I have been exploring the Bromoil Process, as a potential option for producing my prints. Bromoil is an early photographic process combining bromide papers and oil-based printing ink.
A darkroom print is printed from a negative ideally that avoids too many dark areas or has high contrast. The print is then made with a lower contrast filter, and developed, avoiding fixing for too long.
Once washed the print is then ‘bleached’, in the case of these prints, in Gilberts Solution – a go-to solution developed by one of the leading Bromoilists, Gilbert R. Hooper. The prints are bleached for a minimum of 10 minutes, and until all the black areas are gone. The print is then thoroughly washed and then fixed for 4 minutes, before being washed again and left to dry completely.
Oil-based ink (mixed with talcum powder) is then applied in successive layers to reveal the latent image. The insoluble gelatine that exists in the dark areas of the print does not swell when soaked in water, which means it absorbs the ink, whereas the soluble gelatine in the lighter areas swell in water and repel the ink allowing the image to be built up. The ink is applied in a ‘stippling' motion with a brush and can then be spread with a roller, with each layer applied changing the contrast of the bromoil image. The more ink that is applied can darken the midtones and shadows, whereas the print can be soaked again, and the highlights lightened using cotton wool. Different colours of ink can be used if desired, although I have so far stuck to black ink.
Bleaching of prints to make 'matrix'.
I feel that this is something that I was looking for in the project, a way of trying a more tactile process for the printing. The print process for ‘normal’ darkroom prints has quite an involved decision-making process utilising the hands for dodging and burning, however, when it comes to developing the prints this aspect recedes. This wouldn’t change with the bromoil process as the development remains relatively the same, other than the reduced fixing time. However, the process does afford further manipulation or decision-making options. Due to the print being effectively ‘restarted’ at the bleaching point.
This allows me to further manipulate my darkroom prints, choosing how the landscape is portrayed. I feel this enables me to further question how I view the locations, and the final print becomes an experiment in user experience, as I view the landscape within the print each time the ink is layered on, and then make decisions to whether I wish to lighten or darken each area. This allows me two key abilities, one to be able to ‘edit’ the tones and contrast in the print selectively, and two it adds time in to the process, making it more contemplative and ‘slower’, which mirrors the methods that I am building in to the process of visiting the location and making the negative.
Washing to remove any bleach, then once print is dry, resoaking prior to inking
Inking of matrix using brush, then soaking and blotting of inked matrix
Spreading of ink to shadows through use of roller and soaking.
The process is something that I will look to take further. I have made some prints for the exposition utilising this process, and describing the method. However, I will look to try this in the future on different paper bases, different types of prints and at different scales. Anne had advised that Bromoil often works better at a smaller scale, and this could be worth experimenting with. My first tests were on 5x7” images, which were relatively successful, however I did find that some of the bigger prints had issues, often with the paper surface either being worn down, or bringing in abnormalities. So far Ilford Multigrade Fibre Based Matt paper has been the most successful, perhaps due tot the fact it is a new batch I have, so there isn’t the aging to the paper base, that some of the Ilfobrom papers I tried had.
Going forward I wish to try the Ilford Multigrade Art paper, as it has quite an interesting texture that may change the way in which the ink adheres to the surface. I have also obtained some Cooltone and Warmtone paper to see if the toning changes the way the ink appears, my guess would be no, but it may be worth investigating.