One of the joys of my work with antique cameras is learning their history, the history of the people who used them and the development of the techniques of photographic production. A key area of development was in making prints.
Ordinary photographic paper was the first type of print I made by placing the negative on top of a fresh piece of photographic paper and shining a desk lamp through the negative to form an image on the paper below - this turns the negative into a ‘positive’ print.
I then had the thought that an easier way to make prints onto paper might be to use the cyanotype (blueprint) process usually confined to plants. Here the paper is coated with safe chemicals that react to the UV in sunlight. If I put one of my negatives onto the light sensitive paper - would I get a positive blue image? - Answer, YES! and with great detail. I then found the blue colour could be toned using all sorts of household chemicals and so made a number of “Toned Cyanotype Prints”.
I then found the blue colour could be toned using all sorts of household chemicals such as washing soda and then tannin-rich things like coffee and tea. So many variations of “Toned Cyanotype Prints” followed.
After much trial and error ( and finding I wasn’t the first person to have thought of this!) I successfully made (and continue to make) Glass- cyanotype prints that make great window-hangers available at Studio3 Gallery, Clevedon Craft Centre
One of the ways pictorialist photographers expanded beyond simple mechanical reproductions was in the way they printed their work. Firstly by coming up with all manner of techniques to manipulate light and chemistry to produce a variety of different prints from the same negative. These techniques live on electronically as Photoshop tools. Secondly the medium they printed -
Salt print, Albumen, Ambrotype, Cyanotype, Argyrotype, Lith and VandykeBrown prints are a tiny proportion of the range of printing techniques employed for artistic effect.
Examples are - VandVykeBrown print and Lith print
I have recently been trying gum-oil printing as I particularly like the softness it produces and the fact that the artist’s hand dictates the finale outcome. This is no mere technique reproducible from a recipe.
In gum-oil the negative is placed onto a piece of paper that has a layer of sensitised gelatine on it. Sunlight (or a UV lamp) causes the gelatine to harden and become water resistant in proportion to the amount of light falling onto it. Light areas of the negative let the UV through and those areas are hardened and don’t soak up water so that when oily ink is applied it won’t stick to the light areas but the dark areas take the ink and become darkened.
Sounds straightforward but it has taken many weeks of trying, failing and learning and re-reading around and watching and re-watching video tutorials to get to a point where I am starting to produce images that please me.
Most photographs fade with time but an oil painting - or print is much longer lasting.