Film photography, or analog photography – to use a term that better encompasses other media and processes – really is a fascinating world.
To those relatively new to the world outside what is considered traditional film photography (such as myself), hearing people talk about the collidon process, wet plates, paper negatives and the like can often be confusing and a little too much to take in. They’re terms that evoke different feelings in different people; curiosity, dread, memories of experiments gone wrong, and wonderful — more often than not — antique images.
That’s not to say that any of these, or other older methods are no longer relevant in today’s
film analog photography world. If anything, they’re seeing the same kind of resurgence as film photography is.
A few months ago, I stumbled on the work of Don Kittle. Specifically, his #52papernegs project. In my admittedly incredibly limited large format and darkroom printing experience, I was rather surprised to learn that one could use photographic paper to capture an image in a camera.
My naïveté has since been dealt with and I’m pleased to say that Don agreed to my prodding to produce a three-part guest post series introducing the paper negative method, as well as his personal journey.
I sincerely hope you enjoy this fascinating read as much as I do!
It’s over to Don for part one.
Working with paper negatives – Part one: A story of thrift and Magic
Several years ago I wanted to mix up my portraiture a bit and bought a really old medium format digital back and Mamiya body/lens combination. The beast booted like a PC from over 20 years ago, taking 10 seconds to start up and emitting an alarming BEEEEEEP when it was ready to use.
It wasn’t fast. I could shoot one frame every 2 seconds when writing to a memory card, and tethering over Firewire 400 meant a shot every 6-7 seconds. I had to learn to make small talk with my subjects between the shots and my portraiture was never better!
So, I began thinking, how could I slow down my landscape photography in a similar way?
Gorgeous, incredible resolution, something you craft with love through trials in developing and printing; it seemed like the logical way to not only slow me down while in the field but also give me something I could hold.
Even with my small 4×5 camera, film would be an expensive proposition. I knew that sooner or later I’d find a Deardorff V8 at a great price and that those 8×10 sheets would sink me for sure. Luckily for my wallet – while conducting some research – I came across threads on some large format photography forums about shooting paper negatives.
My interest was peaked.
What are paper negatives?
Paper negative is a term for shooting on photographic paper. Most people out there shooting paper negatives today are shooting on black and white paper but there are few brave souls dabbling in color paper, too.
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Photographic paper is available in many, many different grades and is either fibre-based or resin coated. The consensus seems to be that resin coated paper is the way to go for use as negatives, given that the texture of fibre-based papers is often apparent in images, scans or contact prints.
The different grades of photographic paper help the photographer play with contrast through the use of various filters (something for a bit later on). Personally, I settled on using Ilford Multigrade IV RC Deluxe MGD paper as my medium of choice. It was a quick move, and without too much forethought I landed a 1000 sheet package from B&H almost a year ago.
I initially thought that 100 sheets would likely be enough but the Canadian dollar was plummeting at the time and if I needed to buy more in the future, it would likely cost me 20%-30% extra…so I took the plunge.
As I’ve done more research on the topic, I’ve come across blog posts talking about better control of contrast using specific grades of paper and filters but I’m rather committed to a large volume of the Ilford Multigrade so I’ll make do for now!
Why paper negatives?
I was taken by the look that shooting on paper produces; the high contrast and low dynamic range creates a result that is very interesting to me.
The love affair began and with about 50 sheets used, I knew I’d need some impetus to keep shooting and experimenting, so I could burn through my supply.
I’ve of course seen lots of Flickr contacts start 365 projects, but my crazy work life doesn’t really allow me to take something like that on. Last year I came across a 52 rolls project but it was 2 days before the end of 2015 and I simply couldn’t arrange an invite to the project in time to participate. Sometime in the first week of January 2016 I decided I would start #52papernegs, a project where I shoot a paper negative every week of 2016.
I’m here in week 19 now, pondering new subjects and starting to experiment with simple printing. I’ve grown really fond of the project and the film community on Twitter has been nothing short of amazing in their appreciation and encouragement for the work.
I hope you enjoyed this short primer, and that it’s given you a taste of what you can expect if you decide to enter this rather mysterious and infrequently visited world.
There’s more to come in the near future.
~ Don Kittle
We’ve still got parts two and three to come, where Don will be talking about shooting, developing and contact printing paper negatives. You can look forward to learning a bit more about pre-flashing, filters, dynamic range and contact printing to name just a few topics!
Word on the street is that we might also seeing some pretty interesting mixed-method experimentation too, so please stay tuned!
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