Alternative Processes: Further Exploration
The other thing I get asked when I get to the end of a class; which is normally like a 10 week or 20 week or an intense workshop or we're just doin' platinum premium for four or five days is: what's the next thing? What's next for me? So I've sat here, I've figured this out, what do I actually do? And I can tell you most of the people that get started in this; there's probably 20% try it once and they never do it again. They're like well it was kinda cool. Not my thing. 'Bout 40% it becomes somethin' they kinda do and the other 40% kinda get hooked. And it may not be hooked like it's the only thing they do, but it's interesting enough for them that they keep going. What's interesting with that group of 80% who seem to carry on, is it's rarely in the process they started. So they get started in something simple, they get started in something easy and then they move on to something else. So if you started with cyanotype. And you're like: "oh it's kinda cool. Look I made some photograms, ...
I made some digital negatives. I don't like the color blue." They move on to another process. In the world of historical processing. I don't wanna say there is an unlimited number options. But there's almost an unlimited number of options. Just in the things we do alone. Just in the family of brown prints where the Vandyke family lives. There's about six different processes that move within that space. That are all subtly different, create different tones, create different looks. So you could literally spend years figuring out and mastering that process. In the Vandyke process there are a couple of different formulas for the Vandyke process. So you can decide, I'm going to spend six months and do a deep-dive on the Vandyke process. Platinum and palladium printing... You know we scratch the surface of looking at coating but there's all the different ways to create, there's all the different toning methodologies. So you can actually go in and tone the print, change the look of the print that way. Changing the size of the print becomes a different option. One of the pieces, which is, I think, in a lot of ways is the holy grail, work for people in alt-processing is wet-plate work. So that wet-plate work is the earliest days of photography. When we were actually creating reusable imagery. They had created the Daguerrotype. Daguerrotype appeared on a tin plate. If you wanted to make a copy of the Daguerrotype, you took another photograph of the tin-type as a Daguerrotype. As glass-plates developed and we got glass-plates. We were all then able to use cyanotypes, Vandykes and actually making these prints. To do that it's a wet-plate collodion process. So we actually can take a piece of tin, we can take a piece of glass. We put collodion on it. It dives into a silver nitrate bath. That's what sensitizes it. It then goes into one of these large format cameras. And then we expose the image and then it comes back it goes through its fixing process and drying process. And then you have a glass-plate that you can actually then use to contact print, enlarge and work with. That's another option for people to go with and there are several workshops and several people around the country who teach that technique and that method of working in photography. That's a really, really interesting way. If you really wanna get your hands immersed moving into wet-plates also a great opportunity. A lot of the photo clubs around the country that I've spoken with and presented at before; most of their members are digital. But they all come from back or someone in the club remembers working in film or as working in alt-processing. So finding a community of people you can work with as resources, would be the great next step. And if you're not a person who's engaged actively online; finding that local photo community. You'd be amazed who's involved in your area with alternative processing. It's just not something necessarily we've talked about. Bostick & Sullivan also runs an alternative processing symposium once a year. It's in Santa Fe. It's been in a couple of places in the southwest. So that's another opportunity to get together and that is a really good conference. There's a print swap where you can exchange swaps. There's a number of different seminars about different techniques and how to do things. There's also a number of regional conferences that are around alternative processing. If you're also working and you're staying in the Fine Arts space. And you're doing Photolucida or Houston FOTOFEST or Palm Springs Photo Review. There are a lot of curators and collectors of alternative photography and they can help give you feedback on better ways to print and things to improve on in the process. Or other processes to try. And that's one of the pieces about working with alt-processing photographers. As they might look at your work and be like: "you know that's kinda cool but have you thought about printing that in this process. 'Cause your work may sing better in that." That's one of the things that I've really loved about having the opportunity to learn and work with a bunch of processes. I originally was not a cyanotype person. 'Cause I just was like, you know I'm a platinum premium guy. The cyanotype. But I have some images that I love the look of in the cyanotype. And I don't like them when they're printed in platinum. I don't like them when they're printed digitally. There's just something about the feel of the cyanotype that works for that. So finding those people and working that is really a good piece. And then the other piece as Kenneth said earlier. Sharing that work online; so you've got a great opportunity here of people who watched the course. You've gone out, you started to do the work, you started to create what you're creating. And just uploading it and sharing it to the community. Here is a great way to get started. You'd be amazed at probably what you can find as people start to work together and start to be like: "oh wow, there's a bunch of us now are printing cyanotypes and have you run into this problem, have you figured this out. Have you seen that. That's really cool. How did you do that?" So the more student work that gets uploaded here to share starts to create a community here for working that process. So I think that would be a really good, interesting opportunity for you as well. Don't be afraid to experiment. Don't be afraid to try anything. That is the biggest mistake that people make when they start alternative processing is: they worry too much about the mistake and what can happen. Most of the stuff, as long as you follow, you're in your safety glasses. Wear your gloves. You're not gonna run into any big, huge problems. And if you are doing something that's gonna be a little bit more out there on the edge where that's there. There's plenty of documentation, resources to help you along the way. So that you can do that in a way that you feel like you can be safe with. The other piece is there's a lot of people I've worked with who have chemical reactions in the darkroom. The smell of the stop-bath in the fixer causes reactions for them. So they can't actually work in the silver gelatin world. If you're a person who has worked in silver gelatin on the darkroom. You switched to digital because you just had issues with breathing or skin reactions or whatever. I would encourage you to start to look at some of the alt processes because they use completely different chemicals. And it might be a chance for you to return back into analog processes you love, that you had to give up for some reason from a reaction. So the other great process, the part about alternative processing. You may not be able to do Vandyke because of the sodium thiosulfate. But you can platinum print 'cause there is no sodium thiosulfate. So you've gotta opportunity maybe to reconnect with somethin' that was important for you at that point.