Arcana

Quinn Jacobson, Oma, 2008

The previous post, Behemoth, made me wonder what other antique processes are still in play in the world of photography. Despite the tidal wave of digital technologies in the past ten years, analogue processes are still popular and there has even been a revival of 19th century techniques. Salt printing (Talbot’s 1841 process), Cyanotype (also 1840s), Gum Bichromate and many others are available in commercial kits. The most arcane techniques from the 1800s have their enthusiastic supporters.The alarming photograph above is by Quinn Jacobson and was made using the most difficult of all techniques, the Wet Plate process of the 1860s. Below is some info about the availability of this and some other early photographic processes. Click on the pink words for links.

WET PLATE – Bostick & Sullivan make a range of products for Wet Plate (Collodion) photography, including ones that include a 90 year old camera as part of the package! Quinn Jacobson conducts workshops in Wet Plate photography, and is enthusiastically involved in promoting its use and history. His website is at studioq.com.

ALBUMEN  PAPER – Depending on which website or chatline you believe, Kentmere is or is not making Albumen Printing Out Paper, once a year, to order, most of it going to the Chicago Albumen Works (which is not in Chicago). Printing Out Paper was used for wedding proofs amongst other things and is not developed in chemicals, but through sunlight. It fades unless fixed or toned. The paper discussed on the chatlines is an albumen paper, which is why everyone wants it, as it gives such warm, chocolaty tones (even though you don’t eat it). I’m pessimistic wether it will continue but I can hope.

PLATINUM/PALLADIUM – Bostick & Sullivan make a range of kits for this expensive process. They also sell Bergger papers which have been recommended for its use. To see a very good portfolio of platinum/palladium prints, go to the website of Beth Dow.

AZO PAPER – Lodima has announced a new a silver chloride paper, a replacement for Kodak Azo paper, the much loved contact-printing paper.  The company (which is Amidol spelt backwards!) is a project of Michael A. Smith, the well-known U.S. landscape & fine print photographer. My favourite Azo/silver chloride prints are in Weighing the Planets by Olivia Parker.

DARKROOM PAPERS – The French company Bergger makes a range of traditional silver-rich printing papers. One of them, Bergger Prestige Fine Art Portrait is described thus: an extra-premium, semi-matte photographic paper with a high silver content emulsion coated on a sumptuous Arches 100% cotton – rag paper base of 320g/m2. It’s a warm tone variable contrast emulsion which is particularly high in silver content and gives extremely deep blacks and wide range of mid-tones. It has excellent toning capability and due to the quality of its paper base and surface softness, it allows un-matched possibilities of hand-coloring.

Make your mouth water?

Photography in education

The question facing a lot photography teachers right now is: does the darkroom still have a role in education?

In the historic roll-over to the digital age, is there any point in still getting students to learn how to mix semi-toxic chemicals and stand around in the dark sloshing tanks and dipping sheets of paper into developer? The “digital darkroom” is so civilized in comparison. A scanner, a computer and a printer will do the same or possibly much more, in an area of one square metre, and you work sitting down and with the lights on!

Institutes like to get rid of darkrooms because the computer rooms that replace them can be generic fluoro-lit halls with the same tables and chairs as every other department, no expensive plumbing, no risk of health problems. And it’s getting harder to justify analogue on pure image-making grounds because computers allow even the laziest student to use tools that even Ansel Adams would have envied.

But there are reasons for maintaining traditional methods of photography: they anchor students in the 170 year history of photography, students can develop an eye for what a good photograph looks like, and it’s a varied activity, it gives people a sense of achievement.

These last two points bear on the course I teach, in a college level art department, a TAFE. If the curriculum only consisted of digital techniques using DSLRs and sitting at a desk to Photoshop the images, where is the fun? We have such a range of film cameras ranging from plastic toys to a big studio 5×4, with 35mm and 120 in between, that the students are constantly challenged with unfamiliar mechanics, film loading questions, light fog, enlarging issues, film grain and sharpness differences…I could go on. The point is that young students, and many older ones, are taken out of their digital/online safety zone and are are challenged. In the age of push button mobile phones, games, TVs and cameras, the simple act of loading film becomes a challenging mental effort.

To me, analogue is the soul of photography. I love digital and use it everyday, but I think that a digital only photography education would be a soulless experience. An article by Bostick and Sullivan in openorigins.com gives a another slant on the subject. Here is an excerpt.

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THE IMPORTANCE OF THE DARKROOM IN PHOTOGRAPHY EDUCATION

From Bostick and Sullivan / Member, Freestyle Advisory Board of Photographic Professionals

The whole modern electronic world is basically an abstraction. …The Waterford School in Sandy Utah requires all students to take photography. The facilities there rival those of most 4 year colleges. Students can check out 12 x 20 view cameras, and there are two Hassleblad outfits and numerous other pieces of equipment available. The developing room has three Jobo processors! I asked Dusty Heuston who founded the school why photography? He said it was a universal discipline. Huh? I said.

Dusty said that photography can encompass many disciplines: physics, chemistry, optics, math, history, art, and photography also forces the student to learn to deal with things in a mechanical sense: loading a film holder for instance. The nice thing he said was it bit back in a nice way. If we goofed back in 1953 by filling fellow student’s shoes with hot metal while doing sand casting or by losing a thumb in the table saw, the consequences could be a bit harsh. Ruining a roll of film by fixing it first is a nasty bite, but one the student could recover from. …

If the point of education is only to train young people to join the corporate work force then full on digital is the way to go. If it is to give them a sense of knowing they can “make” something through a logical set of steps and procedures then wet photography is an excellent way to achieve that. The attraction you note of students to the wet darkroom process is a reflection of the fact that we as humans do like to “make” things. Sorry to get too McLuhanesque here but listening to Hot Snot or whatever is the latest fad group on an iPod is satisfying to some but grows old after while. Wet photography is a “hot medium” and digital is “Cold.”

http://www.openorigins.com/photography-notes/the-importance-of-the-darkroom-in-photographic-education/

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