|Higgins, Ilfosol study #1, 2013|
Matt Higgins' new book-length exposition on chemigrams - their history, their workings, and perhaps where they're heading in a not so distant future - is finished at last, although as yet unpublished. You'll remember that we teased you with it back in 2013 as a glimpse of things to come, when we had no idea it would be this good. It's called Chemical Potential: A World Upside Down and delivers on the promise of its title, leaving little that hasn't been tried in the chemigram-friendly darkroom.
|Higgins, Ilfosol study #2, 2013|
I've been browsing it lately and thought we might want to take a few pages from it for further discussion, so today, to pick a topic, we'll try to figure out what it is he's doing with Kodak HC-110, or Ilfosol-3, the more-or-less Ilford equivalent - we'll get to the differences in a moment - and show you some examples and some how-to. For Higgins fans, a cautionary note: this matter is not major stuff for him, and he treats it almost in passing. So while on the evidence he has had great fun exploring it, it would not be warranted to grant it much of a central role in his work to date. Once you learn from him how to handle it however, and can pirouette boldly down the paper with it, it may easily seduce you and find a home in your own darkroom work.
HC-110 and Ilfosol-3 are both advertised as film developers, which doesn't mean you can't use them for paper as well - you can. They have a surprisingly long history: their patents, in both America and the UK, go back to the 1960s and HC-110 was brought onto the market in 1962. They are concentrated developers, designed to be used in dilutions which can be extensive if not homeopathic, 1:32, 1:63, even 1:100, which is a boon for the budget-minded photographer. In appearance HC-110 is straw-colored, very viscous and syrupy, Ifosol-3 clear and somewhat less viscous. Their applications in film development will not concern us here, but let us just say, in the shorter dilutions or even undiluted, as we would most often use them, their developing action is vigorous, not to say precipitous.
Chemically they are not particularly unusual products; it is the physical character that is exceptional. Both are hydroquinone-phenidone based developers, with common accelerators, restrainers and the rest. What distinguishes them is a heavy debt to glycols at the expense of water as the functional solvent, especially, in the case of HC-110, to diethylene glycol (DEG). DEG is a large molecule and is perhaps most responsible for the high viscosity, the wonderful thickness of the product, and the reason we're even here talking about it.
So let's start. For equipment you'll need lots of paper. Higgins says RC paper is best, and I would bet on expired paper as a check on the development speed of modern papers. A syringe, plunger, or squeeze bottle is practically an essential applicator tool. Also, bring to the task the quick reflexes and persistence you honed in your dip-and-dunk chemigram phase. Alright, here we go. In daylight you wet the paper and you drip or squeeze a blob of HC-110 onto it. Quickly the blob shifts into development mode, changes shape, possibly colors, oozes here or there, slides around - and turns everything black. You blew it, be faster next time, start over. You have to learn to squelch what you set in motion - not easy.
|Higgins, Ilfosol study #4, 2014|
Higgins learned of the method on a trip to Nevada in 2013 to visit Nolan Preece, who had been using it since around 1999. Here's a very early one by Nolan, done with HC-110 on Oriental paper:
|Preece, Vessel, 1999|
In perhaps a take on this, Higgins did the one below in 2013, using Ilfosol. 'I wet the paper and laid it on a flat surface, then dropped concentrate over it and finally let a sizeable amount of water run over it,' he says. 'You have to be careful to get all the concentrate off.'
|Higgins, 198-3, 2013|
|NFPTL, HC-110 test, April 2016|
|NFPTL, HC-110 test, April 2016|
This post wouldn't be complete without the powerful and disturbing image that kicked it off, from Higgins' book:
|Higgins, 527-2, 2013|
The shelf life of both Ilfosol-3 and HC-110, while not infinite, is very long, much longer than with other developers, and this is another attraction in using them. Their longevity is perhaps due to their very low water content, which tends to oxidize materials in the formulation.
For further information on any of the above contact Matt Higgins directly.