[Student Projects, Photography]
Alternative Photography: Van Dyke Prints
Argentotypes, which were created in 1842 by Sir John Hershel, were the
first known iorn-silver photographs. After this time, many variations of
this type of photography were made known as: Van Dyke, Kallitype, Sepiaprint,
and Brownprint. Even though this process of creating images this way is
tedious and has many difficulties and pitfalls, in the hands of experienced
people an image of extrodinary brown shades and tones can be created. The
dark and lighter shades of brown are created by a variation in tone according
to mineral contents of the water in which it is first created.
W.W.J. Nicol in 1889 patened the process, and afterwards many variations of this process were created by other photographers. Van Dyke prints were noticably different because of the dark, warm-brown, and sepia colors which were produced by this process.
The Van Dyke Process
The picture to the right represents what I did with my experiments in lab and what I tried to accomplish. The actual print is much more clear, because the scanned image came out a little hazy. How I conducted my experiment to obtain this print will be discussed later.
A Van Dyke print is made by covering paper with a hand made sensitizer (the chemicals which make up Van Dyke prints) and then after spreading this evenly on the paper allow the chemicals to dry. This sensitizer is applied in an area which is safe from regular ultraviolet light. A yellow or red safe light protects the prints while one works on them before exposing them to sunlight or another light source.
After the paper dries, a negative or image is placed on the surface of the paper effectively contact printing the negative. Then this negative and paper are exposed to ultraviolt light. Once exposed to the light source for a specific amount of time, the print is developed in a rinse bath and fixed in a bath of thiosulfate solution. After this is done, the print is hung or laid out to dry.
In order to create the best Van Dyke print possible, I manipulated a
series of variables in the process of making Van Dyke Prints. The variable
which I mainly concentrated on was the ratio of chemicals that are combined
to create Van Dyke prints. However, I also manipulated exposure time with
one print and I experimented with two light sources to see which one worked
best. The experiment went as such:
First I would start by using 100% cotton paper, then depending upon which ratio I was using, I would spread the coating on with a glass slide. The normal ratio which is used for the three solutions is a 1:1:4 ratio of Ferric Ammonium Citrate, Tartaric Acid, and Silver Nitrate. To measure the desired ration I used a glass pipette and counted the number of drops to indicate a desired ratio.
After the paper had dried sufficiently, I would then prepare the paper to be exposed. I used a test strip tapped to a piece of glass to indicate the gradations of the exposure. Once the strips were ready I would put the exposures in a light box, which developed the chemicals through artificial U.V. light.
The prints were put into the light box for seven minutes. Then I rinsed the prints for one minute, and put them in the fixer for five minutes. The fixer was a 5% thiosulfate solution which stopped the developing of the print.
Once the prints had been left in the fixer for five minutes, I would hang them up and wait for them to dry.
My results mainly came from using comparisons of test strips which I compared from using the L*a*b scaner of a Minolta colorimeter.
As I manipulated the ratio by changing the amount of silver nitrate, I could tell noticeable differences in the way the prints looked, and how their colors changed using this colorimeter.
By increasing the amount of silver nitrate the first gradation of every print got darker. Also, the gradations on the scale increase by one or two shades every time more silver nitrate is used. Therefore, more contrasts were made by adding an increasing amount of silver nitrate.
I also briefly changed the exposure time of the print to find that prints exposed for a longer duration of time seem to show more detail in the print.
Basically, I learned that the process of making Van Dyke prints is one which is more delicate than it seems and in order to make a good print some procedures work better than others.
When I first started I was using a circular rod to spread the solution down. This turned out to cause that solution to not be evenly spread across the paper. A better method of spreading the coating is to use a glass slide, being very careful not to press too hard in order to tear the paper.
Another aspect of the project which helped was the use of the light box. This seemed to provide an even amount of U.V light rays to expose the print. However, this is only comparable to sunlight because it is more reliable. If direct sunlight, and no cloud cover, are conditions that can be met then these are more ideal than a light box. Finally, one hurdle that was tough to get over was the amount of time the prints should be in the fixer. Once this was determined, it was crucial for the prints because any less time in the fixer would mean that the print would keep being exposed as long as it was in the light.
Also, by increasing the amount of silver nitrate, the prints did produce more gradations, but were not necessarily better prints.
Mike Ware's Alternative Photography: The Argyrotype Process, mikeware.demon.co.uk/argy.html
Process - Van Dyke, planetepc.fr/users/b_vi/english/processus/vandyke.html
Jason Payne, 1997.