The Darkroom
Large Format Darkroom; Mix And Match For Fun And Ease Page 2

Drums, tubes, and daylight tanks allow you to work in the light, but some tanks are slow to fill and empty, and some older models make it difficult to develop the film evenly. With drums and tubes, the antihalation backing may not clear fully because the film is in contact with the drum or tube: this necessitates further processing in a tray. For 4x5", I find a Jobo tank (with 4x5 rack) and a CPE-2 rotary processor very convenient.

Deep-tank processors give excellent temperature control and are the traditional route, with the film held on hangers (which can again lead to uneven development unless you are careful about agitation). They take a lot of developer: rarely less than two gallons, and often as much as five. Floating lids preserve the developer, which is usually replenished and infrequently replaced.

A useful alternative to a traditional deep tank is a Nova slot processor, using the Nova clip to hold the negative. This is my preferred route for 5x7" and 8x10". It leaves two tiny pinpricks on the edge of the negative, but they aren't in the image area, so this doesn't worry me. Agitate in the same way as for a traditional deep tank: every 30 seconds, lift the film out of the tank and let it drain from one corner. The next time, let it drain from the other corner. Short stop and fixing are done much the same way, and you can either wash the negatives in running water or use several changes: six five-minute changes is traditional, but with single sheets, four one-minute changes with constant agitation may well be enough.

(D) Large format film holders. These have to be loaded and unloaded in full darkness, so it is important to lay everything out meticulously. Film is oriented by the notch code (bottom left in this shot).

However you process the negatives, drying is quite simple. A final rinse in distilled water with a drop or two of wetting solution, then hanging by one corner in a dust-free environment. Store negatives in glassine or archival plastic negative bags.

Printing Tips
And so to print. Enlarging is exactly the same as for 35mm and roll film, but with a bigger enlarger (and a longer lens--a "standard" enlarger lens for 4x5" is 150mm). Contact printing is even easier. Simply crank up the head of your existing enlarger until it is throwing a big enough area of light. Turn off the light; place the negative/paper sandwich on the baseboard; expose.

With a Variable Contrast (VC) head, or VC filters, you can use VC paper. Dodge and burn in the same way that you do with an enlarger: the only difference is that you are manipulating the light before it gets to the negative/paper sandwich, instead of between the negative and the paper.

The word "contact" is important: negatives are slippery things. A piece of clean glass is all you need to hold the negative/paper sandwich in place: "swipe" the edges so you don't cut yourself. Mark the limits of illumination on your baseboard so that you can place your negative/paper accurately under safelight.

Alternatively, use a specially-made proofer with foam backing and a glass cover. Mine is from PrintFile. I leave it on the baseboard and just change the film and paper for each print.

Either approach gives you a black border. For a white border, cut a black paper mask and tape that to the glass; then tape the negative in place; then put the whole sandwich on top of the paper.

If you are careful you can even use a conventional easel, setting up the borders and placing the paper in the easel. Then carefully place the negative on the uncovered portion of the paper, either without glass or with a piece of glass cut precisely to the negative's dimensions. I find it best to lay the negative on the paper with the easel closed: some easels work better for this than others.

(E) MPP Micromatic with cold cathode head. There are plenty of large format enlargers on the used market. They don't have to be beautiful to do the job, and because most were built for professional use, they don't wear out. I can use this cold cathode head, or if I want to use Variable Contrast paper, I can fit my De Vere color head to the MPP chassis. For scale, that's a 20x24" Beard four-blade easel on the baseboard.

Alternative Processes
The great glory of contact prints, though, can be "alternative" processes such as Printing-Out Paper (POP), argyrotype, cyanotype, salted paper, platinum/palladium, and more. All require a negative of the same size as the final print. It is possible to make internegatives by enlargement, either "wet" or electronically (using a film writer or even an ink jet printer), but this removes the final image another generation from the negative. At best, it's a compromise; often, it's a bad compromise.

Many "alternative" prints (though not POP) look like inferior silver gelatine enlargements when reproduced in books and magazines, but as originals, they have a charm that is almost impossible to describe: the image tones, the paper textures, the very lack of detail, can all combine for superb effects. Of course, they can also look awful, but that's another matter!

Most "alternative" processes require very long exposures, often to UV-rich light, and many are "printing-out" processes: that is, the image is produced directly, without development. You can use fancy contact printers with banks of UV lights, or you can do it the way our ancestors did with sunlight and printing-out frames. The latter look like heavy picture frames with an oddly hinged back held in place by spring clips.

(F) Marshside, England. Panoramic formats on roll film call for large format enlargers: 4x5" for 6x12cm or (as here) 5x7" for 6x17cm. Contact prints aren't quite big enough. (Longfellow 6x17, Schneider Super Angulon 90mm f/8, Ilford HP5 Plus in Paterson FX-39, on Ilford MG IV.)

The negative goes against the glass at the front (preceded by a black paper cutout mask if you want a white border); then comes a layer of Mylar film, to protect the negative from the printing paper (some alternative process papers contain chemicals that can harm the negative if there is the slightest hint of moisture); then the paper; then the hinged back. Lifting one side of the hinged back allows you to inspect the paper from time to time, under subdued light (ordinary room lighting, not fluorescent, is fine) while the other side holds the sandwich in perfect registration.

There you have it. You can mix and match to suit yourself: anything from William Henry Fox Talbot's salted paper to scans and ink jets. And you'll get a look that simply cannot be equaled with smaller formats. So why not try it?