I first came across Branco Ottico while making Cyanotype prints. They had made world’s largest contact print. I was interested in knowing more about them. I noticed, they had chemicals too for B&W development and reversal process. I thought it might be worth a go. Just to let you know we made a video too, see below at Branco Ottico regarding their Reversal Process – Roba Apposta.
You got to realise, Italy isn’t too far away from Graz, in the southern part of Austria. Combining a short holiday over the border is just a matter of foot on the gas, down the Autobahn, then seamlessly onto the Italian Autostrada. You’ve got to love Europe for this.
We visited Branco Ottico on 24th of August this year 2021. Both Davide and Silvio were kind enough to entertain and welcome us, while demonstrating the Roba Apposta process. In their studio and darkroom with a large format 8×10 Cambo view camera, they made a positive print, a portrait on photographic Ilford paper.
Branco Ottico HQ lies between the Renaissance city of Ferrara and the central northern Italian city hub of Bologna. There is a tiny town, practically a village called Polesella. Not an important place by any means, except for a darkroom, a studio and two passionate photographers, Davide Rossi aka “Canesciolto” and Silvio Gianesella aka “Spillo”. But more than that, they are inventors and pioneers in the area of the photographic chemistry and experimental field.
They have a couple of unique darkroom development kits; Roba Apposta for reversal process, Spitzrol for C41 and cross processing and their own B&W Zone film developer.
B&W Images in this article are taken with my Nikon FE with 20mm f2/.8 on Ilford FP4 which were developed in Branco Ottico’s B&W Zone developer (At some point I hope to do an article on this developer to)
Interview and Meeting Up
Davide and Silvio have known each other for over 9 years. They are extraordinarily passionate about photography so I had no qualms letting out my geeky side. Everything felt very much if I were at home. In good Italian tradition, a bottle of crisp, cold, fruity white wine was opened and glasses were filled as we prepared the trays and chemicals in the darkroom.
Through out the demonstration, I asked a number questions to get an idea and background of what makes Branco Ottico tick. A few things seemed obvious to ask as an non-native to the Italian language.
Davide also told me about his time in L.A. when he wished to be a film director and how he was fascinated by movie studio lighting and how incredible that was. How they could control the light sources from any direction. This has inspired him very much, especially in the area of portraiture.
So let’s begin…
Tell us about Branco Ottico…
What does Branco Ottico mean ?
Silvo: It’s a play on the word of ‘Banco Ottico’ which actually means view camera in the Italian language. The addition of a ‘r’ makes ‘Branco’ bringing the meaning to a pack or a herd. So it’s a kind of group of people who are wild about photography!
When or how was Branco Ottico formed ?
Davide: Branco Ottico was born out of a community of like minded folks together in 2015. I have for over 10 years been organising workshops and photographic events with a focus on experimentation. While making my knowledge and equipment available to others. The beauty of photographic activity is also in the sharing too. Branco Ottico brought things together to inspire as well as organising our activities.
Why is analog photograhpy still exciting to you?
How was it like to create the world’s biggest contact print ?
Who are your photography influences ?
Why or how was Roba Apposta – the B&W reversal kit created?
Silvio: the first time I got to sample and try out Roba Apposta when Davide visited me in Mexico. I was workings as a photographer there. Davide brought the first solution in a beer bottle to avoid awkward questions from the customs. Even though the chemical solution is allowed to be exported globally as it poses no danger. I was super excited to sample the first batch.
We made a video of their HQ, studio and darkroom while demo’ing the reversal process. Iris was our model, we made a couple of prints. In the video I explain the process and you get to see it too in the darkroom. Plus there’s a bonus announcement too!
As Ilford doesn’t recommend reversal processing for their HP5 Plus or DELTA 400 films. Ilford states the results are likely to exhibit unacceptably low contrast. This is why I asked the following question to Davide.
What do you say about HP5 and DELTA 400 in regards to reversal process?
Can you use any photographic paper such as expired ?
Silvo: All papers works. That are silver gelatin based such as Ilford or FOMA.
Which paper do you like to work with most ?
Silvio: We like to work with FOMA because it’s good and inexpensive. Most of the images you see here are done on FOMA paper. You can also tone the paper too. Such as Sepia or Selenium toning, actually any kind of toning you like. The best way to see it is to do the magic.
So we proceed to the studio where Davide and Silvio had setup a 8×10 view camera and some really large strobe which have plenty of power – 3000 watts! However before things can begin, music must be playing in the studio / darkroom for creativity. I have to say I do approve of this method entirely!
Davide Rossi, the founder of Branco Ottico explains and demonstrates the reversal process from black & white photographic paper using their unique chemistry set called ‘Roba Apposta’.
How easy is the reversal process to use ?
Silvio: We’ve designed the kit that anyone can get up and running with ease.
Photographic paper it isn’t so sensitive to temperature and it’s a really easy place to start with. Primarily because you can see everything in front of your eyes in the darkroom. However negative film requires following the introductions more methodically and to the letter. Roba Apposta can be used with every type of paper or film which is silver based.
They even used it to make a 1 metre squared print direct from their massive ultra large format camera Bertha. The focus is so sensitive to get accurate. Silvio says, He’d gently kick the solid wheel casters to tweak the beast into submission.
What does ‘Roba Apposta’ mean ?
Davide It means the ‘stuff for purpose’, difficult to translate exactly.
‘The Right Stuff‘ I interject, like the movie from 1983 film.
The atmosphere is exciting especially for Iris and I. Iris will be the model for today’s shoot. Both Davide and Silvio are just as excited as I am. We had some minor difficulties with old chemistry and old paper. Actually I glad to see how they solve this. This gives me great faith in the Roba Apposta kit.
Because I was able to learn how it works and when things don’t work as good as they should. But having said that, the Roba Apposta reversal kit worked a treat. You get results no matter, it’s really up to you to tweak and refine it. I love this very much because you can start without much knowledge and get quite excellent results.
Are your products available for worldwide Shipping ?
Davide Our products can be purchased in our online shop and we ship all over the world.
All those who do not find their area in the shipping of our e-commerce, can write to us directly for information on costs and timing, so far we have shipped to enthusiasts in the USA, China, Japan, Thailand, Mexico and almost all of Europe.
Tell us about the ecologic aspect concerning your product’s chemistry ?
Have you any new chemicals or experiments in the pipeline ?
Yes, we are working on a kickstarter project to take the Ultra format camera around in a large van to make giant size prints with Roba Apposta.
Have you got any news to tell us ?
Oh yes, we are working on Roba Apposta colour! It will be available soon, maybe in a year. Give us time while we continuously working on it.
You also offer workshops tell a bit about that?
- The development and analogue printing of colour photography;
- The camera obscura, from the construction of the camera to the shooting on photographic paper;
- Film development and the Zonal System
I wish to thank Davide and Silvio for being so kind to be interviewed and spending their valuable time to demonstrating the reversal process with us. It was a real pleasure and so enjoyable to learn new things.