Thursday, December 13, 2012

Wet Photography Cargo Culting

There's a lot of people out there doing traditional wet photography, in one form or another. Many of them work with modern films, and then either scan them or print them with traditional enlargers and paper. I am one of these people. I love this stuff.

Among this school of workers are people who believe the most arrant nonsense. Among the ideas promoted by these people are things like this:

You shouldn't use such-and-such a standard chemical because it has such-and-such an effect (contrary to manufacturer claims)

Expired materials are better for some reason or another.

Reasons stated are often things like long term stability of the resulting negatives or prints, difficulty in printing, and so on.

Here's a couple of tips.

Long term stability pretty much doesn't matter. Your prints and negatives will outlast you, and after that nobody much cares. You are vastly more likely to be hit by lightning or to win the lottery than you are to have your negatives printed after your death. Vastly. The number of photographers whose work has been printed in any meaningful way after there death is roughly the same as the number of men who have walked on the moon, or sailed solo around the world. It is probably smaller than the number of people who have been in space. You can make something of a case for stability of your prints, if you're pretty good. As with negatives, though, your best bet here is to select a known-stable process and follow the directions on the bottle.

If using a standard chemical in a standard way produces some result contrary to what the manufacturer says (difficult to print negatives, that sort of thing) you are almost certainly either using the chemical wrong, or imagining the bad effect. The chemists and engineers at Kodak, Fuji, and so on were pretty smart dudes, and they know a lot more about this stuff than you do.

Expired stuff is going downhill. It's not worthless, it might not even be measurably different from newer materials yet, but it's hard to predict. The aforementioned engineers didn't put expiration dates on there for fun. Yes, sometimes you get interesting results, and there's nothing wrong with a little serendipity in your art. Relying on serendipity to save your rotten photographs is not a long term strategy, however. Using expired materials is not inherently better in any measurable way, and it is measurably worse in several ways.

The tricky part is separating the good advice from the bad. Mostly, if the advice differs from what it says on the bottle, go with the bottle. Beyond that, be a scientist, especially if something doesn't sound right. Perform tests, measure outcomes. Decide for yourself, if it matters to you. If it doesn't matter to you, ignore it.

1 comment:

  1. Your prints and negatives will outlast you, and after that nobody much cares.

    And most of our prints and negatives aren't worth anything, anyway. I used to periodically remind my teacher(s) of that when I was studying at Art School: who cares if your art is timelessly archival, if it sucks?