Thanks very much for volunteering folks, i'll sort out a few starting questions and post again on Monday. Unfortunately, i don't have home intenet access, and am using the college computers.
Just a little background: I've been interested in the archaic processes since i read about 31 Studio in 1996. 31 Studio is a company specialising in platinum and palladium printmaking, based in rural Gloucestershire in England. Since i found out that other processes existed i've read up quite a lot of information.
Now i'm in my final year at Uni, i decided it was time i tried out something different. I've been playing around with the kallitype process, initially using ferric ammonium oxalate. It worked at first but not as well as i'd have liked. last weekend i brewed my own ferric oxalate and tried it out - it worked well and i'm quite pleased with the first kallitypes i've made with it.
Because i was planning to make my final prints in kallitype, i wanted to write about the alternative or 'archaic' processes for my dissertation. it's something a little different - most people seem to wrote about feminism or body politics which IMO have been done to death.
So i'm trawling through the standard texts - The Keepers of Light has been very helpful, as has Mike Ware's website and a few others. There are a few others i need to read too. Thanks for the suggestion of "Antiquarian Avant-Garde: The New Wave in Old Processes", mhv. I'll see if i can find it somewhere!
I think that the term 'alternative' is slightly misleading, mainly because if you use, say a digital camera, then any light-sensitive paper or surface is an alternative way of making a print. It's about the perspective of what is used most of the time. I realise that processes like the Argyrotype and Chrysotype, Ziatype etc are recent innovations, but they are based upon techniques and materials from the beginnings of the medium, so 'archaic' seemed more appropriate I hope that i didn't upset anyone with it!
Thank you all for your time and help,
Originally Posted by kevs
Having done a doctoral thesis I am aware of the fact that one of the perks of this kind of work is that you get to define your terms as you see fit, so long as there is some reasonable and logical justification. Having said that, archaic is not a term that I would use as you propose to use it, for several reasons. First, it does suggest the idea that the work is in some way antiquated, or that it has the look of something from another day, and that is the last thing I try to achieve in my work work in a variety of alternative processes. I much prefer the term alternative because it is a term that will always stand in opposition to the ubiquitious methods of processsing, which was silver gelatin but is now inkjet printing. Alternative made sense in the late 60s and 70s when there was a recuperation of historical printmaking processes, and it still makes sense today. And, unlike the term historical, which is used by Dick Sullivan, alternative does not establish any time or chronlogicall boundaries. It is simply that which is done in a way that contrasts with the more common manifestions and for that reason makes more sense to me than either archaic or historical, both of which are more limiting in scope.
BTW, my comments represent not only my experience as an alternative printer, in which capacity most persons on this list know me, but also as a published scholar on Pictorialism (most of it in Spanish or in the area of the history of Spanish photography), and as such very familar with the importance pictorial artists placed on control processes such as gum bichromate, fresson, oil, bromoil, etc. in conveying meaning and content.
I wish you much luck in your study of this fascinting subject.
Last edited by sanking; 01-26-2007 at 03:50 PM. Click to view previous post history.
Alternative v. Historical v. Archaic.
I don’t have definitive answers on which term to use, but I do have some points for continued discussion.
First, I think which ever term we use, we need to keep in mind that we are referring to the process. It is an archaic process, or historical process, or alternative process. The reference to the process does not imply that the final image will, as Sandy writes, suggest “the idea that the work is in some way antiquated.” It may be made using antiquated methods or process, but that doesn’t mean the work has to be antiquated. I think that is one of the points of "Antiquarian Avant-Garde: The New Wave in Old Processes" Very contemporary images can be made using antiquated processes.
Second, the word “alternative” has a couple of different meanings when applied to photographic methods. One meaning would be, as Sandy writes, any processes which “stand in opposition to the ubiquitous methods of processing, which was silver gelatin but is now inkjet printing.” Under this definition, silver gelatin would now be an alternative process, just as platinum, silver chloride, carbon etc. are alternative processes. Two, alternative can also mean that one uses common materials in a different way. For example, transparency films are usually processed in E-6 chemistry. The alternative process is to cross process in C41 chemistry. Polaroid prints are normally self contained. But, when a transfer to water color paper is done, the materials are being used in an alternative way. Under this definition, all historical processes would be alternative, but not all alternative prints would be historical.
Third, from a linguistic stand point “alternative processes” does not work very well. Traditionally, there are two alternatives, I.e. to walk or run. If there is a third option, such as riding, then linguistically, we have choices, not alternatives.
Fourth, the original post refers to processes which fell out of favor early in the last century. So, all the processes he talks about would be historical. Given the limitations of the original post, the word alternative seems overbroad.
Fifth, I think this whole discussion raises the issue of fidelity to the older processes. When does an older process quit being historical. For example, I am experimenting with enlarging from color slides to wet plates. The chemistry is historical, but the method is not. Does that mean that I am using an alternative historical process? What about using modern negatives with platinum or albumen? Powdered egg whites any one?
A few things to think about.
There is probably no term we could use that would perfectly categorize all of the processes we are talking about. Indeed, determining which processes we are talking about is perhaps the major conundrum. However, as far as I am concerned alternative is a better all-around term than historical, antique, or archaic.
As for archaic, the most essential definition of archaic is something “marked by the characteristics of an earlier period,” so when you use it there is definitely IMO the suggestion that you are working in an older style.
As for Lyle Rexer’s use of terms, while he calls “alternative” an artifact left over from the 1960s, he himself continues to use the term, and refers to the antiquarian avangarde processes that illustrate his book as a “not-neat subset” of alternative work. Those processes include both historical (platinum, gum bichromate, daguerreotype, etc.) as well as contemporary (emulsion on steel, silver on aluminum plate, cibachrome photogram, etc.). All of these processes are alternative (when that terms is used “in contrast to the more ubiquitous”, but some are historical/archaic, some contemporary, while others are not. Clearly, his differentiation is based on style, not process.
If we limit the category only to processes that were developed in the early days of photography and in the pictorial period, I find the term “ historical” much preferable to either “alternative” or “archaic” because in this context process is the primary categorizing tool, not style, and as I said before, “archaic” in its first and most important definition is about style, not process.
I like "handcoated processes" myself. It has no direct temporal boundaries, seems to include all the relevant processes for this purpose, while excluding things like Polaroid transfers and manipulations, which are sometimes called "alternative," but would seem to be a different category like, say, crossprocessing.
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I think that I would have to second David's suggestion. Thanks for that David.
In addition, I would like to say again that silver gelatin is not used by anyone except a few people doing exhibitions and those on APUG and similar forums. In the industry itself it is not in use at all.
I like the term hand-coated as well, and use it a lot to describe my own work, which is 100% hand coated, either in carbon, kallitype, or Pt./Pd. However, hand-coated excludes many processes that we normally include as "alternative," many of which are seen in Rexer's book. That would include POP, any of the emulsion transfers, carbon (if using manufactured tissue), photogravure (same reasoning as carbon), pinhole images made on factory-coated papers, photograms on factory-coated papers, etc, etc.
Originally Posted by Photo Engineer
Again, the major question here is "what processes are included"? I think we could all agree that no one term is perfect. However, in my estimation the term "alternative" is less imperfect than any of the others if we include both historical and contemporary processes, excluding inkjet printing which is now the "standard and ubiquitious" printing process, even for artists. I agree with PE in that silver gelatin, whether regular VC paper or POP, is an alternative processes.
I think that there might be the intent here, using David's suggestion, to place manufactured items in one category and hand made items in another category. Thus, hand made is used in some cases to indicate a one-of-a-kind item.
In your examples above, I think you might distinguish between totally hand made products and manufactured.
Hand crafting tends to lend an additional aura of authenticity to an art work as opposed to mass produced artwork. So then, a photograph made from scratch from start to finish has a different cachet than one made with a mass produced camera, mass produced film, and mass produced print material.
IDK for sure, but it seems to me that we are approaching that phase of our art. And, it is an art no matter what anyone else thinks.
Thank you all for the excellent discussion.
The term "alternative" is clearly the predominant term in use today. After all, this discussion is in the "alternative processes" section of APUG. Frankly, it is the term I use most often to describe my own work, when using a general term. But, the term does have problems, which have been pointed out in the discussion.
The notion of hand-made, hand-coated and non-factory photography has been around for quite a while. The terms certainly have appeal.
To me, there are a couple of issues floating around. One is that we are distinguishing our work from the predominant way of doing photography, which is also a moving target. Today, that would be digital prints--inkjet or light jet. But, there are still enough people using silver gelatin (or factory produced black and white paper) that we have to distinguish from it as well. Among chemical, black and white photographers, it is the predominant method.
Two, to what extent must hand made be hand made? Does hand-coating the final print qualify when our cameras are built by Leica, Nikon or Canon, the negative was made on Fuji or Kodak film, and an enlarged negative was made on an Epson printer. Of course, there is a continuum here, as even doing glass plates, I don't make my own glass. When doing platinum, I buy manufactured papers to coat. Does one element of hand work qualify?
I like the idea of one of a kind as opposed to mass produced. The idea that with hand coated, hand manipulated, hand colored etc, that each work will be slightly different from others. Each print will be unique.
As for POP and other “alternative” processes which use factory produced materials, it is possible to make your own POP paper. I would continue to coat my own platinum paper even if someone started manufacturing it again. Same with albumen. Historically, albumen was a factory made paper.
Some more to think about out on the farm. Great discussion!
And it was even more ambiguous than that. The factory made product as I understand it was albumenized paper that still had to be sensitized by the printer.
Originally Posted by Allen Friday