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Tuscany, Italy, 1994
Minolta Dynax 7, 100-300mm f4 lens, Agfapan APX 100
1/125 second @ f8, ISO 100, hand-held, no filter

Texture screens were a way for darkroom workers to add another dimension to their prints. My favourite texture design was called craqueline and resembled the cracked effect found on old oil paintings. Today there’s a Photoshop filter which bears a poor resemblance to my old texture screen.

I can’t remember who made the texture screens, but they were purchased by mail order from an advertisement in an American photography magazine. Paterson, who made printing and development equipment, also made texture screens, but they were only for contact with the negative, not the print. I preferred the larger texture screens that were in contact with the final print.

To produce a print from a negative, you needed an enlarger. An enlarger was a light source on a column. You put the negative underneath the light source and above the enlarging lens. The higher the negative was above the enlarging paper below, the larger the size of the image on the print – it was an ‘enlarger’.

There were two ways you could create a print with a texture screen effect. A small texture screen (the same size as the negative) was sandwiched with the negative and placed in the enlarger. You could sandwich all types of screens or even other negatives. The problem if the texture screen was in place for the entire exposure, was that you had little control over how strong the texture effect was. The only solution was to make your own textures with different densities (opacities).

One option was to expose the paper twice, once with the negative, and a second exposure with just the texture screen. This allowed you to separately control the intensity of the texture screen over the negative. However, the bigger the print, the bigger the texture and I didn’t like that. I preferred to have textures that were sized in relation to the final print, not enlarged with the negative.

The ‘contact’ texture screens I used allowed me to make 16x12” (40x30 cm) prints, but importantly, I could control their intensity by removing them from the print part way through the exposure. We essentially do the same now in Photoshop by using the opacity slider. Texture screens required additional effort and subsequently were not commonly used. You could almost be guaranteed an extra few points in a print competition if you used an appropriate texture screen.

The ‘Two Tuscan Trees’ was an enlarged section of a negative with a copper tone, a texture screen and a ‘definite’ vignette – it scored a Gold Award in the 1995 Australian Professional Photography Awards.

When digital began, texture screens became very popular with portrait and wedding photographers, so much so that it seemed every second portrait entered into the professional photography awards had a texture screen! You could even buy sets of different textures and Photoshop actions to put them in place. This, for me, was the death of texture screens. They were so common, they became cliché. Even so, I still have a soft spot for a well executed texture screen, although today I rarely use them myself.

But perhaps that will change.

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