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Alternative Processes

Lesson 29 from: Introduction to Black & White Film Photography

Daniel Gregory

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Lesson Info

29. Alternative Processes

Lesson Info

Alternative Processes

At least for me and for everybody who's in the box, they're not actually people, their prints are in the box, analog photography, like I said in the beginning, there's a tactile nature to it. There's a connection to the work that is just different than when we work behind a computer screen. And, what I've seen with people who are returning to film is if that clicks in you at all, where you're like, "Oh my gosh, this is cool," you're on a slippery slope because the things out of the analog world are so cool, the things we can print and do. You can, not figuratively, you can literally go back and do the very same process we did with the very first photographs ever created. We have that documentation. We still have that chemistry. We have those cameras. We have those lenses. You can do that. That is such a cool experience. If you decide, wow, I was down at Pier 42 or Pier 24 down in San Francisco, I was at the MOMA, I was in New York at a museum, I was at Chicago, I was in Shanghai, I was...

in Berlin, wherever, and there was this amazing salt print taken and it was printed in the 1890s, it was amazing, I want to do that. You can do that. So, to be able to go back and say that, wow, I can take myself in today's modern camera digital world and insert myself into the stream of history in a way that is directly connected to the kind of photography we used to do a hundred years ago is really, really cool. The gateway for that, you know, for a lot of people is film. They start in the film and they're like, "Wow, this is pretty cool. "What else is there? "What else can I do? "What else is possible?" And, once you get the basics of, wow, this is not difficult to work with or I talked about film sensitivities for developing. One of the, Sarah king is a local photographer, over the top amazing in her skill set, vision, everything, she really suffers from reactions to just a couple of the chemicals in the darkroom, but she has found alternative processes that use completely different chemicals that she doesn't have that reaction to. She's doing cyanotypes on copper plates that get molded into sculpture. It's crazy what she's doing, but it comes out of the reaction to the film world, what all is possible. One of the first things I wanted to show you, and I've got their names, so I've got a number of photographers, here, so these are the photographers we're going to look at. I just want to give you their names for their different pieces. This, the emulsion was put onto glass and then the photograph was made and, in this case, it was a photograph of a photograph, so she had the original image on film and she wanted to create the glass plate out of it and she calls this one, this photograph is titled, Dreaming of Eugene, so it's a Eugene etching, and from that, she makes a contact print that is the, so this is laid directly onto the paper and we end up with that print. So, now, we've taken glass plates, this is what Talbot did, this is what those original photographers, they went to the West, Carleton, all of them, they were shooting on these kind of glass plates. So, she did this like, about a year ago, so Gina was able to come in and create that plate and get an image like this out of that, so it's a beautiful piece for that. I mentioned, early on, that photography, we created, film was put onto paper and it was a calotype, a C-A-L-O-type. To say that Gina likes to play with the older processes wound be an understatement, so here is a paper negative. So, this is off regular analog paper or analog darkroom paper. She's created the negative in camera and then it results in the corresponding print. So, this hearkens back to some of the original foundations of photography, so it's a way to stay connected to the past and really find an interesting way of having the experience. It's a beautiful tonal range, beautiful, gorgeous set of imagery. I told her I would keep it in the sleeve, so I'm gonna put that back. (paper crinkling) So, in the box of happiness, here, we've got a number of things. Now, one of the cool things that I wanted to talk about first is, Aaron's work is, is done in a couple of different ways and one of the things that happens is we have images and Aaron has this photograph, and let me pull it out here, and you can see, he's got a black Sharpie on that image. His negative got injured, so there was a tear in the negative. So, what we did was he started the process, so this isn't the final print, we scanned this piece of film in. We corrected the film in Photoshop and we built what's called a digital negative. So, we output a new negative on an inkjet printer. We've mapped the tonal values and he's just started this process, so this print will eventually look exactly like this without the tear in it. So, we've now taken the world of digital and we've applied that into the historical process of him being able to save a piece of film. One of my absolute most important pieces of film to me, the one I told you has thousands of spots, I was platinum printing, which I'm gonna show you a platinum print here in a second. The negative, platinum has to be completely dry before the negative touches it, but I hadn't properly dried the paper, the negative went down in it, picked up thousands of pieces of platinum that then cooked into the negative and I'm having to spot out all of those pieces, but it's one of my absolutely dearest negatives. It's taken me, I still haven't printed it yet. It's just taking me forever to get the spots out. Okay, digital negative, so Aaron took this photograph. We made the digital negative out of it which, then, results in the platinum print. So, platinum printing is one of our old processes. It was actually in the 1800s, late 1800s, you could actually buy platinum paper like you bought silver gelatin paper today. It is one of the absolute most archival processes that exists in photography and what's great about it is, you see these beautiful brushstrokes, here? The way platinum works is we actually mix the platinum and we coat the paper by hand. That hand-coating results in complete uniqueness every single time. The negative is then laid down on top of the platinum surface. It's exposed under UV light and then after a certain amount of time, the image actually develops. It is less contrasty than silver gelatin, but holds more range of light than silver gelatin, so you end up with these absolutely subtly gorgeous shifting tones. This is one of my absolute favorite ways to print is in the platinum print. Now, because of the work with the digital negative and all that, he's able to take that and turn it into a silver gelatin print, as well. So, here's a traditional silver gelatin print of the same image and you can see it's just subtly two different experiences. So, there is not the shifting in, in intention and meaning; it's just a different feeling and this closer to what Aaron had it for the original interpretation of the photograph. So, it's, there's a chance to come in and be like, "Oh, I want to try something, I want to play," and ultimately get towards a vision there. One of the other great pieces is, here's just another platinum print, real quick. This is Radley the dog, so, but, again, you get these beautiful brushstrokes that create in the artistic side. This is on an Arches Platine paper, so some of the pages have a nice deckled edge on 'em, but hand-coated and if we try to create this exact same thing again, we couldn't do it. So, one of the things these historical processes do is they create uniqueness within the image, so even in the analog darkroom, if I do the same motion over and over again, there's a subtle nuance to the print and this is one of the things that people had with digital photography early on is it had a sterileness to it, so there's been a little bit of rebound back into these alternative processes, 'cause of the uniqueness. I don't personally think there's a sterilization to the digital process. I actually think it's just a different process and it looks kind of cool. These, so this is another kind of cool process for these images, two different examples. So this is a Vandyke and cyanotype on top of one another. So, Vandyke is kind of a brown processing unit, old historical processing; cyanotype's the classic blue a lot of people see. Now, in the world of photography, in the question of, well, what happens if I do both of those? What happens if I lay those on top of one another? Has anybody done that before? Yes, people have done that before. Cool, kind of, how'd they do that? We pick up a little of that research, it starts to go together. So, Leah's worked on this and Gina worked on that one, so kind of a beautiful rendition of those. One of the other, really, kind of beautiful, absolutely beautiful renderings out of paper is something called bromoil printing, so these are Harini's bromoil prints. Bromoil is, we basically, it's an oil that coats the image, so the image is created, it's still a little damp, and the oil gets created over the top and you end up with these stunning images. Here's a larger one or these where you see a large one. So, this was a form that was 1920s, 1900s, and a lot of this was coming out and we were trying to figure out how to create new images, what worked and what didn't work photographically, what created within the latent image, what stuck within the latent image, so that process really kind of created a unique piece. One of the other processes, one of the old historical processes is something called salt printing, so there is a little bit of meta on this one. I kind of like this. That's salt on a salt print (laughs), so, and this is salt on salt. This is another kind of salt print. So, the way salt print works is we lay down a salt-based solution. That makes the paper ready and then it's coated with a silver nitrate. Silver nitrate's, then, what reacts with the image and so that creates the image, again, a beautiful softness to them. So, this is a deep back for a salt print, but you get this beautiful tonality, this beautiful richness that comes through the photograph that really kind of makes it sing and really come out. You're not limited, you know, you're limited by imagination. This is bromoil print that is a, kind of a long, this is 16 by seven landscape, panorama format, but you're not limited by just the shape and size of the negative. You can make a different crop. This was actually exposed off a longer negative, off a roll-back, so you take a large, no, a medium-format, six by 16, 16 by 17 negative off a long one and you hit it with this very beautiful long format. This same camera process, you can see two different looks, bromoil and this is a toned lith print, so we'll talk about lith printing here in a second, but there's a little bit of toning in there that creates that plumminess. So, that plumminess is, just comes about as we try to make a subtle shift in the way the image looks. These are two more of Maurice's lith prints. So, you can see that gorgeous, gorgeous blacks and tonalities in there and this contrast and this look is completely controlled by Maurice and the decision he makes with the developer and the paper choice he makes. So, silver gelatin negatives, just of the kind of roll we would have developed today, but rather than print them in the traditional analog silver gelatin world, they're printed in this lith process, an incredibly slow process, about four times longer exposure to get the paper exposed and significantly longer, under the development piece. But, this is also a lith print, so, we can completely change the look and the aesthetic of an image. This particular image is another one of Gina's. She loves the aesthetic of printing a lith; she's a master lith printer. We then scanned this and then printed this out about, I think it was about four feet by six feet that she then sold to a collector, but the collector was like, "I absolutely have to have this look." So, Gina couldn't scan the negative. So, in the world of kind of all the pieces starting to come together, sometimes you have to do the analog heavy lifting, we scan this, and then we make the digital print off that because there is no four foot by six foot analog paper to actually create that look, but we needed the tonal range there. Can I create that tonal range digitally? No, I can create something close to that, but it's different. It's not exactly the same, nor should it be the same. So, I can get it really close. Platinum printing, when we look back at that platinum print of Aaron's, that I stuck down here, this print, people argue with me on platinum printing. Like I say, I'm a platinum printer. They tell me, "I can do that digitally." No, you can't. Can you get those tones? Absolutely, but what happens with these kind of processes is, we're coating the paper. That chemistry and that emulsion we're basically building is starting to seep into the paper. That suspended metal, that suspended platinum and palladium that's in there, that's also falling into the fibers of the paper, so when the exposure happens, it's creating a slight three-dimensionality to the image that is different than how ink gets sprayed on the paper. So, is it identical? No, because we're spraying ink. This isn't waved into the paper. It's just a different process, a different look, and it just, it isn't one of those things with me to just, don't try to make it something else it's not. Enjoy this experience and this process for what it is and then the silver gelatin version. I've seen a digital version of this that Aaron's created that's also stunningly gorgeous, so there's not any weird limitation there. A couple of other pieces, so this is another one of my, Gina loves tape. This is another print, so you can see the, beautiful, out of Paris. Gina's got a book of Paris, so this is the work out of Paris. Now, I talked about and I was saving these because this is, well, a body of work that I just absolutely adore because it covers a couple things we talked about earlier, shift and lith print. Remember I told you, you don't have to have a black, you don't have to have the full range in black and white? That's a pretty full ranged black and white, but this has its own feeling, its own experience and this is to the vision of what she imagined. She imagined this high key. The delicacy in how form and movement intermeld with one another and you got lost in the shape of the statue and so rather than it be of the statue, it became ethereal, about the statue. So, the placement in the shadow and the decisions to print and all that were not, "Oh, I have to get zone three." It was what's gonna give me the experience of the photograph? Actually, that way; she's gonna kill me for holding it that way. Gina, don't watch the last, like, minute and a half. (students laughing) How, that way gives you that area and, to that point of mind, there, we make that black. We create the contrast that's in there, even though it wouldn't measure as pure black. So, we have that aesthetic that comes through there. I can give you another, here's another, example out of that series. The other piece that happens with this is you're starting to think about your own style and approach. So, this is one of Harini's bromoil prints, landscape, tree, large scale. Our viewing distance to photographs is twice the diagonal, on average, so you're gonna stand a little farther back for this photograph because of the resolving power of your eye and the ability to see detail. First, this one, so you're gonna come in closer to this photograph. So, this is one of the other things that I think happens when we start to become more connected with the work. Whether it's digital, whether it's analog, it doesn't really matter, but we get more connected. You start to think about the experience of how close do I want somebody to the photograph? How do I want them to experience the relationship to that? Do I want 'em to be one foot away? Do I want 'em to be 13 feet away? What to I want them to see and notice? 'Cause, like I said, all photographers are here, but everybody else, this photograph is designed to be viewed at this viewing distance. That's not very far, but in that viewing distance, I start to pick up all those different elements. This is designed to have me view right about, a little past that, so I'm farther back, so I build a different relationship to the work. As you get connected to the work, as you print more, as you get more engaged, those are the kind of things you start to think about within your own photography, is, how do I build those relationships, how do I connect to those? Now, there is nothing in any of this work that prevents anybody from doing anything. There's no magic, here. There's no years of education. It is literally a willingness to be like, "Wow, that was cool. "How do I get that experience? "How do I figure out how to do that?" And, I rarely see that come from people who don't somehow get connected and hooked back into analog. It's the connection back into analog that makes the connection back into the history of photography, so that's the piece that really pulls from the unique perspective on that and that's the piece that goes there. Now, that being said, one of the coolest things we can do, you saw it a little bit with Aaron's, you decide that my first slide I showed you was true and that film does smell funny and you're like, that ain't gonna happen. I don't do film, I don't want to do film. Like I said, we can take any digital image, create a digital negative out of it and put in into the historical printing process. So, there is a way to take the hybrid world of the analog, I want to be connected, I want to create these amazing experiences and, but I shoot and see the world digitally, that's how I create, I have my iPhone, I only work with my iPhone. Great, we can put you in this world with the iPhone because photography always preserves its history. It's one of the things we've done a great job of. We've never forgotten what we've done in the past with photography and, just like when we looked at Gordon Parks and we looked and Dorothea Lange and we looked at Ansel's work. Ansel's remembered for his Yosemite stuff. His stuff at the internment camp is probably more important in history. It allows us to remember. Gordon Parks' work allows us to remember, Diane Arbus' work allows us to remember. Jamel Shabazz's work, whoever you pick, it allows us to have that connection back and the analog world allows us to reach into the past and make that connection to pull forward. I have a project now I'm working on with the Alternative Power Grid printed in historical processes, 'cause I want to have the conversation of, what if we make different choices a hundred years ago than we make today? What does that say about a hundred years from now? And, I want to use the medium of photography to tell that. To tell that story properly, I need the connection to the past. That's why I need to have this piece. So, it's starting to realize, how can I tell the story in a significant way in my work that allows me to connect and then move that forward? So that's, I think, one of the things that if you do get involved with this, it can really impact your storytelling.

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I am really fond of Daniel Gregory as a teacher. He does a great job. To me, his enthousiasm, his passion for and his dedication to film photography are infectuous. It's great that CreativeLive makes place for film photography and for such a pro teaching it. It can never do so enough for me. Thanks. I am a fan.

Texas Beauty Photography

Great class!! It's jam packed with usable information for anyone wanting to shoot, process, and print black and white images. There is so much detail presented in this class, I can practically guarantee you'll come back to it again and again. I successfully used this class to capture b/w photographs, process the negatives, capture them digitally, and finally, produce beautiful prints that I'm proud to show my friends and clients. This may well be one of the best classes on all of CreativeLive. Highly recommended!


This is an excellent course and Daniel is a great teacher! I'm coming back to shooting film and darkroom work after 20 years away. I have some wonderful film cameras sitting in my cabinet and I decided I wanted to use them--so I have decided to shoot BW with film, and shoot color with my digital cameras. I will develop the BW film myself and scan and print digitally. This class is perfect for me!

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