By: Dave Eichinger
I've long been a fan of soft, warm, tactile, earthy traditional/analog/darkroom prints. Some are platinum/palladium. Others are vintage silver prints that exhibit a similar warm 'feel' that is just so inviting to me. I searched for a way to make these prints in a 'normal' darkroom with easily-accessible, inexpensive materials, especially since most students are not quite ready to jump in to platinum printing. And, since platinum is a contact-print process, I wanted to be able to enlarge a print with platinum-like qualities. Enter Freestyle. (I've been shopping here since I was in photo classes in high school in Hacienda Heights, then at CSULB, UCLA, and OCC.) Back in the day, I used Agfa Portriga Rapid (warmtone paper) and Kodak Selectol-Soft print developer. Agfa is gone, so today, my combination of choice is Foma 132 (or 133, 542, etc.) with Kodak Selectol-Soft. (This may not be available for long so I am in the process now of testing other soft/warm print developers. Stay tuned.)
When I suggest this process to my students, they usually have a difficult time breaking their well-honed habits of making prints with bright whites and black blacks. These pseudo-platinum prints are different and require a new mind-set. Print softer than normal. Possibly print darker than normal. There may be no 'black' in the print at all. That's OK. And since the paper has a warm, creamy base, there will never be a bright white in your print. That's OK, too. This is what we're after. Breathe deep and try to embrace it.
I find that this printing technique lends itself nicely to landscape and portrait work, and it seems especially well-suited for Holga and pinhole images, but whatever you try, this may work well for you and you just might fall in love with darkroom printing all over again. And the best part is... it's easy.
I try to begin with negatives that are a bit low in contrast... made in overcast conditions... 'sweet light'... or maybe 'pull' your development a bit (under-develop your negatives about 20%.) You can always print these negatives 'normally' later by using a higher contrast filter (VC / MG) and your old tried-and-true printing methods with 'normal' B&W paper and developer.
I'm also a fan of infrared film. As you may know, Kodak HIE film is gone, but Efke Aura is a great replacement. Infrared negatives and 'pseudo-platinum' printing may be a combination that will become magic for you. The only way to find out what works for you is by testing. Then, let me know what you think. Now, get in the dark and have FUN.