Fred Endsley


The term "solarization" is often used mistakenly to describe the "Sabattier Effect". In actuality, solarization is an increase in the exposure of a film to light or radiant energy by 10 to 1000 times the normal amount of exposure (4 to 10 f/stops) which leads to the film becoming lighter rather than darker. In general, there is little or no practical use for this phenomenon in and of itself, although a strong bump in exposure does play a role in the Sabattier Effect. Solarization was mentioned by Louis Daguerre at least as early as 1831, though not by that term.

The Sabattier Effect results in a partial or complete reversal of image tones on either film or paper emulsion, as well as distinctive outlines (known as Mackie lines, after Alexander Mackie who first described them) which border adjacent highlight and shadow areas. It was first discovered in 1862 by Armand Sabattier as a result of an accidental exposure to light during development of a wet collodion plate, producing a partial reversal of tone.

Essentially what happens in solarization, excuse me, Sabattier, is that part way through the development the film or print is exposed to a light source, and then development and other processing is completed. The silver salt crystals which have not already been mostly exposed and oxidized into black silver by the developing chemical, tend to reverse in tonality.

In other words, silver which had not been previously exposed or had little exposure will be greatly exposed and developed darkly, silver which had received a medium amount of exposure and development (the middle tones) will be reversed in tonality, and silver which had previously been mostly exposed and developed (the blacks) will not be affected by reversal much unless the secondary exposure is very great.

In the borders between the original light and dark areas, the unoxidized crystals (being activated by the secondary exposure and subsequent development) react with the already mostly or fully oxidized crystals (largely inactive) to retard development and form the nearly white Mackie lines, which have a crisp halo-like appearance.

Although Sabattier can be a fruitful solution for those looking for a creative means of manipulation while still maintaining the photo mechanical process and unbroken emulsion surface, it takes a good deal of patience and practice in order to gain a controlled skill in using it.

The variables involved include:

Before beginning a description of specific Sabattier methods, it will be helpful to understand some of the general qualifications which tend to lead to success with the process. Prints should be made on as high a contrast paper as possible, the best being Agva Brovira #5. Sabattiers done on low contrast papers tend to be very flat tonally, and the Mackie lines are much less distinct.

Developer should be a medium contrast/medium dilution agent such as Dektol 1:3 or 1:2, and should be kept within the normal photographic temperature range (65 to 72 degrees F.). A test strip should be made to determine the most fully tonal exposure possible on the high-contrast paper.

After the determined exposure has been made on the print to be Sabattiered. It should be developed for approximately half the usual time (enough so that the black have appeared as the image skeleton and have been developed to abut a zone three). This is the most critical stage, as the second exposure must be made before the print has developed much further.

Many workers prefer to make the secondary exposure by quickly turning on and off a light while the print is still in the developer tray. This method eliminates the critical timing problem, however, it adds the problems of the print subsequently developing very quickly and uncontrollably, the tray sides often casting unwanted shadows or reflections, the developing chemical refracting the light source and causing uneven exposure, and the inability of the worker to accurately repeat or work in improving the results. If this method is to be used, I suggest using an incandescent bulb between 25 and 40 watts suspended about 4 feet directly above the developing tray. Length of exposure to it should definitely be very brief, but can only be determined in practice.

A more practical method is to stop or greatly slow down the development prior to the secondary exposure. This can be done rapidly in a number of ways: by immersing the print briefly in a water bath, or very diluted stop bath, or simply by squeegeeing off excess developer, laying the print face-up on a board, piece of plastic or glass, and blotting it dry (this can also be done following immersion in a water or stop bath).

Unless the you want water marks and streaks, the emulsion surface should be free from standing or running liquid before the secondary exposure is made. Thus by stopping the development process, you are freer to take more time and control of the secondary exposure; masks can be applied to hold back exposure selectively, hypo can be hand-applied selectively by brush or Q-tip to prevent future development (also often produces colors- green, yellow, brown, depending on the brand of paper - when it reacts with developer and slightly developed silver), and time can be taken for extensive use of a penlight, etc.

After the secondary exposure has been completed, the print should normally be slid very gently back beneath the surface of the developer, and development should be completed without agitation (as it destroys the formation of the Mackie lines) until the desired state is reached, usually a little less than half the total time for a straight print. Processing can then continue as normal.

There are basically three kinds of Sabattier methods:

1) Overall exposure by a light source or hand directed exposure by penlight

2) Self-masking Sabattier wherein the secondary exposure is projected again through the original transparency (thus photo-mechanically holding back areas of the exposure which correspond to the image being made).

3) Duotone/Self-Masking (a combination of the first two methods) where the self-masking exposure and development is finished by a great deal of overall exposure which results in the coloration of the white areas and little or no change in those areas where darker tonality already exists.

Of course there is room for endless variation, combination, invention, and accident with the Sabattier process. The extensive, and in some cases exclusive, use of the Sabattier by many contemporary workers could very easily lead one to the belief that a viable philosophy and methodology for image-making can be just as well based on the Sabattier effect or other manipulative processes as on the straight, lenticular photographic process.

Sabattier Methods

I. Overall - the process involved in this method has already been dealt with for the most part in the earlier discussion. However, here is a bit more information which can be useful to you.

Next to stopping the development process, the most important consideration is the choice of light source. Again, as with the "in-tray" exposure, the simplest means of Sabattiering is by means of a 25 to 40 watt bulb suspended 4 feet directly above the print. With the development stopped, a test strip for the secondary exposure is easily possible and should definitely be made. More accurate control can be easily achieved using the enlarger as the light source. Remember to remove the negative from the enlarger before initially placing the print in the developer so as to save time later. A good place to start in making the secondary exposure is to close down one f/stop from that of the initial exposure and test strip between 5 and 15 seconds.

Another possibility, though less controllable, is simply to open the darkroom door slightly or carry the half-processed print out into the light trap and let a soft wash of light fall onto the print until a slight fog appears in the highlight areas; then proceed with final developing and other processing.

A penlight can be very useful in making overall or more directed exposures. Most penlights have too bright and wide a beam to be of much use; also, the filament is usually so bright that it appears in the exposure. However, by covering the bulb-end of the penlight with tinfoil held on by tape, and poking a clean pin hole through the foil, the penlight can become entirely useful, for long-distance overall exposures, close-in selective exposure work, and light drawing or writing. Again, when a slight fog is visible in the highlights, an adequate secondary exposure has been made which will increase in the final development.

Overall secondary exposures are the only practical way to Sabattier film. It is a good idea to work from the original transparency onto ortho film or fine grain-positive film. The results can later be contacted back to a negative state if necessary. This not only saves the original negative from being ruined if matters go badly, but also permits working under a safelight. Use Dektol at 1:4 and test strip for best possible tonality with a five minute development.

After establishing this, make the exposure, develop for three minutes, and rinse in running water; remove negative from the enlarger and expose partially developed film at the same f/stop but only half the time of the initial exposure. Continue development without agitation for two more minutes, rinse and fix normally. In general, a longer second development and a correspondingly shorter first development tends to produce a greater reversal of image tone.

By taking the resulting Sabattier transparency out two or three more generations through contact printing, you may eliminate detail until only the Mackie lines remain; this can be very helpful in putting outlines into silkscreens, gumprints, etchings, etc.

NOTE: When making the secondary exposure under the enlarger, be careful not to spill chemicals onto the enlarger as it will corrode the metal parts. Also do not lay chemically saturated paper or film onto either easel or baseboard.

II. Self-Masking - The most prominent characteristic of the overall method of Sabattiering is that all the light areas of the print are re-exposed and reversed so that the result is an image that is normally completely dark except for the Mackie lines. In the "self-masking" method, the secondary exposure is made in registration with the original exposure through the enlarged projection of the original negative. Thus, it is mechanically possible to hold back light areas (in controllable degree) corresponding the "real tonality " of the image. This allows for more image contrast, highly surreal skin and other superficial tonalities, and a great deal of control in manipulating the surface while still maintaining "image believability".

There are many methods of self-masking Sabattiering ; the simplest is the re-exposure through the original negative. Some preparation must be made before beginning the process. First, use a piece of glass or plastic for the base board instead of an easel. Soak a piece of the high-contrast paper to be used in water for two minutes; remove and squeegee (the number of times you squeegee the print should be kept consistent as each squeegee will stretch the saturated paper more, and registration will become less possible).

Place the saturated and squeegeed (thus stretched) paper on the glass; sponge all excess moisture from the surface, and lay down several layers of tape (masking) tightly around at least two edges of the paper. This edge border will save time and greatly aid in quickly registering the image for the secondary exposure. Secondly, arrange the enlarger so that a safe red filter can easily be moved between the projection and the paper (this is within the projection of the enlarger image). Finally, organize your working area and materials (squeegee board, sponge, red filter system, dodging and burning tools, other masks to be used, etc.) so that the process can be carried out as efficiently and quickly as possible before excess development of the primary image has taken place.

Begin the process by test stripping to establish the best possible tonality on the high-contrast paper. Lay the paper on the glass, fitting it up against the tape borders (if the paper edges curl too much, it will help to hold down the corners with doubled-up tape, although this should be removed before attempting to lay down the wet paper for the second exposure), then make the correct exposure doing whatever dodging and burning or masking is necessary. Areas that are dodged or masked during primary exposure will come out much darker (unless also dodged) during secondary exposure; areas that normally expose darkly or are burned in during the primary exposure will need more secondary exposure in order to reverse.

Before beginning development, check your initial f/stop and remember it, open the aperture all the way, and move the red filter into place. If you don't open up the aperture, you will not be able to see the projected image through the red filter well enough to register it, and if you don't keep track of the initial f/stop setting, you will have no basis for determining the secondary exposure. Doing all this before initial development will save you time later when it is more critical and will also keep you from handling the enlarger as much with chemicals on your hands.

Develop the initial exposure to a little under half-way (1 minute, 15 seconds). Stop development by a quick immersion in water or very diluted or exhausted stop bath. Squeegee print (in accordance with your consistent pre-determination - twice should suffice and won't stretch the paper too much), and place back into the tape border on your glass baseboard; sponge the surface to remove excess liquid unless you want streaking or uneveness (this can be enhanced by moving surface moisture around directionally and locally by brush, sponge, etc.). The print should now be in fairly good register, unless it has been stretched too much or the glass baseboard has

gotten moved accidentally. To check on and finalize registration, turn on the enlarger (with red filter) and move the glass until desired registration, or un-registration is achieved.

NOTE: All papers will stretch somewhat when wet, especially in the direction of the squeegeeing, (although the amount of stretch varies with different brands of paper), so that perfect registration is impossible; therefore, the best idea seems to be to register what seems to be important to have in registration, and let the rest be slightly out. Also, if you have trouble seeing the projected image through the red filter, you may need to turn out the room safe-light during the registration process.

The above steps should be done as quickly as possible and it may take you several attempts to get all the movements working efficiently. After registration is complete, turn off the enlarger and remove the red filter. Recall the f/stop of the initial exposure as well as the length, and make the secondary exposure on that basis and toward the desired effect.

NOTE: secondary exposures should be short, otherwise the print will develop during the exposure and turn out somewhat flat; anything over 25 to 30 seconds is too long and should be shortened by opening the aperture.

For a subtle Sabattier, the secondary exposure should be somewhere around 1 and 1 1/2 times the initial exposure; to shorten it, I recommend opening up one f/stop from the initial setting and exposing for about 2/3 the initial time. To maintain very smooth and surreal skin tones, etc., I recommend using the above exposures, but dodging the skin areas for about 2/3 of the initial exposure, and then opening the aperture two or more stops and keeping the same time for the secondary exposure.

In order to fill in "stubborn white areas", a 1 to 2 second exposure with the aperture closed all the way and no negative in the enlarger can be made after the major secondary exposure. Penlight can also be used during and after the secondary exposure.

Development is continued by sliding type print gently back into the developer tray and processed without agitation (so as not to destroy Mackie lines) for about 1 and 1/2 minutes or until desired state is reached. Other processing is then as normal.

Self-masking by Paper Positive - This variation is much the same except that it is done by contacting through a pre-made print, and produces a "negative Sabattier". Whereas in the first method the information projected through the negative is the same in both exposures and produces positive results, in this process the initial exposure is made through the projected negative, and the secondary exposure is made through a pre-made identical print by contact printing; thus the result is exposure in both the positive and negative areas, and reversal occurs only where the information overlaps (in the middle grey areas).

Begin by test stripping, and then making a fully processed good print (should be on single-weight paper and could even be on lower contrast paper so as to include more detail). Make sure that, whatever easel or baseboard set-up you use, you can repeat the image projection onto the exact same place on successive pieces of paper, otherwise your registration will necessarily be off. Keep this first processed print wet; meanwhile, after test stripping for high-contrast paper, make a good exposure onto a fresh piece, develop half way, stop development with water, but do not squeegee.

Contact your pre-made print face-up with the new, half-processed print so that both are face-up and the edges of both are even; this should put them into good register (if they are both exposed in the same place on the papers). Squeegee them together tightly onto a piece of glass and expose under the enlarger with fully opened aperture and no negative for 30 to 60 seconds (a test strip at this point might be necessary). Then continue development and normal processing of the Sabattiered print.

This process is attractive not only because it mechanically Sabattiers a different part of the image, but also because masking bleaching, and other tonal changes can be done very concisely and unhurriedly to the paper positive before making the secondary exposure.

Incremental Self-masking Exposures - The main problem I've found with regular self-masking Sabattiers is there is too much hustling and bustling around the darkroom, and too many variables, accidents, and inconsistencies which result in waste of time, energy, and expensive materials . This process, while producing a different visual result, seems to give a great deal more control over all these problems, as well as being a more relaxed activity.

After the intended projection has been lined up on the "tape-edged, glass baseboard," the high contrast paper is pre-soaked for three minutes until fully saturated in developer (this occurs before any image has been exposed onto the paper). Then the paper is squeegeed (not stopped in any way), placed into position on the glass, and the surface is sponged quite dry. The first exposure is usually made at about f/8 or f/11 for 10 to 20 seconds, depending on the size of the projection and the negative density.

At any rate, it must be enough to bring up the first set of blacks (the skeleton again), which usually takes 1 and1/2 to 2 minutes. If they come up much sooner or later than this the exposure has been too much or too little, and should be rectified in the next attempt. When the blacks are established, open up one f/stop and expose for the same length of time; this will reverse the blacks and bring up the next set of dark greys (takes about 2 minutes). This should be repeated at least 2 times more, each time opening the aperture 1 stop, and each time waiting about 2 minutes for the newly exposed silver to crystallize and the earlier exposure to reverse.

After 3-4 cycles of incremental exposure and development, most of the tonality should be visible. You now have a choice of putting the print back into developer which will more fully develop and reverse the silver, or directly fixing the print which will maintain the image as is (milky), or making a "Duotone" exposure which will fill in the white areas with a brownish tonality if plunged directly into fixer or will darken and reverse everything considerably (and quickly) if put into developer again. After this stage complete processing normally.

III. Duotone - This is a very simple secondary exposure process which works well in combination with other Sabattiers or "straight exposures". It consists of exposing the print after all other development has been completed and stopped, to a great exposure to light, either by bare bulb, photo flood, strobe, etc. This results in the

white or very light areas of the image turning brown, green, red, yellow, etc. (depending on the brand of paper and the type of light used) while the rest of the image is hardly affected.

Normally after making a Duotone exposure, the print is put directly into the fixer which further modifies this coloration. However, the print can be put very briefly into developer (or it can be painted on locally) if darkness is desired. When dry, this coloration will flatten out somewhat, but it can be made a little more pleasing by toning; the toning will affect the Duotone exposure and the normal or other Sabattiered exposure quite differently, further emphasizing the tonal difference.

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