Autochrome, Kodachrome and home made high speed films

Discussion in 'Product Availability' started by Photo Engineer, Feb 25, 2009.

  1. Photo Engineer

    Photo Engineer Subscriber

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    Over the last 4 years that I have been a member of APUG (Longer on PN), I have discussed or seen discussed plans to revise Autochromes, Kodachrome 120 processing, and even the making of home made color and B&W films with speeds up to 400.

    Now, this thread is not meant to disparage any of those well intentioned people, but merely to ask "what happened?" and "what is going on?" and then to point out some of what I think in answer to these questions.....

    I should mention that my contacts at George Eastman house and RIT claim to have several contacts each year with the same proposals - but no result is forthcoming as far as they know either.

    So, I post this with great trepidation, as I said, in hopes that I not offend the people who are involved but in order to get more information if possible.

    Basically, you need up front capital. This will run about $5000 - $10000. How do I know? BTDT. Is this your experience as well?

    You need equipment and chemistry to produce emulsions, formulate processing solutions and you need a high quality coating method to enable you to test your results. This is going to cost you before you get going.

    Then, you have to do R&D and if you are not suited to it or if you just rely on old texts, you may be dissapointed. As Denise Ross has pointed out, emulsion making and coating are not difficult and the R&D up to a given level is not hard, but these projects, noted in the title, are really hard. They involve top of the line ability in the lab.

    Well, the point is, how much R&D. My estimate is between 2 and 5 years of it if you start from scratch. If you have formulas or have taken my workshop, you hit the ground running so to speak and have a head start of several years of work based on my formulas.

    So, Autochromes, where are you? Kodachrome processing at home -where are you? and 400 speed pan film made at home - where are you?

    I want to say finally that I am not even going to try the first two although I know that Kodachrome can be done at home, but I am closing in on the 400 speed film in an ortho version. My R&D has to be cut back due to the economy, but it is moving, I assure you.

    So, lets hear from those out there doing experimental work. I saw some home-made Dufay last year and mentioned it here, and I saw a duplicate of Maxwell's experiment at the same time. They were both impressive.

    Lets hear from the experimenters out there. Post where appropriate, here or in new threads. We need to hear about your experiences or, to hear that you have found it untenable due to expense or lack of equipment or whatever.

    PE
     
  2. Craig

    Craig Subscriber

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    As a side tangent, how did EK process sheet Kodachrome when it was available? Looking at the cleat marks on processed film it was obviously done on hangers, but as a big dip and dunk line? How did they do the re-exposure?
     
  3. accozzaglia

    accozzaglia Member

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    First of all, what on earth is "BTDT"?

    Insofar as to why so many best-laid intentions pave a path to a yukky end, another very crucial element is hard to co-ordinate in this online environment: that of managing a concerted team endeavour. More often than not, person A in Walla Walla, person B in Perth, and person C in Belgrade all come up with the goal of making a DIY processing project come to life. They may even have the money to do it. But these are, as you have observed and experienced, PE, hardly single-person projects. They do require multiple parties to collaborate, exchange, and manage the greater project. Knowledge of that management is also not enough, though: it is advantageous, especially so in the trial-and-error of working the problems out of a process, to have these co-interested individuals in the same geographic vicinity. Absent this, the co-ordination is a lot more difficult, no matter how much money is thrown at it.

    Now PE, you enter this discussion with a career of applied and working knowledge of how these processes are designed and executed. That is key, but it's nevertheless only a component of the full equation. Some of these intensive R&D efforts came to pass entirely because of the agglomeration of both facilities, capital, and talent within the same location. This is a junction (no, no, not Twelve Corners) that is not liable to repeat itself in the same form ever again.

    That's not to suggest, though, that teams working remotely cannot accomplish heady goals. They most certainly can and do. Collaborative software makes this possible with many ideas previously difficult to impossible to sufficiently attempt. But chemistry, aside from molecular research best managed with supercomputers, frequently involves an applied, hands-on stage in testing and development to verify whether a hypothesized outcome works. For film emulsions — even if and when that raw information is in black-and-white print and available to anyone who's willing to read it (e.g., expired patents) — there nevertheless requires no less than someone with some previous know-how of walking the path (rather than just knowing the path) to guide the raw data and steps with the authority to determine whether the outcome at step 6, 14, or 25 looks about how you remember it. In a few years, there will be a vacuum for this kind of haptic knowledge.

    One way to work through this is to find a savvy younger chemist (or chemists) who demonstrates an acumen for organic and inorganic processes, who is also very interested (if not passionate) about the craft of film emulsion development and film processing, and mentor her, him, or them by passing along the body of applied knowledge as a master would to an apprentice. Reading it from a book or notes is no substitute for the real thing of having someone right there saying, "No, that doesn't look right, no, ok, that's better." And once that font of wisdom is gone, it's gone.

    So the biggest idea I can offer, PE, is to consider developing a unique opportunity for those who in the past and more recently have expressed or made sincere overtures to make these crafty projects happen: invite them to Rawchacha (on their dime, of course) to embark on a co-ordinated, face-to-face endeavour of working through what it would take to develop a small-scale system for creating Autochrome glass plates with potato starch emulsion, or processing Kodachrome at home, or creating an emulsion for high-speed photography. What you get, of course, is the satisfaction of seeing success in this craft of passion, but you also have the satisfaction of tutoring the future torchbearers of this photo chemistry knowledge which increasingly shall be known by fewer and fewer people. They, meanwhile, learn from an accomplished master and understand viscerally and intuitively what it means (and what it looks like) to have the red or blue light exposure steps in K-14 done correctly or incorrectly. These experiences they are given make up the foundation for them to do the same to future apprentices, and mastery of a rarefied, otherwise forgotten craft is born and perpetuated.

    Let them and others supply their own capital. All you would need to do is supply the knowledge, the know-how, and those accrued life experiences built as aggregated wisdom. And then drag them to Nick Tahou's for Garbage Plates all around once there's success.
     
  4. Craig

    Craig Subscriber

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    Been there, done that.
     
  5. accozzaglia

    accozzaglia Member

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  6. df cardwell

    df cardwell Subscriber

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    We have a technological arrogance that assumes that because we we live at the cutting edge of human development,
    it should be easy to go back in time and drag something primitive,
    made in the 1920s or 1930s, into the 21st Century.

    All the CNC machines in the world cannot reproduce the 1920s technology that made Deardorff cameras,
    anymore than could a 1920s workshop build a Canham.

    Its probably easier to scratch build a fuel cell motorcycle in your garage
    than a Model T. It is the time in which we live.

    But if we can get hold of something that doesn't require a complex, industrial supply chain,
    like Ron's emulsions, we can sorta time travel. But we have to go where we can go,
    and maybe not just where we'd like to go.

    The chemistry of Autochrome might not be that hard.
    Grinding potato starch is probably the killer.

    I have a proud old barn on my farm,
    with massive and tremendously long timbers.
    It would be fairly easy to reproduce, given time to make mistakes,
    and master the simple technology.

    The first thing one would need to reproduce the barn, however,
    would be first growth timber. Without a local source of 30 foot long, 8x8 spruce beams,
    the barn cannot be reproduced. They require a pretty big tree, and we won't see them again.
    We probably won't see ANY spruce bigger than a pulp tree for several lifetimes:

    [​IMG]
    the reason I can't duplicate my barn

    We can choose qualities of the barn we would like to incorporate in a new barn, and use many of the old techniques,
    but that old wooden barn can never be made again.

    Perhaps the best we can do with vintage photo materials
    is to do the best we can.

    Thanks, Ron.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 26, 2009
  7. OP
    OP
    Photo Engineer

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    I'll have to add here then that software can be shipped or shared via the internet, but I cannot mail certain chemicals to anyone. In fact, some cannot be purchased except by a licensed chemical company. I can send the formula, but why do that when it takes lab experience as well, and that must be done in person in many cases.

    On another tack, the inheritors of the Autochrome process have been unable to duplicate it given the original lab equipment, production equipment and notebooks of the brothers Lumiere.

    Last but not least, it is difficult to start an apprentice program in today's environment. This is "just not done". We would have to build a whole new social structure to accept it. And, I'm not sure I'm the person to do this or perhaps not the best, but that is beside the point. I do know that a lot of the early work was done by lone individuals.

    We need some first growth trees out there making emulsions and doing R&D to keep this art alive.

    As an additional note, Kodachrome was indeed processed by dip and dunk.

    Now, lets hear from those who are interested in actually doing the work and who have stated so here on APUG. How about it guys, where do you need help? What is bogging you down?

    Thanks.

    PE
     
  8. accozzaglia

    accozzaglia Member

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    Yes, everyone's totally right: modernization, Fordism, and rationalization killed the craft-making star. In my mind and in my lens, we can't rewind, we fell to trends. JPEGs came and broke our souls. Put the blame on digital.

    If I knew anything about chemistry, I'd go down to Rochester! But I don't, and to this day, molar weight was how much my wisdom teeth weigh when they were removed during my teens.

    What kind of "first growth trees" were used in 1935, by the way? What did the Leopolds use before getting Kodak to sign on? I know the chemistry was different, yes, but it nevertheless would be pleasant to put into context.



     
  9. PHOTOTONE

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    How would an apprenticeship program be different than a person attending college? The person has to pay his way in either case.
     
  10. OP
    OP
    Photo Engineer

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    Well, in answer to these, I can only point to all of the apprentices today. (I know of none but I do know artists and craftsmen who complain of this lack!). There are paid programs for this at George Eastman House, but they are limited to 8 students per 2? year course world wide. Someone will have to tell me why apprenticeships are rare or non-existant. People complain to me about the price of a one week workshop right now, but they have not considered water usage, chemical usage and other factors. I use nearly a pound of Silver Nitrate in a week (depending on the # of students) and at least 100 sheets of high quality paper. You can look the cost of that up.

    As for doing the R&D, analog was a "rage" and a "fashion" then, where people could buy chemistry easily. Many of the early masters were self taught (and had it very wrong) and chemicals could be mailed cross country. Today, Man and God could not purchase Lye in NYC. It is forbidden. No, M&G would not be able to work easily today.

    PE
     
  11. Paul Howell

    Paul Howell Member

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    If someone really really really wanted to bring back autochrome or any other long dead color process get incoperated as a nonprofit and apply for grants. I have no idea how to ask for, a couple of mil?
     
  12. Martin Reed

    Martin Reed Advertiser Advertiser

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    But Autochrome certainly was not primitive, it was way out on a limb for the technology of 1900-10. Re-making it would be pointless, who possibly could, or would make use of it apart from a handful of photo-artists?

    Having experimented with most of the steps needed to replicate it, including dying starch and making the screen plate, I know it could be done, but as an enthusiasts project would require vast financial resources and the rest of one's life. I think there's more point to studying the technology of it, and appreciating the increasingly valuable work made with it back then.
     
  13. accozzaglia

    accozzaglia Member

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    I should look up my old acquaintance who used to produce his own daguerreotypes and inform him that he should blow it off forever as a consequence of their primitive nature.
     
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  15. OP
    OP
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    Making a Daguerrotype is rather easy compared to the others I mentioned and is a lot less expensive.

    PE
     
  16. df cardwell

    df cardwell Subscriber

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    But Autochrome certainly was not primitive,

    No, and it is STILL cutting edge, perhaps more so today,
    because of all that we have forgotten or lost. THAT is what I called it arrogance to just assume we can
    reach into the scrap heap of history and renew and improve an old process.

    In my family line, I'm one of the first who could ride a bicycle, but not shoe a horse.
    Interesting, I think, more because of the giving up of self sufficiency in favor of an industrial product.

    Careful selection of technology IS important for us. Hence, emulsion making and stuff.
     
  17. accozzaglia

    accozzaglia Member

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    Ah, but it's technologically obsolete.

     
  18. Anscojohn

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    Yes. Dageurreotypes were developed by suspending them over a pot of boiling mercury. Anyone want to try that, just for the nostalgia of it!!
     
  19. PHOTOTONE

    PHOTOTONE Member

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    Well, Daguerrotypes ARE developed with the fumes of Mercury, but not boiling Mercury, just heated Mercury. It is still done all the time by modern Daguerrotypists.
     
  20. Anton Lukoszevieze

    Anton Lukoszevieze Subscriber

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  21. railwayman3

    railwayman3 Member

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    I think the difference is that the earliest photography was done largely by amateurs, using fairly simple materials and chemicals, working at home or in their studios, and it is still perfectly possible to successfully reproduce their processes at the present day...as is proved by members here with the "alternative processes".

    Subsequently, new processes appeared, particularly color....of which Autochrome was a major example...which used complex materials, machinary and skills in manufacture and which could no longer be realistically or economically made by the individual photographer even at that time.

    I think my point is that most APUG members could make a reasonable effort at the "alternative processes" at the present time, (even Daguerrotype with the mercury :sad: ), but we couldn't make an Ektachrome or Fujicolor film at home. And I'm sure that the same situation applied 80 or 90 years ago with Autochrome. :smile:
     
  22. Martin Reed

    Martin Reed Advertiser Advertiser

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    Obsolete Film Archive?

    The starting point of the thread reminded me of of a research project that an institute was kicking off a few years ago, maybe The Getty? I've forgotten.
    http://www.getty.edu/
    The idea was to gather together unexposed examples of every discontinued silver emulsion film material, with the intention of creating an 'ark' of film technology, which would possibly enable these films to be retro-engineered at a later date. There's no project of theirs currently in hand related to this, so maybe the idea died.

    As the institute in question wouldn't cover the shipping cost, I've still got approximately a cubic metre of a hundred or so different film types, all unfridged. Including Tech Pan, colour IR, lith films, C22 colour neg etc etc. So my question, is there any point in hanging onto material like this for posterity?
    Can any form of retro-engineering be possible, given sophisticated equipment and skilled technicians?
     
  23. doitashimashite

    doitashimashite Member

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    French photographer Frédéric Mocellin seems to be well on his way recreating the autochrome technology:

    http://www.autochromes.fr/english/def.html
     
  24. OP
    OP
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    It seems a shame that he does not post anywhere then. It appears that since my friend visited him in France a few years ago, Mocellin has had some success.

    As for Daguerrotypes, the key here is in the ease with which it can be done compared to something like an Autochrome.

    PE
     
  25. Sal Santamaura

    Sal Santamaura Member

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    In my opinion, there are virtually no apprenticeships in Rochester, the rest of New York or the other 49 United States for the following reasons:
    • Apprentices learn things, typically but not always "crafts," where there's no other good way to do so, e.g. books or schools in which large numbers of students are taught as a group.
    • High-volume, low-price, low-quality goods that make up the majority of commercial production today don't require much skill or knowledge that an apprentice program would impart. Most of the public doesn't want and isn't willing to pay for "better stuff" such as analog photography supplies.
    • For those few fields where human craft is still needed, a preponderance of "first world" citizens (those of us who, generally, populate this and similar forums and who decry the lack of apprentice programs in our countries) exhibit no reticence to purchase from countries where labor costs are miniscule. Cost of apprenticeship programs is correspondingly smaller in those countries.
    • The worldwide pool of humans is vastly larger than it was during the heyday of apprenticeships here. That means there is usually someone, in some country "elsewhere," who has picked up apprentice-derived skills and uses them "there" or, as a result of possessing those very skills, is able to emigrate "here" to practice them. Please don't interpret this last bullet as evidence of my being anti-immigrant; I'm not. It's just a statement of observed fact.
    There still exist some fields in the US where labor unions sponsor apprentice programs, for example the plumbing and electrical trades. We hear constant outcry about how expensive such tradesman are; there's vocal opposition to using such skilled labor on public projects instead of cheaper bidders employing non-union labor that never underwent an apprenticeship.

    No, I'm not now nor have I ever been associated with the plumbing or electrical trades in any way. Also, please note the words I entered above in bold font and don't substitute "all" for them when reading/interpreting this post. :smile:
     
  26. tiberiustibz

    tiberiustibz Member

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    I haven't tried anything with home K14 due to the fact that I have other things to do. I got a Pony 828 camera as a backup (I think I lack confidence in myself.) Anyways I have a plan to work out, but I'm going to really chew through C41 developer. I'm not given up, and I'm convinced I can make a color image. I'm not convinced that I can make an accurate color image. Most likely I'll eventually just use E6 first developer and guess at the re-exposures and come out with an image and then say "Yay! I'm done!" and load the rest into 828 rolls and splice it together before mailing to dwaynes.

    I think the problem is lack of demand. If I had enough customers I would just buy 50 gallons of chemistry, but I don't, so.