What is the point of Ultra Large Format? The various processes are a part of it, the huge negatives are the most of it. ULF negatives are great things to hold and great things to look at, but still they are only a part of the final image. Up until now I have been having to scan these in two parts on a flatbed scanner, merge those and then process that to produce the images you have seen so far. If you want to end up with a digital image for sharing on Socials or printing with modern printing there are many far easier ways of achieving probably better results. So why ULF? Contact printing...
You can't use an enlarger to make traditional prints with ULF negatives, they are just too big. To create a traditional print you have to Contact print. This involves laying the negative directly on the paper that will create the image and exposing it to light. The image will be the same size as the negative, so the bigger the better right.
You can Contact print using traditional Silver gelatin papers but you need a darkroom for that and I don't have one. It's also a little too main stream and too easy... 😜 It obviously isn't and my absolute favourite printing technique is Lith printing which is darkroom and Silver gelatin based.
A "tradition" of ULF photography based on it's heritage is to print using "Alternative" processes. One of the most sublime of these techniques being Platinum/Palladium (Pt/Pd) printing and yay it doesn't need a darkroom. It requires coating high quality art paper with expensive chemicals, exposing to UV light and then developing and clearing. Fortunately as part of my stash of mothballed 7x17 kit and film I had some Pt/Pd chemicals and paper so lets have a crack at doing this.
Heads up - I'm a complete novice with Pt/Pd printing. I managed one print that I was reasonably happy with before the grand mothballing so everything from here on is me making things up from various books, internet forums and blog posts...
One of the reasons for switching film developers to a Moersh Finol (a staining developer) is that these types of developers are great for scanning, but also produce negatives that should work with the Pt/Pd process without too much trouble.
The active light sensitive chemical in the Pt/Pd process is Ferric Oxalate and once in solution has a shelf life of a few months. Mine had been sitting in a box under my bed for 10 years so... 🤷♂️ All the other chemicals should be fine but I wasn't really expecting anything from this experiment.
I started small and simple with a 4x5 Finol developed pinhole negative to just go through the motions, checking the process and equipment, to start doing the work. and break my inertia.
Mixing the chemicals is easy, coating the paper with a brush takes a little nerve. Blow dry the paper and sandwich it and the negative in a contact printing frame. Exposure is via UV light and an old school tanning lamp with 4 UV tubes works well. As I didn't think the active ingredient would work exposure time was a guess! After 5 minutes we seemed to have some reaction but not enough, so another 5. After that develop in some Potassium Oxalate... and we had an image! Not great contrast and a little grainy. I put that down to the old Ferric Oxalate. Also I didn't have any clearing agents so the result still has the yellow/brown tones in the highlights.
Given I was expecting nothing I pleased we got something and should have a process and tools that works. I've ordered some new chemicals and when they arrive we can have a go at a 7x17. Fingers crossed. So much still to learn and experiment with but once again we have started and can only see where it takes us.