I wanna make a photogram!
August 15, 2010 2:58 PM   Subscribe

So I want to make a photogram. I remember having small (perhaps 8" x 8") blue photo sensitive papers in a kit as a kid -- it involved nothing more than unsealing the package, putting objects on the paper and setting it outside for an hour or so in the sunlite, resulting in white silhouettes of whatever objects were placed on it. I have found sites selling kits like that which seem geared toward kids, but I'm wondering where I might be able to find larger sheets of this type of paper. I also don't really know much about the process, but I am looking for something easy (no development equipment needed). I think it would be great to do a large-scale image in this way -- I mean, can I get a large roll of this type of paper, or something poster-sized?
posted by jeroum to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Sunprints.org sells 24-inch by 36-inch sheets.
posted by Ery at 3:05 PM on August 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

You can do this with blueprint paper, if you can still find it. I got a ream of it a few years ago for a 9th grade class. You expose it then waft it over household ammonia to develop. E-Z (but stinky). As an added bonus, if you find an old camera (like a 127 format) at Goodwill, you can use it as film - it doesn't have perfect dynamic range and it is extremely slow so you might have to shoot wide open with a several second exposure, but it works.
posted by plinth at 3:25 PM on August 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

"Printing out paper" is what you need.
posted by run"monty at 3:29 PM on August 15, 2010

You can apply cyanotype solution to paper (or fabric or lots of other surfaces). There's a learning curve, but it's fun!
posted by gum at 4:19 PM on August 15, 2010

"Sunprints" and "cyanotype" as mentioned above is what you want to look for. You can expose the paper in the sun and develop it in water. Try adding some hydrogen peroxide to achieve a really bright blue-purple!

If you decide you want to have more photo-based imagery versus silhouettes of objects, I recommend printing from the computer onto transparencies (invert the image to a negative) or using a photocopy onto transparencies, using the negative setting. The results will have a lot of contrast, so likewise use high contrast images for best results.

DO NOT GET PRINTING OUT PAPER! It is extremely expensive, uses much more complex chemistry, and will be difficult to find in large formats.

Good luck!
posted by reparata at 4:52 PM on August 15, 2010

Just buy the printing out paper or some blueprint paper. Purchasing the toxic chemicals for cyanotypes and "sun printing" requires you to register with the ATF and Dept. of Homeland Security. It's a good thing I bought a lifetime supply before those regulations were enacted. Handling, use, and safe neutralization and disposal of these extremely toxic chemicals is not a task for amateurs.
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:52 PM on August 15, 2010

Cyanotype chemistry is not particularly toxic and you don't have to register with anyone -- just send $20 to the link provided above and you'll receive a kit in the mail.
posted by gum at 5:58 PM on August 15, 2010

Cyanotype chemistry is not particularly toxic and you don't have to register with anyone..

Actually, I was incorrect. I double checked with my supplier, you must register with the DEA. I spoke to them a while ago and said they keep the forms on file and they might be accessed by DHS and ATF on demand. I asked them how often they get a Federal request to inspect their records, they said, "Oh not often, only 2 or 3 times this year."

Yes, cyanotype is not particularly toxic, on the scale of Deadly through Weapons of Mass Destruction. When I went to art school 35 years ago, they said this stuff was safe. Over the years, new research indicated that these were some of the most toxic chemicals in use by photographers. You can probably handle them safely if you are experienced at handling toxic chemicals. But it will still require specialized expertise to process and neutralize the chems, so you're not flushing toxics down the drain.

Just buy the premade papers, let the professionals handle the toxics. Be kind to the environment. Times have changed. In some states like California, you can be fined for dumping photo fixer down the drain if you haven't neutralized it and precipitated the silver out of it.
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:17 PM on August 15, 2010

Charlie, I'm glad you're cautious about photographic chemicals -- we all should be. But the potential environmental harm of the cyanotype process is much lower than the potential environmental harm of plain old silver nitrate film developing and gelatin print processing.

Yes, let's all do the right thing about disposing of photographic chemicals! But whatever it is that you're registering with the Drug Enforcement Agency to buy has nothing to do with the cyanotype process. You can buy cyanotype kits off the shelf at photography stores or by mail from Photographers' Formulary or other websites. No thumbprints or cheek swabs necessary.

Now I'm super curious: What photographic processes make use of regulated drugs?
posted by gum at 8:46 PM on August 15, 2010

Gum bichromate is more typical of "sun prints." Most of the prepared sun print papers are for gum printing. Very toxic: chromium. The DEA is very serious about this stuff. They're serious about all these photo chemicals if you buy them in quantities more than a couple of grams.

I assure you the toxic risk of silver processing is negligible. Prohibitions on discharge of silver solutions was only prohibited in California, where I first encountered this law, due to hysteria over silver nitrate quack medicines.

I am just really negative about this sun print stuff unless you are knowledgeable about chemistry safety. Even with cyanotypes, I've seen people lay their faces down on the paper, in direct contact with the chemicals, to get a silhouette. Don't do that. At least put a sheet of clear plastic wrap over it or something.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:09 PM on August 15, 2010

There's two cyanotype recipes. Mike Ware's Cyanotype II kit that was linked to by gum is toxic because of the ammonium dichromate, its a known carcinogen (don't eat it, breath it, get it on your skin and the risks will be low). The other recipe doesn't use any toxic chemicals, Photographers Formulary also sells a kit using Herschel's original recipe. Imho the kits are no more dangerous than the chemicals most have stored under their kitchen sinks and, tend to get much less respect than photographic chemicals.

The downside to the sun print kit is the paper is extremely thin, thinner than office paper and, with larger sizes the paper might tear when you rinse it in water. You could try asking this seller what kind of paper they're using for the sun print type process.

Now I'm super curious: What photographic processes make use of regulated drugs?

Quite a few actually, this off the top of my head list is used to make b&w film and paper or, as developers or fixative: silver nitrate is used to remove of scar tissue, sodium bromide was used as a anti-convulsant/sedative, potassium iodide is used to treat radiation poisoning, ferrous sulphate is used as an iron supplement, sodium thiosulphate is used (was used?) to treat cyanide poisoning.

Gum bichromate isn't anything like a sun print and has a much steeper learning curve. You mix gum arabic with water colour paint and sensitize the mixture with ammonium or potassium dichromate.

The only printing out paper that is made commercially is by Centennial, but the image will be red/brown and, requires some extra chemicals to work.

I am not a chemist, just a photographer interested in alternative processes.
posted by squeak at 12:56 AM on August 16, 2010

The only printing out paper that is made commercially is by Centennial, but the image will be red/brown and, requires some extra chemicals to work.

Yes, I retract my advice of getting printing out paper. I used the stuff years ago. Foggy memory says I fixed it with table salt but Google seems to think otherwise.
posted by run"monty at 2:14 PM on August 16, 2010

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