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Photo emulsion

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The last project we did in our photo course was really cool: We worked with photo emulsion – a rubbery soft substance that is heated to turn slightly liquid and which you can spread on a surface then. Oh – and it’s photosensitive – effectively working like photo paper and letting you make prints on the treated surface afterwards.

Dealing with this is a bit experimental as you don’t really know how things turn out before you see the results. And it’s quite a bit of effort as well. We started on Wednesday when we prepared canvases that we then treated with the liquefied photo emulsion. Then they had to rest for a few days to dry properly. In total darkness of course.

On Saturday we met again to expose our canvases. As the sensitivity seems to vary wildly – depending on the thickness of the emulsion you applied and the extent to which it soaked into the fabric. And because you just have a single shot and don’t want to ruin that (and all the preparatory work as well as the not exactly cheap materials), we used a technique where we put a bit of developer on the coated canvas and looked closely for how long it needed to start turning dark.

That happened within a few seconds for my print and took a bit longer for the other prints – which were larger. Some of them needed additional treatment such as a second exposure and developer being brushed over them while that was going on. Really quite fun but slightly scary and random at the same time.

While it looked like I spread the emulsion a bit too thickly on my screen and I didn’t really manage to get the impression of brush strokes at the top, the print came out all right in total. In fact, considering that we were told not to expect too much beforehand because these prints can easily go totally wrong, I am quite pleased (and luckily everybody else was as well). The canvas still has to dry now – but I had to take a photo before leaving the lab:

Photo printed on a canvas with photo emulsion.

[Scanned negative of the photo]

February 4, 2007, 10:47

Tagged as bw.


Comment by d.w.: User icon

The thing that keeps impressing me with this series of posts is how much physical history there is involved in the approximately 300 years that photography has existed, and how much our current easy antiseptic digital experience of the process leaves out. Thanks for postng these!

February 4, 2007, 18:35

Comment by ssp: User icon

That’s definitely a great aspect of this topic. Not just that there is a lot of history but also that it’s possible to actually physically handle every single step from taking the photo to having a print. And to even be able to understand it at a reasonable level of detail.

To me it seems that this is lost when going digital. I also find that having a better understanding and the ability to do so some hands-on tinkering with the images opens new perspectives (for both analogue and digital photography).

February 5, 2007, 12:46

Comment by TJ Reeves: User icon

Photographs in 1707?

I’d love to see them…

Think you’ll find 1850 is nearer the mark!

February 10, 2008, 17:24

Comment by Diego Gutierrez Valladares: User icon

Hello, I really appreciate your experimentation on the process of printing photographic images on canvas using liquid photoemulsion.I’m looking for information about online suppliers for the photo emulsion since in my country they are discontinued..hope you have some useful info on this.Thanks a lot and keep the great work flowing.

January 20, 2011, 5:32

Comment by ssp: User icon

Indeed, it’s quite hard to find photo emulsion these days. Here in Germany Photo Impex have a terrific stock, including photo emulsion. They’re doing mail order as well, but I imagine shipping can be quite pricey.

Good luck finding the emulsion for your project!

January 20, 2011, 7:29

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