I’ve been engaging in series of work in response to triggers from my environment – there was that moment of eureka that started the six year journey resulting in the Sinister Idyll series and the gallery show at Gallery O on H. Now, with the COVID-19 crisis, I’ve been trying to work on a series coping with being in a near-quarantine situation, and how do we respond to/deal with the stress and anxiety of walking around every day in a public space that could kill you. After barely leaving my house for the last four months, I noticed that certain things were turning into patterns, most specifically, delivery food. I was cooking at home more, but I was also getting delivery from places I hadn’t in the past, and due to “contactless” delivery those delivery items and their remnants looked different.
Since I’m not leaving the house, and now I had all this accumulated subject matter, I decided that my response would be in the form of still life images. I brought out my 8×10 view camera and set up a small studio on my patio where I could work.
These are just two preliminary images from the series. I’m continuing to work on ideas and presentation, but it’s a planted seed that will grow into something. Working on a series like this is very different from my documentary series Sinister Idyll because there, I had to go out and photograph my subjects in the places where I found them, in the circumstances they existed in (it might be rainy, or crowded, or the wrong time of day). Inspiration came from what I found when I found it, and I just had to interpret. Here, with doing still life, it’s a very different discipline because you’re creating something entirely de novo – yes, the delivery bags and food containers and beverage bottles are what they are, but I have to arrange them in a cohesive and aesthetic manner, I have to choose the juxtapositions, the backdrop, the lighting, the depth of field… everything. There’s nobody to blame for a shot not working but myself. I like the discipline of it, but it’s a big challenge.
As is customary for me, these are all going to be palladium prints. I love working in a hand-made medium, and the tactile nature of the photographs is so pleasing to me. The entire process of making them, from setting up the studio through using the large view camera, to developing the film and making the print, really, means that I put so much of my soul into the practice of making the photograph.
Here’s the little studio set up, if you want to see it. It serves as proof that you don’t need much to work with to make images- just a will to do something and a vision to make it happen.
Hi all- sorry for the very long silence on here. Life has been tempest-tossed the last year or so, so I’ve been kinda out-of-action on the blogging front. Anyway, back at it. I was just interviewed on the Film Factor Podcast, talking about alternative processes, collecting daguerreotypes, and teaching photography in a pandemic. Film Factor Podcast is hosted by Franz Lopez, a devoted photography enthusiast in the Philippines. Getting everything synced up for the live show was a little interesting, given the vagaries of the global internet and the twelve-hour time difference. Here’s the link to the recording of the session:
My work from the Sinister Idyll series is appearing in the next issue of The Hand magazine, a monthly journal of reproduction-based art. This covers hand-made photography as well as most forms of traditional printing (woodcut, linocut, etching, collotype, and more).
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Issue 24 is in the distribution room. We are trying our hardest to get them in envelopes, stickered and bundled for the mail room!
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This issue features an interview with Lyell Castonguay. Lyell is the director of the large-format woodblock press, BIG INK, and an accomplished artist in his own right. We also have an Artist’s Spotlight on Francesco Poiana. If you haven’t ordered yours yet, GET A COPY TODAY!
Below, you will see images by the artists we featured on our social media platforms over the past week. Please join us on Facebook and Instagram for more behind the scenes pics and fun stuff. We hope you will take the time to take a closer look at these wonderful artists. Please click on their links, go to their websites, and start a dialogue with them. Take care of yourself and each other.
Issue 24 contributor, Peter Ward (St. Albans Park, Victoria, Australia), “Lost Quilt”, Linocut on calico, quilted, 63″ x 63″ VISIT PETER’S WEBSITE
Issue 24 contributor, Molly Phalan (West Lafayette, Indiana, USA), “Decarlo”, Silver gelatin mordançage, 14″ x 11″ VISIT MOLLY’S WEBSITE
I am overjoyed to announce that I will be one of five artists participating in INDELIBLE: That Which Cannot Be Erased, at Gallery O on H, 1354 H Street NE, Washington DC, from February 22 to the end of May. I will have over 40 palladium prints in the show. I also want to give a huge round of applause to Mary Ellen Vehlow, the owner of Gallery O on H and curator of this show, for including my work in a very powerful exhibit.
INDELIBLE: that which cannot be erased. A multimedia two-floor installation curated by Gallery Director Dolly Vehlow of GalleryOonH and Busboys and Poets Arts Curator Carol Rhodes Dyson.
Opening Reception: February 22nd 6-10pm. On exhibit through May 2019. Daily Tuesday 5-7:30PM, Wed-Fri 12-5PM, Saturday 11-3PM.
Indelible: that which cannot be erased is a confrontation of an unjust and repetitive history. The works in this exhibition seek to highlight a narrative often overlooked by mainstream art history to illustrate a continuum of injustice in our nation, featuring artists working in its capital city. Inspired by Black History Month, the show seeks to focus on the cyclical nature of unresolved issues–from the legacy of slavery to modern day police overreach and violence. The works included are a visual embodiment of current events, linked to a sinister history of oppression. Indelible puts local artists to the forefront, selected to underline the long history of racial inequality within our collective past and contemporary society. Artists featured include Milton Bowens, Billy Colbert, Scott Davis, Nehemiah Dixon, Justyne Fischer and Rodney “BUCK!” Herring.
My artists statement about the work:
Roland Barthes wrote of how a photograph contains a “punctum”, an element that strikes the viewer to the spiritual core, something that provokes a visceral emotional reaction in them. I believe life has moments of punctum – the origins of this project, for me, was an experience that ran through me like a lightning bolt. I was taking a Civil War history tour through the Smithsonian one late summer afternoon. I was standing on the lawn of L’Hermitage, a farm just outside Frederick, Maryland. I was looking around at the gently rolling hills, trees full of green leaves, puffy white clouds dotting the sky, corn in the adjacent field taller than my head, and listening to the guide talking about the history of the place.
The farm was founded by a family of French emigres from Haiti who had fled the slave uprisings in the 1790s. They re-settled in Frederick, Maryland, and proceeded to attempt to reestablish Haitian-style slavery replete with the same degree of brutality they had practiced before. These people were so brutal with their slaves that their neighbors, slave-owners themselves, called the sheriff on them multiple times. In 1810, the importation of new slaves into the United States was made illegal. After that time, if you wanted more slaves, you had to buy them from someone else, or you could breed them. This family ran a stud service with their slaves, treating human beings as breeding stock.
Hearing this, I was struck by the horrific irony of the pastoral idyll of the scene I was viewing being literally soaked in the blood of other human beings who had lived, worked, and died there quite possibly never able to look at that scenery with the innocence I had looked at it until the moment before that revelation. I felt compelled to respond to that epiphany artistically, because I knew from my own experience that all the academic reading in the world does not adequately convey that emotional truth I had experienced.
I grew up with a very specific version of the history of this country – it was built by great men of lofty ideals, who imbued it with a progressive spirit intended to raise up the dignity of all humans. As a child, and into my adulthood, I went to the houses of these great men to see the way they lived and the places that inspired them to deliver the great nation of the United States into being. We went to Mount Vernon, Monticello, and Montpelier in Virginia, the Paca house in Annapolis, Maryland, the Carroll estates in Baltimore, and dozens of other colonial-era grand homes – their grandness was signaled as direct proof of their virtue and wisdom.
It was never discussed that they had the wealth and leisure to develop these lofty ideas because they owned in some cases hundreds of their fellow human beings who labored for them to produce that wealth and leisure. Nor was it discussed that these men who wrote so eloquently about the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness saw fit to administer corporal punishment to the people they owned when those people decided that they too were deserving of the same life, liberty and happiness their owners wrote about.
I still go to see those great houses because I am fascinated by the styles and architecture of bygone eras, but now I think about how they were paid for (and often built) with slave labor. It is a metaphoric and literal foundation to this country that we must acknowledge and recognize if we are ever going to make forward progress.
I chose to produce these images the way I have for two reasons. I made them as compact contact prints 2 ¼ by 4 ¼ inches in size to force the viewer to engage very personally with the images, so they cannot hold themselves at arm’s length from the subject. I printed them in an historic photographic process, palladium, because using a noble metal to make jewel-like images that can only be made with extensive manual labor was a metaphorical way of repaying some of the debt to the people who without compensation or recognition built and shaped the landscapes I photographed. I hope that these images will in this way produce moments of punctum for the viewers the way they have for me.
Today this is a marina for pleasure boats. In 1848 it was a working dock that admitted directly onto the Potomac River, and was the site of the largest non-violent slave escape attempt in US history, the “Pearl Incident”, when 77 individuals attempted to flee down the Potomac river and through the Chesapeake Bay with the intended destination of New Jersey, a free state. Their efforts were thwarted by contrary winds on the Potomac and betrayal by a fellow slave who did not join them.
These warehouses in Georgetown today house businesses, a tavern and boutiques, but at the time of the Pearl Incident were tobacco and grain warehouses owned by Mr. Dodge, the man who owned the leaders of the escapee contingent.
The net outcome of the Pearl Incident was the ending of the slave trade in Washington DC in 1850, but full abolition of slavery and legal emancipation would have to wait until 1862. Along the way, the captain and first mate of the Pearl spent four years in prison because they could not afford to pay the fines ($10,000 in 1848 currency, or about $250,000 in today’s currency).
The last two weekends, I’ve been teaching an Intro to Platinum/Palladium Printing class. In the past, I’ve only taught it from film negatives, but this time I did it with a module on making digitally enlarged negatives as well. It was a rousing success- I had a great time teaching it, and I had some very enthusiastic students, all of whom were very seriously interested in continuing with the medium.
Last week, we started out learning basic coating technique, talked a bit about paper selection, and the importance of a good negative to work from. To expedite the process, I provided students with negatives that were already processed for platinum/palladium printing.
This week we covered making images from digitally enlarged negatives. I had students bring in a selection of images on thumb drives and we picked one or two to make negatives with. Here are my assembled students with finished prints from our digital negative printing session. The prints are much warmer in color in this photo than they are in real life because I took this on my iPhone in mixed lighting.
A better representation of some student prints. We also tried doing Ziatypes (a variation on palladium printing that is a printing-out process rather than a developing-out process, and by default has a much cooler, silvery tone to it than a pure palladium print does). The two images in the center row – left center and dead center – are Ziatype variations. The woman’s portrait was from a 40+ year old in-camera 8×10 negative not specifically developed for alt-process printing, but it worked quite well. The soft edges are from the fact that the negative was not processed archivally and is starting to silver out.
OK- well, the title is a tad misleading – my class WAS sold-out with a wait list. I added additional slots to accommodate the wait list, and there is ONE additional spot left. If you’re interested, now’s the time to grab it before it’s gone. I will NOT expand the wait list again for this session. The class is my perennially popular Introduction to Platinum/Palladium Printing class, this time with an expanded digital negative how-to session. Based on the response, I’m also planning a fall Platinum/Palladium Printing Extended Project course that will provide a six-to-eight week guided seminar in printing.
The pyramids at Teotihuacan in Mexico was originally shot on a 2 1/4 x 4 1/4 inch roll film negative from my Lomo Belair X/6-12, then scanned and printed on Pictorico Premium OHP to make a 4 x 8 inch print.
Ditto the above with this shot of the National Gallery of Art staircase in Washington DC.
Making a print is fun and easy.
A frequently asked question: what about your developer chemistry? You mix up your Potassium Oxalate, replenish it as needed, and filter it periodically. But you keep on using the same batch of developer forever, unlike silver gelatin paper developers which have a finite lifespan, regardless of usage.
Here’s a digital negative printed on the Pictorico OHP transparency medium. Other printers will work, but the industry standard seems to be Epson Stylus Photo printers with Ultrachrome K3 inks (or newer). I’m using an Epson 3880 at the moment.
Here’s an exposed print from the negative shown above. An exposed but undeveloped print will show a “ghost image” of the finished print. The development process happens VERY fast, as you can see in the video below.
And the finished print, washing in the final wash.
I’m sharing these two images as demonstration of the effect of NA2 on contrast, and how a little goes a VERY long way. NA2 is shorthand for Sodium Platinum, a restrainer/contrast boosting agent. It affects the color tone of the print as well as the contrast, giving an overall more neutral/cold color to an otherwise warm chocolatey brown palladium print. What many beginning pt/pd printers don’t get is how little NA2 you need to effect contrast and tone shifts in your prints. This post illustrates that impact.
NA2 is only useable with pure palladium prints- if you want to include platinum as a blend, or make a pure platinum print, you have to use dichromate or something else as a contrast booster because the platinum in the NA2 binds with the platinum in the solution and primarily affects the highlights, not actually increasing overall contrast, and the net effect is flushing expensive platinum down the drain.
Both prints were made with 9 drops palladium/9 drops Ferric Oxalate, on Hahnemuhle Platinum Rag paper, exposed for 15 minutes. Image size is 8×10 inches. The print on the left had no NA2. The print on the right had 1 drop of 5% NA2 added. Obviously this is way too powerful. I’m going to re-print trying a 1% and a 2.5% concentration to see which gets me where I want (still retaining detail in the Washington Monument, but brighter highlights and more tonal separation in the trees on the left).
Apologies for the quality of the reproduction photo- it was shot on my phone and collaged using a phone app, but it does reasonably accurately replicate the contrast differences between the prints. The tonal shift is less obvious because the phone is not so good at color temperature correction.
For those who haven’t seen the palladium printing process end-to-end, I thought I’d share a moment from the process to let you see the magic happen. It’s a much faster process than silver printing, in the development stage. The image, when exposed but not yet developed, is a “ghost” image. You can generally see the form, but not the fine details, nor the overall tonality. Depending on the overall image tonality, you may see very little at all inside the exposed borders of your print. This is why it is a good idea to coat outside the borders of your image (but not too much- every drop of emulsion costs money!) – you can judge proper exposure by looking at your borders if you’re not used to printing.
Then, pour on the developer, and WHOOSH! Magic!
And the finished print:
This was from a 35mm infrared shot, scanned and enlarged on Pictorico transparency media.
If you’re curious what a digital negative even is, or what it looks like, here’s the negative for that shot:
I have two upcoming classes this spring at Glen Echo Photoworks, Introduction to Large Format Photography, and Introduction to Platinum/Palladium Printing. I’ve scheduled them so that students of Intro to Large Format can have somewhere to go with their new camera skills. Intro to Large Format runs March 11th – April 22. The course covers what you need to know to take advantage of the medium – we start with the basics of the cameras themselves – different camera types, their parts and how they work, why to choose one type over another, lenses and lens selection. We move on to film selection and film handling, loading film and developing it. There are modules on portraiture, still life/tabletop, landscape and architecture. For the Architecture module we’ll do a field trip down to the National Cathedral.
Due to student interest, I’ve acquired several cameras for student use in-class. If the popularity continues, I’ll look into getting one or two more and setting up a rental program to allow students to check out cameras for the duration of the class.
The next class is Introduction to Platinum/Palladium Printing. I will be including a module on making and using digitally enlarged negatives for platinum/palladium printing with this course. This class runs May 5th and May 12th. This course covers the history of the medium, materials and techniques. We discuss the various tools for making prints – brushes vs coating rods, UV light sources (the sun, black-light fixtures, other options). We go over paper selection and paper handling. In this intro class we will make palladium prints because palladium is the easier medium to work with, but we will discuss and demonstrate the differences between platinum and palladium. Contrast control techniques will also be covered, and developer chemistry as well. We will work from both in-camera negatives that we make that weekend, and from digital files students bring and/or create from scans.
To register for the classes, click on the links below: