There are times when I just want to scream, I think its part and parcel of alternative photography. Recently I seem to be having a whole year of problems with alternative photography.

This recent disaster is interesting. For wetplates you need a bath of silver nitrate and distilled water. Thats all there is to it, 80g of silver nitrate into 1000ml of distilled water. You coat your glass/metal plates with collodion (which contains some bizarre salts) and then dip it in a bath of silver nitrate for about 3 mins. your then ready to shoot. The bath needs topping up every now and again and also some maintenance.
Distilled water is used as its totally pure and contains no contaminates. If you where to use tap water the silver would react with it and turn cloudy then muddy. Now distilled water for whatever reason is very inconvenient to purchase in the UK. Luckily De-Ionised water is ready available in the supermarket and works just fine…. Except today.

I needed to add 300ml of water to bring my silver bath back up to 1000ml. Over the last few weeks its started running low. I added in 300ml of de-ionised and instantly my bath turned milky. Not to worry (too much) it can be fixed. After a brief scream, I took it out of the darkroom and exposed it to the sun. This is where it turns grey and murky. In theory you leave it out in strong sun for a few hours and the dark matter sinks to the bottom.

I never have this much luck. I think you need more sun than the UK consistently gives. Instead I leave it in front of a cheap face tanner with a reflector positioned behind the clear vessel containing the silver nitrate for an hour. I filter it when it looks as muddy as its likely to get. Filter it about 4 times using a funnel loaded with a cotton ball. This makes it clear again. I then put it back in front of the face tanner or leave it for a couple of days to catch the sun with a piece of thin fabric on top to stop flies and dust falling inside. It is good for some alcohol and ether from the collodion that gets dunked in, to evaporate out so do not put on a lid. I then re-filter any more dirt thats developed out from this second longer sunning.

I will need to top my bath up again to 1000ml with good deionised water to take account of losses due to filtering and evaporation. I will also need to add more silver as some of this will be lost. This is added with the aid of a hydrometer. I dissolve silver nitrate slowly until the floating hydrometer bobs around the 70 mark in the vessel.

So the expensive silver nitrate is saved, about £60 worth of lovely silver fit for another day. However this SHOULD NOT of happened. I don’t know what the hell I bought but that bottle wasn’t de-ionised, or at least it wasn’t as good as it normally is. Ive heard of it happening before to others but I always buy the same brand from the same place.

It raises questions about previous shoots. Could this be a culprit for the fog I’ve been having with my wetplates? Personally I don’t think it is but there is every possibility it could be to blame. During my last shoot as I was using this very bottle to dilute my developer. I have read that developer does not necessarily need distilled water but does need fairly good quality water. After I had my problems with the developer I switched to a develper I had made which didn’t need diluting with water, so I was using that developer neat – that time images appeared with no fog. However this developer had 2x the acid (acid reduces fog) so I’m assuming the extra acid in the developer was the reason for less fog. It is possible the reason it worked better was because it didn’t contain any of this batch of bad water.

I will probably need to test each bottle of water I buy, adding an extra level of complexity to the process and also cost. My plan is to fill a test tube of sample water and add a gram of silver nitrate into it. It the water stays clear its good to go. I could probably add this tested water, to top up my silver bath as long as it stays clear rather than waist it. What next?