Saturday, March 3, 2012

Coffee Plus X-Rays Equals Art!

I recently began photographing with an 110 year old 8x10 camera. Its a lovely heavy beast which requires rather expensive sheet film. I really enjoy using it and have been actively seeking economical ways to make this camera usable on a weekly basis.  One thing that Large Format photographers have been using instead of costly film is X-Ray film. It comes in most sizes, even more commonly 8x10. So here is a readymade orthochromatic film that can be used cheaply! The problem is there are no specifications toward using it as a photographic film. So a good bit of experimentation is required.

8x10 X-Ray Film image by Holden Richards

The main problem is developer/development time. Which developer gets the best results. I tried several with the outcome usually being that the negative was uneven or blotched in some way. After a few near-hits I stumbled across a Flickr user who was experimenting with Caffenol (an instant coffee and vitamin c based homebrew film developer) and it seemed to yield a smooth perfect negative. So now when I develop X-Ray film I'm in the darkroom mixing kitchen safe materials into film developer. The recipes for caffenol can be found at 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Full Color Depression

With the loss of many types of film to the dustbin of history, there are certain things that endure about some of these photographic emulsions that are gone. Not the least of which is that Kodachrome in all its incarnations was one of the finest, most detailed colour films ever made. The development process was complex and based on a subtractive development process (the mixing of paints, dyes, inks and natural colorants to create a full range of color, each caused by absorbing some wavelengths of light  and reflecting the others). Sounds complex, mostly its just beautiful to look at. The fact that such complex colour film existed in 1930's even more amazing. A show at Duke University's Center for Documentary Studies showcases this film at a pivotal point in American history.

Commisioned by the Library of Congress’s Farm Security Administration, photographers like Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Ben Shahn, Russell Lee, and others, took some of the most indelible images of the Great Depression. Some  images were taken using a new film called Kodachrome. Because they had to be processed by Kodak the photographers of these images never got to see them. These photographs were rediscovered by a student researcher doing a dissertation in 1978 in the Library of Congress Archives.