Ive had many workshop tutors for wetplate, all have been fantastic. It would be almost impossible for myself to be doing wetplate without a network of people either teaching, giving advice or supplying the necessary things needed to do this art. However recently with all my issues with wet plates, one person has inspired me to do better, Walter White from Breaking Bad.
It’s his absolute attention to detail, cleanliness and scientific approach that has partly helped me to resolve my current wetplate fog issues. I now keep my
Meth Lab Darkroom tidy and clean out everything with distilled water after use. I use distilled water for many more operations where previously I used tap water everywhere I thought I could get away with it.
I now use a new pair of nitrile gloves for sensitising the plate and then a new pair for developing. I handle plates far less and always try to grip them only from the corners. I use a new piece of kitchen towel to clean the back of the plates before loading them into the plate holder. I now make sure the plate holder is never rotated as I carry it to the camera.
I did a lot of testing over the last few months using hydrometers and digital PH meters. A few months ago I wanted to sun my silver bath. Sunning involves pouring your silver nitrate bath into a clear container and leaving it in the sun. Any contaminates inside the bath then develop out into black insoluble solids which can be filtered out. The wetplate experts, the Ostermans recommend adding bi-carb of soda to make the bath more neutral in PH. The theory is that if your bath is acidic, (acids added into it due to all the plates that have gone through it) it may take forever for this process to work, as acid retards the action of development.
I tried adding bi-carb and was shocked as my bath fizzed and turned green. I left it in strong sun for a couple of days, filtered it and it became clear again. However, this bath was terrible! When I put plates into it, they came out fogged and developed before id even developed them! It was completely unusable. It is said a bath could work between PH 2.5 and 6 at the extremes. I measured the PH with test strips to be just over 4.
I wasn’t satisfied with this so bought a digital PH meter. This gave me the reading of PH4.5 which I didn’t think sounded too bad. If 6 is the cut off point then 4.5 should be fine. However PH4.5 is a fucked bath by my findings in an average UK summer. To lower the PH nitric acid is the best acid to use. I read about 4 drops should lower the PH of a small bath back by 1/2PH. Using the digital PH meter I found I needed more like 12 drops. I continued adding drops until I hit PH3.5. PH4 is the ideal but for shits and giggles I thought 3.5 sounded good.
I never used this bath for a while as I started having a bit of a worry that perhaps PH3.5 may of been overkill. All advice says to add nitric acid drop by drop until everything works perfectly. I had added about 24 drops. The more acid the slower the exposures and I thought id probably seriously slowed my bath down. As it turns out, its just as fast as PH4. I am also still using my double acid developer and everything is working like a dream. I can now develop plates past 15 seconds, past when the shadows are all out and not get guaranteed fog. I think this setup may be for my summer wetplates, In theory in winter I can revert to a PH4 bath with standard developer formula. Its the heat that causes all the chemistry to become too active.
So thank you Walter White for inspiring the chemist in me. Now I just need to concentrate on the artist.