Personal Alt Process History
I guess I must be a little nosy. I'm interested in everyone's history with alt processes; my basic questions are:
When did you start? How did you get to where you are today?
What process is your main interest and activity?
Why do you do an alt process?
I can go first.
In December 1976 the Swiss magazine Camera published an issue on "Photography and American History". That issue started my interest in old photographs. I began to read and look at old photos in a different light. Bill Crawford's "Keepers of Light" really grabbed my attention. Until then it never occurred to me that there were people so interested in historical processes that they would re-create the process because they were enamored with the result. In the late '81 I learned of Dr. Green selling Hanfstaengl carbon materials. I bought his book and some materials and started. Along the way I flirted with platinum, but carbon is my main interest. The digital revolution has removed most of the commercial lab services that I used for making my contact print negatives. 4 years ago I moved to 8x10 so I could use "in camera" negatives for printing. Now with the completion of my 8x20 I believe I've found my niche in terms of format.
The "why" question is probably the most difficult. There are 2 reasons (for me):
1. The prints are unique, very beautiful(well maybe not mine), and have texture.
2. Since the process is more laborious then silver printing, it causes me to be more selective and requires a contemplative approach.
I hope some of you jump in with similar stories. (I did not find a thread like this in the archives)
I started down the alt path about 20+ years ago. My first attempts were in cyanotype and were guided by articles that I read (IIRC) in Petersen's Photographic Magazine. I had access to some direct positive semi-continuous tone film that I used to make enlarged negatives, and while the process was interesting, it was not something that I really enjoyed.
About 3-4 years ago I did a workshop in which a couple of the other students (both 'little old ladies") showed some VanDyke and Pt/Pd prints. I had always liked the appearance of Pt/Pd prints, and the fact that those two "little old ladies" were doing it convinced me to try again.
So I started out with VanDyke. I bought a kit from B&S, and picked up some paper from a local art store. I also built a UV light box. Frankly, the results weren't all that great. I went through a lot of paper with very little to show for it.
Then, I took a workshop on Pt/Pd printing with Tillman Crane where I learned how to make that process actually work. Since then, I've make quite a few prints. I've experimented with enlarged negatives (scanning 35mm negs and then printing them on overhead transparency film), but the result of those experiments haven't been all that good. But I have been very pleased with the results that I've been able to achieve from original, in-camera 4x5 negatives.
Polaroid transfers since highschool. Platinum prints three years ago, when I signed up for the first Alternative Prints Print Exchange.
Originally Posted by John Jarosz
Through fumbling and bumbling. I shoot 99% slide film and transparencies and was looking to expand printing beyond Ilfochromes and Polaroid transfers. Then I took a workshop in ambrotypes two years ago at http://www.Gallery44.org in Toronto, Canada. I was hooked since I can make these directly from my slides / transparencies. I've taken another workshop with France Scully Osterman and also bought "all the books" on alt processes and read them all. Sort of. Plus I went to http://www.AlternativePhotography.com and learned a lot - even became a forum moderator there. Their forum isn't so active or so behaviourly challenged, so it fits in with my lack of play time.
How did you get to where you are today?
Platinum, Polaroid transfer, ambrotype.
What process is your main interest and activity?
I enjoy making them.
Why do you do an alt process?
I copied and pasted the following from my website, for convenience:
Why I am a gum printer:
I had a mental picture of the kind of photograph I wanted to make and set out to try to find a way to make them. I had never seen any photographs like them, but I was determined to find a way to make them, these pictures I saw in my head. Their colors were soft and relatively unsaturated, but with a kind of glow about them. I had never seen autochromes, but years later when I saw some reproductions of autochromes, I realized that the look of autochromes is probably closer to what I was imagining than anything that was ever done in gum historically. It's probably a good thing I didn't see the autochromes before I discovered gum, or I may have spent the intervening years trying to make autochromes.
At any rate I tried and discarded several other possibilities in my search for a way to make these photographs, such as Polaroid transfer, solvent transfer, lith printing, toning, before I found gum. I dabbled in digital art long before most photographers had ever heard of Photoshop, using channel operations and calculations in a very early version of Photoshop to create primitive jury-rigged filters that gave my photographs an impressionistic sort of watercolorish look. Each of these methods produced interesting results, but none of them was what I was looking for. Finally I came across Suda House's book "Artistic Photo Processes" in my local library and saw Todd Walker's dreamy images printed in gum on silk; though his images weren't quite like the ones I was thinking of, I was sure I'd found my medium. I set out first to teach myself to print in gum, using Keepers of Light and an excellent set of instructions from Photographer's Formulary (written by Steve Anchell) as guides, then adapted the method to produce the kinds of pictures I wanted to make, and have been making them ever since. That was nearly 20years ago.
I've never been interested in any other photographic printing process than gum; it's my process.
Taught my self carbon printing starting in 1992, from an article in ViewCamera Magazine (Nov/Dec 1990 issue). This was after 15 years of silver gelatin printing (16x20 from 4x5). I approached carbon printing from a viewpoint of silver printing -- carbon are sort of silver prints on steroids (at least the way I make them.)
One of the things I like about carbon printing is its almost straight line reproduction of the negative...which means I can photograph in very high contrast situations (such as sunlight penetrating deep into the Redwoods) and still capture that light with compresing the tones. The raised relief gives a nice depth to the images also.
When my triplets were born, I taught myself to make platinum/palladium prints in order to save a little time, as I was a bit busy at home (my wife went back to full time work son after we brought the boys home). I grew to like the slightly soft, in-the-paper look...very different than my previous work.
So now I do both processes. I enjoy making the hand-made print and it has become part of my imagery...a case of both image and process influencing each other.
At least with LF landscape, a bad day of photography can still be a good day of exercise.
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When did you start? I started in PtPd about a year and a half ago, may be a little more.
How did you get to where you are today? I took a workshop with Carl Weese in PtPd, and then spent about a year bumbling around with different films, developers, developing methods, until today when I find myself getting consistent negatives and asking fewer dumber questions.
What process is your main interest and activity? I most like PtPd.
I am interested in experimenting this winter with tri-color gum, or maybe just getting started with gum. Have thought about it for many years, and this may be the winter. I am also interested in finally getting a decent Epson printer and learning how to make digital negs that work. I am getting tired of lugging around my Kodak Masterview 8x10 for portraits.
Why do you do an alt process? I like the permanence. I like it as a reaction to the 'everyone with a digital camera is a photographer' environment. I like the look--long scale, fine detail from in-camera negs, subtle transitions in tone. I like the contemplative aspect of large format work, and especially what it does to live subjects...they sit still. I realize this is a contradiction of the point above, but life is full of contradictions.
I got my start into alt process stuff as a result of the "film (and paper) are dying!" scare. I decided I wanted to be able to keep working with film, and large format cameras, as long as possible. At the time, the biggest scare was when Kodak shut down their paper line, so I decided I needed to know how to make my own paper. Platinum/Palladium seemed the natural logical choice, so I started there. At the time, I only had a 4x5 camera. Thus began the snowball of format acquisitions. Although the "film is going away" scare passed, after doing a lot of platinum/palladium printing, I decided I would buy myself some extra insurance and learn wet-plate so that if film did actually die, I could still keep shooting my big cameras, which I had fallen in love with. I've got both those bases (platinum & wet-plate) covered now, so I can plug away no matter what.
I should add that I love the aesthetics of platinum/palladium, now much more so than silver. I also appreciate the aesthetics of wet plate, and I'm still learning how to take advantage of what it has to offer.
Last edited by TheFlyingCamera; 09-21-2008 at 08:24 PM. Click to view previous post history.
I am but a recent convert, initially the result of economics: a friend has a photo lab and would outsource my B&W developing to the nearby pro lab then scan the negs to CD for a nominal (shout a beer) fee. I got a bit the hell in with paying $10 a throw for a 120 roll so started thinking about doing my own developing. I had been doing a little LF stuff with type 55 which I very much enjoyed, but it was becoming pricey, and rumours of its demise were starting to circulate. This moved me into the DIY path. Darkroom stuff outside of a change tent was just not going to happen in my house, but in bringing my brain back up to speed on developing and stumbling over things like pyrocat I found unblinkingeye and alternatephotography. Thereafter it was cyanotype and toning which is where I have stayed and am now slowly moving up the formats as well.
I am never going to be anything special in the world of photos or art, but I enjoy the feeling of following in a long tradition, and as others have said it is also the whole LF/contemplative/start-to-finish process that I enjoy.
I've started alt process in 90 with cyanotype and gum , in 96 I give a try to platinum and keep on doing all these till then. I also did some carbon print from home made tissue or not. And I'll be leased to do more carbon process now.
During the, oh noes! film and paper is disappearing scare a couple years ago I wondered if it would be possible to make prints using nothing but digital equipment. I had been interested in trying gum bichromate for a long time, The Scare just pushed me into doing something about it. I bought some chemicals and paper to try my hand at it with the intention of learning how to make tricolour gum prints and, along the way discovered another process called gumoil. I found gum bichromate too fussy and, quickly abandoned it for the gumoils.
Then, I saw someones work with dry plate. I bought a quarter plate camera and, started coating plates with liquid emulsion. The inevitable happened, I saw my negative do that magical thing where the light bounces off the surface just right ... I'm now in the process of getting everything together to do wet plate collodion.
Everything I've learnt has been from the internet or, books I've purchased. I'd give my eye teeth for a wet plate workshop on the West Coast though.
I'm a process junkie. I get just as much enjoyment out of smearing and rubbing paint on paper or, coating plates under a red light as I do looking at the final result. Maybe more so. It satisfies my need to make things with my hands in a way working in a darkroom doesn't do.