Soviet Photographic Paper Experience

After my recent experience with West German (Agfa) photo-paper from the 1950's I decided to try some paper from the Soviet Union from 1959. This was not initially out of interest in the Cold War but the insights were hard to ignore.

The paper arrived from Lithuania in an un-opened package. The seller was kind enough to translate a  little for me.
Photo-paper, unibrom
especially glossy
white cardboard
contrasting N4
made in 1959
 I presumed this to mean a Silver Bromide emulsion with a fairly high contrast assuming a numbering system similar to what we are used to in the West.  

Photo paper packet.
Armed with this I looked for a low contrast negative. After scanning, in Photoshop the negative looks like this.

Original photo
I then ran a test strip. The test strip got me about 8 seconds at f8 on my enlarger. I then exposed the Soviet paper at 8 seconds and developed as below... 
2 minute Ilford Universal PQ (1+9)
20 seconds stop
5 minute Ilford Rapid Fix (1+9)
30 minute wash

with the following result.
f8 at 8 seconds
Great news the paper still works. There is a little yellowing or color cast to the paper. A little too light I tell myself. So I next exposed a sheet at 16 seconds with this result.

f8 at 16 seconds
This time too dark. Also clearly the contrast is an issue. Examination of the negative reveals it to be quite thin. This could impact the results. Also I think that the paper may not be high contrast either by design (what does n4 mean?) or with age. Also the paper itself is not crisply white which impacts contrast as well. Once again either by design or with age. The paper is coated with a whitening agent as indicated by a scan of the back which shows significantly more yellowing.
Back of photo paper (ignore hair!)
Also the paper is of poor quality in term so fiber and looks to be wood pulp and not archival. The texture of the paper is also evident on the front of the print by zooming in on the scan and increasing contrast a pattern from the paper making process emerges. This probably impacts the contrast as well. (Also the back of the paper shows no brand or watermark which I take to be the result of a state owned enterprise with no need to create or reflect a brand.)  

Zoom showing paper pattern and perhaps thin emulsion areas.
USSR vs West Germany
The next test was an apples and apples comparison between the Agfa paper and the Soviet paper. Here I chose a denser negative with higher contrast and used the same enlarger setup and developing for the comparison only varying the exposure time.

Here is the scanned negative adjusted in Photoshop.
Original Photo

First the test strips...
Agfa Test Strip (exposure in seconds)
USSR Test Strip (exposure in seconds)
In each case I chose 32 seconds for my first prints.

Agfa Paper f8 32 seconds
The Agfa result was good. Very constrasty and pick up most of the detail except in the deepest shadows. A second print a half a stop lighter might reveal more detail in the shadows if desired.
Soviet Paper f8 at 32 seconds
 The Soviet paper is again flat and lacks contrast but shows all the detail. Again not sure if this is the paper property or the result of age. I also tried 64 seconds below but it doesn't really improve things.

I bought a second pack (unopened) of paper from the USSR. This was made in 1989 and I tried printing from it. Like all the above paper is is curled on the edges in the package. This paper was 5x7 in size.

USSR photo paper

I made a test strip.
Test Strip
I chose 32 seconds as the best exposure and made a print. The first photo is the same negative as used above. It shows great detail and range  and is clearly a high contrast paper.
Same photo as show on other papers. 
I also made another print again at 32 seconds.

f8 at 32 seconds

Curious about the Soviet paper I did some reading about photography in the Soviet Union. It went through some rather dramatic changes over the years since the revolution. The highlights I gleaned were...
1917-Post Revolution/Civil War-period of economic chaos and lack of materials and money. Not much happened.

1920s New Economic Program-Brought in small free enterprise that saw imports of photography materials and equipment. A brief flourishing of amateur photographic activity. Photo Circles (or clubs) were formed primarily out of trade unions. Photography was seen as a tool of education and enlightenment and part of the necessary technical expansion of the nation.
1928 First 5 year plan- Now photography seems to be understood to be a tool propaganda. Photography for art or personal purposes was downplayed with the proper use to be to glorify the worker and the revolution. Eventually photography would be only practiced by professionals working for the state.

1930s Stalin Terror-Further restrictions on photography as an amateur pursuit. Close control of its uses and proper application and themes.

1940 WWII- A period of shortage saw further shrinkage of photography as an individual activity to probably a standstill.

1950's Stalin Thaw- Resurgence in photography and a broader expansion of amateur as well as professional activities. This corresponds to the period this paper represents. 

1 comment:

xczk said...

Unibrom is(was) not "Silver Bromide emulsion" stuff, but it is fast Fast Chlorobromide Paper, originally has neutral tone.
Soviet classical bromide paper was Bromexpress (Бромэкcпресс) -- more colder and very fast.

Bromexpress-2 was RC based paper.