Making prints from our film negatives is often a bit of a pain. You have all kinds of chemicals you need to buy, and the range that’s available today can be quite overwhelming. In this video, Historic Process Specialist, Nick Brandreth at the George Eastman Museum shows us how to make prints using the salt process.
The salt process is one of the earliest silver-based photographic techniques and is used to make photograms, in-camera paper negatives and prints from paper and glass negatives – I suspect it might work on some types of film, too, either for contact prints or using an enlarger, although your enlarger would need a UV bulb in it.
It’s a technique that was discovered in the mid-to-late 1830s and was one of the world’s first photographic processes. It’s also quite a simple process, requiring just three main ingredients. Yes, that’s right, you do need a little more than just salt. You’ll also need water and silver nitrate.
Mix the salt into some water, mix the silver nitrate into some more water in a different container (wear goggles!), and then it’s just a case of “painting” it on using some balled up cotton wool. You’ll want to make sure to use separate pieces of cotton wool for the silver and salt solutions to get an even coating, and you’ll want to make sure it dries completely between applications.
Nick sandwiches the newly soaked and dried paper along with a glass negative inside a picture frame and then blasts it with UV light for a few minutes. Over time, the print develops. To fix and finish the print, there are a variety of potential methods. Nick gives it a wash in water, then gold chloride to remove the unused silver and prevent further developing and then coats it in beeswax and lavender oil to give it a really nice final colour.
It certainly looks like a lot of fun to try. I might have to pop this onto the “one day, I’ll have a go at that!” list.