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Vortographs

What is a Vorticism?

Vorticism started in 1914 in London and encompassed sculpture, photography, painting, woodcuts and graphic design. The movement, which was a ‘response to French Cubism and Italian Futurism’ (1) was led by Wyndham Lewis and named by Ezra Pound. The photographer Alvin Langdon Coburn first exhibited his vortographs in 1917. I’m a huge fan of Coburn, and that’s how I originally learnt about vortographs.

All I could find out when I first started to research this was that Coburn was using an arrangement of mirrors, like a kaleidoscope, to create his images. If you look at Coburn’s vortographs you can see two slightly different types of images. One style looks like it has fractured the planes of the image into star or triangular shapes.

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Vortograph by Alvin Langdon Coburn

I think these are true vortographs made with an arrangement of mirrors like so….

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Taped triangular arrangement of mirrors that measure 2 x 6 inches

The other type of vortograph Coburn made looks like this:

vortograph-of-ezra-pound-1917
Ezra Pound by Alvin Langdon Coburn

I wonder if this image of Ezra Pound by Coburn is made by using a stack of mirrors instead of a triangular arrangement? I have experience of making different types of vortograph myself; the only way I can think of to achieve this style is if it was made using a stacked arrangement of mirrors.

Star Vortograph
Star Vortograph
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Piano Keyboard Vortograph

To make my prism (pictured above), I used 4 mirrors which I had cut at a local glaziers. They each measure 2 inches by 6 inches. If you get mirrors cut, remember to ask for the edges to be smoothed as you’ll be handling them quite a bit.

They need to be taped together to make a prism. The sides of the mirrors give really nice effects, so having a side which is thicker works well if you want to capture that, so add the extra mirror to one side. I also added thin copper tape to the sides of my mirrors at one end to help give a more defined pattern. If I don’t want the pattern I just flip the mirrors around – they don’t interfere with the image if they’re at the lens end.

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Top left is where the thicker mirror edges are. You can see the copper tape showing up which makes the triangular nature of the images clearer.

I found that the technique works best with a wide angle lens; if you zoom in you can loose the effect. I’ve tried several different camera and lens combinations – all work, including an iPhone which is much easier to work with and I don’t have worries about my lenses getting scratched. But essentially it’s just experimenting to see what works. There isn’t a clever set up as such – just hold the mirror in front of the lens until you see the image you want. A tripod would help for this as it’s a bit fiddly. I’ve found that taking a ‘normal’ image and then printing it and taking the image again through the mirrors works well, or otherwise taking a vortograph of an image displayed on a computer monitor. If you look at some of my other work you’ll see the colours that are produced when using this technique of photographing a monitor or iPhone screen using a prism.

(Eyes, buses, Union Flags, New York and yes, that is Brendan Fraser top left)

To see how the planes fracture it helps to use a subject that has strong lines as you get a more pronounced effect.

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Stairs, The British Museum

I started using vortographs to represent the fracturing of the UK in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum. Many of my original references will be in the initial work I did for an assignment on my photography degree which I will add to this site soon.  

I didn’t find many photographers using the technique now, if you use it after reading this post I’d love to hear from you and see how it went!

Cyanolumens

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.

Tips

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.

Developing Black & White Film

A Really Simple Guide to Developing Film at Home

I couldn’t find a really simple guide to developing film when I needed a refresher, so this post is to fill that gap.

If you want to give film a try don’t be put off by not having a darkroom. You don’t need a darkroom to develop film and you don’t need a darkroom to print your film images. Just scan your film and print with an inkjet printer.

There are three main stages to developing a film and when you get used to it you’ll be able to do all this really quickly:

  • Mix up your chemicals.
  • Load your film into the developing tank.
  • Develop, stop, fix and rinse the film.

The Things You’ll Need

There are things that you have to have, and things that are useful but not essential.

Essentials:

  • Access to water and a sink / drain
  • Measuring cylinders that you won’t ever use for food; 3 that measure at least 300ml would be a good start
  • Chemicals
    • Film developer – I use Ilfosol 3
    • Stop – I use Ilfostop
    • Fix – I use Ilford Rapid Fixer
  • Developing tank
  • Thermometer
  • Scissors
  • Bottle opener
  • Light-tight changing bag
  • Timer or stopwatch (I use my phone)
  • Disposable gloves
  • About half an hour in time

Things that might be useful:

  • Accordion bottles to store chemicals for reuse.
  • Sous Vide for temperature control.
  • Funnel.
  • Film hanging clip (useful to hang film up but a peg will do for that).
  • Negative sleeves to store your films when they’re dry.
  • A copy of The Darkroom Handbook by Michael Langford.
  • Wetting agent if you live in a hard water area.

If you’re just starting out it’s worth buying a film developing kit that comes with  most of the things you’ll need rather than getting all the bits separately. Just be aware that if you get the more expensive kit to develop paper and film, the trays you get for prints are quite small – about A4 size (or 8×10 inch). If you’re going to go on to make enlargements in a darkroom then think about what size prints you’ll want to make before you invest.

Now You Need to Find Out About Your Film

You need to know what the ISO of your film is and what type of film it is before you can work out development times. The film name and ISO information should be on the film canister itself. When used with a film processing chart this gives you times for development, stop and fixing of your film. The chart also shows the ratio of water to chemical you need to mix up.

The Darkroom Handbook by Michael Langford gives a lot of information about the different types of developer/ fixer combinations you can use for various films if you want to experiment. However, keep in mind that much of this is just trial and error, and there are still new film emulsions and new photographic developers being released – including pre-mixed pouches – that you might like to try. I use Ilford films and chemicals so I’m going to stick to Ilford for simplicity.

An Example Using the Film Processing Chart

I use a lot of Ilford HP5 Plus at 400 ISO. So, let’s look at the Ilford film processing chart for how to process this. I’ve highlighted the bits I need for my film in yellow.

The chart lists the various Ilford films along the top and the developers on the left hand side. So going along the top line until I find my film – HP5 Plus, gives me options for the different ISO options this film is available in. I’m looking at how to develop ISO 400 film. Next, I look to the column on the left for the developer I’m using which is Ilfosol 3. There are two numbers next to this that indicate how to dilute the developer – the ratio of chemical to water needed develop this film. If this is all sounding a bit mathematical, don’t worry; I’ll show you exactly how to do this maths step-by-step.

Now read horizontally from these developer dilutions until you get to the column for HP5 Plus 400, you’ll see a number; this is the time, in minutes, that developing will take. If I use developer at a ratio of 1 part developer to 9 parts water then it will take 6.5 minutes to develop the film.  If I use developer at a ratio of 1 part developer to 14 parts water it will take 11 minutes.

Obviously using less developer is cheaper, but I tend to go with the shorter time. In the top left, notice I’ve highlighted the temperature of 20 degrees. It is important to note that this process is temperature dependent. Also notice the highlighted areas at the bottom of the page. These give you times for your stop (which halts the development process) and fix (fixes the whole thing in place). There’s also information about agitation – the chemicals need to flow over the surface of the film; you need to make sure that happens by physically moving the developing tank.

The Developing Tank

The next question is how much liquid do we actually need to mix up? To answer this you’ll need to check your developing tank.

On the bottom of my tank it says ‘1x35mm = 290ml’ i.e. One 35mm film needs 290ml of liquid. I round this up to 300ml to make the maths simpler. If you’re developing two films or a medium format film it will need more liquid, but the example here is for one 35mm film.

Mixing The Chemicals

Mix up the chemicals before you begin. You need them all ready to go before you start developing. You can now buy some of these chemicals ready mixed if that’s easier.

Mixing the Developer

Okay, lets work out how much developer we need:

I’ve already said my tank says 1x35mm = 290ml on the base; that’s the amount of liquid that needs to be sloshing about for the 35mm film to sit in. I round that up to 300ml because the maths and measurements are easier that way.

Working out ratios is just splitting everything into equal parts.

I need 300ml of liquid and the film processing chart says to dilute 1+9, so I need a total of 10 parts.

Each part will be equal to 300ml /10 = 30ml

One part developer to 9 parts water means that I will need (1x 30ml) of developer and (9 x 30ml) of water, so 30ml developer and 270ml of water.

Make a note of your development time. Mine is six and a half minutes.

A Note on Temperature

The water needs to be at a temperature of 20 degrees. I’ve highlighted that on the development chart – it’s in the top left corner. I find it difficult to get water from the tap at the correct temperature, so I usually measure out the water and leave it to stand for a couple of hours. However, if you can’t get water to the correct temperature you can adjust your development time. For warmer water you need less development time, for colder you need more. I wouldn’t go below 18 degrees for your water temperature.

There are instructions for water at 24 degrees on the card of the film pack, and the chart works the same as above. There are helpful charts and instructions on manufacturers websites about adjusting development time for temperature. If you’re planning on doing a lot of developing and printing then it could be worth investing in a sous vide – a simple cooking instrument that heats water to a specific temperature and keeps it there.

Tip: Remember, you can do all of this in the light. The chemicals don’t have to be kept in the dark, just the film.

When you begin to mix these chemicals remember that none of the chemicals for developing film have to be prepared or kept in the dark. However, if you’re not going to use the developer straight away (it keeps for a few days), then don’t leave it in direct sunlight on a windowsill, and don’t shake it. The film has to be kept in the dark, which the development tank should do for you because of it’s design; don’t be tempted to open the tank up until you’re rinsing the film in water at the end of the entire process after the fix.

Mixing the Stop

To stop development, the instructions (rather confusingly listed under ‘Fixation’ at the bottom of the chart) say Ilfostop at a dilution of 1+19 for 10 seconds at 20 degrees. (I’ve highlighted this in yellow). You can just rinse in water, but I’ve not tried it so can’t say what the results would be.

I use 300ml of stop.

This time there are 20 parts (1 + 19), so that’s 300ml/20 = 15ml per part. So that’s 285ml of water at 20 degrees and 15ml of Ilfostop.

The time for this is 10 seconds. Make a note of it.

Mixing the Fix

I use Rapid Fixer. The instructions (under Fixation) say rapid fixer at a dilution of 1+4 for 2 – 5 minutes at 20 degrees. Again, I use 300ml of Rapid Fixer, so, although I’m sure that you’re now bored with the maths bit I’ll do it anyway…

1 + 4 means I need 5 parts, 1 fix and 4 water.

Each part will be 300ml/ 5 = 60ml

That’s (1 x 60ml) part of Rapid Fixer to (4 x 60ml) parts – i.e. 240ml of water.

Honestly, I don’t know what the difference is in fix times; I fix for 5 minutes. I tend to assume 5 minutes is best but 2 is okay if you’re in a rush. I have no evidence for this belief though!

Time 5 minutes. Make a note of it.

Loading the Developing Tank

This is probably the most frustrating part of the whole process, so don’t do it in a rush! Make sure you can sit down somewhere undisturbed, put on some soothing music and steel yourself for a lot of swearing if you don’t have the patience of a saint.

Open the developing tank. Inside it, you’ll see a white cylindrical cage; this is what you load your film onto, the film spirals onto it. To do this you offer the edge of the film up to the notches with the tiny ballbearings and you twist the frame to feed the film onto the spool. This all has to be done in a changing bag or a darkroom without any lights at all.

Sometimes this goes very smoothly. If it does, you’re allowed to feel really smug about that, because usually it’s a total, utter nuisance. This is what happens for me: it goes on part way and then won’t go on any more; it buckles and scratches the film; the film slips out of the notches. My advice is that if you have a film gone wrong (which I do) or a spare film you’re not worried about ruining, then practice with that in the light, then with your eyes closed so you get used to the feel of it all. Also practice taking the developing tank apart and putting it back together again so that you can do it with your eyes closed. Because all of this has to be done in the light-tight changing bag.

Get your equipment together: your film, bottle opener, scissors, all parts of the developing tank. Put it all into the light-tight changing bag and zip it all up.

Put your arms into the holes in the changing bag; if you have a long sleeve top then that works well because moving your arms around can cause the bag to slip down your arms. If it does it might let light in, and your film will be ruined. A long sleeve top helps to stop that from happening.

In the bag, open up the developing tank and find the spool the film will go onto. Put the rest out of the way. Using the bottle opener, lever the top of the film canister off and then remove the film; don’t unravel it. Be careful with the film canister – it can be sharp so try and push it to the corner of the bag out of the way with the bottle opener. Now get the scissors and feel for the shaped end of the film; you need to cut this off. Then put the scissors and the cut bit of film out of the way.

Now you need to get the film onto the spool. Feel for the tiny ballbearings with your fingers; there will be notches in the spool at that point. Twist the spool so those notches line up and offer the edge of the film up to the notches and push until it feels like it’s gone past the ballbearings. Then gently twist the spool trying very hard not to touch the film as it unravels. When you get near to the end, the film will still be attached to a small piece of black plastic; you’ll need to cut it off. Then wind on the rest of the film, and reassemble the development tank. Remember to put the spool the right way up; the film needs to sit at the bottom of the tank. Make sure the development tank is totally secure before you remove it from the light-tight changing bag.

That’s all the difficult bit done now.

Developing Your Film

Before you begin you should have your film loaded into the lightproof tank, and all your chemicals ready, at the correct temperature and within easy reach, and a note of the timings. A stopwatch or timer is very helpful too. You’ll need access to the sink and running water now.

Remove the lid from the lightproof tank and quickly but gently pour in the developer, starting your timer when about half of it is in the tank. Gently agitate the tank for a few minutes either using the bar in the centre of it, or by carefully swishing it about or inverting it several times – but don’t shake it. My development time was 6 minutes 30 seconds. I gently agitate the tank for about 2 minutes and then try and agitate it regularly throughout the process – maybe once every minute or so. The aim is to have the liquid moving gently over the surface of the film. The instructions say ‘invert the tank four times during the first ten seconds then invert a further four times during the first ten seconds for each further minute’. But I sometimes lose developer that way and so I prefer my gentle swishing method.

When you are 15 seconds from the end of your development time, begin to tip the developer out of the tank. You don’t need to open it, the liquid will just spill out of the sides. When the developer is out, pour the stop in immediately. Swish it about gently while counting to ten (my stop time is 10 seconds) and tip it out. Then add the fix. Tip the fix into the tank, gently agitate it about for a minute and then keep agitating every minute or so. I do this for about 5 minutes. Then tip it out.

The Rinse

 When you finish the fix and pour it out you can open the tank to rinse the film in water; you don’t need to keep it dark at that point. I tend to leave it in the tank under running water at as close to 20 degrees as I can get for about ten minutes occasionally emptying it all out and letting it fill again.

I live in a hard water area and so at the end of the rinse I use wetting solution. If you’re using it, you only need a few drops. I add it at the end of the rinse with a pipette. By that time I have often become impatient and removed part of the film from the reel to have a peek and see how it looks.

When you’ve finished rinsing, if you’ve not already done so, carefully remove the film from the development reel. If you have wetting solution remaining in the tank then dip a film squeegee or your fingers into the tank and then run down the length of the film to remove excess water droplets. If you skip this step you can end up with marks on the film from droplets of water that have dried.

Use a film clip or peg to hang the film up. If it’s very old film you might find it also helps to put a clip or peg on the bottom too because old film likes to try and roll up again. Try and keep it straight because if it buckles it can scratch.

And that’s it. Let it dry overnight if possible, then you can carefully cut it into strips between the frames. How many frames on each strip will depend on your storage method. At the moment I am using Hama Negative Sleeves for 35mm film which take strips of 6 frames. If you’ve developed medium format film then you’ll probably be looking at cutting into 3 frames.

My next steps in this process are to scan the film and then print on an enlarger. But those are for another post…

Create Your Own Cyanotypes

We’ll briefly cover history & science of cyanotypes, compare the three main options on chemicals and look at how to make an exposure.

History & Science

A Mini History

The cyanotype process produces a beautiful, Prussian-blue coloured print. The process was developed in 1842 by Sir John Herschel, an English astronomer, as an easy way to make copies of diagrams. For much of the 20th century cyanotypes continued to be used as a quick way to produce copies of technical drawings for engineering and architecture. These were called blueprints, and the term is often still used today.  

The cyanotype process was quickly picked up by artists and was very popular during the Victorian era. Anna Atkins, sometimes called the first female photographer, began using cyanotypes to create images of her botanical collections, and published a book of cyanotype images in 1843. This is thought to be the first ever book illustrated with photographic images. 

 A cyanotype made by Anna Atkins from her 1843 book, ‘Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions’.

The Science

Cyanotypes use a mix of two chemicals; Ferric Ammonium Citrate and Potassium Ferricyanide. The mixture of chemicals produces a light sensitive iron complex. When exposed to ultraviolet light the iron becomes unstable and combines with ferricyanide to produce a more stable iron molecule which produces the classic cyanotype blue. The unexposed chemicals don’t change, and rinse out easily in water. You’ll see them coming out as the yellow/ green colour in the water as you rinse. 

When you expose your paper, the parts that sunlight reaches will remain blue, the parts where it can’t reach will be white when the paper is rinsed. You can create various blue tones by varying these light levels during exposure, by using a negative or by moving items around if you are making a photogram.


Options on Chemicals

There are three main choices of where to start with creating your cyanotype. I’ve listed them from lazy photographer to obsessive.

1 The easiest way to create a cyanotype is to buy some pre-coated paper, like Sunprint paper. This option is safe, quick and easy, which makes it brilliant for beginners & children. There are no messy chemicals to handle and mix, and the unexposed coated paper lasts well as long as you store it in its light-proof packaging. However, the paper is thin, it’s more expensive than other options, and there are not many suppliers so it can be difficult to source.

ADVANTAGEDISADVANTAGE
Easy to UseNot much choice of supplier
No messExpensive
Stores wellNo paper choices
I have used Sunprint paper, there are other brands available.

2 Next in terms of ease is to use a Cyanotype kit. These tend to have two bottles which are solutions of Ferric Ammonium Citrate and Potassium Ferricyanide. You mix the solutions together in equal quantities and then use the mixture to coat paper which may be provided in the kit, or paper of your choice.

The problem with pre-mixed liquids is that you don’t know how long they’ve been stored for before you get them, and although individual solutions will last a reasonable length of time, the longer the storage the more likely you are to experience quality issues. These kits also tend to give out plastic bottles & utensils.

However, if you know you want to create a reasonable amount of cyanotype prints or you have a specific surface to coat, this can be a good option.

ADVANTAGESDISADVANTAGES
Mix as neededCan be expensive
Coat any paper or fabric*You don’t know how old solution is when you get it
Fresh solution lasts six monthsCan create waste
*FOR BEST RESULTS, PAPER OR FABRIC BOTH NEED A HIGH COTTON CONTENT

3 The most complicated option is to use powdered chemicals. These powders need to be weighed, water added to make the two solutions, then these solutions are mixed together and used to coat paper or fabric. This can be a bit messy and time consuming, but is probably the cheapest way to make cyanotypes if you’re planning on producing a lot.

You’ll need to use paper with a high cotton content. When choosing paper, think about the type of result you want to achieve. For very crisp results chose hot-pressed watercolour papers, for more texture you can try cold-pressed papers or Khadi paper.

Fabriano (Acquarello) papers are a popular choice, but I’ve used paper by Daler Rowney, Khadi, and even packing paper I found in my Amazon delivery and all have worked perfectly well. Whatever paper you choose, remember it will have to stand up to being rinsed thoroughly.

ADVANTAGESDISADVANTAGES
Very long lasting & easy to storeMessy
Can create a lot of solutionDangerous to breath in
CheapSometimes difficult to obtain

Remember, if you’re coating your own paper then you can create interesting textures by allowing room for visible brush strokes. You can also create circular images, or only partially coat the paper. This gives you a lot more creative freedom.

Simply brush the solution onto paper and allow to dry in a dark place, or dry quickly using a hairdryer.

Cyanotype on Khadi paper made with freshly mixed chemicals.
Packing paper cyanotype (test print)

Creating Your Cyanotype

So you have your paper, it’s a nice sunny day and you’re ready to go. Now what?

Exposing Your Paper

Arrange your artwork on your cyanotype paper indoors or outside in a shady spot. Try to work reasonably quickly if you are outside – even in the shade the paper is being exposed to UV light. When you’re ready, place it in direct sunlight to expose the paper.

When you think the exposure is finished, rinse the paper thoroughly in water. The water will turn a yellow colour where the chemicals are being rinsed out of the unexposed parts of the paper. Rinse until the water is clear. 

Leave your paper to dry. You’ll notice that the image will continue to change as it dries. Sometimes it’s a good idea to take photographs of the various stages as the image dries as interesting colours can come and go.

Some tips…

Want a bit more information than that? Let’s look at exposure, and a few different ideas for how to make an image.

Exposure

Because the levels of UV light vary depending on latitude, time of year and weather, it’s very difficult to give advice about timing or exposure. Development time can change from minute to minute depending on the conditions in the UK. The exposed paper tends to turn a dark blue/charcoal grey when it’s being exposed, so when you see this very dark blue/ charcoal colour, the image will have been exposed for long enough to create a cyanotype. 

However, if you want to be as precise as possible with your exposure, you can create a test strip.

Remove a strip of your coated paper, and create marks along it, dividing it into about 10 even sized bits; they don’t have to be exact, this is just a test. I put a piece of grass on my test strip so I can check the whites, and then cover it all with a heavy piece of paper or card that will block the light. The idea is to gradually reveal each piece of the strip. So if you reveal and expose the first strip for 2 minutes, then reveal and expose the second piece for 2 minutes, then move the paper down further and expose the third strip for 2 minutes, the first will have been exposed for 6 minutes, the second for 4 the third for 2, etc. Obviously, as you go along you’ll get a strip where from the bottom, each section will have twice the exposure of the one before it.

How long each section should be exposed for depends on how strong UV light is where you are. In the UK on a medium/ high UV day, I’d go for about 2 minutes per section for 10 sections.

When you’re done, rinse it under cold running water and for best results allow it to dry. You now have a strip showing you what your exposure will look like for each time period.

Photogram

Most cyanotype fans begin with photograms as they’re fun and easy to create, but can give stunning results.

To create a photogram, you can use any objects with an interesting shape. Place it on your cyanotype paper and expose the paper on a bright, sunny day.

This is the technique Anna Atkins would have used to create her images. It’s the easiest way to make a cyanotype and a lot of fun. Plants are traditional, but experiment with  various opaque and semi-transparent items, or even fabrics. You could try a favourite toy, a feather, your hand, a spring, or keys. Sir John Herschel used lace to make cyanotypes. Try arranging items in patterns, and if you’re using lots of objects remember that you don’t have to leave every object on for the whole time. You could remove some objects after a little while to create various blue tones or patterns. 

One of Sir John Herschel’s lace cyanotypes

For best results arrange your objects on your paper indoors, and if your items are light then cover them with a clear acrylic sheet or a piece of glass to stop them moving around and to keep them lying flat. If objects aren’t lying flat then the edges will be blurry.

You can’t always tell exactly what will happen with a photogram, but think about shadow shapes and how much light gets through your objects to help you figure out what your image might look like before you start. 

If you made a test strip you can use it to see how long you might expose to get different shades of blue. This image was created by removing some of the foliage after a few minutes. Although it’s not particularly successful, it illustrates the way blue tones can be created.

Contact Print

You need to produce a negative the same size as your required print for this technique. You can use one of your own digital photographs, or download a test negative from Epic here. Print it onto transparent material, like inkjet transparency film, to create a negative. 

If you use your own photograph then as well as a printer you’ll need access to some software so you can create your negative. You might be able to do this on your phone, but there are a few steps you’ll need to take to make a negative: 

  • Make your image black & white
  • Adjust the contrast of your image. An image works well if it has some black areas and some white areas. If the image is very grey without much black or white then it might not make a good cyanotype. Adding more contrast can help with this.
  • Invert your image. This step makes all the dark bits light, and the light bits dark – it makes it a negative.
  • Print the image in black ink onto transparent material. You can get specialist materials, but for most purposes inkjet transparency film works well.  

It helps if you have a stiff base of some sort to make a contact print. Even thick cardboard will do, but it needs to be slightly larger than the cyanotype paper you’re going to use.

Put the cyanotype paper onto the base, and put the negative onto the cyanotype paper, and a clear acrylic sheet or glass on top of all that. Fix it down, but remember the fixings will show in the final image if they pass the edges of the cyanotype paper or create a shadow over it. If you’re going for a really good print, creating an exposure test strip with the negative in place will help you get the best results.

A rough test print of various negatives

The featured image for this post is a Japanese stab stitch book with cyanotype covers.

Also try toning the cyanotypes or creating a wet cyanotype by adding household chemicals.

Impossible Polaroids

Creating an Impossible Image with Polaroid

I’m a big fan of instant film, and of Polaroid in particular. Enjoying creativity over a perfect outcome, Polaroid works well for the type of photography I practice. That’s why I now have several Polaroid cameras, a fridge full of films, and a Polaroid Instant Lab.

What is Polaroid Instant Lab?

The Polaroid Instant Lab is a device that lets you to turn your digital images into Polaroids using your mobile phone. You’ll need to have the app installed on your phone to use the Lab so check your device is listed before you invest.

How Does it Work?

The lab is very simple to use. Open your image in the app on your phone, choose the Polaroid film you’re using (colour or black & white), choose the style of image you want to achieve and adjust brightness and contrast with the sliding controls. Then simply place your phone, which displays your image, face down on the lab. The lights on the lab flash when it’s ready and you just press the shutter.

Tip: Remember to turn off any phone display setting that could change the display colours like Night Shift and True Tone.

You can split the image you want to create over several Polaroids to create mosaics in several styles and there’s also the option to add augmented reality video to your Polaroids with the Polaroid app. This offers a whole host of creative opportunities.

Why Use The Instant Lab?

You can create Polaroid images that previously would have been impossible. I used it on an assignment to create Polaroid images of space using free images on the NASA website; obviously I can’t do that with a standard Polaroid camera without blagging my way onto a space shuttle, and my chances of doing that are slim to none.

For some fans I suspect there is some upset about the nature of the Polaroid medium being fundamentally changed. Until now each Polaroid was individual and never to be repeated. Now you can create multiple copies of the same image. Each image represented a moment and that’s now been lost.

However, creatively you can produce emulsion lifts, rescue the negatives which can be scanned and reprinted (you won’t get anywhere near an exact copy), and you have the entire physical aspect of the medium available to transform either before or after taking the photograph. Try manipulating the image before it’s fully developed or manipulate the film pack before you make the image. You can cut, burn, sew or paint it. And obviously combined with the Polaroid app the AR Viewer adds a whole new dimension to all of this.

An emulsion lift

If you would like to shop at Polaroid and also go some way to supporting my site and my Polaroid habit, then using this link will give you a 10% discount at the Polaroid store. Lucky you!

10% discount link

For astronomy images, go to images.nasa.gov. The featured image shows Saturn, the Orion Nebula, and Earth.

A Few Family Photos from the 1960s & 1970s

Where do you get your love of photography from? I think I get it from my parents. My dad took hundreds of photos of my mum. She was clearly his favourite subject. They met when she was 15, he was 17. I’d love to say they stayed together forever more, but they didn’t; by the time I was two years old they’d split up, so in total their relationship probably lasted 7 years or so.

When he moved to Germany, my dad gave me a scrapbook full of photos he’d taken of mum; I put them in an album. One day I’ll scan the entire thing.

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Me and Mum, taken by my Dad.

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Mum, taken by my Dad in the Isle of Wight. I think this is one of his personal favourites. 

My dad is particularly proud of the photos of my mum that he took while they were on holiday on the Isle of Wight. I grew up seeing boxes and boxes of photos at his house. But mum sometimes took photos too.

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Mum, probably age 15 outside the family house in Ruislip. I’ve found endless inspiration in this image of mum, and it has inspired a whole series of images taken on a Kodak Brownie Cresta 3 using 120 black and white film. 

I don’t know if mum had a Polaroid camera. But I really wanted one. The idea that the photograph would appear immediately was just magical for me. I had to give my films to an adult in the vain hope that they would take them to a local chemist or photography shop to be developed. Occasionally they did, but most of the time they didn’t. I’d usually have film though; when you got a film developed they’d give you a free one, but most of the wider family only used them for photographs of holidays, birthdays and Christmas.

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Mum and Dad, station photobooth, London, 1960s

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Me as a child with a talking Yogi Bear. You’d pull the bead on it’s belly button and it would say something like, “Smarter than the average bear.”

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Me, family holiday in Italy

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Mum, 1960s taken by my dad

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Mum and my dad’s sister Janet

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Mum and dad’s sister Janet