Thursday, October 26, 2023

Silver Prints from a Toy Thermal Camera

The toy thermal-printing camera

The other day I was thinking about the poor archival quality of these little thermal prints I've been making with this toy camera, and suddenly an idea hit me: make silver gelatin darkroom prints! Of course, the thermal prints themselves are positives, and a direct contact print onto darkrooom print paper would result in a negative image, so I'd need to make an internegative.

A layout of toy camera thermal prints

Then I remembered I had some Arista Ortho Litho 2.0 film in 4x5 sheet film size. I've tinkered with this film before, attempting to eek out some semblence of a grayscale from its lithographic emulsion, and never had good results. Attempting to control the excess contrast with dilute developer only resulted in a mottled appearance. But with this new project, I realized that the halftone-like dots of the thermal print are perfect for litho film, as it doesn't involve any intermediate grayscale, just pure black and white.

So I got the darkroom cleaned and arranged, and managed to make some contact prints of the thermal images to this litho film, developed in paper developer. I was pretty pleased with the results.

Here are three internegatives I made, placed on a lightbox, next to the camera itself. The film has a thinner base than conventional B/W film, and the emulsion is sensitive to both scratches as well as pinholes caused by hydrogen gas evolution in the emulsion when it encounters rapid pH change. The preventative for the first problem is careful handling techniques, while the second problem can be reduced by buffering the film between developer and stop bath by a water tray.

Once the negatives were dried, it was time to do some enlargements. Time to get the Besseler 4x5 enlarger set up!

These prints were just under 5"x7" in size, made onto Ilford warmtone multigrade RC paper. I was pleased with the results.

Ethan Moses

Chairs, Special Collections Library

Royal MME, Special Collections Library Printing Museum

I'm please with the outcome of these silver prints, despite the little toy camera having no exposure control. It's certainly a unique look, it doesn't hide its digital origins, but knowing these prints are on silver gelatin paper, made from film negatives, means those fragile thermal prints now have a way of being archived, and displayed in a more pleasing way.

I'm just scratching the surface of what could be done with these images. Having an internegative means silver prints can be made of various sizes, which could also be hand-colored, opening a plethora of other effects.

Here's a video I made about this project:


Blogger Bill M said...

Nice work. I especially like the photo of the room.

4:27 AM  
Blogger Ted said...

Oh, WOW! Now you're really exploring some super interesting avenues! Yeah, the shots are all "pebble halftoned" when printed in "dot-matrix" mode so any high-contrast litho film or PMT material would work pretty nice with it. This camera has a *ton* of fun possibilities :D

7:21 AM  
Blogger Mei Travis said...

Cool! The recreated ones look even better! I have a basic all-in-one black & white laser printer that turns out photos with a similar look. It's fun to experiment with photos snapped with different filters and resolutions and then colorizng the prints by hand. Hmm, sounds like a neat adventure in stationery for Type Pals, and perhaps another blog post too. :-)

1:22 PM  
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