Harman Direst Positive Paper

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I came to F295 as an active member around 2005, involved at that time almost exclusively in pinhole photography, paper negatives and camera-building, yet I've spent more time in the last few years working with silver gelatin paper media in various refractive optics cameras. Iíve not really taken the time to reflect on why that happened, but would like to share with you something of my process and methods.

For a long time - since the late 1980s - I've owned a WWII-era Anniversary Speed Graphic 4x5 view camera, and have used it as a workhorse for experimenting with various kinds of lenses, from pinholes to plastic fresnel magnifiers to binocular lenses to industrial lenses. After years of tinkering with various cameras and adapted refractive lenses, Iíve found that, equal to my love for the pinhole aesthetic and its soft but near-infinite focus is my love for aberrant refractive lenses and their dreamy image qualities like sharply focused centers surrounded by fields of swirling bokeh.

These two styles of visual aesthetic, pinhole and aberrant refractive optics, seem so dissimilar yet their respective images can represent different aspects of the same subject matter. The pinhole tends to bring near and far together, compressing distances while preserving their geometrical properties, while aberrant refraction tends to isolate subjects into a centrally located hotspot of sharp focus surrounded by a blurry, vignetted periphery of subjectivity. Both techniques can be quite powerful when executed correctly.

Along with experimenting with both pinhole and refractive optics Iíve also gained extensive experience working with photo paper negatives and now Harmanís Direct Positive Paper. Both these types of media are relatively light-insensitive as compared to conventional panchromatic film, being limited in both speed and spectral response, hence requiring either extended exposure times, larger apertures or both.

My paper negative process has been refined over the years to use pre-flashed grade 2 photo paper rated at an exposure index of 12, while the Harman DPP is much less sensitive, with an EI of 2. Though paper negatives work sufficiently well in pinhole cameras such that focal ratios well above 300 require exposure times in bright sun of only around a minute or so, the Harman paper is too slow for practical pinhole work, in my opinion, especially if higher focal ratio pinholes are used to maintain reasonably sharp images. The exception I will note is under extremely bright conditions where extended exposure times atop a tripod are not an inconvenience.


It is mainly for this reason that I began experimenting with adapting refractive optics for use with the Harman paper, in that it is easy to employ focal ratios fast enough to exhibit the lensesí unique optical properties while still retaining shutter speeds reasonably easy to control by hand.

Iíve found that using indirect north light is a good technique for still-life's and portraits, and if focal ratios of around f/11 are employed then exposure times of only a few seconds are required, easy to time manually with a lens cap and stop watch, a necessity when using adapted lenses that lack mechanical shutters.

Many of these adapted lenses can be used successfully with ďWaterhouse stopsĒ - individual removable aperture plates, and that when creating still-lifes it is common that the camera be positioned close enough to the subject so as to require compensation for the so-called bellows effect. I do this by measuring my Waterhouse stop diameters in millimeters, then measuring the cameraís focal length (after being composed upon the subject) also in millimeters and dividing the two values to arrive at the actual working aperture.

Metering of scenes I do with a handheld meter set to the Harman paperís exposure index of 2 and, if during daylight hours, I ensure the meter is not affected by any artificial lighting, which the paper is much less sensitive to than the meter itself. Referencing the cameraís effective aperture value on the meter, the recommended working exposure time is found with no additional compensation needed.

Processing of the Harman paper I do in a Jobo 4x5 test print daylight tank in the comfort of my kitchen, which permits two prints to be processed at once. Lately Iíve been using Ilford PQ liquid paper developer diluted 80cc water to 5.5cc concentrate in the Jobo tank, which I orient sideways and slowly rotate by hand for 3 minutes (lacking a motorized base). Though the tank is rated to require only 40cc of liquid, Iíve found I can get away with using a larger quantity without liquid sloshing out the fill spout while rotating the tank, helping to ensure more even and thorough development. There remains much more to explore with alternative developers and Harman DPP, which many others are now working with also.

The rest of the process is a quick rinse with water, then 30 seconds of stop bath followed by another quick rinse in water (these two water rinses helping to prolong the stop bath and fixer), and finally two minutes in the fixer. Iíll do several additional quick water rinses and then let the prints sit in a rinse aid bath while I expose and process subsequent prints.

Drying of these direct positive prints requires careful consideration to minimize paper curl, since the paper base used is essentially the same as Ilfordís renown double-weight, fiber-based print paper. In my case I use screens in my film drying cabinet, upon which I place the prints face-down, their edges raised up by thin plastic straws and their centers held down by heavy weights, to counteract the paperís natural tendency to curl inward toward the image side. My drying cabinet employs a HEPA filter and heat lamp, and is the closest I can get to a clean room environment in my dirty garage-based darkroom.

The availability of Harmanís Direct Positive Paper has also brought new life to older cameras in my collection such as a Polaroid 800, whose two-part, peel-apart black & white film hasnít been available for decades, but now I can load individual 4x5 sheets of Harman DPP in the cameraís film gate, make a meter reading and select the appropriate combination of shutter speed and aperture on the cameraís lens to make the exposure. I have also used this paper, cut down to small sizes, in a Holga 120 camera, using the cameraís bulb mode and shooting under subdued lighting to permit exposure times adequately long (>1 second) to accurately time by hand. Again, a handheld light meter is an invaluable tool for these sorts of experiments.

Being able to expose this special paper directly in-camera, followed by a simple development process, produces a one-of-a-kind fiber-based print along with a wonderfully rewarding experience, especially when combined with antiquated, obsolete or improvised cameras and lenses. The quality of this paper when properly exposed is exquisite, and makes me thankful that we live in this diverse photographic age where such great creativity-enabling materials are yet available. Considering all of the classic films and papers we no longer have available, the possibility of a high-quality reversing print paper in this digital age is both a blessing and a miracle.
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  1. renon's Avatar
    Great article, Joe. Many thanks for posting details of your work and your thoughts. Sometimes I like also the controllable depth of field of lens cameras. It allows a better separation of the main objects from the surroundings than the almost infinite depth of field of the pinhole "lens".
  2. renon's Avatar
    In the meantime I got baryta HDPP paper, up to now I made only some tests with RC paper, and I'm now highly motivated by your blog entry to use it.
  3. earlj's Avatar
    Thank you, Joe, for your thoughts and experience. I can see that I must try the Harman paper. I have both pinhole and lens cameras (actual and imagined) for which this might be a perfect image medium.

    Tom Miller exhibits 11x14 paper negatives exposed in his potato chip cans. I have a whole bunch of popcorn tins that I have been using for film negatives, but the prospect of the one of a kind positive silver gelatin print is too tempting to pass up.
  4. Tom Persinger's Avatar
    Thanks for posting this wonderful article Joe! Much appreciated!