Feature Story


Damaged IX
Damaged I
Damaged III
Damaged II
Damaged IV
Damaged V
Damaged VI
Damaged VII
Damaged VIII
Damaged X
Damaged XI

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.

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9 responses

  • Umes Shrestha

    Umes Shrestha said (17 Feb 2010):

    If only these effects could be rendered using a digital camera ! Fantastic photos !!

  • Ana Magalhaes

    Ana Magalhaes (Deleted) said (20 Feb 2010):

    I think the photos look great!! I try to make these effects on photoshop =)

  • Catherine Hadler

    Catherine Hadler gave props (9 Mar 2010):

    what a fabulous accident

  • Richard Seah

    Richard Seah gave props (11 Mar 2010):

    This is what I call "Great Un-Exectations" - when errors and unexpected situations result in pleasing, sometimes even great results. Great story.

  • Dylan Gilje

    Dylan Gilje said (13 Mar 2010):

    I always enjoy finding new photography techniques. Great story

  • David McKenzie

    David McKenzie (Deleted) said (13 Mar 2010):

    "Frequently, in a variety of experiments

    though we miss what we expected to find,

    yet something valuable turns out,

    something surprising, and instructing,

    though unthought of."

    --Benjamin Franklin

    Thanks for sharing this! It's great!

  • Chad Kessler

    Chad Kessler said (14 Mar 2010):

    and everyone wonders why we still shoot film, if you haven't yet, check out flickrs film destroyers group, haven't seen anyone do this one on there, nice work.

  • Karen Foto Fiddler

    Karen Foto Fiddler (Deleted) gave props (16 Mar 2010):

    I shoot digital but there are a lot of film shooters still.Very informative experiment. I vote yes!

  • Linda Irvine

    Linda Irvine gave props (17 Mar 2010):

    interesting- voted

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