Experimentation sometimes leads to the break-through. It certainly leads to some failure. Sometimes you hit an in-between result; this one lives somewhere in the middle. Today’s image wasn’t made with film, nor was it made with a camera. It was made with black-and-white photo paper, an incandescent light, some old print developer (Kodak Dektol multigrade), and a bottle of india ink.
An entire box of my photo paper was accidentally exposed to light; the material isn’t cheap, and I wasn’t amused by the loss. For those of you who don’t know what film and photo paper is, it’s a light-sensative material that’s coated in silver halide (a crystallized salt form of the metal). When light hits this material, the areas that were exposed to the greatest amount of light turn correspondingly dark. With the assistance of corrosive chemicals, you can accelerate the process of darkening the tones and then you can use another set of chemicals to fix the image permanently.
When a box of photo paper is accidentally exposed, it becomes useless for traditional printing – all prints will be slightly flat-toned or “fogged” when you go to draw a print in the darkroom. Rather than snap my fingers in defeat and pitch the useless pages into the trash, I decided to try and have some fun. The paper was already ruined, so what could I lose?
I started taking these pieces of partially-exposed paper out. I threw them into the developing bath and sprayed india ink over the prints before snapping on the overhead light. Since some of the paper was protected from the light by the dark, floating plumes of ink, strange patters begin to emerge on the paper. I’d then lift the prints before they turned completely black and put them in the fixing chemicals. The result is what you see above – atmospheric swirls and bubbles that, to my eye, are reminiscent of astral photography. I’d stumbled on a new, slightly messier form photogram, and I spent the entire afternoon experimenting, saving the best results to be toned, hand-colored, or scanned into digital files later.
Sometimes it pays just to goof off for a bit and forget that there are any rules.