By Tyler Hewitt
16 Feb 2010
These photos were made in 1993, when I was a photography student eagerly leaning new photo techniques. I had an assignment for a class that involved exploring a technique, of my choice, then reporting back to the class on my success. I decided to try reticulation, which is supposed to result in a fine, almost spider web like pattern of cracks over the surface of a negative. Reticulation is achieved chemically (using sodium carbonate) or through subjecting negatives to extremes of hot and cold water. I decided to try the temperature method of reticulation. I shot a roll of black and white film, mostly random landscapes in the countryside around Ann Arbor, MI, as well as some shots in a local cemetery.
After developing the film, I heated a pot of water on the stove, and set a bowl of ice water on the counter next to it. I had left the negatives uncut, and plunged the entire 24 exposure strip into the pot of hot water. After a couple of minutes, I removed the negatives from the hot water and placed them into the ice water. Nothing happened. I tried a couple more times, but there was no change in the negatives. Thinking that my pot of water needed to be warmer, I heated the it until it was just below the boiling point, and tossed the negatives in. Almost immediately, the gelatin holding the photographic emulsion began melting and sliding off of the film. I hurriedly grabbed the film with a pair of tongs, but by this time, the emulsion was so soft that the edges of the film were hitting it and removing it in large chunks. I figured the film was a goner, so for fun I started pressing my fingers into it, leaving fingerprints in the soft emulsion. After all this, one final bath in the ice water still did not succeed in achieving reticulation.
My mistakes were pretty easy to figure out. First, while I don't know for certain, I likely developed the film using a hardening fixer (many fixers have a hardening agent designed to strengthen the negative so as to prevent damage). A non hardening fixer may have allowed reticulation to occur. Secondly, I should have rolled the developed film back onto a developing reel before putting it into the pot of hot water. This would have prevented the film from hitting against itself and removing chunks of emulsion.
I filed these negatives away, chalking it up to a failed experiment. I have used shots from this roll a few times, however. One of these shots became part of a collaged negative made for an alternative process print. Another was a large part a mixed media piece.
Looking at these photos now, I like a lot of them quite a bit. The layer of visual noise, and the changes in texture and composition resulting from the missing chunks of emulsion make these mundane scenes interesting. Although I didn't see it at the time, maybe this was a happy accident after all.