I teach two sections of Alternative Processes at the New England School Of Photography (NESOP) in the second year full time program. Each section meets three hours one day a week for ten weeks. My students are passionate about photography and it is a pleasure to show up for class. Without sounding too lovey-dovey, NESOP is a great place to teach. The students are engaged, smart and focused. The other faculty (Steve Sheffield, Dana Smith, Erin Carrey, Bruno Debas, Keitaro Yoshioka, Bill Franson) are very talented and passionate photographers and artists in their own right. I know I’m leaving some out so forgive any omission.
Teaching alternative processes in a ten week setting, there are some real opportinutes and also major constraints. The great thing is I have ten weeks to teach which allows time for students to practice the processes on their own. It also gives me the time to really focus on one process for a few weeks. The only drawback is each class is three hours and that’s just enough time to get to the runway but not enough time to take off and fly. As a result, my class feels like an episode of Downton Abbey without all the fancy clothes, tea, and strumpets.
In the past, I’ve tried to cover as many processes as I could: cyanotype, salt, platinum, albumen, wet plate collodion, pinhole, gum printing, and tintypes. We were only successful at making a huge mess and a small collection of bad images. The students had fun but never really came away with any usable skill.
This year, I’m focusing on a few foundational processes to teach how to make images and negatives using 19th century processes. Instead of having a huge section on making different types of prints, we’ll be making our own emulsions for glass plates and tintypes. Once the student can successfully make a negative using either wet plate collodion or gelatin silver, making a print is a snap (kinda). While modern films have a lot of latitude, getting a high degree of contrast sufficient for some of these processes is very difficult.
Using a camera to make images the way they used to be made will teach a lot of about the history of photography as well as the process itself. I’ll be teaching the two basic methods of making negatives: wet plate collodion and gelatin silver emulsions. Both of these processes have not changed too drastically and allow the student a real hands on experience. I also believe that there is enough really bad tintype and wet plate collodion photography out there and if I can teach people how to do it correctly (yes, there is a correct way to teach these processes), I sleep better at night.
I’m not teaching digital negative making mainly because there are several ways to do it and I think all of them are somewhat flawed. I don’t want to devote class time to the slow ripping out of hair involved in that process. Besides, NESOP students spend a lot of time in front of computers and my class is a welcome respite from that.
Near the end of the term, the students should have a few negatives they can make prints with. As I mentioned, the processes used in the 19th century required more contrast than modern methods. This will allow them to actually learn how to make a successful print instead of trying to wrestle a bad negative into a mediocre print.
Here is the syllabus I’ve planned for this fall term. I am not allowed to discuss what “Thrill Night” entails except to say all secrets of life and photography are revealed, the sky opens and a heavenly chorus of angels sings.
I’ll be teaching these same processes for the winter and spring workshops at NESOP. This is a great way for me to stay in practice and allows the good men and women of Boston a chance to learn something fun.