A weekly column by Ctein
Last week I went back into the darkroom to start preparing for the big blowout dye transfer print sale coming up in mid-April. It's been a while. Like, um, about three years since I've made a new dye transfer print, and then another year and a half to the time before that.
Not-so-coincidently, those were the last two dye transfer sales I did on TOP.
I've printed in the interim, but it's been from existing sets of matrices. (Here's an overview of the process.) Guess what? Ya fergets stuff! Normally it would take me less than half a day to get prepped and set up to start on a new set of matrices. This time I spread it over three days. As with most "manufacturing processes" there's a lot of stuff that's never written down. I have copious, detailed technical notes, but there's all the stuff I just know because I've done it often enough. All that written documentation of mine, it's like a single recipe from The Joy of Cooking. Tells me exactly what I need to know to prepare the food...doesn't teach me how to cook.
It's a little disconcerting to find myself digging through memories to answer those "just how the heck did I do that?" questions, when the "that" is something I'd been doing pretty regularly for more than 30 years. It's different from being rusty. The manual skills are all there: the body never forgets. I just have to remember what it is I want the body to do.
I'm not doing too badly. Saturday I made the first test matrices, and my starting exposure was only a stop off in exposure and about 30 CC in color balance. Not too shabby. Still, make a note to self: craft is something you have to practice regularly to stay, well, practiced at it.
Odds are that I will forget that. Again.
The flip side is that a goal of this exercise is to get myself out of the darkroom. I'm treating everything as temporary. I found a leak under the darkroom sink. If retightening the nut on the trap hadn't stopped it, I'd've stuck a pan under the trap. Maintenance matters are all being evaluated with the question, "Will this get me through the next four months?"
Chemical supplies, as well. I'd rather not buy anything that I'll just have to find new homes for in the summer. I've still got Tanning Developer I bought 20 years ago. I just mixed up the very last 5-gallon unit of Part A, and I'm hoping it'll carry me through the preparation for the sale.
And, about twenty-year-old powdered chemistry in Kodak paper-foil pouches? It works just fine! Mileage may differ on this; the darkroom/garage level of my house stays close to a constant 60° year-round, so it's pretty easy on chemicals.
There was the partly-used cubitainer of Tanning Developer Part A in the darkroom, mixed up at least three years ago. Surprise, surprise, still good. Keep oxygen away from that stuff and it'll last an amazingly long time.
Moral? Don't toss your chemicals without testing them. You might be pleasantly surprised. (If you can't test, do toss. Better safe than sorry.)
I realized there was some equipment I could sell right away, like my APO-Rodagon D 75mm lens (above). Great for making separations at 1:1 magnification, give or take a factor of two, but that's not something I'm ever going to do again; that was only something I did for clients who sent me chromes to be printed. Ditto my Condit 4x5 precision pin register negative carrier plus punches, contact printing frames, and spare glass inserts. There are three unopened boxes of Pan Masking Film in the freezer. Heck, I'm not going to use up the opened box. I posted all of this stuff on the dye transfer e-mail list, and I'll see who bites.
Some stuff I haven't quite figured out how to deal with: I have two Durst RCP 20 tabletop processors: one that's been regeared for RA4 color/ RC B&W paper processing and a second one that can provide spare parts in case the first one breaks. Given the high cost of shipping these, I may not be able to get enough for them to make it worth my while selling them. We'll see.
Then there's the stuff I'm definitely not going to part with, like my Kodak Process Type 3 thermometer. The one at left just sold on eBay for $75, and that's a bargain price. Physical reference thermometers can cost a lot more than that. Each of these puppies was individually calibrated and engraved. Kodak specifies it as accurate to within one-quarter degree Fahrenheit at certain specific temperatures (like the ever-popular 68°), where the calibration machine did its thing. In between those temperatures, it was only warranted to one-half degree. But, folks at Kodak told me that most of these thermometers were a lot better than that: at their calibration points they were good to within one-tenth of a degree Fahrenheit. I don't know if I'll ever need a temperature standard in the future, but I'd be crazy to get rid of this.
That's life in the slow lane, these days, as I slouch slowly towards the demise of the darkroom.
©2013 by Ctein, all rights reserved
Ctein's regular weekly column appears on Wednesdays on TOP.
Original contents copyright 2013 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
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BrianW: "For those who don't already know, issue 11 of the Luminous Landscape Video Journal featured a 45-minute segment of Ctein in his darkroom, demonstrating the making of dye-transfer prints. There is also an interview with Ctein and a slideshow of some of him photographs. The issue is still available for paid download. (I have no affiliation to the Luminous Landscape, other than having been a subscriber to the LLVJ.)"