Alt Process, collodion, cyanotype, daguerreotype, Education, Fine Art, gum over platinum, gum printing, Irving Penn, Mark Osterman, NESOP, New England School Of Photography, Photography, Pinhole camera, platinum, Scully and Osterman, Tintype
Photography is in a wonderful place right now. I was asked by The New England School Of Photography to name the top five “extinct” alternative processes I’d like to see return.
The good news is I couldn’t think of any not being practiced today. With that in mind, I’d like to draw attention to the processes and their past and current masters. This is by no means a comprehensive or scholarly list; and, I urge you, dear reader, to add as you see fit. There is plenty of room at the table and I look forward to learning more.
This process invented by Louis Daguerre sensitized polished silver plates with iodine making them light-sensitive. Some of the most famous portrait photographers Southworth and Hawes lived and created in Boston and used this process. How you like them apples?
The website dedicated to Contemporary Daguerreotypes, is a great place to learn just about anything you need to know about who’s who and what’s what of this process.
The person responsible for bringing this process back is Jerry Spagnoli. He is, hands down, a master of this process. He is a photographer based in New York City and has made images that celebrate the process and place. He has collaborated with other artists such as Chuck Close and given workshops at f/295 which sell out faster than you can say “Hot Chicken!”
The blue print process was invented by Sir John Hershel as an inexpensive way to copy his notes. Making a cyanotype is pretty simple. Mix equal parts of two inexpensive solutions, apply to paper, expose to sunlight, develop in slightly acidified water.
Even though it has a rather humble beginning, I always have a soft spot for this process. One of the most important, and slightly overlooked, pillars of photography: Anna Atkins used the Cyanotype process to make botanical images of algae.
The cyanotype was never really considered an art form. Postcards, proof prints, and “blueprints” were made using this process. However, cyanotypes are one of the most stable photographic processes ever made. Cyanotypes made in 1844 look pretty much the same now as they did then. Not too shabby for such a humble process.
This really isn’t a vintage process but I just want to give a shout out to my Super-Buddy and Boston’s own Jesseca Ferguson. She uses a pinhole camera and then makes masterful prints using a variety of vintage processes. She is famous (I think so) and her work is in some pretty fancy collections.
She makes beautiful still life images full of narrative and emotion. I would do her a great disservice by trying to compress the meaning of her work into the space I have. Suffice to say, I’m still learning from her images and I’ve looked at them for over ten years.
A pinhole camera is exactly what it sounds like. Instead of a glass lens, an exposure is made by having light pass through a small hole on a sheet of thin metal. This hole is made using a needle or pin. The characteristics of a pinhole image are lots of depth of field but a lack of sharpness in the image.
William Fox Talbot was a British gentleman who invented photography. He lived and worked in Lacock Abbey where some of the first photographs were made. He used what is called “The salt process” now. Basically, it is the first silver printing process. From this process, we can trace albumen, collodion chloride and, finally, the gelatin silver print.
The current “master” of the process as far as I’m concerned is France Scully Osterman. I have seen her salt prints and she makes the process look easy. While the steps might be simple, successful salt printing is not easy.
Here is a quick breakdown: apply a salt solution to a sheet of paper, let that dry, apply a solution of silver nitrate, let that dry, expose to ultra violet light, develop in water, tone in a weak gold solution, fix, and rinse.
It is important to say I’m not just responding to the technique but also the substance of the images. The process and the theme work well together. Check out her Sleep series.
Wet Plate Collodion
The most published and the master of the process is Mark Osterman. He happens to be married to France. Both of them are masters of the process but for the sake of balance and harmony in a marriage, I’ll give this one to him. The both have written countless articles, book chapters and lectures. He also is the process historian at The George Eastman House in Rochester.
Wet plate collodion includes: tintypes, orotones, and collodion negatives. I’m sure there are other processes I’m leaving out but suffice to say, Mark knows them all and is a master of them.
Scully and Osterman have lectured and taught workshops on wet plate collodion around the world. There most famous student (besides me, of course) is Sally Mann.
Another master is Joni Sternbach. She has been making tintypes around the world of surfers and people close to the ocean. I admire her commitment to the process and the quality of her work, both technically and visually.
William Dunniway is another artist who focuses on the western landscapes and its people.
Quinn Jacobson is another photographer to keep your eye on.
This process uses gum arabic which is a sap taken from the acacia tree. This is mixed with a pigment (water colors are often used) and either ammonium dichromate or potassium dichromate to make it light sensitive. You will find this process used in conjunction with the platinum printing process because early platinum prints lacked the any true black tones. Using gum over platinum allowed for selective density and color to be placed within the image. Edward Steichen used this to very dramatic effect in a lot of his earlier work. The photographers using this process with the greatest success are Peter Liepke and Kerik Kouklis.
The tri color gum process was one of the first ways that people were able to make color photographs. It is a multi-step process which requires several coats and exposures using the desired colors. Negatives must be kept in close registration in order to preserve detail. In my opinion, this process is the most labor intensive.
This process is my favorite. In a lot of ways, it was the first to return to the fine art world mainly because it never really left. Irving Penn’s images printed in platinum did introduce the process to a larger audience.
Platinum is known for its long tonal scale, warm tones and soft mid ranges. Sounds like a jazz singer to me.
Some people who are now printing in platinum are: Ray Bidigain and Dick Arentz. There are others I admire but I couldn’t find examples of their personal work using the process. You’d think that I’d have a better sense of the artists in my own backyard, but I don’t
As I mentioned before, photography is at an important point. All the old processes are being picked up and made new again. The digital technology is actually helping with the revival of 19th century photo processes. I love practicing these processes and I am inspired by those who raise them to the level of mastery.
The people I have mentioned are only a small amount of the artists working in these processes. I invite you to add to the list in the comment box. Thanks.