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Published: Thu, May 18, 2017
World | By Tasha Manning

Paper Negatives: Refining the Process | F

Paper Negatives: Refining the Process | F

If you've been following ƒ / D closely, you've probably seen some of Marko Umicevic's images before (here and here). His images of Croatian scenery carry a distinctive smoothness in tonality and transitions that suit the subject matter expertly.

Marko often relies on paper negatives. It's a medium I've personally used a little, and have always been intrigued to learn more about. I was surprised to see the particular aspect of Marko's process notes: R09 1 + 100. I thought it was a typo, and then when I saw his Under the Trees , I saw that it was R09 1 + 200, and I had to pursue this further. R09, the modern incantation of Rodinal, is more often than not a film developer. In addition, when used for paper, the dilution is usually 1 + 10 or 1 + 20.

Over the course of a few emails, I got the chance to quiz Marko about his Rodinal paper development technique further. I'm pleased to present the highlights of that conversation here.

Marko, when I look at your images, and consider that you're using Rodinal in 1 + 100 or 1+ 200, it appears that you get a longer tonal scale than you would normally get from a paper developer. Is that accurate? You are right. That's what Rodinal does in comparison to standard paper developers when used at higher dilution than normal ! At 1: 200 it works very slowly, does not penetrate deeply inside the base paper and reduces silver mostly on top. This "flat-top" procedure (similar to water bath) evens out the contrast more efficiently since it contracts highlights that are prone to blow out when development starts! (And highlights are something to keep in mind when dealing with paper negatives) Rodinal works as an excellent paper developer and allows you to fine tune contrast of your images. Unfortunately, at higher dilution it is quickly exhausted and that requires extra precaution at development sessions.

So, it's a balance between Rodinal dilution, developing procedure and graded FB paper I'm used to and know very well. Not to mention the importance of exposure that needs to be as accurate as possible.

Chrysopoeia, © Marko Umicevic 2015 Are you using any agitation in your process ? Or is it stand development?
It's usually a stand-out development with very little agitation or if any. In the case of Under the Trees - due to high scenery contrast - negative was developed with almost no agitation at all. The thing is, while proceeding with stand development, if I see that developer is exhausted or near exhaustion and works very slowly I would agitate it if necessary. Outer Walls, © Marko Umicevic 2015


When working with pinhole camera and paper (and I do both almost exclusively) I try to keep the whole process as pure as possible. Pre-flashing paper may slightly increase the emulsion speed and consequently help one keep the contrast inside normal / usable scale if exposure is based on shadow values ​​and measured under difficult or harsh lightning. However, for me if the light is not just right - soft, subdued and kind of "touchy" with mostly open shades - I'll try not to do the picture. That makes pre-flashing in my case irrelevant. Also, I try to avoid the use of any sort of filters, be it color or UV.

Hunted, © Marko Umicevic 2015

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She is a graduate of Auburn University where she helped on-campus efforts for Lurleen Wallace's gubernatorial campaign. Kay Ivey would come to the State Capitol not through the popular vote but on the ouster of a sitting governor.

What ISO do you generally

I usually rate my paper (FB Fomabrom grade 2) at ISO12

Leaning Towers, © Marko Umicevic 2015

For those that are not familiar with the Development by Inspection technique (as opposed to time and temperature), you describe the process ? How do you know when to pull the print from the developer?
Basically, developing paper negatives is very similar to developing enlarged prints in a standard darkroom processing. But, unlike standard paper developer and standard procedure that mostly urges for fixed time, developing paper negatives in Rodinal is less restrictive and more open to process variation at the development stage. Higher Rodinal dilution brings even contrast to prolonged development time allowing one to pleasently observe, control and eventually modulate picture tonality under the safelight. Decision like "should I agitate or not" or "can I stop it now" are all made under inspection ! Also, when working with Rodinal one has to keep in mind Rodinal's "single-shot nature" genuinly formulated for film and not for paper! Issues of this old chemical formula come to life at the moment of development in a configuration that often lasts between 8 to 20 minutes. Paper fogging from safelight or developer oxidation are expected difficulties that I need to count on.

Firstly, I push the paper in the standard darkroom procedure - be it print or negative.

Paper with the emulsion side facing down inside shallow tray filled with developer and with the help of tongs try to keep the paper beneath the developer until I feel it thoroughly soaked. Then I slowly (!) Agitate the tray for a brief moment.

Mirror Meditations, © Marko Umicevic 2015

More of Marko's work can be found on his Flickr page.

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