Ziatype Day Two

Posted by on 07 Aug 2010 | Tagged as: Palladium

I’m a bit puzzled by my ziatype results from yesterday… the contrasty nature of my ziatype sensitizer and the drastic curve needed for correction keep disturbing me. To be sure the troublemaker is not my paper I made more small ChartThrob test prints on several different papers: Canson, Somerset, Saunders… There were differences in tonality and Dmax, but they all showed the same basic character: blocked shadows and quite high contrast.

Then really weird thing happened… I found a few sheets of COT 320 paper; should be excellent for iron processes like cyano, vandyke, platinum, and obviously, ziatype. I decided to make a small test print on it too, and poured my zia sensitizer on the paper, ready to start spreading it around with my brush. It took a few seconds until I started to brush, but in that time the liquid put a permanent ugly stain on the paper. It was impossible to even out, the paper was ruined, and I didn’t even try to expose it.

Sensitizing COT 320, the first try.

The paper behaved like a blotting paper, the solution seemed to sink in and remain there … I made another try with another piece of the same paper… This time I started brushing really quickly after pouring.  Not any better… I could avoid the pouring marks, but the coating was all blotchy and uneven. Didn’t expose this paper either.

(And yes, I am absolutely sure that it was COT 320 paper, straight from the factory package.)

Sensitizing COT 320, the second try.

Anyway, I then made on Guarro one more test print with cesium (palladium) instead of lithium. This gave me warm brown tones, and just a bit lower contrast. There was already a correction curve created for the negative, so the chart tones look quite ok…

A cesium palladium test ziatype, from a tonally corrected inkjet negative.

Basically I have curved my workflow for the neutral lithium palladium and the warmtone cesium palladium, against all odds, and should be good to print some photos now. If there is something wrong with my process, it will be consistently so through this batch of chemicals.

Consistency, I say to myself, will be my ultimate guiding star! 😉

To be continued…

Ziatype Starting Day

Posted by on 05 Aug 2010 | Tagged as: Palladium

It’s been a busy day starting with the ziatype process! My setup for finding the basic exposure was to use solutions #1 (ammonium ferric chloride) and #3a (lithium palladium). I first picked four different papers to try with zia — these had all been performing well with cyanotype and vandyke, so my guess was that they would be good for ziatype too. But, as it happens, there was only one good enough to continue with testing…

The ziatype essentials: Tween 20 surfactant, the basic zia solutions, a shot glass for the sensitizer, and a synthetic Sterling brush from Bostick and Sullivan.

One of the paper stocks — Bockingford Watercolour — behaved oddly straight away; it was impossible to coat the sensitizer evenly on the paper — it remained blotchy and grainy. The rest of the papers looked OK at this stage.

Some differences between the papers could be seen even in the dimroom’s yellow light; for instance, the sample on the left (Bockinford Watercolour) was very grainy and uneven right after sensitizing.

Another problem was my clearing bath. Having done some platinum/palladium printing 12 – 15 years ago I have a good supply of EDTA, which is supposed to be good for clearing ziatypes too. Well, it’s old, but dry and good looking stuff, kept in tightly closed plastic containers, so it should work, or… ?

However, my EDTA refused to dissolve!? I don’t remember how I dissolved it back in the early days, I think there wasn’t anything special about it… just mix to water. Now my clearing bath looked milky and cloudy, and I have no idea if it worked or not — these tests were just exposures without a negative, so no whites there to judge the progress of clearing.

I changed the clearing bath to sodium sulfite for the rest of the day — worked just fine…

Cloudiness in the EDTA clearing bath.

My EDTA powder is kept in these plastic bottles. It is purchased from a Finnish supplier (not in the business any more), the yellow label is just my old remarks on the dilution.

Anyway, properly cleared or not, this was just a test to define the basic exposure (the best density with the shortest exposure time) for the material. The results: There was actually one paper that was superior to my eyes. That was Guarro Casas, our good old outperformer, excellent in about every process we have tried. In this selection I didn’t have Bergger COT320 or Arches Platine at hand; they used to be my favorites for platinum.

The papers to choose from; from left and in the order of superiority: Guarro Casas (white), Saunders Waterford, Somerset, Bockingford Watercolour.

I found my basic exposure to be around 1200 units on our Sack exposure unit. Next, I started working to find the correct printer’s ink load for good ziatype negatives. I first used Epson 3800, figuring I’d need the heavy ink load that it could provide. But I soon realized that I’m not going to need those super dense blocking inks here, so I switched to Epson 1800.

I came to the conclusion of using the Guarro paper; it’s very easy to coat evenly with a brush, the Dmax is good, and it clears easily (and nice texture too, although could be a bit smoother to my taste). Saunders could be another good paper, with its warmer base, but it’s uneven somehow, it seems to absorb the sensitizer in a very patchy way…

A close-up of Saunders Waterford — I suppose the unevenness comes from how the sensitizer penetrates the paper fibres… the paper surface itself is quite smooth.

Here in Guarro paper the tone irregularities are not in the paper fibers — the texture showing here comes from the light hitting the surface at an angle (I took the picture with a digicam).

I had my negative and the humid paper stuck together couple of times… no problem here with inkjet negs that can be printed again, but I did ruin one of my Stouffer step tablets 🙁

If there is a hazard to ruin your negative in contact with the wet paper, you can use a thin clear acetate film between the negative and paper. It can blur your prints a bit, they say, but in my tests today, I couldn’t see any naked eye difference in sharpness between the prints with and without an acetate interleaf… but that may just be me and my old eyes 😉

An image transferred to the protective film from humid ziatype paper during the exposure… the paper too wet, I guess…

All my prints today have been made from uncalibrated inkjet negatives… the only goals have been to find a proper inkjet density for the negative (to print as the paper white tone), to find a suitable paper for the process, and finally, to get to know something about the paper humidity and the wet process issues.

I was trying to get my negatives’ ink densities right, to be able to get just paper white with the negative max density. I came to the correct negative density in an empirical way, by changing the print settings and making small test prints with ChartThrob. I didn’t use the colorized negatives here, because the all inks UV density of the Epson 1800, with photo black ink, looked dense enough.

So, I let the ChartThrob script analyze and build the correction curve from my best print of the gray patches. The curve looks quite extreme to my eyes, but I guess you could expect something like this when viewing the gray charts printed uncorrected… the shadows are blocked and without much separation up to higher values, like 40 %, while the upper tones respond quite linearly.

The first correction curve for ziatype negatives.

The test print with the correction curve doesn’t look too bad now… I’ll make some small corrections and try to print some photographs soon.

A print from the corrected chart. Nice, neutral platinum-like tones.

Here’s a list of my settings and procedure for today:

  • Workroom conditions: rH 74 %, temperature 24° C /75.2° F
  • Negative: Inkjet (Epson 1800, all inks, photo black)
  • Correction curve: Analyzed and built by ChartThrob
  • Sensitizer: Sol. 1 (10 g ferric amm. ox. > 25 ml dist. water) 8 drops  + sol. 2 (2.3 g palladium chloride + 1.7 g lithium chloride > 25 ml dist. water) 8 drops + Tween 20 (1:3) 1 drop
  • Paper coating: With brush
  • Drying: Left on table for 10 min., blowing with hair dryer (cool) 2 min.
  • Exposure: Between acetate films, 1200 exp. units (Sack) (ca 3.8 min.)
  • Wet process: Wash 5 min., citric acid 1.5 % 5 min., sodium sulfite 1.5 % 5 min., wash 20 min.
  • Drying: Hair dryer (hot)

Preparing For Ziatype

Posted by on 01 Aug 2010 | Tagged as: Palladium

A forey into the noble metal world of palladium printing will follow… the printing-out process developed by Dick Sullivan (called Ziatype by him) is said to be one of the easiest alternative processes, yet yielding very stable and beautiful prints. The tones can be varied from cold bluish to warm red-brown by chemistry and paper humidity.

I have mixed the chemistry and I’m ready to start testing with the sensitizers and basic exposure times… but, we’ve had an exceptionally warm weather here in Finland for the last three or four weeks. So my lab (no air-conditioning)  is hot and humid, not very pleasant to work in. (On the other hand, they say these are ideal conditions for Ziatype printing… maybe so, but not ideal for human beings). I’ll wait for a few more days before starting to print…

BTW, for those interested in printing-out palladium, here’s some good reading:

Richard Sullivan and Carl Weese: The New Platinum Print (unfortunately long since sold out, I guess…)

Christopher James: The Book of Alternative Photographic Processes

Christina Anderson: Alternative Processes Condensed

And links online:

Handmade Photographic Images

Ziatype Demos by Jessica Somers


Posted by on 13 Jul 2010 | Tagged as: Palladium

The Project Vedos is going to exhibit in a group show in October. I’m planning on making palladium prints (the Ziatype system) from some of the images below. No particular ideas yet, except that the images will be of open landscapes (under the working title Planitia). Here’s the first set of images, more may be coming…

Moreover, we will be exhibiting at the Atelier pH7 too, in October – November…

Fake Ambrotypes

Posted by on 27 Jun 2010 | Tagged as: Ambrotype, Uncategorized

People keep asking me why bother making something as cumbersome as wet plate photographs, when you could just tweak a digital image file to LOOK like a wet plate photograph, and then print it with an inkjet printer…

Well, you can do a lot of things in Photoshop, and it’s easy and fun too. But if you’re a photographer, there is one thing, in my opinion, to keep in your mind: you can’t retract your promise to photography. By choosing to work with photographic materials and techniques you have committed yourself to work with some fundamental things like light, space and time. These elements are really conserved in your final work — that is why I like wet plate (and other alt-processes) so much… you can feel and hold those things in your hands, you have the plate that has actually seen this light and energy and is keeping it! (By the way, William Crawford‘s classic book on alternative processes has an excellent title: The Keepers of Light).

With a digital print you don’t have any commitments… it has lost its energy a long time ago — maybe it had it when the image was captured by the digital camera — which also has its ways to capture the energy — but the image is transformed and transmissed so long way, that there may not be much left of it after all conversions, compressions, equalizing and whatnot. With digital cameras people tend to get similar results — often it’s not them taking the pictures but rather letting the camera make decisions.

Don’t get me wrong — I don’t hate digicams. I use many myself, and I think they really are excellent tools on certain tasks. But to come to the original question of why not using digicam for capturing and Photoshop for emulating different processes, I have made two fake ambrotypes below. Here are the digital camera captures:

Old processes (like wet plate collodion) have some characteristic properties that are quite easily emulated in Photoshop; wet plate collodion typically was sensitive mostly to blue light – to simulate this in PS we can use only the blue color channel and discard the rest. Another typical feature is the long exposure, during which moving targets (flowing water, clouds, foliage in the wind) will render blurred. Also this can be simulated by PS’s blur filters and such.

Another feature is that these processes are often exposed on a large plate, and camera lenses for those plate sizes are greatly bigger than, say, in 35mm or digital cameras, also having much longer focal lengths for lenses. Due to this fact the depth of field of these long lenses is much shorter than in digicams. This is an important creative and expressive effect for photographers — almost impossible to simulate with consumer digicams.

Here are my fake ambrotypes that I made from digital files. I used some base textures from here, and also used methods from this site, making minor improvements to these methods.

The Ahlstrom Bridge (summer), Noormarkku, Finland. Fake Ambrotype.

The Ahlstrom Bridge (spring), Noormarkku, Finland. Fake Ambrotype.

Okay, they may look like wet plate photographs, but you really can’t call them that… maybe I can fool you on this web page and even with printed matters (if I call them “reproductions of wet plates”), but if you ask me to show the plates — and there are none — you can see how the energy captured by the digicam has lost. It’s not there in the unsubstantial web image, or on the inkjet paper any more…

Not convinced? Well, here’s to you then, a book of How to produce a cyanotype, wet plate collodion, Daguerrotype, or just about every other historic style of print – but without the mess.

Good luck! 😉

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