Brian’s Lost Archive: From the Depths—Twice Rescued.

 

I exposed this black & white negative in the New York City Subway about 1978.

My understanding of photographic technique was minimal, as I was only eleven or so at the time and I had just begun to learn how the process worked.

In this case, not only did I underexpose the film, but when I processed it my developer was either nearing exhaustion and/or was heavily oxidized owing to poor storage.

Underexposure and underdevelopment is just about the worse of conditions with film.

This image is from one of about 100 rolls of my early efforts that had been stored in box for decades—unprinted, but not forgotten.

Unfortunately, sometime during my travels decades ago, this box of old negs was stored away.

I’d been looking for my lost early negatives for along time, and often frustrated by my inability to find them.

Believe it or not, I dreampt where to look for the missing box, and so upon my return from Dublin last week, I was finally able to locate them.

A hundred or so rolls!

I’ll begin with this one because it has special significance for me; the man at the right is my grandfather. He had brought my brother and me to the Natural History Museum at 81st street. I made a sequence of images of the subway train arriving to bring us back to the Bronx.

Since the original negative was impossibly thin, I wasn’t capable of making a print. However, I know now how to rescue difficult images:

  • First scan the photo, as a precaution in case chemical treatment fails (but also to show the effects of my process in a ‘before & after’ sequence.)
  • Soak the negative for an hour in distilled water with a hint of Kodak Photoflo.
  • Re-fixed negatives for 3-4 minutes in Ilford Rapid fix (mixed 1:4).
  • Rinse in water.
  • 3 minutes in a Perma Wash bath.
  • 10 minutes wash in continuous running water.
  • Treat for 9-10 minutes in selenium toner mixed 1 : 9 at 68F, agitating every 30 in a well-ventilated space.
  • Rinse in water.
  • 3 minutes in a Perma Wash bath.
  • 10 minutes wash in continuous running water.

The selenium toner is the key step; this helps build density in highlight areas without changing the grain structure.

After chemical treatment,  I rescanned the negs and  worked with this  image in Lightroom to adjust exposure, contrast and sharpness.

Below are my results: not perfect, but not bad all things considered.

This is scan of the untreated negative in its natural state (not reversed digitally).
This is scan of the untreated negative in its natural state (not reversed digitally).
Reversed, the negative looked like this; muddy and dark.
Reversed, the negative looked like this; muddy and dark.
Following toning and work in Lightroom, this is what I was able to produce. Not to bad for a kid with a camera and film badly processed in a kitchen sink. Exposed c1978 using a Leica 3A with 50mm Summitar lens.
Following toning and work in Lightroom, this is what I was able to produce. Not to bad for a kid with a camera and film badly processed in a kitchen sink. Exposed c1978 using a Leica 3A with 50mm Summitar lens.

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7 thoughts on “Brian’s Lost Archive: From the Depths—Twice Rescued.”

    1. Kodak used to make something called CHROMIUM INTENSIFIER (for thin negatives) and FARMER’S REDUCER, for dense negatives, although I never tried them. This post reminds me of the two.

    2. Chromium intensifier is a far more invasive substance that has the effect of increasing the visual grain. By contrast, selenium toner results in an ion exchange that should not adversely affect the visual grain structure. That is my understanding, anyway.
      Brian Solomon

  1. This must be Richard’s father from the Bronx. Did he live all his years in NYC? When and how did he arrive? TSH

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