Thursday, 19 May 2011

Cross-processing, my new favourite mystery

View from Niarbyl cliffs, Isle of Man

 At some point this summer I plan to learn how to process black and white film, with the help of Rachel's Darkroom in Walthamstow. I've tried reading about film processing online, but the alchemy of it all is still so mysterious to me that the details never really stick. I firmly believe in the virtues of 'knowing how' over 'knowing that' so learning by doing is my aim.

However, the last few rolls of 120 to pass through my Diana camera have all been slide films, which require cross-processing to be made into negatives, instead of projectable slides, and then printed like 'normal' photographs. Again I've no idea how this is done, but there are added layers of mystery here: why do some slide films produce orange-tinted images when cross-processed, while others tend to turn green, or purple, or blue? Does anybody know?

 my Provia slide film images go bleached and bluish

There is surely an explanation, but that doesn't make the result of the process predictable, it would seem. Today I took a cross-processed negative to my local photographic developers to ask for an enlarged print. The extremely knowledgeable man who works there, and does all the procesisng and printing himself, sheepishly asked if I had my original 4x4 print with me. I didn't. He said that, without referring to it and making adjustments for the second print, there was no guarantee that the enlargement would resemble my original in its shades, contrasts and colours. In fact, it probably wouldn't.

 my Velvia slide film images turn orange and pink

I was tempted to hand over the negative anyway and leave my enlargement's hues to fate, but decided against a fairly expensive risk. However, I did wonder whether to hand back the whole film for a second round of standard-size printing, just to see how the results would compare to the first set. Maybe a different person producing the prints would make different adjustments, and who knows what the effects might be on the images? Mainly there's hope that some of them might be improved. Eventually, I hope to uncover the truth by doing it myself, but in the meantime I am enjoying the mystery.

1 comment:

  1. I think it is funny that Photoshop and the like now have digitl tools to simulate cross processing. It reminds me of a violin quartet I once heard, playing in a way that simulated synthesised violins - a sort of odd, full-circle reversal. I like the velvia image and the boat in the bay