Every Man His Own Fox Talbot – Paper Negatives

Every Man His Own Fox Talbot – Paper Negatives

Do you have an abbey window handy? Do you have a top hat? Do you have a new Ilford Obscura pinhole camera kit? Well you too can be Henry Fox Talbot and be the envy of your friends at the camera club.

Okay, it is not quite the same as using glass lenses in one of HFT’s famous ‘mousetrap ‘ cameras and your finished product is not going to be made on salted paper but the procedure is similar and if you choose historical subjects you can give yourself a feeling for the past that digital work just does not provide. Sure, computer manipulation and plug-ins will deliver the calotype look, but actually going out there and doing a very long exposure provides the experience as well.

Just be prepared for foolish abuse if you opt to do it in Victorian clothing. Perth is not as sophisticated as it likes to think. Trust me on this…

Okay – why even think of this? Because paper negatives have a charm and an aesthetic all their own. And they are devilishly hard to achieve with conventional camera gear – even if you have 4 x 5 or larger film holders, a wooden field camera, and that top hat. Perth’s bright sun can overpower most camera lenses looking in on standard photographic paper, even if the aperture is down to f:22. You need to be able to get extremely small apertures – f:248 for instance – to allow you sufficient time to open and close a shutter by manual means.

The shutter on the Ilford Obscura is a simple dropping flap. It has a closed position magnet as well as a open position one, so you need no fear inadvertently exposing the film or paper. When the camera is firmly screwed to a tripod, there should be no movement of the thing as you operate the flap. Of course, this may be very insignificant for an exposure lasting minutes, and when you opt to use the sheets of Ilford Multigrade IV paper as your recording emulsion, you will be spending minutes with the shutter open.

The exposure ISO of the paper is about .6. The calcu-later will let you translate this into a time, but really, give it a bit more time. If you have access to a sunny photo spot nearb your darkroom you can profitably experiment to see just how long you need shoot to give a good negative.

Loading and developing paper negatives is a lot easier than doing film as you can do it under the light of a safelamp. Once you have the paper negative you can scan it in as a direct print and then press command/I on your image editing program and bring it up as a positive. From there you can calotype it to your heart’s content.

The heading image is a paper neg of Perth from Heathcote taken some years ago with a conventinal lensed camera. I will try the same view with the Obscura and see what the results are like.

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