This article is for my fellow photographers and collectors that want to know the technical details behind our pure analog creative process for making our handmade wild horse platinum prints.
If you want to know more about our heirloom-quality handmade Wild Horse Fine Art, then you will want to check out my Platinum Collectors Guide.
In this article, I share our workflow for developing Ilford FP4 in PMK.
PMK developer is legendary, thanks to brilliant guys like Gordon Hutchings, who share their research and passion with us. PMK stands for Pyro-Metol-Kodalk. If you want to go deep with PMK, then Gordon's book "The Book of Pyro" is filled with many golden nuggets. Even though the book was published in 1992, the information still stands. The book is much harder to find now, so if you can find a copy, buy it and keep it in a safe place.
We love using a pure analog workflow because of analog mediums (e.g., film, plates, etc.), unique characteristics, and the ability to handle and render light in a way that meets my creative vision and intentions.
PMK is a fine grain pyrogallol developer with which extremely sharp negatives with beautiful and delicate highlight details that will bring a tear to your eye.
There are a few things that you should know about using PMK that I will cover in this section and then share our step-by-step development process in the next section.
PMK is very sensitive to temperature and agitation methods. Pay close attention to both variables and ensure you use a repeatable process. Sloppy development methods and inconsistency will make you a frustrated and angry person!
FP4 and HP5 films are probably the best films for PMK, in my opinion. I find FP4 to be the ideal film for making a wide variety of prints like Platinum/Palladium, AZO (silver chloride), and even modern silver gelatin. I have tested and use HP5 when the higher base fog and lower contrast are acceptable and/or desired. It is possible to use modern emulsions like T-Max, but I don't personally do that and can't comment on that other than they require your direct attention around the clearing times.
The shelf life is very good in the stock solutions. Keep Solution A (Pyro/Metol) in a cool and dark place. Solution B (Kodalk - Sodium Metaborate) can precipitate out over time which is normal, so shake well regularly and before use and let it settle before using.
Don't use your normal acid fixer with a staining developer like PMK as a general rule. Use an alkaline fixer like TF-4 if you want to purchase something pre-made, or you can mix an older and slower working formula like TF-2. TF-4 fixer does not require a stop bath or hypo clearing bath, which is a huge timesaver in your workflow and development time. Gordon Hutchings recommends TF-4 in his book “Book of Pyro.”
After adding Parts A and B to make your working solution, stir for at least 2 minutes. The temperature will typically drop when you add the two solutions, so make sure you take this into account.
Agitation is important with PMK (agitation first minute and then two cycles every 15 seconds) if developing in a tank especially. This helps avoid streaking. I develop my LF/ULF sheet film in trays and keep them rocking the entire cycle and have verified my method produces perfect results every time. There is no substitute for doing your own testing.
Use a minimum of 300 ml of developer per 80 square inches of film (one roll of 36 exposure 35 mm film, or four 4 x 5 negatives) and adjust accordingly. More volume is always better with PMK and especially if you are using a rotary processor like a Jobo system.
MY PMK DEVELOPMENT WORKFLOW
Presoak Film > Developer > Fixer > Used Developer > Wash > Photo-Flo
I use all of the chemicals in my development process as a one-shot solution and distilled water for the entire process except for the washing stage.
Pre-Soak: I pre-soak and wash my LF/ULF sheet film for 2 minutes using constant agitation using distilled water.
Developer: Use the proper development time and dilution for your film. For FP4, I use 1:2:100 dilution and develop for 12 minutes at 21C when making platinum/palladium prints and 10 minutes for silver gelatin enlargements. Save your developer when you are finished because you need to use it again after the fixer.
Stop Bath: Not needed when using TF-4 fixer. Feel free to do a quick water bath if desired.
Used Developer: Take your used developer and pour it back into your development tank/tray for 2 minutes to induce the "pyro stain" you want. If you mess up and throw it out, you can mix up some Sodium Metaborate 5g per liter and use that.
Wash: Wash your film for 20 minutes and watch the stain intensify over the wash time.
Photo-Flo: Place your developed film in a tray of distilled water with a few drops of photo-flo or "wetting agent" of choice. Agitate for 1 minute, and then hang the film to dry.
Hang To Dry: Wick the corner for the droplets until they are gone, and then you can leave the film unattended while it fully dries.
MY FOUR PILLARS THAT DRIVE EVERYTHING I DO
These core principles run like a ribbon through my artwork from beginning to end.
TRUTH: I see truth as a primary objective when I create a new body of work. Truth is the one thing that stands the test of time; without it, we have nothing or no purpose. I seek the truth about wild horses in America and tell their story through my handmade artwork.
JUSTICE: There are many injustices in the world. I am drawn like a moth to a flame to tell the stories of wild horses because they have no voice and are under relentless attacks in the 21st century. Wild horses in America are in the fight of their life, and without help, they will quickly become something future generations only read about in history books.
DIFFERENCE: I sincerely want to help make a difference for wild horses and fight for their right to live wild and free. I have been forever changed because of wild horses. I am on a mission to raise awareness about their current issues and challenges, so people can come together and find lasting and reasonable solutions to the current crisis.
IDENTITY: When I got my first camera in 1975, everything changed because I realized that I had a voice that was much bigger than myself, and I could inspire and motivate people to make a difference in the world. I have always been drawn to the awe of nature and wildlife, and when I started following wild horses regularly in 2015, my eyes were opened, and I realized I was where I needed to be, and they needed my help. My path forward is clear and filled with purpose and joy.