Bromoil was made for us neo-pictorialists. The long attention to a single image perhaps stretching to several days; the impressionistic rendering of a scene; the knowledge that what you do is connected to the many pioneers of photography such as Alfonso Louis Poitevan, John Pouncey and G. H. Rawlins to mention only a few; these reasons are sufficient to want to keep this old photographic process alive.

But it’s not easy … Continuing the spirit of this web-site, I share my mistakes.

Introduction

My aim is to teach myself Bromoil. I would like to be able to make a picture that has the subtlety and deftness of touch of a ‘Sam Weller’ or an ‘Elizabeth Kemp’, masters at this art. Ambitious, I know!

Landscape © Elizabeth Kemp.

Choice of Paper

Perhaps the single biggest problem confronting someone new to Bromoil, like me, is the choice of photographic paper. High Bromide non-supercoated papers which are ideal for Bromoil are a thing of the past. So, like practitioners of Lith printing, one is faced with a lot of experimenting with papers that are available.

George Smythe has written a blog dated November 2016 which gives some pointers. In 2019, some of his recommended papers are not easily obtained, but it’s a helpful list.

So I plumped for Slavich Unibrom, which I can easily obtain, but not knowing whether it accepts ink. I reasoned that it ‘liths’ quite well, so maybe not a bad place to start since papers that do not lith well tend to be those ones that have had whiteners and other coating treatments.

Materials

The ink that I am using is Graphic Chemical’s #1796, not a super-hard ink but one used by many bromoilists of the past. My earlier post refers to the materials that I assembled.

Method

My method to get to the matrix has been as follows:

  1. Print from the negative with half a stop over-exposure and a grade lower than ‘normal’.
  2. Process in Multigrade for normal time.
  3. Water stop bath
  4. Rapid non-hardening fixer.
  5. Soak in water at 20 C degrees for 3 minutes. Blot dry
  6. Bleach-tan for 10 minutes at 20 C.
  7. Wash 5 minutes running water
  8. Redevelop in dilute Multigrade 1:5 for 3 minutes
  9. Wash 10 minutes
  10. Fix – Sodium Thiosulphate
  11. Wash 30 minutes
  12. Superdry with a hair-dryer.

The purpose of redeveloping in dilute multigrade was to have a faint image which would ‘peep’ through the ink to give it a more photographic appearance. (But it did not work out this way).

I made two copies of the matrix to allow for errors. I should have made more!

Mistakes

I made three main mistakes in getting to my first print.

Firstly, I chose an inappropriate image to start with. It is of a high contrast scene with little shadow and highlight detail. This meant that much of the picture would not accept ink and that in effect I have ended up with a chiaroscuro. Lesson 1: choose a tonally flat image to learn on.

Secondly, I cleared ink with a brush from one of the two copies whilst the print still had some water drops on it. So, some of the picture was covered in white blotches which would not accept ink in future ‘inking’ sessions. Lesson 2: make sure when clearing the highlights of ink and increasing the contrast that you make sure all water drops are wiped off.

Finally, I used a pencil eraser to clear some fine highlight detail when the print was too soft (wet). This area would not accept further ink in a future session, presumably because of damage to the tanning treatment in that area. Lesson 3: Use an eraser lightly and only on a drier print.

In terms of materials and tools, a few small brushes would have been helpful and also a soft inking brush. I also think that this picture would have benefited from a mixture of hard and soft inks. So I will buy some Senefelder’s #1803 black ink before my next attempt. Towards the end, I tried to enrich the sky with brushes but I was heavy-handed. It’s easier to put on ink than take it away! I tried using a dry foam pad and this seemed to work better – I will know for next time.

In all there were 6 separate inking and clearing sessions. The difficulty was getting ink accepted into the trees on either side of the church. This may have been the result of one of two things:

  1. The tanning bath was too short.
  2. The water baths during the inking and clearing stages may have been too warm or too cool.

So, Lesson 4: Test for both by dividing a print into strips and treating each strip with a different tanning bath and water bath regime.

Final picture

The sky is over-worked and insufficiently sensitive and graduated. The bottom right hand corner is too dark – too much ink. It needs scalpel work. Overall it is quite crude, but I am not displeased at my first attempt. I have learned a lot.

Bromoil; Abandoned Church, North Dakota. FP4 in PMK; Slavich Unibrom 160.

Conclusion:

A long way to go but it’s not all bad news! I think the paper can be coaxed to accept ink. For me at this stage that was my biggest concern.


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