Sunday, April 12, 2009

This blog has moved

Because of restrictions on content forcing required boring warning pages (interstitial), I have permanently relocated my blog to Alternative Impressions hosted on

While not as simple to use as Blogspot, I find the content policies and actions less objectionable. I have put my own warning page up on potential nude content in discussing photography at the front of my blog.

So far it's almost livable.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

On Coating Methods

I've tried several methods of coating cyanotype and platinum/palladium sensitizers on paper. I primarily rod coat. Starting with a small line of emulsion (say 2ml or a bit less, or 3 single bulb pull dropperfuls) in a line on one end of the paper, I smoothly draw the line with s leading wet edge across the paper. I pick up the rod, skip over the line of sensitizer and push it back.

The rod float lightly on the surface of the paper. Several passes can be made over a sturdy paper like Bergger COT 320 with no buckling or abrasion (lifting up of the paper fibers). For a paper like Weston Diploma Parchment, the paper will start to buckle on the fourth pass when working quickly. I probably tend to make one or two too many passes with the rod on this paper. COT 320 is a easier experience.

Beth Moon does beautiful platinum and palladium work using Mike Ware's method. She makes prints as large as 16 inch by 20 inch. She surprised Mark Nelson and I when she said she rod coated even the large prints. I was always thinking I had to switch to a brush to coat the larger prints beyond say 11 inch by 14 inch.

Kim Weston taught me platinum/palladium printing with a rod and the ratio method, this was my first foray into alternative printing processes. Mark Nelson is uses a "magic brush" to brush coat his palladium prints. When I worked with him that first time he kep saying "magic brush" and I was getting worried about being alone with him in his house. He finally explained that this is the term used by platinum/palladium printers for the Richeson 9010 brush. Laying a similar amount of sensitizer as in rod coating - or perhaps a bit more - you pour the sensitizer from your shot glass used to mix it onto the paper and brush smoothly and rapidly to cover the area to print spreading the emulsion uniformly. It is with a brush that people go to the "artistic brush stroke" aesthetic of alternative printing. To show the hand coating of the paper. The "artistic" part takes some practice, as the result without forethought simply looks sloppy. There is one image that I routinely brush coat paper for to echo with the overbrushing strokes the lines in the image.

Take care to avoid getting emulsion into the metal part of the handle as it can contaminate your coating. Keep your brushes clean, rinse in distilled water, shake out firmly and hang to dry. Don't leave in a jar as this will eventually screw up your brush shape.

I've used Japanese Hake brushes with some success. They are gentle on the paper and the ones I have the bristles are sewn to the wooden handle so metal contamination is impossible.

There is not much artistry in the emulsion areas of a rod coated paper beyond the exposed image area. Many people cut a sheet of rubylith to mask the area against exposure when using a film negative, or create a digital negative with a dark border to print it white.

Judy Seigel and John Dugdale are fans of the black foam, wood handled brushes you can pick up at the Home Depot or other hardware stores. I struggle with this brush. With the Weston Diploma parchment, the foam brush raises the paper fibers. Perhaps I am too rough? John swears by them, they are cheap, and you won't get depressed when you dispose of them.

I played with coating large sheets of paper with a dense white foam roller I picked up at Home Depot. Inexpensive, washable. It is easy to doubly coat nicely with the foam roller. Lays an even coat down, seems to get the sensitizer into the paper mechanically without abrading the surface as I experienced with the black foam brush.

I've never soaked paper in sensitizer - thought I came close recently with cyanotype and Arches Platine (never could eliminate the mottling in the midtones with that paper).

I'm curious about commercial coating methods for cyanotype and platinum paper. Been scouting around for some historical descriptions - nothing has leapt out at me yet.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Adult Content Contained Herein

My apologies if I took anyone by surprise. There are some nudes in this blog in images I make or perhaps from a photographer I am referring to. As in my postings on Adelaide Hanscom and John Dugdale. I got flagged for objectionable content.

I found the option on searching through the pop up on setting the material to be flagged as containing Adult Content.

I've noticed museums increasingly having notices about nudity and content for exhibitions.

Anyway, if you choose to enter I hope you enjoy my blog. If you entered because the warning led you to look forward to a titillating experience I apologize for the boredom you are about to go through. 

Monday, March 9, 2009

John Dugdale

Judy Seigel suggested the best way to get a hold of John Dugdale was by phone and she gave me his numbers, one for his place in West Village Manhattan, one for his place in the country. She observed that being nearly blind, John didn't spend a lot of time reading e-mail.  

My interest in cyanotypes started on seeing John's work in print. I was aware of the history of the process, Herschel's invention in 1843 making it one of the earliest methods of fixing an image. The accomplished practitioners of cyanotype seem to have been few and far between, with Anna Atkins being one of the most prominent. Her photograms of British algae were assembled into the first photobook. Algae has perhaps never been depicted so sublimely.

John Dugdale was a successful commercial photographer in Manhattan in 1993 when an AIDS related stroke left him in the hospital for months often near death. While he recovered, CMV retinitis blinded him in his right eye and took all but 20% of his vision in his left eye. 

John returned to a personal photography after leaving the hospital switching to an antique large format Kodak camera. John employs friends and family, personal belongings and his home in his portraits, still lives and landscapes. His work hearkens back to the time of Herschel, Talbot and Cameron - an emerging time of photography and photographic vision. Relying on an assistant to focus the image on the ground glass, John directs his personal vision and style in the composition in front of him. He relies on his previous professional experience when he had full vision in understanding how light strikes and models objects, and how a slight turn of a vase or flex of an arm can strengthen the final expression. His intimate and delicate images are confidently and strongly composed. While acknowledging his 19th century influences, his work has the leanness of a modern simple sensibility.

I've seen his work in reproduction in several books. His first book, Lengthening Shadows before Nightfall, was published by Twin Palms in 1995 and was followed by Life's Evening Hour which juxtaposes John's images with passages from Dickinson and the Bible. The reproductions are quite good. I went to PhotoLA in January in the hopes of seeing some of his original prints but was unsuccessful. As I scouted around the net looking for John's local gallery representation I came across a reminder that 21st Photography had published The Clandestine Mind in a deluxe edition with photogravure reproductions of John's work. Given my additional interest in the photogravure process, I called up Lance Speer and asked if there was any remote possibility of one of those editions remaining. He said I was in luck, and he quickly shipped a copy out. The photogravure reproductions were wonderful. Lance mentioned they were made by Jon Goodman, and I mused again at how small the world is and at the connections to be found.

I was nervous calling up John. So much of my communication is by e-mail, I'd forgotten how personal a phone call could be. I'm not sure when the last time was I called someone up unannounced.  I left messages at both his numbers (his message in the country mentioning he was probably in the field). He called me back later that day and the first thing that struck me was his voice - a bit unexpected, warm and no nonsense. I told him how much I loved his work, and we talked about some of his prints, and we chatted at length about making cyanotypes. 

It was a simple and unadorned conversation about family, photography, and vision. I went into my darkroom later and tackled cyanotypes anew.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Paper Revival: Weston Diploma Parchment Plat/Pal

So, I've recently made some beautifully detailed, smoothly toned cyanotypes using my store of discontinued Crane's Weston Diploma Parchment and Mike Ware's new cyanotype process. I purchased 250 sheets of 11 inch by 14 inch, and 100 sheets of 28 inch by 34 inch in June 2007 from Bostick and Sullivan. The paper is extremely smooth, a warm slightly cream color (that lightens during washing), and it is exceedingly difficult to determine a smoother side for coating. The paper is subject to chemical fogging with the new cyanotype process, though this is easily controlled with one drop of 40% citric acid solution to 1ml of sensitizer. By 2008, Crane and Co., the sole supplier of currency paper to the U.S. Treasury, ceased production of this paper.

As I was looking around for information on my remaining store of Weston Diploma Parchment, I found a posting on the site stating the paper had been relaunched by the Butler-Dearden Paper Service Inc. The story here is very interesting to the alternative process community in that it seems Weston Diploma Parchment was relaunched specifically for alternative process printing.

Last Monday, I contacted John M. Zokowski by e-mail at Butler-Dearden inquiring about the availability of the paper and pricing. He replied promptly and offered to send out a sample, which I received by Thursday when I was preparing to leave for Jamaica. I stole an hour before my red-eye flight to take the paper for a spin with the new cyanotype process.

John had sent me five or six sheets of 11 inch by 14 inch paper in a sturdy shipping envelope. John's detailed description of the paper includes the following specifications:
Weight: 177GSM/47#
Thickness: 10 MILS
Color: Warm White
pH: 6.5 Average
Surface: Velvety Smooth
Edge: Plain
Fiber: 100% RAG
Sizing: Rosin-Alum
The paper looks like the former Weston Diploma Parchment. As I pulled out a sheet, I immediately noticed a difference. There is (to my Bergger COT 320 trained fingertips) a front smooth surface and a rougher back surface, not as pronounced as COT 320, but there nonetheless. If anything, the smooth surface is even smoother than the original from Crane's. It felt the same weight as its predecessor.

I did not have time to do a full PDN calibration, as I wasn't yet finished packing, so I decided to process it like its predecessor. I quickly rod coated a sheet with 2ml of new cyanotype sensitizer with 2 drops of 40% citric acid solution. It coated smoothly and quickly, and on pass five of the rod began buckling as the original was wont to do. I let it dry for about 20 minutes and completed drying it to bone dry with a hair dryer set to low heat. No blue spotting, or green turn to the emulsion - so far so good. I grabbed a digital negative I had made from the calibration of the original paper, and a 31 step tablet, and exposed the lot in my vacuum frame for 2m 20s.

The paper looked well exposed before I placed it face down in a water bath with a splash of very dilute hydrochloric acid. I moved it after a minute to a plain water bath and since I was in a hurry I let it sit only a couple minutes before gently spraying it with a hose to complete clearing.

The rebirthed paper felt similar in wet strength to the original - which is to say it gets fragile quickly. This is no problem with cyanotype processing as the wash is pretty quick. I inspected the 31 step tablet exposure and decided that this new paper was slower than the original paper, but only slightly. I think a calibration would put its standard print time somewhere short of 3m 30s. When I get back from vacation I want to try a calibration without the added citric acid - this version may not be subject to the chemical fogging of the original.

I am just about to send my order in to John Zokowski for 200 sheets (or... more?) of the 28 x 34 sheets, and to thank John for his work on reviving this paper. I'm just a bit distracted by the Jamaican Hummingbirds flitting amongst the feeders. 

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyám

I looked in vain for a copy of Edward FitzGerald's translation of The Rubaiyat of Omar Kháyyám (Persian: رباعیات عمر خیام) from Dodge Publishing in 1905 with photogravure illustrations by Adelaide Hanscom., my great source for used books, showed only the later copies with colored (halftone?) illustrations.

On the off chance they were misunderstood by the sellers, I ordered two copies dated 1905 described as having black and white illustrations from Amazon. The first arrived, I glanced at it briefly - it was the later 1908 version with weak halftone reproductions. In the meantime I managed to buy many of the tissue photogravures that were separated from the book off a kindly seller on Ebay. 

Another week went by and the second copy from an Amazon seller arrived. I ripped open the package to find the book as described - spine detached, book split in half, pages loose, less than fair condition. 

With the tissue photogravures undamaged and intact. 

As I showed my wife the difference between the exquisite original photogravures that are the basis for Adelaide Hanscom's reputation and the later weak halftone reproductions of the (very slightly larger) other copy, I turned a page and surprisingly found one tissue photogravure (shown above) stuck in its proper place next to its corresponding halftone. Sublimely beautiful in contrast to the ordinary illustrations it accompanied. It had a price of $3.00 marked in pencil in the upper right corner.

I've read that FitzGerald's translation may have been a bit more creative than simply converting Persian to English. That said, some of his translation remains known today and is quoted still:
The Moving Finger writes: and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

Hanscom used her San Francisco Bay Area friends, including the poets George Sterling and Joaquin Miller, as actors in her constructed scenes. After taking the photograph, Hanscom would rework the glass negative painting in details, backdrops, effects. She had a strong singular vision of pictorial photography heavily influenced by the Arts and Crafts Movement.

I find the images quietly exciting. Fresh. I was filled with delight on turning the pages more than one hundred years after they were printed, marveling at the delicacy and sensuality of her photographs and treatments.

The first of several tragedies struck Hanscom when the negatives used for the groundbreaking illustrations in this book were destroyed along with her studio in the fires following the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. 

I am sitting here in Jamaica writing this. Relaxing. Musing on the turns of life and the beauty to be found. Red Stripe beer at ready, Clive is setting up for the Rum Punch Party to be enjoyed shortly. Hummingbirds have gotten used to me sitting here writing. Taking a break before the new child arrives in July. My wife must be here somewhere. Enjoying the pool, the broken sunlight.

I first found the reference to Adelaide Hanscom, her work, and this book on the most excellent site Seeing the images online is a pale experience to seeing the delicate tissue gravures in person.  That said, I attach more of Hanscom's illustrations at the bottom of this note. Additional images can be found on Read the text while viewing the images.

I hope you get the chance to see some of these original photogravures someday. So much is lost. So much remains to be created.

Friday, March 6, 2009

The New Cyanotype: First Impressions

I've been exploring the new cyanotype process invented by Mike Ware these past few weeks. This is the first of a series of notes.

I decided to give the new cyanotype process a try because of some frustrations I had with variations on the classic cyanotype method. The biggest problem being highlight staining, areas of deep blue bleeding into highlights fouling them. Also, emulsion run off while washing the print. A print would look good following exposure showing the "tone reversal" (formation of Prussian White in the shadows) on correct exposure, but then the wash water would take on a blue Ti-D-Bol look as the print washed away leaving an anemic result.

Mike Ware suggested I try his new method during some correspondence. I was aware of it, and had read about the process. It has gotten a reputation for being complicated, but I would beg to disagree. Replacing the ferric ammonium citrate with ferric ammonium oxalate as the sensitizer, heating the two solutions to dissolve (the second being the same potassium ferricyanide as in the original process) in a hot water bath to dissolve, combine both and let cool overnite. Filter the precipated crystals (coffee filter suffices) and top off with distilled water and (with a touch of ammonium dichromate - please use gloves and filter mask) you have a single bottle solution that has a shelf life of 4 - 5 years. Mike has complete instructions on his site.

Mike eliminated the grinding of the potassium ferricyanide long ago. He rightly points out that the materials used are more hazardous than in the classic formula - but really not much more hazardous than the chemicals used for palladium printing, and certainly a far cry from the daguerreotypists concerns.

Mike's observations on the two processes held true for me. I had some difficulty getting the sensitizer to penetrate papers with the traditional cyanotype formula. Tween 20 may have helped, but I was always left with a slightly gritty feeling on the coated surface. The new cyanotype emulsion penetrates the paper I've settled on, Crane's Weston Diploma Parchment, greedily. The addition of a drop of Tween 20 to 5ml of solution (which coats with a glass rod a 8+ inch by 28 inch sheet in 5 passes) will cause the emulsion to emerge out the other side of the paper! No Tween 20 needed. Coat smoothly and rapidly, with confidence. I did have to add a drop of 40% citric acid solution per ml of sensitizer to avoid chemical fogging by the paper.

As the (Mark Nelson designed) 31 step tablet shows to the right, cyanotype is capable of a huge tonal scale. The tablet (laid over with Pictorico Ultra Premium OHP Transparency Film which I use to prepare my digital negatives) shows 24 or 25 steps of exposure scale (each step being 1/3 stop). The tones are smooth. For all intents and purposes with the extremely smooth surface of the paper I am using this is showing smoothness and detail as if it were a fine blue palladium print.

Exposure time is speedy - using Mark Nelson's Precision Digital Negative system I  calibrated a Standard Print Time of 2m 20s. I'm too old for the exposure times of classic cyanotype. Once I calibrated the process and paper I was whipping out prints like there was no tomorrow.

The sensitizer really gets into the paper and binds well (Mike explains why on his site). With classic cyanotype I had settled on an inverted wash in still water per Sam Wang's suggestion to minimize the emulsion runoff after exposure. Be gentle. Not so with the new cyanotype. Perhaps I'm getting a little crazy, but I dip it in a slightly (hydrochloric acid) acidified wash for one minute, put it inverted in clear water for a few minutes, flip it drain and run the gentle spray of a hose over the image to completely clear.

I will try the classic cyanotype process again to round out my experience with alternative processes. John Dugdale uses the traditional cyanotype process with great success. Anna Atkins algae series is sublime. But I think I'll be sticking with the new cyanotype process for my work moving forward.