For this week’s Red Light in a Dark Room we are very happy to learn more about Russel and Wendy’s wonderful home darkroom.
Wendy and Russel Kwan are fine art photographers, exclusively producing their limited-edition work as toned fiber-based silver-gelatin prints in their studio and darkroom. Their work has been exhibited in Canada and the US in commercial and academic museums and galleries. They are the black-and-white darkroom instructors in Continuing Studies at Langara College, and independently operate their Photography MicroSchool (these courses have nothing to do with darkrooms!) in Vancouver.
What is your darkroom? A room, closet or bathroom? Please tell us a bit about it.
We have a darkroom tour page on our website: http://NewMythographs.com/pages/rwpMainframeDarkroom.html
Our darkroom is a purpose-built 9×13 foot room with a custom stainless-steel sink running the length of one side, and cabinets / enlarger workstation on the other. It is built for efficiency, so we can make mistakes really fast.
What’s your process? Tell us a bit about your developing routine, especially if it’s tricky.
We use a variety of processes, including some secret home-brew chemistries – but the basic stuff is what many people use: Paterson tanks and reels and a traditional print tray-line. We do have a film processor for straight photography – it’s a Photo-Therm SSK-8, and it’s a trouper.
What is your go to developer?
Russ uses a variety of home-brews, none of which are published, as well as Kodak HC-110. HC-110 works much better when it’s been aged a lot. So does Blazinal. Wendy uses Ilford Perceptol.
What is your all time favorite Film/Film developer combo?
Russ uses HP5 & HC-110, and Rollei IR & HC-110 a lot. Wendy uses Delta 400 & Perceptol, and Ilford SFx & Perceptol. It probably should be noted that we don’t use any film or chemistry (other than fixer) according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
What result/look does this give?
It’s a total light-path thing. Everything matters, from lens to camera to film-format & film to development regime to enlarger type to enlarger lens to print paper to print processing to toning. Neither of us has a single “look” – rather, we invent new looks for every body of work. There’s no way to assess a look online – to see it, you’ll need to see the finished prints.
Have you tried any or are you into any alternative processes, such as cyanotype?
We’ve tried lots of things, including gum, lith and cyanotype – but silver remains the most flexible and malleable medium for both of us. Home-brew chemistry can totally transform silver, allowing the medium to do completely new things.
What is the best processing tip you can give?
Keep ridiculously complete and detailed notes. Be consistent with everything. Change only one thing at a time. Make copious mistakes and keep close track of the cool ones. Bravely and ceaselessly experiment.