i posted my polaroid lift experience late last night, and since i enjoyed documenting it so much, i decided to explain the cyanotype process i did today as well. i was really really excited about doing this.
cyanotyping is a non-silver photography printmaking process, which means that the photosensitive agent in the emulsion is not silver. i used a kit made by photographer’s formulary to make my cyanotype paper. here are the instructions it comes with. the kit includes two solutions, A (ferric ammonium citrate) + B (potassium ferrocyanide), which are mixed in equal parts and used to coat the paper in a room with low light. (i did this in a bathroom because i was at home)
it is important not to expose the solution to a LOT of light, but the chemicals are far less sensitive than regular silver paper, so if you have a small light (i had a nightlight in one of the sockets), that is okay and shouldn’t expose the solution or the coated papers.
i chose to coat watercolor paper with the cyanotype solution because it holds up well against water. i had used a heavier stock before (a few years ago), but i felt that it did not coat evenly. i remembered using both that heavy stock as well as watercolor paper with gum bichromate prints and having success with the watercolor paper. i sent a message to my former professor, wendell white, who had originally taught me both processes, and he advised me that watercolor paper was a good choice for cyanotype prints.
i cut the paper in half so that i had two cyanotype papers for every one sheet of watercolor paper. i let them dry overnight in a dark closet.
because cyanotypes are not as photosensitive as regular prints, i needed to use a very strong source of UV light to expose them. i was able to use a platemaker, but this required that i created large negatives so that i could make contact prints (as opposed to having a tiny negative which is projected on to a paper by an enlarger, i needed a big negative to lay directly on the paper.) i scanned two of my black and white 35mm negatives into a computer and used photoshop to give them better contrast. i then had them printed on transparent film paper at a size of about 5″X9″.
i taped the negative to the paper, and then i put it into the platemaker.
the platemaker exposes the print to large amounts of UV light. i unlocked the top, put my print in, and then turned the machine on. the vacuum pushes the print against the glass (so that it will not move around. i then flipped the top of the platemaker so that the print faced the inside of the machine, and i hit the button which turned the UV light on. i exposed this particular image for 15 minutes the first time and 10 minutes the second time. because the image has lots of “gray” areas with detail, exposing the image for a shorter amount of time made the image slightly lighter, which allowed for greater detail. the 15 minute exposure still worked, but the details were too dark to make out.
i took the paper off of the platemaker. the emulsion had changed in color from a greenish-yellow to a brownish-black. after the negative was removed, a slight trace of the image remained on the paper, which let me know that it was actually exposed properly.
cyanotypes are great because the print is developed only in water. all one needs to do is wash away the emulsion, and the image is permanent. it needs no fixer, photoflo, or any other chemicals. i washed the print for a few minutes, until i could see the image and the emulsion appeared to be gone. then, i emptied the basin out and refilled it with clean water, just to make sure that the cyanotype was completely cleaned off.
the result is a deep blue-toned print: