Making Traditional Silver Gelatin Fiber Based Photographs
Traditional Silver Gelatin fiber based photographs are handmade in a darkroom, usually by the photographer themselves. The image captured on the film in the form of a negative is projected onto photographic paper using an enlarger in a darkroom.
I exclusively use Ilford papers and chemicals for all my darkroom work. XXXXXXX d crafted prints are made on Czechoslovakian, Foma brand, silver gelatin fibre based photographic paper. There are only a few remaining manufacturers of this silver rich paper remain worldwide.
Fine art photographers and collectors worldwide consider fibre based baryta paper to be the pinnacle for black and white quality. They choose fibre based baryta paper for its greater detail and definition, extended tonal range and proven archival properties.
Print making begins with a film negative. Using an enlarger, the negative image is projected onto the photographic paper under darkroom conditions. To control image detail and contrast I employ tradition darkroom techniques. Such methods include dodging and or burning in. Dodging requires holding back exposure in some parts of the print. Burning in is the giving of additional exposure to some parts of the print. Dodging and burning is usually done by placing the hands or any object into the path of light. Burning and dodging steps have to be carried out repetitively and accurately. Because this is all done by hand it takes a great deal of skill. By its nature no two prints are exactly the same.
Once I have finished exposing the paper I develop the image. Under safelight conditions the paper is placed in a developer tray where the silver image appears. To arrest the development the paper is placed in a tray of stop bath. So that the photograph can be viewed in normal light all remaining unexposed silver halide must be removed. If not the print will eventually go black. To fix the image the print is placed briefly into acid fixer. This dissolves away the remaining light sensitive parts of the print.
Under wash water the fixer is removed and is inspected under normal room light. Further washing and a treatment in a hypo clearing agent removes residual fixer within the paper’s fibre. It is then washed for a further 2 hours then air dried face down on plastic screen mesh.
To maximise their archival properties fibre based photographic papers are carefully washed and toned. I immerse the print briefly in selenium toner, replacing a thin layer of silver with more stable selenium metal. Further washing is applied before they are dried and mounted onto 100% cotton rag museum boards for exhibition.
I write in pencil the photograph’s title and my signature directly under each print on the museum board. On the rear of the boards I stamp my details including title, negative number, print date and signature.
My preference for exhibition prints is to place the matted print under a window mount behind glass within an aluminium frame.
The entire process to complete one print can take several days. To me a print crafted by the hand of the photographer provides a more direct path to the extent of their depth of vision. It demonstrates their original intention and interpretation of the subject more than any other print.