Sunday, March 13, 2011

gum bichromate printing

Moving onward on my journey with historical processes, I am currently exploring (with disappointing success) the beautiful – and difficult - world of Gum Bichromate printing. In general, this 19th century process delivers painterly images from a photographic negative and was used to achieve desired affects during the pictorialist era when photographers were competing with painters. Some modern day photographers, however, have mastered the technique to such a high level of expertise that it becomes difficult to tell the difference between a digitally printed image and an image made using the Gum Bichromate process. 

The famous photographer Edward Steichen photographed the Flatiron Building, 1904 and here it is printed in gum bichromate with blue-green pigment, over platinum

Here is a beautiful 9 layered Gum print by Tony Gonzalez, arguably the most expert Gum printer in the world.

The printing process for Gum Bichromate is tedious and detailed. Each layer of pigment is individually coated, registered, exposed and washed, then repeated sometimes up to nine times. Separation negatives of cyan, magenta, and yellow or red, green, and blue are used for a full-color image. Each layer can take longer then an hour to develop and when you add in the coating, soaking registering and exposing, you’re looking at a two-hour process for each layer. Oh my! 18 hours for one image! Now that is patience and determination.

Unfortunately, I was basing my desire to experiment with Gum printing on those images I had seen from the modern day masters and failed to understand the undeniably complex and complicated nature of Gum printing. It terns out, the process is hardly even a science and renders different results most days than it does on others. I have learned that those people who have mastered the process are usually thought to be extremely precise and patient people who make lots of tests and go about those tests in a very organized manner Well, that is not me folks! After these long two weeks of trying to render an image even at all worth saving, and barely accomplishing that, and I have come the realization that Gum Bichromate just isn’t ever going to be my specialty. 

Here are my attempts 

 ...and one more. 

After hours upon hours of  mostly disappointing time spent in the dark room working with gum I decided to give myself a little break and print a few cyanotypes to lift my spirit.

...and the creative journey continues...

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