As the world moved forward into 2018, I made a quiet trip to the past. Such is the joy of working with items that belong to a different age.
These negatives must have been from the ‘30 or ‘40s (rough estimate). No markings of any kind to indicate the manufacturer or production date. Only one of them had ‘Kodak safety film’ along the border, to differentiate acetate-based negatives from the highly flammable nitrate base used earlier. Unlike digital files which require a device, cables, electricity, an interface etc. to be viewed, here all you need is light.
Once inserted into an enlarger, the image comes to life. At this point you can use a grain focuser to inspect for any foreign matter such as dirt and dirt that should be cleaned before printing.
A close up of the projected image. Dirt on the negative does affect the image but I’m not comfortable cleaning it with anything more than a simple wipe with a dry cloth. I’d like to think of wear and tear as being part of the image than a problem. Just like wrinkles and scars on the human body.
A working print soaking in fixer.
A toned print left to dry. Fibre prints are notorious for curling up as it dries completely. I’ve realised that the extent and direction of curling depends on the direction of the gradual evaporation of moisture from the paper. The parts that dry first will curl towards the part that is still wet. My practise is to hang them clipped to one edge for a few minutes to drain excess water, then lay it flat on a mesh that allows air to circulate underneath.
The details recorded on the negative is quite extraordinary. Printed at 8”x10”, I can clearly read the words on the calendar hanging behind the sitter.
A contact print of the same negative captures the tonal gradation and details of the negative beautifully. In fact, the intimacy of a contact print would make for a better size for this particular negative.
If stored properly, the negative would have been in a much better condition, but you make the most of what you have. This is just one example of how images can survive the test of time precisely because it exists as a physical object. Digital media is more suited for he consumption, and not archival of images. So don’t throw your old negatives away just because you’ve scanned and uploaded them to the almighty cloud.