Words and pictures Heather Powell
Uneven development is something that you may have already come across albeit indirectly. The most common form tends to happen accidentally when photographic paper is dipped into developer in stages and is not agitated sufficiently.
In saying this, it would suggest that this is a definite photographic no no, but uneven development can also be a very simple, but highly effective, darkroom technique that's capable of producing visually exciting and interesting images.
There are various ways that you can applied developer to the paper. Dabbing or dribbling developer over the exposed paper instead of evenly development of the image in a tray is the most common method. The developer, which can either be used concentrated or diluted, as recommended, can be applied with a range of simple tools. Brushes, bottle spray or a sponge are the more obvious applicators, although there are no set rules for this technique and you are only limited by your imagination. (see our suggestions at the end of this article)
The method for this technique is as follows:
1 Make a test strip for your chosen image.
2 Process in the regular way - using trays.
3 When you have decided on the time, expose your paper as though making a normal print.
4 Apply the developer in your chosen way with the relevant tools (see below for examples).
5 Rinse in stop bath for one minute.
6 Fix as normal.
In order for the affected areas of emulsion to fully develop, continuous application of developer is required. By using concentrated solution, this will happen quicker than using diluted liquid. It's also worth using the developer at a higher temperature too, to speed up the process.
The more irregular and coarse the application of developer, the more the image will become abstract so you have complete control over the look of your final image.
Uneven development is a technique that can be applied to any paper type and surface finish.
For the best results, work on a flat, non-absorbent surface, which can be tilted, if needed. It is best to work close to a safelight, positioned so that the distribution of developer can be seen. Remember that even with concentrated developer, you must allow long enough for the treated areas to fully develop. It is possible to treat extra areas with developer after the first ones have started to develop.
Using a Paint Brush
Painting the developer on with a brush produced the print below. Concentrated developer was used on exposed 5x7in paper. To achieve this effect, load a brush with developer and apply it in one continuous movement. Leave the paper flat to fully develop then place in the stop bath and fixer. Wash and dry.
Using a Scrubbing Brush
Dip a scrubbing brush in developer. Move it back and forward across the paper once to produce the effect illustrated. Care must be taken not to scratch the emulsion or black abrasion marks will appear on the print.
Using a Spray
The splatter effect (illustrated above) was made by applying concentrated developer with a spray gun. Other variations on this are possible. Spray the paper lightly and then squirt extra developer in a rough criss cross pattern. By pouring developer from a height (around 60cm recommended) you will get a puddle effect (shown below).
Other application tools you could try
These haven't been used but will give you ideas to try. Pipette, sponge, deeply textured paper or material, scrunched up rag, potato (old fashioned kids printing) old calligraphy pen loaded with developer. Blow it across the surface using a straw to blow developer from the edge of paper (do not inhale!)
Before you begin, it is a good idea to practice your spray distance and angle on scrap paper to find the best pattern of droplets.