Date of Award
Chemistry and Biochemistry
People nowadays are used to instant gratification when it comes to taking photographs. They look at a digital display, click a button, and get a perfectly focused and lighted picture that they can see right away. New technologies enable people to have pocket-sized digital cameras, their smart phones, with them at all times, and they’re easy convenient, and fast. Behind a single lens reflex (SLR) film camera, the scenario is much different. More time is needed in framing the image and adjusting the aperture and shutter speed to get the correct exposure, and the film must be processed darkroom before the image captured is even visible. Recently, film photography has seen a rise in popularity, and it’s cool to own a Polaroid or a SLR. Finding a place to develop film, however, is not so easy.
Photography has been a hobby of mine since high school, and I have always been curious as to how exactly the whole process works. The inspiration for the project came from recipes I found online claiming prints can be developed in coffee (“Caffenol”) and wine (“Wineol”), and I had to know how that worked. When you don’t understand the process that makes the picture possible, it can seem like magic. When you do understand the process, it is still miraculous.
This thesis project is an exploration of the chemistry of photography through hands on experimentation with the developing process. This project gave me the opportunity to refresh and expand my knowledge of the technical aspects of photography and print making, while applying the chemistry that I have learned through my semesters here at the University of South Carolina. The goal of the project was to recreate the traditional chemicals involved in developing with household alternatives, and to be able to explain why these substitutions work based on their chemical properties. The finished product would be something that any person could create, without accesses to expensive and obscure photography supplies.
After researching the chemical processes and mechanisms in commercial developers, I was able to explain how the DIY recipes worked; which ingredients served which purpose and why not every component had to be included. I designed a recipe of my own modeled after “Caffenol” and “Wineol” using green tea extract. I also had to find alternatives for some of the other chemicals involved in the development process.
I spent several months in the darkroom testing the online recipes and constructing the correct ratios for my tea recipe (“Teaol”). I used images taken previously to compare the results of each trial. I also tested different methods of fixing, or preserving, the image. Although I was not able to find a common household substitution for the fixing chemical, I did not have to turn to a photography store. I was able to find the main chemical from a pool supply store and make a simplistic fixing solution out of it with no other additions. With all other substitutions made, I started on planning the photographs I wanted to produce.
I finally decided on portraits of my best friends in the Honors College. The portraits are a way of summing up my time here at USC. The subject of the images is representative of my family and home here, and the process by which the prints were made highlights the skills and knowledge I have gained. The final product from this project is a creative expression of my time here at the university.
Witten, Nichole Marie, "The Chemistry of Photography" (2016). Senior Theses. 84.