I’ve been hoping to take a Platinum or ZIatype workshop for a while now and my local community darkroom/gallery hosted one this past Saturday, with Jessica Somers teaching us the Ziatype process. I have seen her work before and knew she was an excellent artist, so it was great to see her in a workshop environment. I didn’t know much about the process itself except that the few prints I’ve seen with it looked interesting.
As she explained, it was developed in the early 1980s in New Mexico (who’s state flag has the Zia sun symbol) from early process, the name of which escapes me. But suffice to say it is more an ‘alternative’ process rather than a strictly historical process. We started off by salting the Arches Platine paper we’d be using for the prints. This was a simple solution 8g of gelatin (Knox from the grocery store), 18g of sodium citrate, and 20g of ammonium chloride, all in 1 liter of distilled water. It has to be kept warm, ~110F while the salting process happens. That is just a matter of putting a number of sheets, say about 7-8, in the tray with the salt/gelatin solution, and slowly rotating them through for a couple minutes till they are well saturated. To keep the solution warm, a larger tray has a warm water bath. We then let these dry outside on the line.
As it turns out, the Ziatype process is influenced by the ambient humidity. Our workshop started off as a typical summer day in CT, with humidity prob in the 60% range, which Jess told us was about perfect. The moisture in the paper from the salting process also helped some.
The Ziatype process itself is rather simple. In a room without UV light, you coat your salted paper with a mixture of equal parts ammonium ferric oxalate and lithium palladium chloride. For our prints, this ended up being about 11 drops of each. You then coat the emulsion on the paper using a moistened hake brush (the moisture ensuring the bristles do not take up too much of the emulsion in the coating process), drying the emulsion till the paper has some ‘snap’ (this took some trial and error, which is where having an experienced person teaching you helps immensely)., then you put your negative (a digital one, with a Ziatype curve applied) in contact with the emulsion, and you expose to UV.
For all of mine, I used a simple contact frame with a piece of tape on the top edge of the digital negative so I could easily re-registered when checking for exposure. We used the outside shade or direct sun, depending on what we were going for. The great thing about Ziatype is that is self-masking, so your shadows won’t overdevelop if you leave it in the UV too long. The other great thing is it a print-out process, so as you examine the print, it is almost as the end result will, save for the brownish-yellow emulsion showing in the highlight areas that will wash out in the various rinses. We used a few different washes after the exposure: 5 mins in a running water wash, 5 mins in a citric acid bath, 1 min in a water bath, 5 mins in a sodium sulfite bath, and a final 20 min wash. We then hung them outside to dry. I took all these with my iPhone rather than bothering to scan them in.
As it turned out, I think my first print turned out to be my best result. It could be the source digital negative was better for this process than some of the high-key ones.
My steampunk shot I thought might be tough to translate to any of these alt processes. One option we had was to try replacing the Lithium Palladium with gold drop-for-drop, which results in a cooler tone but boosts contrast. I tried a single drop for this print and it probably made it too contrasty. Still it has kind of a cool look.
I chose this photo because I wanted to see how the process dealt with shadow detail, and when I was first exposing it, and brought it in for the first examination I thought “oh no, I ruined it!”. The area around the sign looked like a brown-black blob. I think it was just my eyes adjusting to the low-light inside of the gallery from the sunlight. When Jess picked it up out of the print frame and held it up to better light, it basically looked similar to how it turned out.
We ran out of salted paper, so myself and another workshop student salted a whole bunch of more sheets. But while those were drying, I decided to try an unsalted sheet to see the difference. This is another fairly contrasty, high-key shot. It got more of a sepia tone than I expected, but reading up on the Ziatype in “Alternative Photographic Processes” by Christopher James, Ziatypes sometimes exhibit this when humidity is below optimum. It could be that not going through the salting process resulted in a little less moisture available during the exposure. Also the ambient humidity seemed to be dropping some during the day. On close inspection, it also has more of a mottled look to it, which Jess thought was because of the lack of the salted paper.
My last print of the workshop was a negative I purposely had with lots of mid-tone detail in the tree trunk. For this one I also experimented with the gold again, this time substituting 2 drops for the lithium palladium. It definitely exhibits a much cooler tone than the others. I think 3 drops might have made this start going a little purplish, which it has hints of already.
It is probably an affectation some people hate, but I started purposely adding light brush strokes way outside the print area. I kind of like the way it looks though if I was showing these, I would probably place the mat to hide them. But I like the ‘crafty’ look it gives the prints. In some ways it is a signature as each print will be unique.
I had fun and learned a lot, which is exactly what you want out of any workshop. Thanks to Jessica Somers and http://photosynthesisct.com for hosting. This process seems like something I can work on at my own home without too much issue, and could be super simple to do in the evenings if I build a UV exposure unit of some kind.