POST FACTORY PHOTOGRAPHY
Anyone who is interested in this subject should know who is Judy Seigel, who quite right replaced the misnomer "Alternative Photography" with the above term for her excellent magazine.
It all started for me with an article in a french magazine circulating at the office. The required ingredients potassium-dichromate and aquarel paint I already possessed, on my way home I stopped at a drugstore for some gum-arabic, and was lucky to have results after the following sunny weekend. First I tried with 6x6 negatives, then with (colour) slides printed on black and white RC photo-paper.
I was straight away hooked, and started exploring old books in various technical libraries. There were not so many textbooks available then, but the field was soon to emerge. For a while, "Keepers of light" was my bible, I guess it still is an essential book in the alt-potographer's library.
My biggest obstacle with the so-called noble processes was the negatives. Because I like my pictures large, and needed pan-sensitive material, I was recommended TMAX 8x10" by pro photoshops. They had never heard of the sheet film used in graphics industry. It was before the days of internet, at least for me. Expensive, but I bought a box. I wanted to do full colour gum, more a technical (I am amateur scientist as well as artist) than an artistic challenge. Later I found out about AGFA GEVAERT products that were easier to use (multigrade) and a lot cheaper, and available in larger sizes then 8 * 10.
After gum, I explored the kallitype, Vandyke, and cyanotype. The skater picture is the only (not reproducible) "successful" two-tone of cyanotype over vandyke, with two of the three colour separation negatives. Although the colour balance is not quite right, I find it quite striking, how little colour is necessary to suggest full colour.
Then it became time to move on to the processes that were so much sung in the books because of their permanence and long linear scales: platinum and carbo. I bought some carbo-tissue etc. from a German company. Unfortunately I have not done many of those. I didn't think I had the optimal negatives for this process, and preferred the tactility of palladium and kallitype. I did not know that the carbo tissue I had bought was rapidly becoming fogged due to high humidity. The results that I managed to get are flawed, bubbles, fingerprints... Nevertheles they serve to give an idea of the incredible rendering of a (copy) negative. It is indeed an amazing, apparently truly linear process, and grain is also absorbed somehow. Pay attention to the highlights.
After wasting a lot of expensive paper and chemicals on the silver based kallitype, I switched to palladium, which in spite of the more expensive metal salts works out a lot cheaper, because of the significantly higher success rate. I preferred these processes over carbo at the time, because of the choice of support paper, the carbo support being too smooth for my taste. Also it's more difficult to make a negative that's suitable for carbo, I think.
Many of the gum and other prints are quite pictorially acceptable, even though the maximum densities is only about 1.2- 1.5 according to my scanner . This makes me wonder, would the soft-printing on gelatin silver, avoiding toe and shoulder not result in a "linear" image with similar feel? Perhaps after sepia-toning? I don't think so, it's mysterious how some processes can tolerate very low Dmax while a B&W gelatin silver image is so critical, as soon as no pure black is present, most images are "anemic". Ansell Adams writes something like this about platinum prints. Density is certainly not the whole story.
The pre-Disney Times-Square shown on the left as carbo, multiple gumprint over cyanotype, pure gum, oil, and classic silver gelatin, is for giving the reader some idea about the different "feel" of each process, though this is really only possible when observing the physical product (which is just as well!).
Some "contributions to the art" I have not seen disclosed:
For coating gum mixtures I use small foam rollers.
For contact frame I use a piece of glass and hardboard commercially available as borderless picture frames. Under the middle of the hardboard I put a 1 cm wide strip of 1 mm thick cardboard extending across the board from top to bottom. On the outer edges of the cover glass I put some weights, so that the whole sandwich is slightly bent. This makes the glass sit tight against paper and negative. The glass does break occasionally, but borderless frames are cheap.
I have stopped with "post-factory" for a while, but developments with inkjet printers for making negatives may tempt me to have another go. It may be blasphemy, but the results I get with my HP b9180 on Photo Rag paper to me are quite as attractive as Platinum prints