Dye Transfer Print
My favorite photography blog (The Online Photographer) recently had a fundraiser. They were selling dye transfer prints by Ctein, a photographer whose work (and writing) I really enjoy. I ordered one. It came the other day, and it looks wonderful.
I did some dye transfer printing many years ago at the VLW. It’s a fascinating process and the results are amazing. You start by creating 3 or 4 color separations. These are full size negatives which have each been created with a color filter. They’re kind of like the channels of an image in Photoshop. You then process these so that the light areas are soft and porous while the dark areas are hard and shiny. Each negative has a couple of pin holes on one side so that you can get them lined up perfectly.
Next you take a piece of paper with a soft gelatin surface, get it damp, and fasten it down with a clamp with pins in it. You take the first of your negatives and soak it in a dye solution. Then you place it on to the paper, clamp it down, and roll it. The dye gets transferred from the porous parts of the negative into the paper. You do this for each of the negatives in turn.
In many ways, this process is more like printmaking than photography. You work with the lights on for everything except creating the separations. You can reapply a separation to the paper to add more of that color. You can paint areas with solutions which make the negative transfer more or less color. You even have choices about what color dyes and what separations you use. On the other hand, it is very labor intensive. You can see some pictures of the process here.
And the resulting prints are amazing. The dyes are very pure, and there aren’t any unstable silver compounds in the process, so the prints are very stable. And they have kind of a magical depth to the color.
Kodak stopped making the materials for this process in 1994. Ctein bought up all that he could get his hands on. He also bought a big freezer to store it in. Here’s his description of the process.
The actual print I ordered (the bottom one on this page) is of some ferns growing in a lava field in Hawai’i’. It reminds me of our trip there. Dye transfer is a perfect process for this image because most of the detail is in the darkest range showing the texture of the black lava. But there are also iridescent details which have subtle colors way up in the highlights.
Since I’m mentioning Ctein, I should point out that many readers of this blog would probably enjoy his photos of the space program (link1, link2, link3). This image of Columbia is a perfect example of the sort of thing that dye transfer is really good at, if you’d like to order one of your own.
You might also enjoy his book on restoring old photos. I have a copy of the 1st edition, and I’ve gotten a lot of good use out of it.