A Portrait from Havana

By Omar Ozenir

Havana, Cuba, 2005

A small tip for those planning to visit Cuba: learn a bit of Spanish. Cuban people are very kind, warm hearted and eager to communicate. Every little Spanish you know will help take the conversation one step further, and give you better access to the Cuban way of life. My Spanish vocabulary consists of just a handful of words; in spite of that - well, maybe because of that - I had many long and often surreal chats with locals. While there, and all the time since then, I wished I had done more for my Spanish language skills.

A few technical notes for the interested:

Leica M6 camera with 35mm lens. Kodak Tri-X film. D76 developer diluted 1+1.

We all know how it is with fibre paper. The bloody thing doesn't dry flat. The wet print left to dry in the evening looks all warped next morning. It's like a curse. The effort I put into flattening FB paper could be spent so much better, like lying around, or having a cold beer, or both. Some papers do better then others though. For example, Ilford's Art300 is almost flat when air dried; one night between a thick book takes care of the rest. And didn't Ilford some time ago claim on APUG that they have done something to their paper base to further flat drying? If so, I must still be buying older batches for I haven't noticed a big change in the paper's drying characteristics yet. Anyway, I digress. Back to the topic. This is what I usually end up with:

Now, I know there are many other methods, some of them requiring expensive and difficult to find tools, to flatten prints. I'd like to introduce a simple and zero-cost method I came up with. It works for me most of the times, but may not work for you, as I presume the climate has some effect in the end result. I hope that after reading this you will also share your way of flattening FB prints.

Before I proceed, I should also mention that I employ the following method only for prints of 12"x 16" size or larger. For anything smaller I use a heat drier; not the way it is supposed to be used though. Anyway, back to topic again.

The warped print is placed under heavy weight (read, stacks of books) for at least one day. This should get rid of most of its contortions. This print is then placed face down on a clean surface. I wet a large peace of thin cloth (cheesecloth is ideal) under the tap, wring it out so that it's not wet anymore but just damp, and very carefully place it over the print. Extreme care is required that the emulsion side of the print remains dry and does not get into contact with the damp cloth or surrounding damp surface.

Wait for about five to ten minutes. The fibres will absorb moisture and the print will visibly start to soften up. When time is up lift the cloth slowly and quickly transfer the print onto a large sheet of cardboard. Again, extreme care should be taken not to transfer any moisture to the emulsion side, otherwise it might stick. Place another large sheet of cardboard on top of the print and then stack everything with plenty of heavy books. After at least one day you should have a print that is not only flat, but also stays flat.

12"x 16" print on FB Ilford Multigrade IV

As I said above, I'd love to hear your method. The cheaper, the better.


  1. Nice flattening technic !

    I am using less and less FB paper bec ause of this...

    I will have to try it !

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Michael Stevens9 August 2013 at 09:35

    A great tip. Having seemingly tried every method going, I'd never heard of this one. I'll definitely give it a try.

    I'm also intrigued by the hint about the unconventional use of a print dryer. Maybe a post for the future?

  3. Hi Michael, I use the print dryer not with wet but dry prints. The reason being that I try to avoid the high gloss finish you usually get with wet prints on the ferrotyping plate. It's very simple really. Just place the dry print on the ferrotyping plate BUT insert a sheet of greaseproof paper in between. Well, I just use greaseproof paper but I guess you could use anything that will prevent direct contact of the print with the plate. Now, stretch the cloth over the print and heat-up the dryer for 5-10 minutes. Then place the hot print under weight for at least one day. This gives me %100 flat prints. It's a method I'm extremely happy with. As a matter of fact, I wrote about it in my last blog post on geldurkal.blogspot.com.
    Unfortunately, my old dryer is only good for paper up to 11"x14", hence the method I wrote about here. It's not as reliable unfortunately, but still acceptable.

  4. Hi Omar

    I'm definitely going to give this a try - wrinkly FB prints drive me nuts, but I haven't found the perfect flattening method yet.

    I use two "conti-board" pieces (melamine faced chipboard) from B&Q or any DIY store, cut to a couple of inches bigger than the print. The dry print is placed between the boards and weights are placed on top. Alternatively, I use a few clamps to squeeze the boards together, then leave it for a couple of days.

    From the results you've illustrated this method looks far more effective.



  5. Michael Stevens9 August 2013 at 20:48

    Hi Omar,

    Thanks for the reply. I have a similar dryer but have never thought to try it with dry prints.

    The method which has yielded the flattest prints for me so far has been to lay the prints out to dry until the surface moisture has gone but the paper is still limp and flexible. Then put the print in the dryer facing up (emulsion against the cloth to avoid the high gloss) until they're just starting to dry hard but aren't curling, then put them between boards under some heavy books over night until they're properly dry.

    The finished product is pretty flat but I often end up with some "frilling" along the edges so I'll definitely try your method in the future.

  6. That is an interesting technique Omar.
    Yes FB can be a pain - I have however had decent success with (depending on the paper) pegging two prints back to back (emulsion side out) with three pegs along the top (suspending the print from the line - yes I have a small washing line in my darkroom), one halfway down each side, and three along the bottom. Then air-dried for about 18 hours.
    After that, pressed inbetween books and then popped into Silverprint display sleeves. The stay pretty damn flat!
    Some papers I can just suspend with one peg at a corner, then do the same book/sleeve technique
    Wish I had a dry mount press though.

  7. Jon Ogmundsson wrote, "I had the same problems until I tried the method described on the FADU website.
    You make prints with generous borders. After processing, excessive water is removed and the print taped face up to a flat surface. I use plexiglass plates and paper tape. You can find a more detailed description on the FADU site, under Articles. It works perfectly."

    (Sorry, John, but my fat fingers accidentally deleted your comment so I had to paste it under my name)

  8. One question I have on this method - is it vital to use two sheets of cardboard, at the end?
    Could this stage work by using, say, two sheets of plexiglass or a similar non-porous hard surface?

    Many thanks!

  9. I've read about the taping of the wet print method before. I first would have to provide enough surfaces to tape all the wet prints from a darkroom session. I'll read up on the FADU article and give it a try.

    Colin, I also tried two thick and heavy pieces of glass instead of cardboard and got wavy edges if I remember correctly.

  10. As usual a very interesting lesson. To get the fiber paper flat has always been a grief to myself and unfortunately I can't see a heat press in the foreseeable future. As of today I get the best result sticking the wet squeegeed sheet to a glass sheet (plexy works too) and let it dry naturally that way. It is left with only a curve along the longest sides which is then cured under a stack of heavy books for a few days. At this point the print is reasonably flat and ready to mount after having it further straightened passing the edge of a ruler on the back. Still it retains a tendency to curl back again if not mounted. I will try your method looking for further improvement. Thanks again Omar for sharing your trade and Bruce for hosting.
    Cheers, M.

  11. Anyone tried a drying book? Like this one http://www.fotoimpex.de/shopen/darkroom/delta-1-print-drying-book-19x24-inch-ca-50x60cm.html.

  12. Great photo and thanks for the tip. Ill definitely be trying this soon!

  13. Hi Omar, I find that clipping FB prints back to back while wet with wooden spring loaded clothes pegs at each corner and perhaps in the middle for larger prints and hanging overnight results in a reasonably flat print which just needs a quick warm ironing under a mat board (I do it on a granite cutting block which is very flat). The pegs do leave an impression but as long as you peg outside the visible area of your print it should not be a problem.