Friday, January 15, 2010

From The Archives: Damaged

Here’s another installment of From the Archives, a (very) occasional series wherein I post old work and write some comments about how it was made and what I was thinking about.

Back in 1993, I was a photography student eagerly leaning new photo techniques. I had an assignment for a class that involved exploring a technique, then reporting back to the class on my success. I decided to try reticulation, which is supposed to result in a fine, almost spider web like pattern of cracks over the surface of a negative. Reticulation is achieved chemically (using sodium carbonate) or through subjecting negatives to extremes of hot and cold water. I decided to try the temperature method of reticulation. I shot a roll of black and white film, mostly random landscapes in the countryside around Ann Arbor, MI, as well as some shots in a local cemetery, and a few shots in downtown Ypsilanti, MI.

After developing the film, I heated a pot of water on the stove, and set a bowl of ice water on the counter next to the stove. I had left the negatives uncut, and plunged the entire 24 exposure strip into the pot of hot water. After a couple of minutes, I removed them from the hot water and placed them into the ice water. Nothing happened. I tried a couple more times, but still, no change in the negatives. So, I heated the water until it was just below the boiling point, and tossed the negatives in. Almost immediately, the gelatin began melting and sliding off of the film. I hurriedly grabbed the film with a pair of tongs, but by this time, the emulsion was so soft that the edges of the film base was hitting the emulsion and removing it in large chunks. I figured the film was a lost cause, so I started pressing my fingers into it, leaving fingerprints in the emulsion. After all this, one final bath in the ice water still did not succeed in achieving reticulation.

My mistakes were pretty easy to figure out. First, I likely developed the film using a hardening fixer (many fixers have a hardening agent designed to strengthen the negative so as to prevent damage). A non hardening fixer may have allowed reticulation to occur. Secondly, I should have rolled the developed film back onto a developing reel before putting it into the pot of hot water, This would have prevented the film from hitting itself and removing chunks of emulsion.

I filed these negatives away, chalking it up to a failed experiment (I’ve never actually tried reticulating negatives again myself, although I’ve had students make it work). I have used shots from this roll a few times, however. This is a kwik-print made about a year after the failed reticulation attempt. It’s a collage made using one of the damaged negatives as a starting point.

Here’s the original shot for comparison:

A few years later, I used another of these shots in a mixed media piece. Here’s the original shot: (with my thumbprint in the emulsion):

Here’s what I made with it:

Looking at these shots now, I like a lot of them quite a bit. The layer of visual noise, and the changes in texture and composition resulting from the missing chunks of emulsion make these mundane scenes interesting. Maybe this was a happy accident after all.


Anonymous said...

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David Scott said...

I love your experimental approach to photography. It is refreshing to come across someone creating new methods of expression.