Three recent gum bichromate prints. Gum bichromate is perhaps the most labor-intensive photographic process because it involves building an image, one layer of pigment at a time. Most gum images need at least two layers, but often three or four are a minimum. Even working rapidly, you can only do about two layers a day. Gum is one of those processes that is all about the choices you make adding up to a finished product. All three images are whole-plate size images, 6.5 by 8.5 inches. Whole plate is the original photographic format, having been designed by Louis Daguerre for his first camera. Whole plate has a long and varied history, having come in and out of fashion repeatedly. It is enjoying a small modern-day renaissance not only for its historical echoes but for its aesthetically pleasing proportions and relative size.
This first image is a gum over Ziatype. Ziatype is a printing-out version of Palladium. A printing out process is one where the image is fully formed during exposure, and does not need a chemical developer to produce a final image. Ziatypes are really neat because they offer a very wide range of contrast, color and tonality depending on how you mix the chemistry. I do the Ziatype under the gum to start with a sharp base image with well-defined shadows and midtones. The gum builds on top to add physical texture and create color.
The second image is a pure gum image, with only two layers, black and blue. As you can see, it is possible to create a successful gum image with only two layers of pigment. I manipulated the layers to bring out the blue color and the detail in the hair.
The final image is a four layer gum bichromate. It is a pretty accurate representation of the model’s actual skin color, but it is made from a single black-and-white negative. I worked it over with a watercolor brush during the printing process to bring out the highlights on the model’s back.