Plant-based photographic film developers

Ilford HP5 400 developed in star anise developer

Curious about the reasons for the success of well-known alternative film developer, Caffenol, I researched the chemistry and surmised that almost any plant matter should work in place of the coffee demanded by Caffenol recipes.

During The Sustainable Darkroom residency at Guest Projects in April 2020, I tested a number of plant-based developers using fresh and dried plants and spices. Working from a standard Caffenol recipe of coffee, vitamin C and washing soda, I experimented with different recipes and developing times and temperatures.

In addition to a control test with only water, vitamin C and washing soda, tests were made with dried hibiscus flowers, dried and fresh thyme, star anise and gorse flowers. Although theoretically any plant matter should result in successful development, the quality of results varied significantly. Star anise and gorse flowers gave the most satisfying results.

I often feel that photographic theory focuses excessively on the subjects of photographs at the expense of their materiality. This ongoing project is a small gesture in that general direction.

Ilford HP5 400 developed in gorse flower developer

Ilford HP5 400 developed in dried thyme developer

Ilford HP5 400 developed in dried hibiscus flower developer

Further Projects