A workshop led me to consider the mixing of the old and the new in photography. This is one of the things I really love about photography, there are no rules really and you are free to mix processes and techniques to get what.
Yesterday I spent a very enjoyable day doing a workshop in making Salt prints, the original print technology developed by Henry Fox Talbot and first published in 1840 and was the major photographic print process through till about 1860 or so. Salt printing is, these days, referred to as one of the alternative photographic processes.
The workshop was run by Ellie Young, a local expert in alternative processes and a gallery owner and workshop leader (and organizer) of note and a strong and vocal proponent of the old photographic processes. Ellie’s web site for her Gold Street Studios lists her workshops , and you can view some of her work on the Alternative Photography website . Ellie knows here stuff extremely well and is a great workshop instructor. If you are in Australia I would highly recommend one of her workshops.
The first print of the day was a photogram, here a leaf and a feather
The salt process involves coating pure cotton rag fine art paper with a salt solution and then a silver solution. The image is contact printed from a negative either in the sun or under UV lamps. Exposure times aren’t that long, we were getting correct print exposure in about 10 minutes in the sun and twelve to fifteen minutes under the UV lamps. The print is then washed in water for some time and then fixed and washed again.
The one failure of the day was my second print, which due to fogging really didn’t work
Now for the negative you can use a large format chemical negative or a digital negative. In my case Ellie printed my images for me onto Agfa Copyjet film using her Epson printer (this is one area where dye inks seem to work better than pigment ones, according to Ellie’s vast experience). For the workshop she print a few of my digital infrared images and one of my fractal images produced from the software I have been developing. You can see the results illustrating this article. You can also use the process for photograms, as I did with my first print.
The next one did work
A change in the salt solution by add bichromate, raised the contrast and changed the color
So this is what I love, we had images taken with both a newish digital camera (converted for IR by maxmax.com) and a purely digital image rendered from software, printed to a negative digitally, and then printed onto lovely papers using the oldest (or second oldest, depending on how you judge it) photographic process.
Assuming they are washed and fixed properly, we know that Salt prints will last at least 165 years, since the earliest Salt prints are still around and looking good. No accelerated fading tests, no controversy over testing methods, they really exist. And I was very surprised at just how easy the process is. Coat the paper, dry it, coat with the second solution, dry it, contact print it by the sun if you want, then wash in paper, put in a photographic fixer for about eight minutes, wash it again thoroughly and it is done. You can optionally gold tone it at one of two points in the process to either change the color of the prints or to just increase the longevity further.
More variation with a different paper
The color and depth of the prints can vary substantially depending on the paper, coating process, additives to the chemicals used, exposure and processing, so there is a huge amount of possible variation. This is both a strength and weakness. It is a strength because no two prints are ever exactly the same, so each in unique. The disadvantage can be in printing editions where you do want them very close.
In the space of a day I had gone from doing some prints with the latest HP Z3100 inkjet printer to printing with the oldest photographic printing process. As a bonus, I had taken some shots I am very happy with on the way to the workshop. You gotta love it.
One of my fractal images printed using the oldest photographic print process
A shot I took on the way to the workshop with my IR converted Canon 350D