Alternative processing in photography actually refers to a broad spectrum of techniques that diverge from conventional photographic development methods, embracing experimentation and individual creativity. These processes involve manipulating film development, employing non-standard printing methods, or using unique materials and chemicals. Techniques like cyanotype, Van Dyke brown, gum bichromate, and solargraphy transform photographic expression, offering textures, tones, and visual effects not achievable through traditional methods. Such processes can breathe new life into analog photography, merging historical methods with contemporary artistic sensibilities. This approach is not just about creating images; it's about redefining the boundaries of photography and exploring the medium as an art form in its own right.
Polaroid transfers, a captivating method in alternative photography, offer a unique blend of vintage charm and artistic expression. This technique involves carefully transferring the emulsion layer of a Polaroid instant film onto a different surface, such as paper or canvas. The process starts with a Polaroid photograph, which is then interrupted during its development phase. The still-developing image is pressed onto the chosen medium, where the emulsion layer containing the image adheres to it. The result is a one-of-a-kind piece of art characterized by its dreamlike quality, soft, often textured appearance, and an ethereal, painterly aesthetic. Each transfer is inherently unique, not just in its final appearance but also in the unpredictable nature of the process, making it a favorite among artists and photographers seeking a hands-on, creative approach to image-making.
Polaroid Transfer, Paris Catacombs
Lumen prints, an intriguing and organic method in alternative photography, involve the direct exposure of photographic paper to sunlight. Typically, objects or negatives are placed on the paper, which is then exposed to sunlight for an extended period. This process relies on the light-sensitive properties of the paper, creating images through the natural action of light and shadow. The result is a ghostly, ethereal image, often with unexpected hues and a soft-focus effect, courtesy of the varying intensities of light and the nature of the objects used. Lumen prints, celebrated for their simplicity and the serendipitous beauty of their outcomes, are a favorite among artists who appreciate the blend of photography and natural elements.
Cyanotypes, a classic form of alternative photography, are renowned for their distinctive blue hues and dreamlike quality. This process, dating back to the 19th century, involves treating paper or fabric with a light-sensitive solution composed of two chemicals: ammonium iron(III) citrate and potassium ferricyanide. When exposed to ultraviolet light, typically from the sun, in the presence of a negative or objects placed on the surface, the treated material undergoes a chemical reaction that develops into a rich, cyan-blue print. Cyanotypes are celebrated for their striking visual appeal, simplicity, and accessibility, allowing artists and photographers to explore photogram techniques and create ethereal, blueprint-like images with a minimal setup. This method beautifully merges science and art, offering a hands-on approach to image-making that is as much about the process as the outcome.
Depending upon the paper used, the coloring can be more or less vivid. A favorite of mine is vellum paper, more difficult to handle as the emulsion does not soak into the fibers of the paper the same, but the color is stunning.
Salt prints, one of the earliest photographic processes, hold a special place in the history of photography for their delicate, nuanced results. This technique pioneered in the 1830s, involves coating paper with a solution of sodium chloride (table salt) and then sensitizing it with silver nitrate, creating a light-sensitive silver chloride surface. After placing a negative on the treated paper and exposing it to sunlight or another UV light source, the image is developed, fixed, and washed. The result is a soft, brownish image with a wide range of tones that convey a sense of depth and texture unique to this process. Salt prints are valued for their historical significance and the subtle, painterly quality they impart to photographs, offering a glimpse into photographic science's early experiments and artistry.
Platinum - Palladium
Platinum palladium prints, a prestigious and highly regarded photographic process, are celebrated for their exceptional tonal range, subtle gradations, and enduring stability. This process, which gained prominence in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, involves a hand-coating technique where a mixture of platinum and palladium salts is applied to fine art paper. A negative is then placed on the coated paper and exposed to UV light, usually from the sun. The exposed paper is developed, revealing an image embedded in the paper fibers rather than sitting on the surface, as in traditional silver gelatin prints.
The unique beauty of platinum palladium prints lies in their refined, matte finish, with rich blacks and a broad spectrum of gray tones that render images with a remarkable depth and three-dimensional quality. The prints are also known for their longevity; the stability of the platinum and palladium metals makes these prints one of the most archival in the history of photography. Fine art photographers and collectors favor this process for its unparalleled elegance and the subtle yet luminous quality it imparts to photographs.