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Henk Mantel: The End of the Beginning

January 30, 2013

Could a total novice be able to print on paper with a homemade emulsion and be successful at the first try? Oh yes for sure, if you lower your standards concerning quality a bit. Quality is just the result of acquiring experience over time. It is, I hope, just the same as learning to ride a bicycle or learning how to skate. It is also far less painful, no bruises, no band aid, just a bit of embarrassment perhaps.

The Light Farm tutorial is so easy to understand and the needed mixing, stirring, and heating of the chemicals is so simple, that if you are careful, nothing can go wrong. There is the occasional overshoot in temperature, but that is easily dealt with. But there you are, you have the emulsion safely in the light tight pot. Itīs ripening. OK, you've got half an hour to prepare the paper coating.

The paper presoaked, the emulsion reheated, puddle pusher in hand, scooping up the emulsion, pouring it out on the paper — then I got into trouble. The poured emulsion was as thin as water, I couldnīt spread it out with the puddle pusher in an even way. Tried to recoat a second time, disaster. The gelatin thickened and hardened so very much faster than expected. There were bubbles and spots without emulsion at all, no way to correct anything. Touched the emulsion, more troubles.

To put it bluntly, a total catastrophe.

A bit annoyed, I put the jar with the rest of the emulsion back into its water bath, threw away the spoiled paper. Took another piece of Fabriano, cut it to size and had a second go at coating. Knowing now what to expect, every step was conducted with care, but no, I still am in need of a lot of practice.

It was a mess on the coating table, shreds of hardened emulsion everywhere, paper towels on the floor, dirty, sticky fingers even with gloves, everything in disorder. Yes, youīd better believe it, I felt great looking at the four uneven, bubbly and maltreated pieces of Aquarelle paper, now being upgraded to something like AGFA Brovira of old. Hung the papers up to dry, preventively unscrewed the white light bulbs a bit, and looked again at these four pieces of paper, I felt great for it.

Thatīs why I want to show the result of my first emulsion making and coating adventure. No, itīs not a print of quality. No, not at all. It is something Iīd like to learn. No, this is not the end, it is not even the beginning of the end, it is perhaps the end of the beginning (Winston Churchill).

Ernemann Heag Camera, about 1925, 9x12 cm sheet film Fomapan 100 ASA, Meijer lens 4,5, f 13,5 cm. Exposed 6 minutes, at 1, 40 meter distance from 60 watt incandescent light bulb. Paper developed in Adox Adotol, three minutes and thirty seconds at 19°C.

So what is to be learned from this experience, for me I mean, perhaps also for others? I have my puddle pusher, Iīll buy some packets of food grade gelatin, melt, heat and use it over and over again on A4 copy paper.

Do I really need a magnetic stirrer? No, not at this stage. Not at all.

Will the Ernemann or the Fotokor be used to make a new negative to print with? No, Iīll just make it easier by not adding one problem to another. Iīll use a 6x9 Zeiss Ikon instead. Better quality neg.

Furthermore I have to be careful. Could well be that this emulsion making business is quite addictive. So what, itīs great fun.

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