[Alt-photo] Troubles with Calotypes, James' "Contemporary" Method

J. Jason Lazarus lazarus at obscura-works.com
Wed Jan 10 00:13:05 UTC 2018

All -

I recently decided to start challenging myself by learning some new processes. I've been lurking in the shadows of this group for some time and have quite a bit of experience printing Cyanotypes, Albumen, Van Dyke, etc... so my new challenge is the Calotype process. 

I'm using the 3rd edition of James' book as a resource for printing and I'm using the "contemporary" version of the process outlined in his book, but I'm not getting results. I've had suggestions elsewhere that have urged me to attempt the Pelegry Calotype method rather than the basic one outlined in James' book, but I'd rather not give up so easily. I'm convinced I'm overlooking something, but after several attempts, I'm seeking out advice from the hive mind here.

Consistently, no image forms on my paper when developed. The paper develops and slowly turns dark brown, but no actual image develops. I'd immediately blame overexposure, but I've developed non-sensitized iodized calotype paper and had similar things happen in the developer, albeit with lighter browns, but still, it acts as if this non-sensitized iodized paper is exposed. Worried that it's overexposure from the safe lights, I've reduced my safelight usage to absolute minimum and reduced the number used to a single one, approximately 10 feet away from the paper. My only thoughts are that I'm either doing something completely wrong or maybe I'm misreading something.

So.. although provided in much finer detail in James' book, this is what I'm doing:

Created a 8% Silver Nitrate solution. Applied it to the paper (I've attempted both Rives BFK and Canson Sketch) with a new brush.

Created a 5.5% solution of Potassium Iodide to submerge the paper in. Submerged paper while still showing a sheen from the Silver Nitrate for 2 minutes.

Washed the iodized paper for 2 hours, switching out tap water every 30-45 minutes and shuffling the paper, too.  Line dried the paper afterwards.

Coated the paper with an Aceto-Nitrate solution (11.4g Silver Nitrate in 100ml distilled w/ 19.4ml of glacial acetic added) - 4 drops to every 4ml of distilled.

Exposed (while damp but not wet) for both 2 & 4 minutes w/ a 4x5 camera at an aperture of 9.  An exposure of f/5.6 at 1 minute was suggested in the book in well-lit outdoors. It is -15F outside, so I'm shooting through my bay window. 

Developed in a 1:1 solution of Aceto-Nitrate and saturated Gallic Acid (approximately 0.5% - its cold in my darkroom).

The paper slowly turns brown and then, within 4-5 minutes, is a rich dark brown.  Because it shows literally no image information, I haven't continued with the washing or fixing. 

So... where am I messing up? I'd greatly appreciate any help I could get with this process. Has anyone had success with James' contemporary version? Its been suggested that I should switch to Alan Green's Primitive Photography book. Thoughts?

Thanks to all.

J. Jason Lazarus
Term Instructor, Photography
University of Alaska Fairbanks

More information about the Alt-photo-process-list mailing list