If you’ve tried cyanotypes and enjoyed them, you can take them a bit further by introducing cyanotype chemicals to black and white darkroom paper.
What You Need
This technique combines a lumen print with a cyanotype to introduce various tones and colours that you cannot achieve with cyanotype alone. For this example I’ve used Ilford RC (resin coated) multigrade paper, freshly mixed cyanotype liquid, turmeric mixed to a paste with water, and plant material to produce a cyanolumen photogram. You’ll also need photographic fix, I’m using Ilford Rapid Fixer which I will dilute, but you can now buy pouches of fixer which might be easier to use if this is a one-off trial for you, as you won’t need to dilute it. You also need a darkroom tray or other shallow plastic container that will fit your paper size.
Method – Prepare Your Paper and Expose to UV
If you will want to use your darkroom paper for darkroom printing as well as lumen prints, remove the paper you need from the pack in darkroom conditions. If not, you don’t have to worry too much about light contamination. Open it in a shady room, removing just the paper you need and closing the pack as quickly as possible to shield it from light.
Quickly coat the darkroom paper with cyanotype mixture (see here for details). I find that on the resin coated paper the liquid sits on the top of the paper. That’s fine because this is going to be a wet cyanotype. Arrange your plant material on top of the paper and add a sheet of glass to hold it all still. Put it outside in the sunlight or alternatively place under a UV lamp. If you want the yellow colour I have here, then add turmeric while adding plant material. How you add it will depend on the effect you want to create, and you’ll need to experiment to find out what works. I have randomly added turmeric to the base and placed plant material on top. Next time I might dip the plant into turmeric and see how that works. Remember, the strength of this type of technique is that the process can create happy accidents. You have to be willing to let go of control and really experiment in order for those accidents to happen.
This cyanolumen print was left outside for 6 hours in strong UV light, but you don’t need to leave them that long; however, they do take longer than a standard cyanotype to create, and among the community of creators it seems the general feel for these is the longer the better in exposure terms with 24 hour exposures being perfectly normal. This is not instant photography! I’m not yet practiced enough with various plant materials to be able to put more accurate timings on exposure and it will also depend on where you are in the world, but for thicker plant material I’d go for a longer exposure time but for anything delicate I’d look at about 3 or 4 hours in high UV light.
The main things to look for when creating the print are that the plant material is making good contact with the paper, and that the whole thing is held together firmly to create sharp edges. I find that using heavy glass works well, but if yours is thin then use some clips to help to create that firm contact and to hold everything together firmly.
Rinse, Fix and Dry
When finished with the exposure, I first rinse my print in water. You might want to take a photograph of it at this stage because colours can change once the print has been put in the fix. Remove any plant material that remains on the paper – it’s helpful to have an old, small paintbrush at hand for this.
For the fix I’d recommend you wear gloves and leave a window open because it’s an unpleasant smell for most people and you don’t want this getting onto your skin. You don’t have to do this in darkroom conditions, you can mix this stuff up in daylight. I mixed my fix at a ratio of 1 part fix to 4 parts water and put in in the tray. I do this just before I finish the exposure so the fix is not hanging around because of the smell. If you’re not sure how much to mix, fill your tray with enough water to cover your paper easily (maybe half way), pour the water into a measuring jug to see how much liquid you will need. Divide that number by 5. That will give you the amount liquid in each part. So if I want 500ml of water, I want 100ml of Ilford rapid fixer, and 400ml of water. Check the instructions on the fix you’re using to make sure you get the ratio correct.
When you’ve finished rinsing your print in water, wearing gloves put in into the fix. I dipped my print in fix and then rinsed with water immediately. I didn’t let it sit in the water, but if you have a fibre based paper you might like to leave it for up to a minute. You can keep the fix in a dark bottle out of direct sunlight and reuse it. Please dispose of this responsibly because it is toxic to aquatic life.
Rinse the fix from the paper thoroughly in running water, and leave the print flat to dry.
Because of the long exposure times, you may get better results from firm, thick plant material. Anything delicate tends to produce a texture on the paper rather than an image. The example below was my first try at a cyanolumen; it’s fennel seed heads and fronds, exposed for 24 hours. As you can see, this is mainly textural. I also didn’t rinse it well because I was worried the blue would disappear.
I suspect (I’m going to try it but I don’t know yet) that fibre based paper is better than resin coated paper for this. I will put the results here when I have them.
Look out for cats sitting on your nice warm glass. Mine did this, although I’ve no idea how long for! I looked out of the window and there he was, settled on the glass for nap time.
Like a standard wet cyanotype, you can try adding vinegar, bubbles, etc to your base.
You can try a straightforward lumen print.