Embracing Imperfections

Over the past few years I have become very interested in still life photography and have enjoyed shooting a lot of it. I love the work of artists such as Karl Blossfeldt and Josef Sudek and their work inspired me to notice things about my subjects that I may not had noticed ordinarily: the incredible shapes and forms of everyday objects and how a subtle change in lighting has a huge effect on smaller subjects.

Around August last year I came across an exhibition being held at Dulwich Picture Gallery in South London titled “Unearthed: Photography’s Roots“. The exhibition blurb read “Unearthed traces the rich history of the medium through depictions of nature” and featured works from artists such as Karl Blossfeldt, Josef Sudek, Imogen Cunningham and Ogawa Kazumasa. It sounded too good to miss so I bought a ticket.

The exhibition was extraordinary and I discovered works from artists I had not previously encountered such as the Gardener/Photographer Charles Jones and French Photographer Adolphe Braun. One thing which struck me while staring in awe at these early photographic prints was the beautiful imperfections. These imperfections add character and give the prints a kind of organic, human quality.

I recently acquired a stack of old photographic paper from years back, there was all sorts there but what really caught my eye was a pack of Ilford FB Warm tone 12×9.5 that I thought would be perfect for printing still life photographs.

I knew this paper was old. To put it into perspective, a 10 sheet pack of this paper today costs around 25 GBP. The price sticker on the pack I had obtained was somewhere around 8 GBP. So not only did I expect plenty of curling, maybe some fogging and mottling, I hoped for it!

The Prints

I selected two images that I had printed previously but had not been particularly satisfied with the results.

First up this image of wilting sunflowers. Shot on Ilford FP4 at 125 ASA using a Mamiya RB67. Printed on Ilford FB Warmtone.

Here is my first set of test strips for this image. I printed the strips at 5 second intervals (5,10,15,20,25). The second strip in (10) looked about right to me but maybe a tiny bit on the darker side. I resolved to produce a small control print at 8 seconds.

So here is the 8 second control print. I thought it looked a little weak here and there so decided to go for the original 10 second exposure of the strip I liked on the tests.

The Final Print

Wilting Sunflowers. 10×8 silver gelatin print

I am really happy with this print. It is exactly the look I was trying to achieve.

Next is this photo of Oriental Lily leaves and a Daisy. Shot on Ilford HP5 at 400 ASA using a Mamiya RB67. Printed on Ilford FB Warmtone.

Once again for this set of test strips I printed 5 second intervals (5,10,15,20,25) with an exposure of 15 seconds producing the best results. I knew from a previous print of this photo that the Daisy ( which you can’t see on the test strip) would need a bit of burning in so I decided to burn that area for an extra 10 seconds.

The Final Print

Oriental Lily Leaves & Daisy. 10×8 silver gelatin print.

I also loved the way this print came out. Again, just the look I was after and this print had the added elements of the uneven developing, fogging and mottling. All of which just add to the overall look of the print in my opinion.

I really enjoyed this printing experience. The process felt creative and experimental with not knowing how the final print would turn out. I was hoping for imperfections and to produce prints similar in style to that of the artists who inspired me at the Unearthed exhibition and I believe that I have achieved just that.
I like the sunflower print a lot and will probably take this to be framed (I do this with most of my favourite prints).

Thank you for taking the time to read this post, I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did writing it.
I would love to hear from you in the comments below.

8 thoughts on “Embracing Imperfections”

  1. Wow! The results are beautiful with expired paper. It would be interesting to see the comparison of your previous prints with fresh paper against these. I haven’t moved into printing my shots yet but I love shooting with expired emulsions – sometimes you win – sometimes you loose 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Love this!! I am a big fan of macro and garden imagery and recently saw a retrospective of Imogen Cunningham’s work at Getty in LA, simply stunning. I also discovered Charles Jones’s work. You are one of the few people who have ever mentioned him, so awesome!
    So glad to have found your blog! I regularly collect small plants, leaves, and pods to photograph.. I run a cooperative darkroom on Vancouver Island and have quite a collection of donated paper, both fibre and RC..


    1. Hi Kate. Thanks for your kind words. Charles Jones work is fantastic, a master of still life composition.
      Your community darkroom sounds fantastic, there needs to be more of these in the world!
      Would love to see your work, please link it if you have it up online anywhere.
      Regards, Mike


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s