distressing negatives and prints

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i am in 3rd yr photo and am doing an independant study on distressing prints and negatives to get an antiqued, aged, scratchy, roughed-up effect, simular to Joel-Peter Witkin's work and several others.

so far i have tried reticulation, scratching with pins/sandpaper, painting ink on the neg, as well as printing through dirty glass, contact printing double exposures, scratching prints, and liquid emulsion on paper.

these experiements have taught me alot, but i still haven't aquired the "look" i want as mentioned above. any ideas for me to try? i am working with black & white in 35mm & medium format.

thanks, duana

-- duana r anderson (duana@nbnet.nb.ca), September 19, 2001


You might want to start collecting bottles to shoot through with your 35mm camera. It is hard to find ones that give just the right amount of distortion, but the results are sometimes interesting. There is a Russian fellow who does this all the time with vodka bottles.

-- Ed Buffaloe (edb@unblinkingeye.com), September 20, 2001.

Ed, are bottles full or empty....?? I guess if they are full the end up empty after the photo shoot..:-))

-- Jorge Gasteazoro (jorgegm@worldnet.att.net), September 20, 2001.

Jorge: Since it is difficult to shoot through a whiskey filter (and even more difficult to determine the filter factor), I was forced to drink the scotch first. We all have to make sacrifices for art...

-- Ed Buffaloe (edb@unblinkingeye.com), September 21, 2001.


This is often easy to do but difficult to do well. You might try looking more closely at the work of 19th and early 20th century photographers to determine what factors give the photo its characteristic look. Sometimes its a function of the older photographic emulsions and their differing light sensitivities. The slow character of 19th century plates forced photographers to use longer exposures and often this shows in their work. Older emulsions were also orthochromatic which resulted in lighter than normal sky areas in landscapes. In addition, these photographers used large negatives in combination with very basic lenses of a simple design. The large negatives provided a level of detail not seen in modern, small-format cameras. The lenses, however, were not coated and were prone to flare which lowered the contrast of the final print. It is also worthwhile to note that many older lenses were not corrected for certain optical distortions and these distortions were evident at the edges of a typical print. Also, many older lenses did not cover the film format and this resulted in vignetting (light fall-off) and softness in the corners of the negative. The character of older photographs is also associated with the type of paper and the process used. Fiber-based paper is an obvious choice as is the use of older processes like platinum and POP with gold toner. If you are really looking for a challenge, you mught even think about photogravure.

If you are looking for some simple solutions, try sepia toner in conjunction with vignetting and a soft-focus filter. You can also use bleach without toner (part 1 of the 2 part sepia toner) to produce the blown-out look of an older photograph.

I hope this helps.


-- Dave Willison (dwillisart@aol.com), November 01, 2001.

I was reading this and had an idea. Find some old ruined glass plate negs that are useless for printing and try double exposing your paper using your neg and one of these. Many of them are so faded and grungy that they might prove interesting. Depending on your enlarger you might have to make a carrier for the glass plates, but that's pretty easy.

-- Jeanne Flowers (jflowers2@mindspring.com), April 11, 2002.

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