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Over fixing film... causes strange problems?

Chris -- , Nov 22, 1998; 01:38 a.m.

A friend of mine who is very new to photography had a little accident in the darkroom today. He pushed his 400 T-max to 1600, rinsed the film, then put the film in very old fixer that barely worked. I came into the darkroom as his film was washing after the fix and discovered horribly purple negs. I immediately mixed new fix, Kodak fixer with hardener, and put his film in that. (Note: first fixer was without the hardener.) He then let his film sit in the fixer with hardener for 5 hours while he went to a football game. In explaining the darkroom steps to him as a newbie, I told him that that if he left his film in developer too long that it would have negative consequences, but he could not over-fix his film by leaving it in fixer too long. So when I discovered his film still in the fixer I washed it well and dried it. He now has very strange negatives. It appears that the fixer may have bleached the negs? The Kodak text at the top of the negs is black at the edges of the letters, but near clear in the middle of the letters. The images have the same odd look to them, as if someone outlined all the edges. Could this be a result of the first fixer accident (Old fixer, purple negs) or the second one (new fixer used for 5 hours)? I doubt anyone else has been so stupid as to duplicate this mistake, but can anyone make a logical guess as to what happened? I doubt there is any hope in saving these images, but I would like to understand what happened and try to explain to my clueless photo friend. Thanks for your help!


Dan Smith , Nov 22, 1998; 10:07 a.m.

The purple comes off Tmax films with a decent rinse. Unless the negs were cloudy you probably did not need to re-fix. Leaving them in the fix for along time allows the acid to eat away the emulsion, and yes, it will do strange things to the negs.

Since they are a lost cause now, print from them and see how the images look. Maybe your darkroom accident can be turned into a new tool for creativity with a bit of experimentation.

M. Huber , Nov 22, 1998; 06:37 p.m.

I like Dan's idea to print them anyway and see what happens.

J. Law , Nov 22, 1998; 10:01 p.m.

I've read in several books that overfixing negs will cause a bleaching effect. It sounds like it might have even produced a sabattier effect in them, but it should be interesting to print them. It sounds like a lost cause to try to retrieve them.

Hope this helps.

Victor Podinovski , Nov 23, 1998; 03:57 a.m.

Chris, what you describe does not seem strange to me. You may get a similar effect with black and white photographic papers.

As you say, the fixer was very old and caused pink colour in the negatives. My guess is that this was caused not by the fixer but by the developer that contaminated the fixer. The developer itself does not last long. If you use developer, leave it exposed to the air in an open tank afterwards and use it the next day, chances are you will get ugly purple prints. The same happens with the developer that you bring with your film/paper into the fixer. Acid fixers are better in this respect than neutral but both types will not last too long once contaminated with used developer.

Bleaching the negs is another story. Fixers in fact can and will wash away metal silver cristals slowly over time. This is described in many books, especially old. I have never experienced this as I have never left a film/print in fixer for so long. Another problem in your case could be that the old fixer converted silver back to salts. These were easily washed away by the fresh fixer.

By the way, are you sure that the developer was OK?

Alan Gibson , Nov 23, 1998; 09:11 a.m.

If the negs came out of the first fixer "horribly purple", they were probably insufficiently fixed, and you were right to re-fix. If they were cloudy, they were certainly insufficiently fixed. Hardener only protects against physical abrasion while the negs are still wet.

Over-fixing will cause bleaching, and it does sound interesting in this case. I wonder if these effects are controllable?

Over-fixing might also give the same effect as over-washing: the emulsion just floats off. This has happened to me when a hundred prints were in the wash and I went down with food-poisoning. I recovered the next day, and had to re-print them all. However, it doesn't sound as if you have had this problem.

Tim Brown , Nov 23, 1998; 09:48 a.m.

Leaving film or prints in rapid fixer will bleach the image. The edge effects were probably due to the lack of agitation for 5 hours. Using the two bath fixing technique will do a better job and extend the capacity of the fixer. Do a search or email me for details on two bath fixing.

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