And manufacturers have nasty habits of unceremoniously discontinuing certain products such as papers and developers which I have, after much testing, come to rely on to give certain of my negatives the printed look I visualized. Or they simply go out of business. Thus it is back to the darkroom when my supply of the now discontinued product is exhausted and new prints from the negatives are required. Testing begins anew with a new product to even see if it will be one I can use to make prints the way I want them to be and which I know is possible from my past experience. This occurrence is beyond frustrating and anyone who has ever seriously done darkroom work over time will know precisely what I mean. Unfortunately, with the increasing saturation of digital photography this is much more commonplace than ever before.
Very few of my negatives are printed "straight" - that is without some dodging or burning in of an area or areas. In a typical darkroom printing session I will produce multiple prints from the same negative but with varying degrees of burning in and/or dodging. I will also make some lighter and darker overall than others in anticipation of the toning process that follows the washing cycle. Toners generally alter the image density and so some compensation must be factored into that process when exposing the photographic paper initially. A lot of it is trial and error accompanied by careful note taking. Again, there is an expenditure of time and materials. Many prints are discarded before one is found acceptable.
I use archival processing methods in the making of my prints. This consists of the use of two fixing baths, the use of hypo eliminator baths, and an extended wash time to be certain the residual chemicals have been removed. Toners are used not only to affect the final appearance of the image but for protection. There is also the use of 100% rag board and archival mount tissue.
Even with utmost care in the processing and handling of the processed prints there are times when noticeable defects or damage to the print surface appear. It can be a paper defect by the manufacturer, an unexpected chemical reaction, a human error, or an occult voodoo curse from another dimension. Whatever the origins, what should be a perfectly processed print unfortunately on inspection after the final wash cycle becomes a print not up to my standards. It has to be discarded. Sometimes the print has to completely dry before I can discern that it is not suitable. Occasionally, a mishap does not occur until one of the last steps which is the dry mounting of the photographic print to the rag board using a mounting press. This can be heartbreaking to witness, even more so when the particular photograph is handcolored, one in which hours alone have been expended solely on the painstaking color tinting process.
Nearly every film photographer, including myself, has to devote time to the dust-spotting of prints. This step involves patience and a steady hand but is a necessity in the making of prints. I have varying degrees of encounters with dust from almost non-existent to mild to overwhelming. It can sometimes be traced, I conjecture, to the degree of humidity or time of the year but at other times its appearance leaves me admittedly baffled. I employ air filters and I use filters on my chemicals and water but frequently these are not sufficient to thwart the unwanted dust specks. They can occur during the drying stage of the print. They are mercurial. They can occur on some prints but not on others made from the same negative during the same darkroom session. They can occur on all prints but not in the same location. Dust spotting is an art unto itself. And it can be beyond tedious; a time-consuming step in the making of a photograph. It is accomplished with small paint brushes and spotting dyes specifically manufactured for this application. Some photographs that incur hard-edged embedded lint in the print emulsion can never be successfully spotted (at least not by me) and therefore that print has to be discarded. I have been dust spotting photographs for over thirty-five years and it has never been easy or enjoyable. When anybody uses software such as Adobe Photoshop to rubber stamp or healing brush away dust spots or any unwanted data on a digital file and believes that is the equivalent labor to spotting an actual physical photographic print, I would take issue. I have done both, and using Photoshop is immeasurably simpler. Just the process of saving or undoing an action makes it easier. Clicking a mouse button while seated at a monitor does not compare in my mind in any way to squinting at a print surface with a tiny bristled paint brush trying to keep a steady hand and eye to properly apply the right amount and shade of liquid dye to the dust or lint that has one way or another caused an unwanted effect on the print. And if that speck or another speck cannot be successfully spotted then that print is discarded along with all the effort that led up to getting at least to that stage in the making of the photograph.
Handcoloring with transparent oil paints is an entirely separate technique which is applied to a completed archival black-and-white photograph. Once more, there is usually a lot of experimentation and testing to arrive at a final color scheme for a specific print. Not until a print has been entirely colored by hand using the oils and has dried am I able to determine if that is indeed the look I want for that particular image. Often I will make multiple prints from the same negative with the intention of coloring them using various combinations of colors or various methods of applying the colors in terms of density. Regardless of what I finally arrive at in terms of liking the final result I can never make any two handcolored prints identically the same due to the very nature of the process of coloring each print surface individually by hand one print at a time. Each is truly unique.
The final stages of print presentation involve dry mounting the print to rag board, cutting the overmat, and hinging that overmat to the other sheet of rag board that has the photograph adhered to it. I use archival mounting tissue, 100% white rag board, and linen tape for hinging of the overmat. Then there is the signing of the print when it meets my satisfaction, and the cataloging and placing ID numbers and titles in pencil on the verso of the mat board. Each unframed print is placed in a clear mylar envelope and sealed with tape. Throughout all procedures, I handle my photographs and rag board wearing white cotton gloves.
I have never tried to calculate the exact amount of time I invest in the making of a specific photograph. Some photographs do take longer than others to make. Some handcolored photographs take longer to complete than other handcolored photographs. What I have consciously tried to do is to make my