Optical Brightening Agents

I have always tried to buy paper with low or no OBAs (optical brightening agents), for longevity and environmental reasons. This is not always easy as most photo papers contain them and do not necessarily list their inclusion on their packaging.  I would like to share just a little information on why it is a good idea to go OBA-free and how you can do it.  I would love for this to become a bigger issue for photographers who are trying to be environmentally responsible, and indeed for all photographers.

OBAs and the Environment

In terms of environmental impacts, know that these are chemically based, fluorescent dyes.  Some information about their constitution can be found on Wikipdedia under “Paper chemicals“.  An article specifically dealing with the negative environmental effects of OBAs can be found on Mother Earth Living.  There’s lots there, but to give you a taste:

“No, these optical brighteners won’t heighten the color of your world. Quite the opposite. They are proven toxic to fish and animals. Their negative affect on water quality is immeasurable. These chemicals are bioaccumulative, meaning they stick together to form sludge in high concentration, killing aquatic life and even causing mutations in bacterial cells adding to the problem of resistant bacteria. According to a report by the European Ecolabel Commission on criteria for laundry detergents in 2011, “as optical brighteners undergo photo degradation, numerous metabolites may be produced that are not yet identified, which means we may not know the true potential impacts upon the environment.”

OBAs and Photo Print Stability

There is a great article on the pros and cons of OBAs (optical brightening agents) on the Aardenburg Imaging & Archives site, here.  The article deals with OBAs and aging prints and basically suggests steering clear of them as much as possible.  Some points in brief:

“The use of optical brightening agents (OBAs) in photo papers and fine art print papers is fascinating. OBAs are also sometimes referred to as fluorescent whitening agents (FWAs). OBAs are mostly colorless compounds that paper and pulp manufacturers add to enhance paper brightness and whiteness. They work by absorbing invisible ultraviolet energy and re-emitting a portion of this energy as visible light in the blue wavelength region of the spectrum.

The consumer is given print display life estimates that essentially ignore any early stage degradation of OBAs. Yet loss of OBA fluorescence is a loss of one of the key paper attributes that attracts people to choose a particular paper in the first place.

OBAs can often be found in the image receiving layer, in the paper core, in anti-curl layers on the back side of the paper, and in combinations of these regions.

OBAs are certainly not new.  They have been incorporated in traditional photo papers and conservation mats and mount boards for many decades.  Consumers have been conditioned to expect “whiter than white” clothing from the OBAs present in most laundry detergents.

OBAs can pose particular challenges to building ICC color profiles and generally cause color profiling inaccuracies.

OBAs are dyes, and like other dyes, they are more prone to fading than pigments.  For artists who are concerned with print longevity and who want future generations to see faithfully what they saw when the print was made, OBAs may not be as stable as the other materials they have chosen.

Eliminating OBAs from the materials list removes one more variable in the print aging equation.”

Going OBA Free

As I mentioned at the outset, it is not easy to find papers without any OBAs, but here are a few options that I use – 100% cotton papers with lustre finishes:

Museo, Silver Rag: I love this paper.  Love it.  I used it for years.  I love the warm colour rendering.  I love the smell.  I love the feel.  The down side?  It scratches really easily and more importantly, it has become very hard to find, at least in Toronto.

Canson Infinity, Platine Fibre Rag: This is my newest paper discovery.  It is a sold paper, period.  The icc profiles are good.  The paper is heavy (as with most cotton papers), has a lovely texture and has yet to give me any trouble.

Hahnemuhle Photo Rag Pearl: I’ve gotten a bit wary of Hahnemuhle papers in general, after having some major problems with colour rendering.  Somehow the icc profiles for a couple of their papers have become… off, with my printer set-up.  I have been in touch with Hahnemuhle, re-installed the profiles and tried multiple fixes, but to no avail.  This has put Hahnemuhle’s Photo Rag Baryta and Bamboo out of commission in my studio, at least for the time being.  While the Photo Rag Pearl still works and is a lovely paper, I still feel a little uneasy reaching for the box.  I would encourage others to use it though, as my issues do not seem to represent a trend.  Hahnemuhle has been good enough as to provide their own thoughts on OBAs, which can be found here.

Best of luck in your endeavors.  Your feedback, further incite and suggestions are most welcome.

Published in: on April 11, 2013 at 4:12 am  Leave a Comment  

Revival of a heavy heart – sustainability and photography

Maybe this will be my 1st bloggy blog post ever.  I was trying before to be professional, informational, to catalogue information about how I and other photographers could do photography in sustainable ways – sustainable for the environment.  Very good information.  The trouble is, sustaining a livelihood with photography is SO hard to do, that taking time out to research, re-post and write up this information – when it can be found other places – has not seemed viable to me lately (lately = since my son was born).  I have been in business for 10 years now!  Not always full time, not without births and deaths and life taking chunks out of my working life.  But 10 years!  A long time.  And I have tried so many avenues and so consistently come up with not nearly enough to show for it – financially.  I have been reluctant to get personal, and to be honest I have been very reluctant to make mistakes.  But I start to believe that blundering towards success may be my only path.  This is a tricky notion for an almost-perfectionist.  I don’t want to blunder.  I want to work hard and have things come out of the dug-out looking polished, artful, showing character, smart and a little bit funny, eye-catching and timeless.

A self-employed friend once shared with me something she’d been told in a business course.  It was something like, “Having a great website will not pay your rent,” only more well put (more well put?  better put?).  I can’t tell you how many hours and how much money I have invested in my website.  My website has very low traffic.  I designed my website myself and had it custom built.  I love it.  I usually feel there is something that could be tweaked a little, but generally speaking I am very pleased with it.  It gives me a warm, personal, me feeling.  I spend time looking at it.  I have spent very little time, relatively, promoting it.  How much is my satisfaction worth?  My programmer’s partner, a photographic artist, recently complimented the site.  She had obviously spent some time looking at it and clearly appreciated it.  How much is that worth?  –> Not nothing.  But not enough.

I have worked for free and felt good.  This is not sustainable.  I have worked for cheap and felt bad.  Not sustainable.  I have quoted higher and gotten jobs – that’s more like it!  And I have quoted higher (and by higher I mean fair wages, not Annie Liebowitz rates, not even as high as industry standards much of the time) and not gotten jobs.  I have sold my fine art work cheap and felt good and I have priced my work a little closer to professional artist/gallery rates and had trouble selling.  I have watched many of my colleagues (the ones who don’t shoot weddings) leave their photo businesses behind.  I have been told to stick it out and with time it will happen.  But how much time?

I created a new business plan (of sorts) a month or so ago.  In it I stated that this would be my year.  I made goals for myself, listed and outlined various projects to complete, proposed a budget and a way to make it happen.  Implied in the plan is also the idea that if this is not my year, it might be time to reconsider pretty seriously.  It sucks to have to consider at a time when I have gained so much confidence in my craft.  I am good at the craft of photography, even the art of photography, and people I respect – especially photographers I respect – have helped me to feel this way – to believe it.  So all the more frustrating to continue to be faced with the question of whether it’s time to look for another job.  Or?  Alternately, I can look at it this way: I have come far in my craft, but I have not managed to figure out a very useful marketing strategy.  If I can work on that and make that happen, perhaps the rest will (finally) follow.

But it’s hard to not feel daunted.  It’s hard to not feel daunted when a former teacher tells me that photographer’s wages have not increased since the 70s.  It’s hard to not feel daunted when I spend more to be environmentally friendly and charge less than I should and have would-be clients who still can’t afford my work.  But of course, I guess they’re right when they say the clients are out there.  They just need to know that I am as well.  They need to know who I am, that I am out there, that I will serve their purposes.  And they need to remember that in the moment they need a photographer.  A challenging business for a shy anti-capitalist.  But somehow, I suppose, it must be done.

Published in: on April 11, 2013 at 3:32 am  Comments (2)  

Blog Revival

My poor neglected blog.  Such lofty aspirations I had for you and now years have gone by with barely a whisper.  Parenthood will do that to a would-be blogger I guess.  But not forever – not just yet anyhow.  I’m up for another try.  Maybe I have a few things to say after all…

Published in: on April 11, 2013 at 2:42 am  Leave a Comment  

Editioning Photographs

This doesn’t relate to the environment in any direct way, but I think it’s important and hard information to come by.  This week-end I will be working my first juried art fair (the Riverdale Art Walk in Toronto).  In preparation I have been going through my inventory of fine art prints and cataloguing them, editioning and entering everything into a spreadsheet.  The spreadsheet includes lots of good info including title, file name, description, date printed, size, paper, purchase info and edition.  This has been a very fulfilling process (I love structure and organization) but the editioning was giving me headaches, as I have some images printed in several different sizes, on different papers, with slightly different tonalities and slightly different crops.  I was a bit baffled.  Luckily there was a talk this week at the Stephen Bulger Gallery called Collecting Photographs 101. The talk was aimed at collectors getting their feet wet, but I figured it would be highly useful for a photographer as well.  Stephen Bulger gave the talk and was available to chat afterwards.  Stephen runs a very reputable photography gallery in Toronto and is one of the founders of the CONTACT photography festival.  Additionally he is a collector.  I’d be hard pressed to find someone in a better position to advise me regarding editioning photographs.  And what did he say?  What are the hard and fast rules of editioning?  Frustratingly, there are none!  But generally speaking the following should be applied:

~Work should be signed, either on the front or the back, in pen or pencil, but on the print itself (rather than the mat).

~Written on the work should be the title, the date the picture was taken, the edition, the artist’s signature and the date the image was printed (note, two dates).

~An edition may include work of one specific size or of various sizes combined.  For a collector the latter may be preferable.  That is to say, a photographer may print at 3 different sizes (small, medium, large).  If they are editioned separately it is difficult for the collector to know exactly how many prints in total could be in circulation and in fact the photographer could at any point decide to add a new edition in a 4th size, thus adding to the total number of available prints.  The higher the total number, the less exciting for the collector.

~I think that for me, editioning various sizes together is preferable (or perhaps editioning in 2 batches, say larger and smaller than 11×17).  I appreciate the value from a collector’s perspective as above, but I also don’t want to feel completely constrained in the sizing of my prints.  From time to time I print specific sizes to match specific frames (I collect vintage frames) and making a new edition for each slightly different print size seems awkward and unjustified.

~Work sold before an edition was instated should be included in the edition, ie. if one piece sold, pre-edition, start the edition at #2.

~There is no issue with printing an edition on different papers.

~While a low quality print should not be included in an edition, it is permissable to re-tweak an image for the same edition.  For example I sometimes go back and find a slightly better colour calibration for an image file, or may adjust the exposure slightly.  This is okay so long as it does not significantly change the aesthetic of the photograph and so long as both versions are of high quality.

~Mild changes in cropping can be included in the same edition.  Significant crops may need to be considered as different images.

~There is not universal agreement among photographers about the value or need to edition work at all.  Larry Towell is one example of an well-known and established photographer who does not edition his work.  There is always the option of having open editions, which may decrease the value of an image but will certainly simplify the process.

There’s a good discussion here about ethical dilemmas that could be faced re: limited edition prints.

I found another decent article on editioning photographs here.

Best of luck if this is the road you are on.  For my part I will continue to dream of a simple and perfect rule book for photographers.  In the meantime, back to work.

Published in: on May 30, 2012 at 12:15 pm  Leave a Comment  

Green Web Hosting

I was recently doing some website maintenance and was delighted to find that Dotster, the company hosting my domain, seems to be on the eco wagon.  Here’s what they have to say:

Green Hosting

Dotster is committed to becoming a more sustainable business. One of our primary initiatives is to purchase renewable energy credits equal to 150% of our hosting server power consumption. This means that by hosting your website with Dotster, you’re supporting renewable energy programs. Sign up for any Dotster hosting plan today and support the adoption of renewable energy.

Eco-Friendly Hosting Features

150% renewable energy offset for all web hosting servers

We purchase enough renewable energy credits from BEF to offset all of our hosting power use and then some!

We plant a tree for you!

We purchase a tree from the Trees for the Future program for every new Dotster web hosting customer.

High-efficiency servers

Our hosting infrastructure is constantly upgraded for maximum reliability and efficiency, which reduces our power use over time even while making our hosting more powerful.

Eco-friendly hosting badges for your websites

Dotster hosting customers can add badges to their websites to promote that they are powered by renewable energy.

For more on this from Dotster:


Published in: on January 16, 2012 at 5:32 pm  Leave a Comment  

The First Green Photo Lab for Consumers

The following was reposted from Greener Photography – greenerphotography.org/gpblogentry/first-green-photo-lab-consumer.  Thanks to Thea Dodds for writing it and for all her work at Greener Photography.

“The First Green Photo Lab for Consumers

An industry first… green consumer snapshots, album prints, and professional proofs.
EcoVisualLab.com will also offer new consumer prints in two sizes, 4×6 and 8×12 . These more
automated prints are available in two surfaces starting at just $1.00 each, a cost that’s far less than
custom prints and affordable for any photographer.
EcoVisualLab.com offers custom photo printing that is:
• Completely sustainable
• Uses 100% cotton papers made from the post-industrial waste cotton from the
manufacture of cotton-seed oil and sourced locally, reducing the carbon emissions
associated with transport
• Totally chlorine free (TCF) and process chlorine free (PCF)
• Archival
• Museum quality
• Fully recyclable and made from recycled materials
• Non-toxic and safer for all indoor environments
VOC-free aqueous inks:
• Eliminate worker and customer health hazards
•Eliminate toxic out-gassing (off-gassing or fumes)
•Eliminate unhealthy or objectionable odors”

This lab is in Wayland, Massachusetts.  Best of luck to them and may something similar come to Toronto before too long.

Published in: on November 9, 2011 at 12:48 pm  Leave a Comment  

Camphill Grangemockler exhibit opens at Meredith Keith Gallery

(Press Release)

Meredith Keith Gallery will be exhibiting Molly Crealock’s photography series Camphill Grangemockler: Portrait of a Farm from May 6 to 31, 2011. The opening reception will take place on Friday, May 6thfrom 6-9pm.

The series is an investigation into daily life at a community-based organic farm, Camphill Grangemockler, in County Tipperary, Ireland. Camphill is part of a larger organization of communities of the same name, based on the philosophy of Rudolph Steiner. Steiner viewed the farm as a ‘whole organism’: a self-sustaining eco-system in which all components must be working in harmony in order to sustain plant, animal and human life. Inhabitants of this community, inspired by the mission of mutual cooperation, live in a communal house, and work together in the garden, on the farm, in the weavery and in the kitchen. In 1999 Molly Crealock volunteered at Camphill; she returned 10 years later during the community’s twentieth anniversary to make this photographic study of a place and a people that she had often wished to revisit. It was her intention to reveal the innate appeal of the environment, working within the context of landscape and portrait photography with images of fields, livestock and farmers working the land.  Due to the pastoral subject in these images, it may take time for the viewer to realize that this is a unique community whose permanent residents are adults with special needs, people who live with a variety of intellectual challenges. In this series, each resident is photographed in the context of their living environment; they can simply be seen not as “disabled”, but as farmers, gardeners, artisans and active members of a culture. In this way, Crealock directs the viewer to take from this exhibition a portrait of the farm’s fabric – the permanent residents, the animals and the land that comprise Camphill Grangemockler.

Published in: on April 28, 2011 at 11:32 am  Leave a Comment  

Exhibits. With some kind of eco bent.

I’m quite bad at self-promotion, but it’s time I posted something so here we go. I’ve participated in a couple shows recently with eco/political themes. You can’t go see them anymore, unless you run real fast, but the memory of what you didn’t see might be just as nice as if you’d actually seen it, no?

“Faces of the New Economy” at Junction Fromagerie

Anyhow, a few years ago I worked real hard on a project called “Faces of the New Economy”.  I partnered with Green Enterprise Toronto (now Green Enterprise Ontario) on the project, which features portraits and stories of 20 deliciously green entrepreneurs in the Toronto area.  You can see much of the work on my website at http://mollycrealock.com/gallery/faces-new-economy.  A brief description of the project:

Faces of the New Economy is a joint project of Molly Crealock and Green Enterprise Ontario (GEO). Faces of the New Economy presents people determined to lead the way to a locally responsible, ecologically sustainable and socially just marketplace. These are entrepreneurs in the Greater Toronto Area who represent a diversity of businesses, backgrounds and personalities, each with a unique and inspiring story to tell. They exemplify the local living economy because their work is an expression of their local, green, fair values. Each of their enterprises are one-of-a-kind, independent companies that enrich the communities they are part of.

From 2007 to 2009 Molly Crealock worked closely with GEO researching progressive entrepreneurs and companies in Toronto. Portraits of the twenty final subjects formed a traveling exhibit which made its way to six venues across Toronto in 2009 and is now on semi-permanent display at the Centre for Social Innovation.

For the months of February and March, 2011, the Centre for Social Innovation (CSI) on Spadina lent out a number of the “Faces…” pictures for a display at the Junction Fromagerie, a lovely little cheese shop on Dundas Street West.

Shown here is Petra Cooper of Fifth Town Artisan Cheese (obviously a good choice for the Junction Fromagerie).  Fifth Town is a LEED certified, incredibly ecologically aware operation and Petra is a lovely person.

Wise Daughters Craft Market – Women’s Day Exhibit

For the month of March I participated in a group exhibit at Wise Daughters Craft Market, also in the Junction area of Toronto (where I now live).  Nine women artists exhibited photography, painting, encaustic and mosaic based work on a variety of themes.  I presented five images of strong women and their bikes.  The exhibit was well-received and I have to say it was really nice to be in some way involved in Women’s Day.  It’s been a long time since I marched and sold feminist bumper stickers at Ryerson University.  Sigh… But I digress.  Below is one of the images from the show, a portrait of Canadian arts personality Sook-Yin Lee.

Published in: on April 1, 2011 at 5:43 pm  Leave a Comment  

Meredith Keith Gallery

blogTO has a nice article up about the Meredith Keith Gallery, where I’ll be showing my work as part of the CONTACT photography festival in May.  Although the gallery opened just this past November, Meredith is an experienced gallerist with a great character and an ecological consience.  Check out www.blogto.com/gallery/meredith-keith-toronto for more.

Published in: on February 24, 2011 at 4:48 pm  Leave a Comment  

Eco-darkroom Workshop at Gallery 44

Gallery 44 in Toronto, a membership based gallery I have been a part of for some years, has announced the following new workshop:


Sunday Octorber 24 *NEW DATE*, 10 – 4 pm
$180/ $160 (members)
Instructor: Laura Barrón


This workshop introduces an ecologically friendly alternative to black and white darkroom processing.  During the workshop participants will:
  • Learn how to prepare an ecologically friendly formula for film and paper processing.
  • Process their own film & paper using the green solutions.
  • Compare results between conventional and ecologically friendly developers.
  • Tone photographs using natural substances.


Laura Barrón is a photo and video based artist who has been actively producing and exhibiting since 1995.  She has an undergraduate degree in Visual Arts from UNAM in Mexico City and a MFA from York University.  Her recent projects involve video installation and photography.  At the same time, Barron has worked extensively with experimental photography using black and white, and colour darkroom manipulation with diverse materials.  Her teaching experience includes teaching University level courses at UNAM and Centro de la Imagen (Centre for the Image) in Mexico City, York University and Gallery 44.  Laura has exhibited in Mexico, United States and Canada.
Published in: on October 13, 2010 at 10:03 am  Leave a Comment