Distressing and damaged negatives 1

Positive scan from a set of dust damaged negatives found in QEHS darkroom
Positive scan from a set of dust damaged negatives found in QEHS darkroom

I found a set of negatives in the darkroom I have reclaimed for students at Queen Elizabeth High School. The negatives are shown here as positive scans.  So they are primarily white with some dark watermarks and what looks like dust spots.  I scanned them to see if I could identify an image – there seemed to be a rather beautiful pattern like the surface of the moon or an imaginary topography. This apparent beauty and order from a damaged negative interested me.  Could negatives be deliberately damaged? Or could the damage be a different kind of image capture – an image that made visible the damage it had received?

Found negatives in QEHS darkroom
Found negatives in QEHS darkroom

I would be particularly interested in damage caused by smoke, heat, steam – the ingredients of the smoke/steam cloud I am photographing – see other posts.  The idea of ‘distressing’ negatives like a piece of old furniture is a good description – although creating a theatrical or historical effect is maybe a rather surface idea.  At the moment I am having problems with accidental ‘auto distressing’ –  probably due to using old film stock, using out of date and gritty fixer and poor film wash routines.

Web research revealed this:

Distressing Negatives

Writer / Christina Z. Anderson

Photography / Christina Z. Anderson’s students Claire Calhoun, Brent Losing, Kim Tallent and Betsy Winchell

Excerpt from The Experimental Photography Workbook, 4th Edition. Christina Z. Anderson describes four ways to creatively destroy your negatives, giving them a little extra “bite”.


Negatives, being plastic, melt and stretch and scratch very nicely. Practice the technique on some throwaway negatives first before you chance your good ones. You could start with a strip of 35mm negatives. Heat it over an open flame (carefully) or the stove, keeping the strip far enough away from the heat source to prevent burning and bubbling of the plastic – not that this would be a bad thing in some cases! While the strip is heating, you can pull on each end with pliers to stretch it. The final product will warp and may need to be printed in a glass negative carrier, or, at least, with a smaller aperture for greater depth of field.




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