for the good news, ilford is improving their neutral tone multigrade emulsion. same hahnemühl paper base, but great step up in iso and dmax. i have been testing it for a couple months now, trying to understand the reality of it. long story short: it ends up looking exactly like the multi IV. it even tones selenium the same way. the best part is the speed, my exposures were on average about 30% shorter, great advantage for printing lots of 16x20's or 20x24's, but also being able to close down half a stop more and keep the sharpness. so it's all good, no need to warn anyone about the change, it's just an internal darkroom adaptation. and for murals with exposure times in the minutes, 30% cut down on exposure is a huge advantage.
in addition, the image appears at about 30 seconds in the developer, like the warm tone emulsion (which remains the same), as opposed to a minute. it makes no difference really, you still need 2 to 3 minutes to get to full development, that's just the way it works. it is now called multigrade classic. we've come a long way since a respectable printer wouldn't touch multigrade papers with a 10 foot pole!
moreover, ilford has now added a cold tone emulsion to their arsenal. i had been waiting for it for years, and it felt really good to finally slip it in an easel. i had made so many prints on the kodak polymax, i really missed it when the production stopped.
the thing about a cold tone emulsion is that it doesn't really look cold until you see it next to a neutral tone print. it is a subtle difference, and ilford seems to have translated the concept. i have printed a few negatives on it for a better understanding of what it does, and it will work great for certain images, but as i'll recommend it to some photographers, i'll have to be very careful on the first tests: unless the overall image improves with the new emulsion, there will be no need to switch. new projects will be more appropriate for a new paper. that's my guess.
testing emulsions always brings up new problems, and solves old ones. when i first worked on ilford's warm tone there was a great need for it. oriental and agfa were staples in any commercial darkroom. personally i never liked printing on oriental, but agfa 111 and 118 were part of my everyday. forte was also part of the picture, great surface but much too inconsistent to rely on day after day. anyway, the first batch of the ilford warm tone emulsion had an olive cast to it, but i loved it right away, and suggested it to lorna simpson for her show 'call waiting' at sean kelly gallery, then in soho. the whole series was printed from unmarked boxes of 16x20 paper. funny thing is, that same olive undertone showed up again a few years later when jocchi melero sent me prints to match that he had made in puerto rico - just a side note to point out that water chemical composition affects the hue of black and white papers.
but let's go back to the new neutral emulsion from ilford, because this time it's only a big deal for printers: faster emulsions are just good to work with through long darkroom days. the important part about this change really, is to show that it matches the old emulsion. no change is good change, at least in the darkroom world, in order to continue and complete on-going editions.
photo paper emulsions change more than once a generation, manufacturing concerns oblige. we take silver gelatin for granted, when in fact we rely on a handful of people to make it work in the business world. when, and if, it becomes financially impossible to pursue, it will follow other processes of the past. fashion and portrait photographers used to love and shoot polaroid peel-off emulsion, but within 2 or 3 years they were wooed away by pixels, and polaroid stopped. just like that. when the majority of fine art photographers find another process, then you tell me: will there be anyone willing to have a business for a selected few? the beauty of silver gelatin, besides the depth it provides for the print as an object of desire, is its ability to be consistent -on a large scale- year after year, for an unmistakable look.
this is why i test papers seriously, i test papers to print for others and produce entire bodies of work within budgets and deadlines, simultaneously. so if you're a fan of film and silver gelatin photography, think twice before you start a new project, not everything can be fixed with photoshop... or if you've never shot film or made darkroom black and white prints, well, try it, i'm sure anyone like me will be more than happy to guide you through the process.
and that's all i have to say about that.