Thursday, February 26, 2009

Photography Department: Roselle Curwen


Composite materials make up the photography department. Each chemical used has a specific behavior which is followed by another chemical reaction which also has a specific behavior and so on.

The process of photography involves chemical processes from start to finish. Photographic film is “a sheet of plastic (polyester, nitrocellulose or cellulose acetate) coated with an emulsion containing light-sensitive silver halide salts (bonded by gelatin).” (Wikipedia) The film undergoes a number of other chemical processes to get the finished form, a photograph, an acetate, fiber or resin coated paper coated with gelatin silver. Every material from the film to the light sensitive paper, the fixer which contains silver halides (which are insoluble in water) and developer solutions are composite materials. Metol is one of the 4 chemicals that make up the developer, which is very harsh on our skin. Since Metol is so toxic many modern developers use a replacement chemical, which in turn changes the outcome of the photograph occasionally. Metol, as well as, some of the salts used in the chemicals are soluble and change state from a solid to a liquid.

One can see the transformation of a photograph as it undergoes chemical processes. Watching the process of an image slowly appearing, in the dark room, as you transfer the photograph from one solution station to another is quite beautiful in the transformation of light, negative, paper, chemicals to photograph.

The chemicals used in the process of developing the film, to the developers and fixers used in the process of the photograph are not ones that you want to touch your skin. Wearing gloves is essential in the developing. Fixer, the most toxic of the chemicals, requires a waste basin which stores the liquid and properly disposed of. But… The other chemicals aren’t toxic enough to be specially disposed of and are dumped down the drain to our sewers which lead to our water systems??!@#!@#

Other chemicals should also be taken seriously and disposed of carefully or should be treated properly before being dumped down the drains. Can this cause problem in the sewer systems which create a reaction with another chemical creating a larger problem?

The chemicals come from the manufacturer in cardboard boxes with a plastic liner and a plastic spout at one end. Most of the equipment used with the developing process is contained in plastic. These types of plastic must not have a reaction with the chemicals it is housing. The enlargers are also made from plastic and steel, composite materials that have gone through processes of heating and molding.

It is quite fascinating how this science has become so specific with the materials/ processes it uses. The art of photography is in the process itself. How can photographers use these chemical processes to their advantage and create a new process?

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