The most important information you can have about these processes is in this area, it could stop you becoming sensitized to the chemicals, getting sick or even save your life.
Theodore Hogan makes a very relevant comment about experimenting with the limits of the materials in “The New Photography”, that illustrates the point well, ” Just remember that you may exhaust your limits long before the materials reveal theirs”. ” Ignorance of how to safely handle the chemicals used in various printing techniques can put you out of the picture”. The chemical might still be on the shelf when you are in the grave!
So a correct understanding of these materials, processes and environments to handle them in is essential.
Almost all photographic chemicals can irritate the eyes, nose, throat and skin. Exposure to some chemicals such as cyanides and solvents (Turps and mineral spirits) may cause headaches, weakness, dizziness, and a sense of confusion. Prolonged exposure with chromate’s may result in skin ulcers. Other chemicals can produce severe skin and lung burns, and if they get in your eyes, blindness (hydrochloric acid, oxalic acid, potash, silver nitrate).
As with other photographic processes, the most common and extreme cause of health problems occurs in situations where artists have inadvertently consumed chemicals while drinking, eating or smoking and for this reason it is recommended that all of these are totally banned in the darkroom area. To minimize this potential it is crucial to wash your hands with soap (provided in the film processing room) before engaging in any of the above activities after you have been working with these or any photographic processes.
Handling chemicals with bare hands is also another dangerous practice, since the chemicals can easily pass through the skin and are absorbed into the bloodstream. Rubber gloves will act as a barrier for your hands.
Because home darkrooms are often poorly ventilated, photographers may breathe in excessive amounts of chemicals. There have even been cases of crazy artists using these processes in their kitchens. Fume Cabinets provide the very best environments for this work.
For this reason it is wise to do all the measuring, mixing, coating and washing in a well ventilated area. If you can find the luxury of a chemical fume cabinet which has excellent fume extraction, running water, and an eye shield, use it. It is also wise to wear rubber gloves when handling any of the chemicals. While this limits the size of prints that you can make to 400 x 600, it eliminated all the potential health hazards. Storage and labeling of chemicals is most important and when using these processes at art school you are required to return chemicals to their proper location and make sure that all mixtures are properly labeled. I would strongly suggest a similar procedure when working in your own environment.
Polaroid and Fuji instant films
Always be careful when developing and handling Instant Film materials. When the Instant Film prints are pulled apart, the developing chemicals are exposed. These chemicals are toxic and somewhat caustic. Keep away from the skin and eyes.