Why Gum?

I am not the type of photographer that easily translates my visual work and the reasons for it into concise verbal or written reasoning. I am always a little in awe of those artists who are completely and oh so easily and casually able to do so. During my end of semester graduate critique, I was asked “Why Gum Prints, what do they offer that just printing digitally doesn’t.” I knew the question was eventually coming, but I had been so focused on learning my process that I had not really given that type of question much brain space.

My answer was probably as soft and vague as the visual first impression of a gum print can be. It was something along the lines of how I feel that the merging of the pigments and the soft swirl and layering of color that they give somehow feels more like the reality of being outdoors. Most of my subject matter ends up being some version of nature or outdoors, and sometimes the closeted feeling of being in an Indiana woods. When you are out in nature with the wind blowing or even just gentle drafts of air moving around you, it shifts trees, grasses, your hair, clothing, leaves, any and every object really, which then causes the light and the shadows to move, reflect, and absorb all around you. This feeling of the movement of light and color that is present at the time I capture an image, it feels visually present to me in the final gum prints. The images are not a literal interpretation, but more about that the feeling than something exact.

The second part of my answer is that I am drawn to the process. I like challenge of mixing my own pigments to re-create an image that obviously already caught my eye or I wouldn’t have taken the photo. My favorite moment in the process is watching my images appear one layer at a time as the undeveloped pigments lift off, and I also really like the mix of science and art. Since the beginning of this degree journey I have been looking for ways to link my science past to my art, but I was looking to my subject matter. The answer was process not subject matter. I have spent a decent amount of time working in environmental testing labs and science labs so I was already completely comfortable working with chemicals, scales, formulas, etc. The process is also not so rigid that I can’t make weird changes or go with a feeling I have about a different exposure or weird mixing of pigments. So all in all, the Gum Bichromate Process allows just enough of the rigid protocol of science joined with the flexibility of Art. Perfect because I like rules, protocol, and guidelines until I don’t, and then I just want to do what I want. This is a process that fits that part of my personality perfectly.

Along with those explanations I am going to start a running, random list of reasons to answer the question of, “WHY GUM?”  I am also going to include quotes from other artists that say what I want to say better than I can.

WHY GUM?

  • They feel a little less like a moment frozen in time. More like the moment still exists.
  • I like the challenge.
  • Process- It really is a lot of work for one photographic image.
  • The nod to historical process. Gum Prints were the very first color photographs.
  • Chemistry is amazing.
  • I like to photograph trees, gum arabic (the stuff you mix your colors in!;) comes from a tree.
  • Every image is one of a kind.
  • “It (gum) is a process for the impressionist, not the realist, and is for the man who has an idea to put in permanent form, an interpretation of some beautiful mood of nature, rather than for the man who is content to reproduce simply the facts as they lie before him.” -Francis Orville Libby (Christina Z. Anderson, Gum Printing and other Amazing Contact Printing Processes, 13)
  • On process and the mix of science and art, Mary Donato (who was a research Geologist!!!!) “…satisfying my analytical and expressive impulses by combining 21st -century digital devices with 19th –century printing process to create handmade photographic images. (Anderson, 33)
  • Handmade and what she said. Handmade in this instance also equals time consuming and feels like a way to slow down the constant flow of time around you, especially in a world that just keeps zipping faster and faster.
  • “Gum printing appeals to those who appreciate the journey as much as the destination.” –Christina Z. Anderson (Anderson, 37)
  • “The gum process is all a paradox. It is at the same time the easiest and yet the most difficult of all processes; has the shortest scale and again the longest; is one of the oldest methods and yet to most of us the newest. It receives the greatest praise and at the same time the greatest ridicule.” –R.V. Sawyer in American Photography (Anderson, 36)
  • I love mixing pigments and making my own colors. I get to explore color in a way that no other process in photography provides.
  • I am the photographer, the editor, and THE PRINTER. I am now all parts of my process while still utilizing my electronic buddies.
  • Photographic printmaking without the need of a dark room.
  • I have gotten the hang of basic 3-5 layer registration gum printing and now I can start trying new things and different experiments within the framework I have built.
  • There is not one, right way.
  • Science aside when images appear they feel magical, and if my process plus subject matter has that same magical sense that I feel when in nature then it is a double whammy.
  • Weird but true, I like using paint brushes.
  • I love having a lot of small details to pay attention to.
  • Tactile and not completely tied to a computer.

    st_cuthberts_way

    St. Cuthbert Way, Cheviot, Northumberland. Hamish Stewart

As soon as I get some of this semester’s work scanned in I will share the results of the ‘process’ journey that I had this semester. Until then enjoy the feeling invoked by Stewart’s two lane dirt road, you can visit his website gumphoto.co.uk to view more of his images and read about his gum printing process. I know I want to walk down this road -not drive.

 

 

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Blue

 

The first layers of my gum prints are blue, the Prussian blue of cyanotype prints to be exact. I choose to use a cyanotype as my bottom layer because I absolutely adore the color of blue this type of printing produces, and cyanotypes offer a lovely crispness/sharpness to my first layer that makes registration of other layers easier and the final image more defined. Sometimes, I am so in love with the monochromatic blue image produced that I have a hard time adding my gum layers over the top. There are times that I make a second of print of the same image so that I can keep the first cyanotype. The monochromatic blues just have a way of enchanting certain images. It easier for me to focus on moving past the blue stage by using separation negatives for my images because without the other layers my image is not complete. Using separation negatives also helps to keep the cyanotype from overpowering the layers to come. But, in my opinion sometimes an image just needs to be blue.

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Cyanotype meant to be the first layer of a gum print, but I fell in love with it. (single negative, hot press paper)

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Cyanotype meant to be the first layer of a gum print, but I fell in love with it. (single negative, cold press paper)

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Cyanotype layer with a separation negative, printed with the cyan layer.

My love of cyanotypes carries through to the development stage. I really enjoy the transition of the image from a dull olivey green, yellow, gray-blueness of the exposed image. The exposed, but undeveloped image, hints at what will appear in tonal values, of rich blue to white, once that first drop of rinse water washes over it.

There is a great chapter in Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost that speaks about blue, blue light to be exact (blue is not blue until your brain tells you its blue). She speaks so eloquently on the subject and finds it of such importance that every other chapter in the book is titled The Blue of the Distance. In the very first Blue of the Distance chapter Solnit describes, “The world is blue at its edges and in its depths. This blue is the light that got lost.” She had me when she said ‘blue is the light that got lost,” but she then further follows her statement up with a bit about the physics of light and how the blue end of the spectrum doesn’t travel as far. Science plus sentiment has the ability to make my heart mushy and my brain buzzy. I found myself devouring this chapter thinking ‘ yes, yes’to all words Solnit wrote about Blue.

Here a few snippets that really spoke to me:

 

“..the light that gets lost, gives us the beauty of the world, so much of which is in the color blue.”

 

“The color of that distance (in reference to far away horizons, mountain ranges, anything far away) is the color of an emotion, the color of solitude and of desire, the color of there seen from here, the color of where you are not. And the color of where you can never go.”

I am not a poetic person, but when I think about blue like this it is easier to understand why I cannot always cover the enchanting blueness of an image with subsequent gum layers, even though I love all colors. I am finding cyanotype + gum printing to offer a large variety of image options, but occasionally I think I am just going to stick with blue the color of ‘light that gets lost.’

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3 Layer Gum Print (cyanotype, red, yellow) from a single (not separation) negative.

All about the Au, Orotone Prints

I still need to scan my print processes from the last couple of weeks so those will have to wait until the next blog post (Cyanotypes, Vandyke Browns, and Ziatypes), so in the mean time, let’s explore the alternative process of making Orotones (aka Auratones). Orotones consist of a plate of glass or in my case an inkjet image printed on a transparency sheet backed with your choice of metallic material. This combination gives your image that look of metallic, reflectiveness of the Orotones of old. Pick your price range for your metallic backing; mine limited me to the use of foil leafing, which worked just fine.

I used a package of gold foil sheets and a package that had silver, loose leaf flakes. Just a word of warning before you go any further, I made a HUGE mess! Flakes of foil everywhere, both from the foil sheets and the flakes, but the flakes were by far the messiest. I think I may have tinseled my entire office and it isn’t even Christmas.

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When I started this process for class I went to the Internet looking for more specific instructions on using sheets of metal leaf with transparencies and found a whole lot of nothing. I encountered a lot error while trying to lay the leafing sheets on top of various adhesives and paints that I had brushed on paper. I knew I could directly paint the transparency with metallic acrylic paint, but it cracks and still looks slightly dull. I did not have any liquid metal leaf to try, and I was not positive that even if I purchased it that it would coat the transparency to my liking. So through a bit of trial and error, I arrived at the following process and I am very happy with the results.

sprayadhesive

Once I figured out my process this image is the type of result that I was getting. Just a quick snapshot, but you can see the evenness of texture and color of the gold.

Here is my version of making Orotones if you would like to give the process a try.

Step one is to collect the following materials:

  1. Image printed on inkjet transparency paper
  2. Foil/Metal leaf
  3. Spray Adhesive: 3m Super 77
  4. Self Adhesive lamination sheets (optional)
  5. Metallic acrylic paint (optional)
  6. Support surface of some kind, or a frame for your final image (optional)

First, you are going to print your image on the textured side of a transparency sheet. I purchased my transparency sheets at a local craft store, but next time I will be purchasing these. Prior to printing, I edited my images in Photoshop to get the best range of tonal values and to make sure my highlights did not fall off in a place where I would need more definition. Also, while in your photo editor make sure to flip the image horizontally especially if there is text because, if not, it will read backwards. Next, load your transparency sheet in your printer so that it will print on the textured side of the sheet, and then print just like you would if you were printing on paper.

After your print is complete be careful not to touch the fresh ink as it will smudge, but the tackiness of the drying ink is actually your friend. If your image does not have a lot of highlights (the full blown highlights become clear transparency sheet without ink) you should not need adhesive. Then just lay your foil on top and gently (YES, be GENTLE or don’t and find out why I recommend a gentle touch) use the brush to smooth the leafing into the ink. I found that starting in the center of the image and working towards the edges worked best. Once you reach the edge the excess foil should make a clean break from the edge of your transparency.

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If your image has a lot of highlights you will need to use the spray glue. I did manage to patch up several images that I did not use spray glue on with some clear gel tacky glue, but you give up a smooth, uniform finished product with that method. I still like how a few of those images turned out, as I think the imperfectness of the process can add to the image. But, if you are of the Type A personality – use the spray glue. Spray the printed (tacky, textured) side of the image with glue, your final view will be through the glossy side.

Next while the glue is still tacky, you do not need to rush as you have plenty of time, loosely lay the foil sheets on top of the glue. There are a million, trillion ways to press the leafing into the glue, but I found the (GENTLE) brush from the middle method mentioned above to works best. When I was spot fixing I sometimes just used my fingers too because usually the glue was a bit wet on those, and I didn’t want to get it in the brush. Another issue that you will encounter is that the oils in your fingers make the leaf sheets stick to your fingers, and the foil is very delicate, which can cause it to rip, fold in the exactly opposite direction of your needs. I did see online tutorials where the person used some sort of brush to grab the sheets, but I just made due with my oily fingers.

I also used the spray glue to adhere some transparency prints to the paper that I had painted with acrylic and pressed with leafing flakes for a quirkier, alternative feel. I quickly abandoned this method as it was even more time consuming and messy, and I was not in love with the final product.

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After I had the foil applied to the transparency to my liking, I added clear laminate to back of the foil to help protect it from scratching, as it was still rather delicate. I only had one sheet of self adhesive laminate so I ran out rather quickly, and at that point I used the spray glue to adhere flubbed transparency backings or paper to the backs of the prints. If you are going to immediately frame the image you probably do not need to back it.

otter

I wrecked plenty of prints while learning this process, so give yourself enough materials for mishaps, and time to get a feel for the spray glue and leafing application! Because this blog post seems to be full of dire warnings I will add one last one, do not touch the front of your transparency print with spray glue fingers or get spray glue on the surface by any manner as it will cause a permanent smudge. I knew this and still managed a smudge or two, sticky fingers are sometimes hard to out maneuver.

Look Ma No Lens, Part II

We wrapped up our first assignment this week (we had to turn in a total of 10 pinhole camera prints). I shared my first round of pinhole images last week and this week I will share a few more that I used to round out my assignment.

All of the color images presented on this blog (and the last) were shot pinhole style with my Nikon D3100 body. As I started working with the camera I realized that I really liked the way that the pinhole delineated the human figure through soft lined highlights and contrasting fuzzy shadows. Once I realized this I really started searching out the proper soft, filtered light to obtain the results that I was after. Even though the process with the digital pinhole is quicker than my container pinholes there is still quite a bit of lag time and long exposures needed so the process didn’t ‘feel’ the same as when I shoot digital. The slower process of creating pinholes really makes you appreciate your images even more! And if you capture what you are after, or more than you were after you feel like you have earned a real prize of an image (the opposite of fairies loosing wings!)!

I ended up really enjoying the entire pinhole process, and I am confident that I will re-visit pinhole images at some point. Pinhole confidence is definitely a great ‘tool’ to have in my toolbox, and because I made my second digital camera body pinhole camera capable I can easily shoot a few images here and there when I get the urge.

I printed my final images on glossy paper because I really wanted my highlights to glint off the paper. For different reasons with the black and white verse the color, but the paper worked equally well for both. It always feels nice to have physical images in your hand instead of working on a purely digital platform, and I think this course is going to offer the perfect combination for me. I do not have to shoot film, but I still get to work with my images in a very hands on manner!

Here are the rest of my images for this particular process:

Chester_Pinhole02 Chester_Pinhole03 Chester_Pinhole04 Chester_Pinhole05 Chester_Pinhole06 Chester_Pinhole08 Chester_Pinhole16

We have moved on to cyanotypes in class, I am having a grand time using the sun to expose images, and the blue toning of the chemistry is quite dreamy. There is also the element of using these historical processes that really makes me understand all those tid-bits I had to learn about in my first ‘Art’ course the History of Photography. I remember learning to identify Anna Atkins cyanotypes for my test, trying to understand what photograms and cyanotypes were (I had never seen anything like them before that class, nor did I understand printing processes, and now I have created my very own! Mine are not photograms, but from digital negative transparencies that I created, merging historical process with modern technology, which is a perfect marriage in my book. I like the fact that I can work with a historical process in such a modern way. I am always trying to merge my past education in Geology with my current studies and it feels good to merge past and present even if it is not a personal, internal type merge.