Creeping into the day (printed in red wine)

Posted by Ziren (Singapore, Singapore) on 30 January 2015 in Miscellaneous and Portfolio.

(I printed this image manually in the darkroom using red wine.

Enlarger: No filter -- 30s 4 stops down
Developer: Red wine with sodium carbonate -- 2 hrs
Fixer: Ilford standard -- 5 mins)

In the dimness of the red darkroom light, I see dichotomous patterns of white and black. It could have been the trachea of the lungs, or the veins of a leaf, or the tributaries of a river. As the more stubborn stains of wine slip away, the photo paper reveals the image beneath. I see a faint image of a tree-branch, then a mass of shrubs, then the dark shadows on the road.

Transferring the photo paper into a “fixer” solution, I complete the photo printing process. With lights now switched on, I see the entire image—it is like no other print I previously developed. Most prominently, a red mist envelopes the scene, giving it a feel so dystopian it could have come from the telescreens in Nineteen Eighty-four.

This discovery did not come all of a sudden. For some time, I have suspected that red wine can develop prints. It contains flavenols, which may reduce silver ions in photo paper to silver atoms. But my previous attempts failed. The first time, I used baking soda (bicarbonate) to create an alkaline medium. But it was not a strong enough alkali. The second time, I heated bicarbonate in an oven to obtain carbonate, a much stronger alkali. But I developed for only thirty minutes. Only in the third time did everything come into place. Soaked in wine for two hours, the print developed. Finally, I managed to prove my hypothesis that red wine develops photo paper.

Among my adventures in the darkroom, red wine has been the most recent. Soon after my A-level exams, I taught myself the dying art of DIY photographic development. I started with standard Kodak developers, but I soon devised different methods. Admittedly, my pictures are hardly as flawless as commercial produce, and never as perfect as I imagine them to be. But In the darkroom, I never sought to reproduce a “perfect” picture. The final product never was as important as the journey. The imperfection of the developing process makes for an adventure, because I will always be surprised by new findings. Through trial-and-error and making guesses, I create my own picture, whose production process fulfills my curiosity and represents my approach to the world.

I am Ziren Wang, a student from Raffles Institution, Singapore. I picked up a camera in January 2009 in my school's photographic society, and I have never looked back. Years later, I have explored various different forms of photography, from event coverage, to fashion, to documentary, to photography using DIY lenses, and most recently, to film.