An acquaintance recently posted that he was having trouble with his photographs. The prints were producing brown stains on the edges and face of the paper which he had not seen before. He went on to describe a process that does not include stop bath. I have always accepted that stop was essential when printing.
This revelation made me stop and think about all of the books I have read over the years on photograph production. As far as I was aware none of them said that there was a choice. Just to be sure I went back to the reference books on the subject I trust most. After consulting Tim Rudman Master Printing course, Michael Langford Basic Photography and Ansel Adams The Print - by the way this is the only book to explain what happens when stop is omitted.
Ansel Adams writes: That stop bath is a weak solution of acetic acid that neutralizes the alkalinity in the developer stopping development straight away. Fix being acidic would have the same affect as stop bath but it prevents the contamination of the fix from the alkaline in developer which quickly exhausts the fix making it more likely that the prints will stain.
I should point out that my a acquaintance has been producing prints that have not shown any signs of staining till now. It turns out that it was a lack of proper washing before the fix that was causing the problem and not exhausted fix.
The question that keeps coming into my head is why wouldn't you use stop? It makes no sense from my point of view. I spend a lot of time in the darkroom making test prints carefully choosing the right amount of light for exposure. Once in the developer I watch and wait for what I judge to be the right amount of development so I can remove it to the stop, freezing it at that point in the process. If this was substituted for water this would not be the case it would only slow down development making a mockery of all the careful planning gone before and adding a degree of uncertainty as to whether or not it was going to stain.
I know that this must sound like a bit of a rant and to a certain extent it is. Sometimes it's good to get things off your chest. As far as I'm concerned there are many different paths to creative nirvana and how you reach it is up to you.
Since writing this I have discovered a number of print developers that do not require a stop bath. As long as you use running water in its place for at least thirty seconds. These developers use Amidol in the formula. They can be found in The darkroom cook book.
You maybe interested in this article on Fixing faults