Prints gone bad

Instagram is an app that you can get for your smart phone that allows the user to take photos and apply digital filters to add some interesting effects. Some of them can make the photos look like they were shot on old, expired film. I think it’s a bit funny that in this digital age some people want their pictures to look like they were taken on film — and film gone bad at that.

The way a print was made back in the old days of film was that, in a darkened room illuminated only by a yellow (or sometimes red) safelight, a negative was placed into an enlarger through which a light was shone onto a piece of light-sensitive paper made of an emulsion of silver halides. The paper was then placed in a tray of liquid developer for several minutes. Once the print reached its full development it was taken out then placed into another tray of a slightly acidic solution called a stop bath. This stopped the developing action of the print. Then it was moved over to yet another solution called the fixer. The fixer cleared any undeveloped sliver from the print and “fixed” or stabilized the remaining image onto the paper. After a few minutes in the fixer, the print would be able to be taken out into regular white light.

I was cleaning out an old closet recently and came across a box of old 8 x 10 black and white photographic prints, some of them made more than 20 years ago. One photo in particular caught my eye. It was of a flock of pigeons perched on a streetlight. It had obviously not spent enough time in the fixer. The image areas were beginning to fade, and a large rust-like splotch swirled across the picture’s surface, indicating an improperly fixed print. It looked a little like a photo shot via Instagram and processed through one of its artsy filters, no camera phone or special app needed.

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