial investments to give myself the opportunity to explore the science and art of traditional darkroom photography more deeply.  

Creating emulsions from scratch and coating your dry plates is about as slow as it gets! I enjoy the work and mixing science and art together.  I am fascinated that people were able to figure all of this out back in the 1800's, and I get the benefit of their collective wisdom and efforts.  It is an excellent time to be a traditional photographer.  It seems that the masses are running head first into digitizing every aspect of modern life to include photography, while I am going the exact opposite direction.  I think I have it right... 

One of the biggest advantages that I see from creating custom emulsions is the huge pallet of creative possibilities not available to the vast majority of contemporary photographers.  For example, I am making Ammonium Bromide (AmBr) emulsion which is color blind (only sensitive to UV and blue/violets).  While this may seem like a step backward, I see it as an opportunity to leverage these unique characteristics in my project.  With the simple addition of one additive, my color blind emulsion becomes an orthochromatic emulsion (only blind to reds).  If I wanted to, and I don't, I could make panchromatic emulsions too.

I will continue to write both technical and creative articles on my journey with emulsion making and silver gelatin dry plates.  

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