Tag Archives: Gum Bichromate

Upcoming Class – Alternative Process Survey with Digital Negatives

I’ve got a class coming up soon – Thursday evenings starting September 27, co-taught with Mac Cosgrove-Davies. It’s an alternative process survey course, covering platinum/palladium, gum bichromate and cyanotype. We will be starting out by going through the process of making digital negatives for the platinum/palladium process, and then printing using platinum/palladium. I will be walking students through the process of how to create your own correction curve so that they will have the tools handy for making appropriate correction curves for their own personal environments and for whatever process(es) they want to work in. We will cover basic techniques, preferred materials and digital hardware.

In subsequent weeks, Mac Cosgrove-Davies will be teaching working with cyanotype and gum bichromate. Mac has been working with alternative processes, most specifically gum bichromate and cyanotype, for over 40 years.

Two-color Gum Bichromate print. ©2007 Scott Davis

This will be my first time co-teaching with Mac, who is an outstanding instructor as well as a meticulous artist and technician with historic photo processes.

You can register at the link below. Course meets for five sessions on Thursdays from 7-9:30 PM, starting September 27, and runs through October 25. Tuition is $350.

Alternative Process Survey with Digital Negatives

Artists Statement – Mac Cosgrove Davies

Photography has been my passion for more than 50 years, first with silver printing, and for the last 40 years with the historic processes.  I still delight in the hand-crafted uniqueness of gum bichromate, cyanotype, carbon, and oil printing, all printed from in-camera negatives (i.e. film).  I also enjoy making the equipment, and sometimes the cameras, that I use.  Working with large cameras feeds the more contemplative side of me, especially  in the solitary space under the dark cloth where the bright image is my entire perception of the world.  A successful photograph conveys the artist’s emotional, aesthetic statement in an engaging manner.  For me this turns out to be in images small by today’s standards.  I prefer to think of them as an intimate discussion with the viewer.  It pleases me to pull a 5×5 inch portfolio box from my pocket to respond to the frequently asked question of what I do for fun.

Artist Statement – Scott Davis

Scott Davis is a large format photographer working with antique and historic photographic processes. His work has been exhibited across the United States and internationally. He is a published author on platinum/palladium printing, and teaches classes in platinum/palladium. His personal work includes the DC cityscape,  the human figure, and wherever he happens to be with a camera. He is currently developing an exhibition plan for Sinister Idyll: Historical Slavery in the Modern Landscape, his documentary series about how the landscape of Maryland, Virginia and Washington DC have been marked by the impact of African slavery and its echoes that reverberate today.

Examples of past student work from digitally enlarged negatives:


Prints and digitally enlarged negatives


Rendering The Spirit: Interview with Erik Larsen

Could you tell me your name?

Erik Larsen

Where are you from?

Grand Junction, Colorado

How did you get into photography as an art medium (as opposed to casual or professional use)?

My interest in using photography as an art medium was sort of chosen for me. I cannot paint or draw very well at all, hence I took to photography to satisfy my creative needs. I enjoy the varied and beautiful geography that surrounds me in Colorado and I want to try
to put what I feel and see in the landscape onto a print that the viewers will connect with.

Which alternative processes do you practice?

I’ve got a little A.D.D. when it comes to the different alternative processes. I use platinum/palladium, kallitype, albumen and gum printing as my “go to” methods, but if I feel the image warrants a different process or if I just want to see what a print looks like in another process I’ll use cyanotype, gumoils, carbon.

What attracted you to alternative processes in general?

Flexibility in appearance of the print is what the interest in alternative processes is for me. So much can be done to influence the final look of a print it is almost limitless. I also really enjoy spending hours in the darkroom, it is very satisfying for me. Being able to print on many different papers types with all the textures and tones available is a big plus in my attraction to alternative processes.

What drew you to the specific media you practice?

Sort of similar to the above question, it is very flexible in what can be achieved in the look and feel of an image. You can get a straight platinum/palladium look, or if you add a little gum over the print it can totally change the character of the print. I enjoy the gum over process (platinum/palladium or kallitype) because if all I want to do is enhance the shadows without affecting the rest of the print it is a good solution. On the other hand, I might change the whole tone of a platinum print with a deep gum printing over the top. The flexible nature I guess would be reason for the processes I use.

How does the choice of media influence your choice of subject matter (or vice versa)?

I am primarily a landscape photographer. I have never been into printing large prints, rarely over 11×14 inches in size. I want the viewer to get close to the print, study it for all it glory and flaws. I don’t know if it is a conscious decision for me to choose my media based on the subject matter, but I prefer for my images an intimate up close experience and I feel the processes I use are what fits my style best.

In today’s mobile, electronic world of instant communication and virtual sharing of images, how important is it to you to create hand-made images?

It’s paramount! We are saturated with images all day long. There is a certain satisfaction for me to spend countless hours printing and reprinting and image until I get what I want and I hope viewers will appreciate the effort involved, sometimes that hope is in vain but it means something to me to make a hand made image.

Is your choice to practice alternative, hand-made photography a reaction to, a complement to, or not influenced by the world of digital media?

I’m not influenced by digital media really at all. It doesn’t interest me as a tool as I enjoy using film and am comfortable with it’s attributes and limitations. If I’m honest I guess I kind of enjoy being one of a few alternative printers versus being one in a billion digital photographers.

Do you incorporate digital media into your alternative process work?

Not in a serious way. I may use a digital negative if the film negative is unsuitable to use for the given process I wish to print in.

If so, how do you incorporate it? Is it limited to mechanical reproduction technique, or does it inform/shape/influence the content of your work?

It’s just making a digital negative, my photoshop skills render me unable to go much further than that unfortunately.

What role do you see for hand-made/alternative process work in the art world of today? Where do you see yourself in that world?

I believe in the photography art world, the alternative processes will continue to be valued and appreciated for both it’s aesthetic appeal as well as for the craft involved. That being said, a good photograph is a good photograph regardless of how it was made. As for myself in that world, that is for others to judge. I will keep doing what I enjoy doing and let the chips fall where they may.

Candlestick Butte, by Erik Larsen
Candlestick Butte, by Erik Larsen

More images published at Eastern Sierra Center for Photography – male nudes

I have had eight images published at Eastern Sierra Center for Photography’s website in their “Paradigmatic Nudes” gallery online. Most of these images you’ve seen here before on my blog. The images featured are my whole-plate sized gum bichromate prints of Philip, a model I’ve worked with and my Type 55 Polaroid 4×5 format shots of my friend Jose. I’d like to give a big shout-out to Laura Campbell, their curator and director, for repeatedly selecting my work and having faith in my creative vision. Please go check out their website and see the entire gallery.

Jose, Legs
Jose, Legs

Large format Nudes at Eastern Sierra Center for Photography

The Chemical View @ ArtDC Gallery, Hyattsville, Maryland – Opening reception 6/1/2013

I’m showing seven of my platinum/palladium and gum bichromate prints at ArtDC as part of The Chemical View, an exhibit of alternative process photographic prints.

Who: artdc Gallery
What: The Chemical View
Where: 5710 Baltimore Ave., Hyattsville, MD 20781
Exhibition dates: 5-26-13 to 6-23-13
Reception: Saturday, 6-1-13 12 to 7-10pm
Web: http://www.artdc.com
Curator: Barry Schmetter

Alternative-Process Photography Exhibition to Open at the artdc Gallery on June 1

The Chemical View: Alternative Process Photography will open on Saturday, June 1 at the artdc Gallery in Hyattsville, Maryland. The show will highlight the work of eight Washington-area artists working in the medium of alternative process photography. The show will include examples of tintypes, ambrotypes, platinum and palladium prints, cyanotypes, Van Dyke prints, bromoils, gum prints, and hand-painted liquid emulsion prints.

“This is a rare chance to see a wide range of handmade prints that represent the gamut of chemical-based photographic processes.”, said Barry Schmetter, the show’s curator. “The artists are drawing on the history of the photographic process to explore contemporary themes.”

The artists included in show are: Scott Davis, Henry Friedman, Eddie Hirschfield, Carole Hollander, Suzanne Izzo, Joanna Knox, Barry Schmetter, and George L. Smyth.

Eddie Hirschfield http://www.emhphoto.com/
Carole Hollander http://www.carolehollanderphotography.com/
Joanna Knox http://www.joannaknox.com/
Barry Schmetter http://barrys.carbonmade.com/
George L. Smyth http://glsmyth.com/
Scott Davis http://www.theflyingcamera.com

Philip, Palladium on Kozo paper
Philip, Palladium on Kozo paper

A Non-Silver Manual now available for free

I just needed to put in a good plug for this book. It’s what I learned gum printing from, and contains some very useful information on other alt processes. The book is “A Non-Silver Manual: Cyanotype, Vandyke Brown, Palladium & Gum Bichromate with instructions for making light-resists including pinhole photography”. It was available for sale for many years in a soft-cover spiral bound edition directly from the author, Sarah Van Keuren. Mrs. Van Keuren has decided that she no longer wants to maintain the book and deal with the printing and shipping, so she is making it available chapter by chapter for free to download on www.alternativephotography.com If you want a hard copy, you can contact the publisher of AlternativePhotography.com and see about remaining stock.

Katherine Thayer passes away.

Katherine Thayer passed away this week. She was a major figure in the alternative process photographic community, and a great source of wisdom and knowledge when it comes to gum bichromate printing. Her loss will be felt around the world. I never met the great lady myself, but we did have several exchanges online and via email about alternative process printing, and I know that I miss the opportunity to have met her. Fortunately, her website is still up, and so even though she is gone, her knowledge does not vanish with her. It can be found at http://pacifier.com/~kthayer/.

Pre-acidification of Rives BFK

Well, my experiment with pre-acidification of Rives BFK for doing palladium/platinum/Ziatypes was a success. I got a flawless Ziatype over which I will now try several gum layers. My pre-acidification consisted of a 5 minute bath in 5% Oxalic Acid. I sized the paper AFTER the acidification bath. Image to follow.

Here is the image with the first two layers of gum over Ziatype. Colors are Alizarin Crimson and Sepia. I’m planning on doing at least two more layers, probably another sepia or burnt Sienna and then another red, maybe something deeper red.

Heart In Hand

New batch of Rives BFK arrived today!

I got a new batch of 100 sheets of Rives BFK from my favorite supplier, Bostick & Sullivan, today. I’ll be having a sizing marathon this weekend getting all that paper ready for gum printing. I’ve not tried a lot of other papers yet, to keep the variables down, but I’ve been quite happy with the Rives BFK so far. It’s a 90# watercolor paper with good wet strength, and I’ve been able to coat up to five layers so far without having to re-size. After I get through this lot, I’ll have to try the Lana Aquarelle I have sitting around. I’m also going to try using an alum-based hardener in the sizing instead of glyoxal because it’s not exactly practical to try and size paper outdoors in this weather, and my basement darkroom doesn’t have good ventilation.

Why I do this stuff

So far this blog has been long on pictures and short on words. Lucky you. I figured it was time to actually write something, and now was as good a time as any to explain how I got into all this giant cameras and funky antique process stuff. The story of it kind of mirrors the story of how I got in to photography to begin with- almost by accident.

I started doing photography after college, as something to do while looking for a job. I originally thought I would learn JUST enough to use it to record subject matter for painting and drawing. It was a means to an end. That plan went out the window when I saw my first negatives come out of the developing tank, and was even more firmly convinced that this was the thing for me when that first print appeared in the red-lit tray on a rack in my bathtub.

Back maybe six or eight years ago, there was this big scare that Ilford might go bankrupt and that silver gelatin paper might go away, and maybe even film too. Well, I was so much in love with wet darkroom printing that I figured it was time to learn how to do hand-coated processes so I could keep using my 4×5 that I liked so much. I didn’t realize what a Pandora’s box this would open. Prior to this epiphany, I was only vaguely conscious of the existence of antique/alternative processes. I knew cyanotypes existed, and someone in a class I took once did some VanDyke Brown prints on fabric. I saw a handful of platinum prints at the View Camera conference, but that was about it.

That event was I think the turning point for me because it was there that I also saw people working in wet plate collidion. My eyes were opened to the possibility of what could be done without commercially manufactured products. After seeing some more prints,
I decided I would try platinum printing. I was mostly shooting 2 1/4 inch square roll film with some 4×5 mixed in at the time, and 4×5 negatives were big enough to learn on, but platinum like almost all other alternative/antique processes is mostly insensitive to non-UV light. This means that you can’t enlarge an image to whatever size print you want from a small negative- you have to work from a negative the size you want the finished print to be.

Realizing the limits of 4×5 prints rather quickly, an 8×10 camera ensued. 8×10 is a beautiful size print but a pain in the ass of a camera. Along came my Argentina trip and a 5×7 joined the family. And so on. Platinum printing became my mainstay as I grew to love the medium for itself, to the point that I have all but retired my enlargers, and only work in contact printed alternative processes. I’ve dabbled in wet plate and I’ve even learned how to make daguerreotypes.

This is my medium, these are my processes, and this is the how and why I make my photos.