Darkroom Experiments with Sepia and Gold Toning
I spent yesterday toning some pictures with a technique I came across in The Master Printer’s Workbook by Steve Macleod. He calls it ”varaiable sepia” or indirect thiocarbamide toning. It involves a two bath process of bleach and then toning. The bleach is potassium bromide and potassium ferricyanide and the toner a combination of sodium hydroxide and thiocarbamide. The toning dilutions are mixed at various ratios to gain different effects; I chose a warm brown. I also consulted the wonderful The Photgraphers Toning Book by Tim Rudman who also has a section on this technique and mentions split toning it with gold toner. It so happened I had a bottle sitting on the shelf and decided to try that as well.
A few weeks back I’d started with some 8×10′s on various types of paper but mostly Ilford Warmtone both on fibre and resin coated. Recently I have been taking large format macro shots in the garden and had some 12×16 I’d printed on Kentmere Glossy Fibre which I’d also thought to tone . Part of the reason for my interest in this is the photograph as an object, I like to hold something I’ve made and pretend I’m a craftsman. The irony of then photographing the results and putting them online is not entirely rational but LF macro is already a pretty insane act to start with.
The first experiments were taken with a Leica MP + 35mm ASPH Summicron on AGFA APX100 and processed in home mixed D23. The ones on the left are on Ilford Warmtone Gloss and the two on the right are Ilford Warmtone Fibre (semi gloss I think). I was getting used to the actions of the bleach and the correct dilutions on these but despite my mishaps I liked the tones I was getting. I wash the prints first, drop in the bleach until I like the change enough then wash away the yellow bleach and wash in water for 5 mins. Then place them in the toner until the desired effect is reached. Then wash again and dry the fibre prints slowly to avoid the dreaded curling.
After enjoying the results of the 35mm shots, I made some pictures in the garden with my Bronica SQA and Wista VX with a view to toning them. Shooting in the garden is one of the few consistant things I do but even when I go further a field I seem happy enough taking a relatively small area and seeking details that interest me. I moved my Omega 5X4 enlarger out of the darkroom and made the larger attic space light tight so I could raise the head higher and make larger prints. I’m only allowing a 1/4 inch border as on 12×16 paper so the 5X4 negs come into their own. With the Bronica 6X6 negs I’m struggling to decide on the size of the actual print, 10×10 seems to waste a lot of 12×16 paper. How come no one makes square paper for these square negs?
With these larger ones I used slighly less thiocarbamide and achieved a browner toner. They did all go into into the gold toner but I didn’t notice any great colour shift. Gold toner does offer archival properties and I think it added to the contrast a touch. The results above are mostly on double weight Kentmere Fibre Glossy ( the 5×4′s) which seems to flatten better than previous papers I’ve tried, this could also be due to my improving technique. The Bronica SQA are on Ilford Fibre Glossy which seemed more resistant to toning. I am though plagued by dust or marks on the negative. I’m not sure why at the moment. I’ll just keep on trying to up the quality but my sloppiness seems untameable. I should try and make a virtue of it like Sally Mann’s wet plate work with brush stokes splodges and specks a plenty. I’d also like to leave the confines of the garden now as my 5×4 technique has improved but man its a heavy thing to lug about. I can’t see me moving too far from the car.
In order to get them online I couldn’t scan the larger ones so I photographed them with a Nikon D5000 + 35mm which introduces a load of extra problems like white balance, reflections, ripples in paper etc but the beauty of the digital world is that “spotting” is so damn easy. With a view to the future I recently sent the shot below from the Bronica SQA series to Photobox online and got a very fine photograph back but it didn’t give me the same thrill. So for now I carry on with this rather beautiful agony of a process in the hope that the more I do it the better I’ll get…history suggests I’m in for a long wait.