Chuck O’Rear Discusses his Ubiquitous, 1996 Image: “Bliss”

With support for Windows XP finally coming to an end (after 12 years, no less), Microsoft tracked down Chuck O’Rear, the most widely circulated photographer you’ve never heard of, to discuss his world-famous image.

Video directed by Marcel Buunk and Bart Leferink.


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2014.04.12 (Sat) 17:32 · 17:32

Imagery & Infinite Regression, or Almost Cameraless Photography

About this time last year, I was experimenting with origami pinhole cameras, with both photographic paper and black card (with film). What interested me, was how a simple manipulation of the medium allowed it to become a complete means of image-making.

Further experiments involving zone plates and camera-less photography, as well as a meandering train-of-thought, lead me to ponder the possibility of a photographic image that was capable of reproducing itself, ad infinitum. The notion posited a kind of photographic quine that is at once original, reproduction, and apparatus.

Deeper contemplation lead me to the realisation that if an image of a zone plate of “normal” perspective could be made at 1:1 scale, using identical zone-plate optics, then the image could be used to reproduce produce itself. (It wouldn’t practically matter if the image produced was positive or negative, as the zone plate could still work optically.) In the real world, of course, the number of “generations” would be limited by creeping image degradation, leading to “sterile” images that could no longer “reproduce”, but the conceptual basis of the process is certainly intriguing enough.

Further experiment pending.

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Filed under Alternative processes, Experimentation, Optics, Projects, Techniques

Reliable, Total and Economical Coating and Sensitisation of Wet Collodion Glass Plates

Variously described as “historical”, “ethereal”, “otherworldly”, “alchemical”, the particular aesthetic of the wet plate continues to find use by contemporary photographers such as Sally Mann and Ben Cauchi.

The method of coating an even film of collodion on glass plates is quite an acquired skill, and by all accounts an art-form in itself: far from an exact science. Due to the necessity of keeping the plate wet to maintain sensitivity, the process was never industrialised, and each photographer produced and processed his own plates. Recently I have been meditating on the possibility of a more efficient, reliable, reproducible method of coating, sensitizing, and processing wet plates, requiring no particular skill and minimal wastage.

The method I eventually hit upon is derived from, of all things, the electronics industry. (consequently, I doubt that I would be able to patent, or otherwise claim the process) Mass-produced integrated circuits are manufactured upon silicon wafers, using a photography-related processes, called photolithography (which actually more closely resembles etching). This process necessitates the even and repeatable coating of the wafers with a photo-resist. The industrial method for accomplishing this is one called spin-coating, where the circular wafer is held level, and rotated (about the vertical axis) at a constant speed, while the liquefied emulsion is applied at the centre. So long as the rotation speed and the viscosity of the emulsion are controlled, the results are reliably consistent. The exact thickness of the emulsion is controllable, and a precise amount of emulsion maybe used.

It should be obvious how this spin-coating method might be applied to the coating, sensitisation, and processing of wet plates, to increase precision, reliability and efficiency. The apparatus need not be particularly sophisticated: reliable, repeatable results could be obtained with the re-purposed turntable, and a burette or pipettes.

But pause a moment, and consider: The traditional (hand-coated) wet-plate process itself has a particularly physical and performative quality, which lends the images an imperfect “contingency”(as Benjamin might say), and a hand-crafted kind of cachet. This leads me to wonder – having devised a method that removes much of the chance and skill from the wet-plate process – if it’s utilisation might destroy the very qualities of the process that make it interesting and desirable. Would a cleaner, more consistent, more efficient method render results that are too, in a word, industrial?

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Filed under Alternative processes, Black & White, Chemistry, Emulsions, Techniques

Thinking out loud: Ferro-gallate Printing for Photographs.

This is just something that happened to occur to me this morning, while brewing a pot of tea, of all things.

Ferric oxalate (Fe2(C2O4)3), familiar to those who have dabbled in platinum/palladium printing, is a photo-sensitive chemical that reduces to ferrous oxalate (FeC2O4) upon exposure to ultraviolet light. If ferrous oxalate were “developed” with gallic acid or a suitable,  soluble gallate salt, then the ferrous gallate (which is the key component of iron-gall ink) formed could create a dark, contrasty image.

I should point out that all this is conjecture, and practical experimentation would be needed to prove the theory.

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Filed under Alternative processes, Black & White, Chemistry, Experimentation

New, Old Photographic Processes: Practical Guides by Mike Ware

In doing some further research regarding photographic technologies (more on that to come), I noticed a resurgent trend in online articles related to older, so-called “alternative” photographic processes.

Mike Ware is a rather retro-focussed photographer (in both subject and processes) who has published significantly on the topic of what were once mainstream, archival photographic processes, which are now almost treated as novelties. In addition to his books and essays, his website also includes a kind of archive of historic processes, including detailed instructions, hints, and an awful lot of background, on a range of rediscovered photo-alchemy. It would be a great starting point for those who are curious about progressing beyond silver-gelatin.

Of course, no post on alternative photography could be complete without a mentioning the abundant resources at Alternative Photography. Here, you’ll also find in-depth information and advice, and keen enthusiasm.

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Filed under Alternative processes, Black & White, Chemistry

A Different Kind of Glass Negative

Purely by accident, I stumbled upon this Wikipedia article on Photosensitive Glass. Although the medium is only sensitive in the ultraviolet spectrum (specifically 300-350 nm wavelength), it could be used to produce transparencies and dia-positives with potentially better archival qualities than palladotype or platinotype prints.

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I’m finally at a stage where I feel that I’m able to make progress with my documentary project on refugees and migrants in Wellington (working title: “Roots”). Here’s an exerpt from the proposal:

The kind of documentary project that is envisaged, seeks not express the hardship of being a refugee, but to instead capture the experience of rebuilding a life: re-establishing oneself in a place far from one’s roots. In doing so it attempts to build upon Sheikh’s more humane approach. To be clear, it is not intended to simply ignore the pain attendant to being forced from one’s homeland. That suffering is part of what makes the lives of these people remarkable. Instead, the intent is to shift the focus of the documentary toward present issues and struggles related to establishing new lives in a new country. In this way, this documentary proposes to acknowledge hardship and loss, without becoming too emphatically laden by them.

The following is from an “expression of intent” that I plan to provide to people who may be interested in the project:

I’m interested in meeting and collaborating with refugee and migrant people and families, who are at different stages of establishing new lives for themselves in Wellington. The intent is to photograph these people: celebrating the links that they still have to their origins, interacting with their adopted communities, and in places that they see as “theirs”.

Today, I met with the president of Wellington’s Afghan Association. I admire that he is not “backward about coming forward”, and genuinely wants to see the people of his community openly celebrate their origins, while interacting fully with their new society. I found this inspiring.

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