Week 10: The Constructed Image

Basic Black and White Photography with Matthew Swarts

Charlie White.

Doug and Mike Starn.

Barbara Kruger.

Adam Fuss.

Vik Muniz.

Sandy Skoglund.

Zeke Berman.

Hannah Hoch.

Laurie Simmons.

Laurent Millet.

Nicholas Kahn and Richard Selesnick.

Joel-Peter Witkin.

For Next Week:

Download and review the slides from this weeks’ lecture: arts1810-slides-the-constructed-image

Read: this Interview with Vik Muniz

Read: this Interview with Barbara Kruger

Read: this Interview with Adam Fuss

Whether or not you have been aware of it, up until this point in the semester we have been operating under quite a few rules and assumptions about what a photograph must be.  This week is about breaking the rules!   

Make 4-6 images or objects that challenge photography’s formal, historical, theoretical, and/or technical assumptions.  

Whatever you make, lay out as your underlying project an ernest investigation of the “real.” Take responsibility (shoulder freedom) for creating your own universe of sorts,  with its own sets of rules and forms and physics. The most important element of this assignment is that your work and the process of working should challenge both you and the viewer to rethink ideas commonly connected to photography.  Below is a short list of presumptive and traditional notions usually associated with photographic images.

Make work that explores and exposes these (or other) statements’ truths or fallacies.

1.  The camera makes an image of something that exists in the world.

2.  Photographers are not painters or sculptors, they do not arrange the world.

3.  There are correct ways to expose and process film, and proper techniques for making prints.

4. Sharper, clearer prints are better, more beautiful prints.

5. Still photography is a one-image game.

6. Photographs are two-dimensional representations of the world.

7. Photographs are meant to be displayed in a certain way (e.g. flatly on walls, in a frame, in your wallet, etc.)

8. Photographs should not give evidence of the hand of the maker (i.e. no drawing, no painting, no bending, no folding, no crushing, no scratching, spitting, setting on fire, etc. etc.)

9. Photographs are permanent; the image in a photograph is not changing or changeable.

10. Photography is serious, photography is about truth,  and photographs never lie.

Questions to consider when making your work:

  • How does the image or object you have constructed investigate and question (traditional) space?
  • If you decide to make sculptural or three-dimensional work, does the form you have chosen merge with your idea in such a way that it actually carries it?  (That is to say: the form should never be arbitrary, meaning AND shape as non-dual.)
  • This assignment is about pushing photography’s transformative power to its outer limits, then beyond.  Think about the way you have been making your photographs up until now: are you breaking your own rules?
  • Most importantly, are you engaged or excited by what you are making?  Does doing this assignment mesh, in the terms of Kahil Gibran’s (work is love made visible), with your own need to make something—or are you just jumping through a hoop?
  • If you’re not satisfied, perhaps you should be doing something else. How will you get there from here?

Notes on Processing Fiber Based Papers

Real paper is simply more beautiful than plastic paper. Not surprisingly, fiber-based enlarging papers offer photographers superior surface qualities, tonality, exposure latitude, and archival characteristics over resin coated papers. As a trade-off, however, fiber-based papers require slightly different handling during processing. As the name implies, the base of the paper is porous and absorbent (not plastic). Fiber-based materials thus generally take longer to process. Fiber papers are also more fragile than resin coated papers. The emulsion of the paper is likely to crack or tear if not handled carefully. Unless you want scratches, cracks, rips, and stains treat fiber-based papers tenderly. Here are a few things to keep in mind while processing:


On average, a print exposed on fiber-based paper will need a longer minimum development time than a print made on resin-coated paper of comparable speed. When using the same developer, times that produce prints of a normal density will also vary between different brands of paper (similarly exposed). Most will fall between 1.5 and 3 minutes at 68″ F. Check the technical sheet that accompanies your paper for the time recommended by the manufacturer and then experiment with development times longer and shorter to determine the time that works best for you.

Also check to see if your paper is considered cool or warm toned. So called warm-toned or ‘chlorobromide’ papers like Agfa Multicontrast Classic, Agfa Insignia, Agfa Portriga, Kodak Ektalure, Ilford Multigrade Warmtone, and Forte Polywarmtone, produce slightly brown, red, or greenish tones in most developers and have a significantly high concentration of chloride in their emulsions. While it is true that the type of developer used largely determines image tone, papers with chloride in their emulsion often respond dramatically to changes in development time. With chlorobromide papers, shorter development times in general produce warmer, contrastier images, while longer times often result in images with both a cooler overall tone and lower overall contrast. Colder-tone papers like Ilford Multigrade, Agfa Brovira, and Kodak Polyfiber lack the ‘magic’ ingredient of chloride in their emulsions, and so do not change tone or contrast so dramatically (even in different developers and toners!). One type of paper is not better—you simply have to try several to determine which you prefer for your work.  It’s a good idea to run a test whenever you encounter a new paper.  Develop good prints of the same image over several different times to see how the paper responds, then compare to similar tests on different papers. A few hours spent making such tests and you will easily be able to pick a time that corresponds to the image tone and contrast you prefer.

When developing a fiber-based print in trays, make sure to slide the paper into the solution smoothly to eliminate air bubbles. This is important! The entire surface of the paper on both sides needs to be saturated, and the solution inside the tray needs to be circulating constantly. Gently rock the edge of the tray (not the print) every few seconds, and turn the print over after fifteen seconds if you’ve initially placed it emulsion-side down. Developer exhausts itself over time. Rocking the tray like this ensures that fresh solution is always hitting the surface of the emulsion. Continue to rock the tray over the duration of the development time and watch the clock carefully! With ten seconds left on your development time, you should carefully pick up the print by one comer, lift it completely out of the solution, and begin to let it drip off into the developer dray. This way when your time is up, you are ready to switch trays with minimal delay and solution waste.

Stop Bath

Fiber-Based Papers require at least 30 seconds in the stop bath. (RC papers generally take 5-10 seconds). Be sure to agitate gently for the entire time and remember not to contaminate the stop with tongs or other such utensils (including your gloved hands) from the developer tray. Drain as described above before transferring to the fix.


Most fiber-based papers require a minimum of 3 minutes in the fixer, with some manufacturers recommending times between 5 and 10 minutes. Check with the technical information that accompanies both paper and fixer to determine the proper time, but three minutes is a good minimum. Agitate the tray every thirty seconds or so while the print is submerged. After half of the fixing time has passed, it is safe to rinse off your print and examine it under normal light. Be sure to fix prints for the full time, however. If several prints are in the fixer at once, be sure to circulate them from bottom to top to ensure that each print receives fresh solution. Properly fixing your print is crucial to image permanence! Most of the stains you see on older photographs are the result of either insufficient fixing or failure to remove fixer remnants in the wash. Watch your time carefully! Prints left too long in the fixer deteriorate rapidly and become very difficult to wash.

Water Bath

If you plan on making several prints before washing, place prints that have been properly fixed in a holding tray of water. If possible, run water through the tray constantly, as this will speed the chemical elimination of the fixer from the paper. Otherwise, change the water in the tray frequently, and keep in mind that prints kept in water over extended periods of time begin to fade and lose sharpness.

Fixer-Remover or Washing Aid

Once prints are fixed, excess salts from the fixing solution need to be completely washed free from the paper. This can be accomplished by either an extensive wash period, or by a wash used in combination with any of several products (Sprint Fixer Remover, Perma-Wash, or any other so called ‘fixer removers’ or ‘hypo-clearing agents’) designed to speed this process. Prints treated with these kinds of washing aids will be washed cleaner of residual chemicals than untreated prints and in much less time. Most washing aids are solutions high in sodium sulfite and require you to submerse and agitate the print for 1 to 3 minutes. Again, check with the manufacturers of both paper and fixer remover to determine the right time. Watch the clock carefully! As in fixing, there is a danger of oversaturating prints in fixer-remover solutions. Prints left too long will often be bleached significantly and require longer washing periods.

Washing Prints

Prints that are properly washed could last forever; prints poorly washed begin to deteriorate immediately. Fiber based-papers require a minimum of 1 hour of washing in constantly circulating water at 68°F. Using a washing aid or fixer-remover cuts this time to thirty minutes. When washing prints, make sure that they are placed in either a commercially made print washer, or a siphon-fed tray where individual prints can be separated and circulated constantly. When placing prints in the washer, be certain not to put your prints in a system of water that is already being circulated with someone else’s work—you’ll contaminate the existing wash and that person will have dirty prints and a few words for you. (Print-washing etiquette causes many disputes in the darkroom, so be forewarned!) Make sure that prints don’t overlap or touch one another, for they will contaminate on contact. It’s okay to wash with someone else, provided you begin washing at the same time. Overloading print washers accomplishes nothing. Remember: each piece of paper needs to be free to circulate in the water or washing is completely ineffective. It’s okay to over-wash—within reason—but prints left too long in any system of water begin to fade and lose sharpness until, after extreme saturation times, the emulsion (and image) slides right off the paper.


After the wash time is up, carefully lift each print from the washer and–very carefully so as to avoid dings, cracks, rips, and tears–squeegee or sponge both sides of each print. Place papers emulsion side down on screened racks. Most fiber-based papers will dry within 4 hours, depending on heat and humidity. It is very important not to touch prints until drying is complete. At certain stages of drying, the emulsion is extremely soft and fragile. You could easily destroy your work (or someone else’s) by handling prints improperly. Always be considerate and err on the side of caution.


Most fiber-based papers will curl uncontrollably while drying. Prints can be flattened by carefully placing them between archival mat-board materials in a moderately heated (175°-250°F) dry mount press for about 1 minute. Sometimes it helps to very lightly dampen the backs of your prints with a sponge before placing them into the press. Be careful around the dry-mount press! Thermostats often break and presses may overheat, burning both fingers and prints unselectively. Once a print has been pressed, place it under weighted plate glass or a specially designed flattening weight so it cools to a perfect flatness. Fiber-based prints respond to changes in humidity, and prints often need re-flattening over time.

Artist Spotlight: Joel-Peter Witkin

Joel-Peter Witkin.