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Deliberately scratching negative

Stuart Grant , May 10, 2004; 08:31 a.m.

I have recently printed a pair of colour negatives to produce black and white images (very pleased with the results using a 5 filter on Variable contrast Ilford MG). Unfortunately the slightly better image, that has the composition that I preferred, is scratched in a few places. I know that I would be able to spot these on any finished prints, but it would be alot of effort (perhaps too much effort when the other negative (unscratched) has already given me a very good print).

As the two images are on different negative strips, I was thinking of deliberately scratching the already scratched negative, which combined with the slightly sepia effect of the colour neg on variable contrast paper, might make an interesting atmospheric print - the scratches enhancing the mood rather than distracting like at present.

Has anyone out there deliberately scratched negatives, specifically colour negs before? if so, what technique/instrument did you use? and what pattern of scratching worked best for you? Any posted examples to see the scratch pattern to aim for or for comparison would be very useful.

Thanks in Advance



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Walt Donovan , May 10, 2004; 09:10 a.m.

I've done this with B/W negs where I wanted an ancient look. Put them on a concrete floor and walked on them, stuff like that. Make a few copies before trashing your only negative.

Lex Jenkins , May 10, 2004; 10:47 a.m.

Take a look at Emil Schildt's work along these lines and prepare to be awed and inspired. I am very hard to impress and stingy with such gushing praise but the guy consistently produces amazing work with deliberately damaged negatives. Here's his photo.net folder:


Be sure to click on the link to his personal website too.

I hadn't ever planned to try such stuff myself but last year some otherwise excellent negatives were essentially ruined when sediment from our rural wellwater stuck to the emulsion. There's too much of it to spot out in prints and it can't be removed without further damage. One of these days I'm going to get up the courage to just destroy those babies (I think that's Emil's term for his technique) and see what happens.

Alexis Neel , May 10, 2004; 12:44 p.m.

Its very easy, but a lot depends on how you want those scratches to look. The person Lex spoke of has nice work, but to me, the scratches are to "planned" and very dilberate, concentrating on parts of the negative to enhance his own desire for that image. While there is nothing wrong with that, and they work for his images, it looks too contrived.

As another poster said, before you do, make a few prints before continuing.

What I did for a client was take the neg out onto a concrete sidewalk, that had about the normal texture you'd find on any main street USA and gently put my foot on it and pushed a little, pulled back a little, and twisted a little, all with light pressure. You can always add more scratches, but can't take them off. Do a little, make a quick RC to see how it works, then add more if desired. Its all subjective, anyway.


Lex Jenkins , May 10, 2004; 01:43 p.m.

Alexis, I had to delete your logo/website link. For the first time I experienced the problem others have remarked on - when I clicked on the "Contribute an answer" box, instead of functioning as intended, a new browser window opened and I was redirected to your website. I'm not sure what the answer is but we'll have to figure out some way to avoid this problem.

As for Emil's work, I can understand what you say. It is somewhat structured within the appearance of chaos. In that sense it's almost like a Pollock painting - after some study, not quite as chaotic and random as it seems at first.

Alexis Neel , May 10, 2004; 02:58 p.m.

I was wondering :P Sorry if it was a problem. It is html code for sure, but should only open a new browser window when you click on the logo. There may be something wrong on the server side. Let me know when, and if, I can use it again. Again, I'm sorry and it wasn't my intention for it to do that.

Stuart, here is the image I was talking about...that I scratched on purpose. The original was boring by itself, IMO, and I talked the photographer, Ernie Friedlander, to let me destroy his neg. Needless to say, he was very apprehensive.

Hope this gives an idea as to what you can do.



"Bat" Enie Friedlander copyright1997

Carl Smith , May 10, 2004; 11:29 p.m.

Lex's suggestion to check out Emil's work echoes my opinion. He continues to fascinate me with the photographs he produces. However today I found someone else with equally interesting approaches to producing some fascinating images.

There's quite a few remarkable artists who contribute some unusual things to this site.

Steve Swinehart , May 11, 2004; 12:05 a.m.


I've done that with transparencies and with black and white negatives. You can also make an unsharp mask and work on the mask in addition to working on the original film. I've added blobs of rubber cement to the backing side on film to diffuse and defocus the image.

I use a variety of tools. Mostly etching tools and a pounce wheel. I've also used small detail sanding tools to add ragged borders to images by sanding off the emulsion. If you work on the emulsion side, you'll get a variety of colored scratches with color film and a color print. If you work on the backing side you'll get white scratches. I've also used retouching dyes on the emulsion side to add color to scratches and "improve" the color in the final print.

Lastly, you might want to try putting a piece of glass over the paper when you make the print. You can add wetted tissue paper in areas, petroleum jelly, ink, etc. All will give you different effects.

Lex Jenkins , May 11, 2004; 04:53 a.m.

Carl: Yup, Emil's work makes me want to either throw my cameras away and take up painting again... or break all of his fingers 'til I can catch up with his talent.

Alexis: I suspect you're right that the bug between your logo/link and photo.net lies on the photo.net side.

Stuart Grant , May 11, 2004; 07:29 a.m.

Thanks for all the responses and for bring to my attention Emil Schildt's work. Those images are amazing. I think the scratching in his images is a bit too deliberate-looking for the image I had in mind. Alexis - your image is closer to the effect I was after maybe with a little more around the borders (It certainly adds to the atmosphere of the print)

I think there may be a few more factors to scratches than I had appreciated, so I have another question: will the colour of the scratch on the final image vary depending on whether the scratch is made on the emulsion (matt) side or the backing (glossy) side? Interested in answers for both colour and B&W negs?

Also, has anyone ever created a mask using overexposed and developed neg strip (or frame of completely white subject), that has been deliberately scratched to either be sandwiched with another neg or printed over the print from another neg to give a composite distressed look? I'm guessing if this was successful, this would be a good way of achieving the same result without "destroying" the original neg, and could also be applied to any other neg or my choosing. Would it also be possible to use this same idea to produce the filed out neg carrier look?

Many Thanks


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