Victorian selfie

I had a brainwave about a better way of using my 1890s Lancaster Instantograph. It has no shutter so only very slow films can be used. Until now, I’ve been using paper negatives which are very slow, but can’t be enlarged – only contact-printed.

I remembered I had a box of Kodalith 5×4″ lith film which expired before I was born. Long-expired film loses its sensitivity and contrast, so I wondered if this film was now insensitive enough to be used without a shutter. I did a few brief tests and found that it can be exposed quite nicely at ISO 25, and that it develops well in paper developer. Lith film usually produces a hard black-and-white (not greyscale) image, but as this Kodalith is so old, it seems less aggressive.

I’ve invented the perfect recipe for a Victorian-style split sepia selfie – just 37 simple steps.

  1. Go into the darkroom. Switch off the light and work under red safelight.
  2. Use scissors to cut 5×4″ lith film down to 4¼×3¼” quarter-plate format
  3. Load cut film into film holder
  4. Emerge from the darkroom.
  5. Using a dark-cloth, position, adjust and focus the camera on its tripod using a large mirror. You won’t be able to hold this camera at arm’s length!
  6. Place the lens cap on the lens (it acts as a shutter on this shutterless camera)
  7. Insert the film holder into the camera
  8. Use a light meter to determine the exposure. I used a selenium meter from the 1950s and came up with an exposure of 60 seconds at f/10 (wide open) using the artificial light in my living room
  9. Withdraw the dark slide (you can see it sticking out of the side of the camera in my picture)
  10. Remove the lens cap and immediately stand as still as possible for the exposure
  11. Replace the lens cap
  12. Replace the dark slide
  13. Return to the darkroom and work under red safelight
  14. Unload the film holder
  15. Place the film in developer for 90 seconds. I used Ilford PQ Universal.
  16. Place the film in the stop bath for 30 seconds
  17. Place the film in the fixer bath for 60 seconds
  18. Switch on the light
  19. Wash the film
  20. Hang it up to dry
  21. When dry, load the film into the enlarger’s negative carrier. I don’t have a quarter-plate negative carrier and my 5×4″ carrier is glassless, so sandwiched by quarter-plate negative between two clear sheets of unexposed but fixed 5×4″ film
  22. Switch off the light and return to red safelight
  23. Scale and focus the projected image for your paper size
  24. Set the enlarger’s filter, aperture and exposure time according to your exposure tests
  25. Expose the print
  26. Place the print in developer for 90 seconds. I used Ilford PQ Universal.
  27. Place the print in the stop bath for 30 seconds
  28. Place the print in the fixer bath for 60 seconds
  29. Switch on the light
  30. Wash the print
  31. Place the print in the bleach bath for 30 seconds to bleach back the highlights
  32. Wash the print
  33. Place the print in the sepia toner for 60 seconds to replace the bleached highlight areas with sepia colour
  34. Wash the print
  35. Place the print in the selenium toner for 60 seconds to blacken the shadow areas
  36. Wash the print
  37. Hang it up to dry
Victorian selfie
Victorian selfie

Most of the flaws in this image are actually from using a a cheap and dirty mirror. It flexes, so the room appears distorted. It has fingerprints and dust on it, which causes the strange halos around the lights.

For anyone who is interested in darkroom processes, I recently published a video on YouTube which shows steps 21-34.

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