Photographic printing processes from the mid and late nineteenth century offer a wide variety of printed surface, colour and texture that differ markedly from the clean, perhaps almost sterile, appearance of modern digital images. The early photographic processes (aka ‘alternative photography’ or ‘Alt-Photo’) require a real hands-on approach in the choice of paper, chemistry and coating, providing every opportunity for the printmaker to produce individual and beautifully aesthetic work. The starting point can be a film negative or a digital image –either from a phone or camera – then it’s really a question of deciding how the final print should be visualised and created.
This course will introduce participants to five important early processes and participants will be able to make at least one print with each processe using their own images. Materials and equipment are provided, all that is necessary is to bring along those special images ready to be made into stunning and unique prints.
During the week, five early printing processes will be introduced:
Salt Paper Prints
Salt printing was one of the earliest photographic techniques to be invented; it dates from the 1830s and makes beautiful prints. The colour varies, according to how the print is made, but commonly is a rich brown/purple – _sometimes referred to as sepia prints. The prints are made by coating good quality paper with solutions, firstly of salt and then of silver nitrate. The paper is then exposed, under a negative, to the sun, or more usually a sun lamp of some description, and developed by washing in water.
The picture, right, of Buffalo Bill was made in 1865. The print has a sheen to it, possibly not visible in this reproduction, because it was made with salted egg-whites (albumen). If the egg-white is left out of the recipe the prints are more purplish and have a matte surface.
The cyanotype process dates from the early 1840s and unsurprisingly are often referred to as ‘blueprints’. They are great fun to make and can be printed on almost any sort of paper or cloth – they print nicely on tee shirts. The process is fairly straightforward; two different chemical solutions are mixed and the paper is coated, once or twice. After it’s dried it is then exposed to the sun or a sun lamp, under a negative. The print is then developed in water.
The print shown here on the was made in 1905 and is a somewhat subdued blue. When they are made, cyanotypes are a strong deep blue. They can, though, be toned and the colour changed to brown (by soaking in cold tea) or black.
Platinum printing is the aristocracy of the early photographic processes. This picture by one of the most famous woman photographers, Julia Margaret Cameron, was made in 1865. This image is composed of very finely divided precious metal. The technique was very popular in the forty years before the First World War because of its very delicate highlights and mid-tones.
As with the other printing processes, paper is coated with special solutions and, when dry, is exposed under a negative to the sun or sun lamp, the ultra-violet rays are the key here, before being developed in another chemical mix.
The Kallitype, patented in the 1890s is a direct descendent of the Calotype (paper negative) and Salt Print (positive print from calotype negative) processes developed by Fox Talbot in the 1830s and 1840s. Kallitypes combine the tonal sensitivities of the iron-based Platinum print and the colour palettes of Silver Nitrate printing – brown, sepia, blue, maroon and black. As with the other coating the paper with sensitising solutions and, when dry, exposing the paper to ultra violet light under a negative. The exposed paper is then developed, fixed and washed.
Kallitypes are great fun to make, they’re much cheaper than Platinums and they can be adapted to produce images both of rustic robustness and also of great delicacy and finesse of tone. It’s thought that a number of museums exhibit prints labelled as Platinum process that are in fact Kallitypes. The print, on the right, is a modern Kallitype.
This is real, put on an apron and roll up your sleeves, printing. Originally the process involved etching the image into a copper plate, but there is a modern equivalent that is quicker and simpler. A photosensitive polymer plate is exposed to ultra-violet light under a ‘transparency’ (prepared from either a film negative or digital image) and then washed out in water. Where the plate has been protected from the light by parts of the transparency it remains soluble in water and will be removed, where the plate is exposed to light it becomes hardened and these parts will not wash away. After it has been dried, the plate is covered in ink and then the surface ink removed by wiping. Ink remains in the lines, grooves and hollows, where the unhardened polymer has been washed away, and it is these inked depressions that form the image when the plate is put through high-pressure rollers in contact with dampened art paper.
It’s quite a performance but well worth the trouble, prints made by this method can be stunning. The illustration above is of a photogravure by Alfred Stieglitz made in 1894.
About: Dr Peter Moseley
Dr Peter Moseley is an experienced photographer and printmaker, principally using the techniques and processes of the nineteenth century, including photogravure, platinum, salt and albumen, carbon transfer, kallitype and cyanotype printing.
Peter has an MA in Printmaking from the University of Brighton and currently is Visiting Research Fellow at the Centre for Fine Print Research at the University of the West of England where he gained his PhD. He has had work shown at national and regional galleries, including the National Portrait Gallery and the Royal Society of Painters-Printmakers.
He is an experienced and qualified teacher and has taught photography/printmaking workshops at universities, colleges and print centres in the UK and in Russia and China. He has been teaching summer programmes at UWE for a number of years now.
Peter’s current focus involves making portraits, primarily of older people and older bodies. His works aim to depict the strength and fragility, and the humanity and life experience of his subjects through the portrayal of their skin and fragments of their bodies. He uses the materiality and haptic of prints made using early photographic printing processes to articulate the surface, depth and texturality of his subjects.
The course price includes all materials and catering.
Courses will be held at UWE Bristol. The course is limited to a maximum No: of 6 participants, please sign up early to secure your place.