“Would you like to come upstairs, and see my etchings?”

From Jake von Slatt, a modder with a penchant for Steampunk, comes this walk-through on an electrolytic etching process that can be made from a black-and-white digital image. Electroetching (aka Galvanic etching) involves no corrosive etchant, and works like the electroplating process in reverse. The process described utilises xerographic toner (carbon) from a laser-printed negative as the resist.

Note: As well as brass, this process could be used with copper plates, or most other copper alloys.

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Hybrid Digital Negative – Analogue Print Processing

Ralph Lambrecht, co-author of the wonderful Way Beyond Monochrome and of DarkroomMagic.com, has published a description of a digital-to-analogue process involving a full-size, inkjet-printed “digital negative”. The key strength of this process is that it allows the production of archival contact prints from digital images at home. The key weakness is that the quality is still limited by the printer that you use.

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Technique: Projection Photography

I will be the first to admit that, as anything other than a genre and body of photographic practice, and perhaps as a particularly mobile and public art-form, the world of fashion is a dark continent to me. It is then, perhaps, simple naïveté that leads me to the broad and less-than-complementary opinion that fashion is a shallow art, and that the industry that shares its name concerns itself with the skin of an image, stuffed with an awful lot of hype.

This – and the prospect of shooting fashion images as part of a project on “lifestyle” – lead me to meditate the possibility of utilising a projector to cast that “skin of an image”, and to convincingly conjure the illusion of clothing, onto some suitable mannequin or model. I concluded that it ought to be plausible both as a photographic technique and as a reflexive critique on fashion and fashion photography. Now quite excited at the prospect of playing with a novel technique, I fired up Firefox, and set about researching projection as a studio light source.

Projector lighting setup, white background

Lighting setup with projector and illuminated, white background.

Fashion got there first. In fact, the technique I had independently “discovered” can be traced back to John French‘s fashion work with projected patterns – in the early 1960s. More recently, Eva Mueller and Sølve Sundsbø, among others, have made use of digital display projectors to produce a variety of effects. In 1995, Droga5 pushed the technique, using a battery of upto ten projectors as part of a campaign promoting “light injected” Puma L.I.F.T footwear.

And I thought I was so very clever and original.

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A Crisis of Conscience and Courage, part 2

Sometimes, I am my own harshest critic.

While researching migrant and refugee groups in new Zealand,  I came (quite spontaneously and unexpectedly) to the uncomfortable realisation that, while I was still confident in my ability to document the lives of refugees, and to produce interesting and poignant images in the process, I was in no position to relate to these people.

Quite apart from the obvious cultural gulfs, the problem was that I lacked any frame of reference to even begin to grasp what these people had survived and suffered, and no amount of research could serve as a substitute. Simple empathy, or even outrage, could not in itself suffice to lend real meaning to such an essay, and to do justice to the shattered lives of displaced people.

Who was I to pretend to speak for people I could not honestly claim to comprehend? What have I to say? How could I do anything but trivialize the issue? I felt that I would be at grave risk of doing these people a great injustice in making them a subject of some school project.

That moment was a test of integrity, courage and will. I don’t mean to dramatise this, but it represented a important turning-point in how I thought of myself as a photographer. Before I had even pressed the shutter release, it was necessary to debate and define what it meant to be an ethical, professional, documentary photographer.

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A Crisis of Conscience and Courage, part 1

I am currently in the process of planning a photographic documentary project, as part of my university photography course. My choice of topic was audacious: I wanted to document a cross-section of the lives of refugees living in New Zealand.

To understand why I would choose such an emotionally difficult and fraught topic, it is necessary for me to share an equally difficult (for me) event that is still painfully recent. During the last break I went back home to see the folks, including my step-father’s terminally-ill father. It was impressed upon me that he was nearing the end of his battle with cancer, and that this was most likely that last time I would see him. Naturally, I wanted the chance to say goodbye and, of course, brought my camera.

On the last occasion that I had seen him, he was struggling through the ordeal of chemotherapy. It was the greatest display of strength and courage I had ever witnessed. Perhaps I hoped to capture something of that spirit in this brave man’s final days. Perhaps I ought to have known better.

The brave man was gone, his spirit finally broken by the disease that had destroyed his body. The man who looked back at me from that bed was already dead. “If I had a switch,” he rasped, “I would…”

I couldn’t bring myself to even lift my camera.

The end that came a few days later punctuated my complete failure of nerve.

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So, Um, Why DO People Photograph?

Feeling, as I sometimes do, in need of inspiration to get out and shoot something, I recently got around to reading Why People Photograph (Aperture, 1994, ISBN: 0-89381-597-7), a collection of essays and book reviews by Robert Adams. I had previously encountered his earlier Beauty in Photography (1981) – essentially a defence of photographic art for its own sake – and I hoped that I might be able to discover in the later writings something to recharge my enthusiasm enough to kick off a new round of projects.

The problem with collections like this (or so I find), regardless of size, is that you need to approach them certain threshold of enthusiasm. I don’t lack patience, and I enjoy reading just about anything, but whatever revelation or insight you hope to find, it will probably comprise less than one per cent of the total content. The remainder will seem increasingly irrelevant with each paragraph, no matter how articulate.

And Adams is articulate, in a self-conscious fashion that prevents him from sounding at all pretentious or condescending. I presume the academic-and-accessible manner stems from his background as a secondary-school teacher. His enthusiasm for landscapes, and by extension, the environment is palpable, surfacing in many of the essays. I might say that all of the essays and reviews have an easy feel, but that couldn’t express the obvious care with which the author crafts each of them.

Notwithstanding, by the third essay, my impression of Why People Photograph was a feeling that it was a bit… sparse. Photographic literature, and criticism in particular, represents an inversion of my Special Theory of Readability, in that it cannot be too heavily illustrated: It becomes job of the prose to serve the pictures. Shore’s The Nature of Photographs has (by my reckoning) an image for every seventy words. Adams rations us two plates per essay. When discussing imagery, the text can be spoiled by too many words.

If you reference a particular image as supporting your argument (or contradicting it, or being thematically, contextually, or even tangentially related) you had better bloody include it in your book, ideally on the very next page. Most tellingly, Adams does reference his own work in his essays, but beyond the front cover that work is nowhere to be found in the book.

I didn’t find what I was looking for in Why People Photograph, though, in a sense, it did give me the push I needed. On balance, I do feel the richer for having read it. I’ve come to the conclusion, that inspiration isn’t some precious pay-dirt to be mined. It now seems like a much more elusive quarry. One that must be hunted.

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Round-up: Recommended Reading for the Inquisitive Photographer

The following is a list of books that I found most instructive in digging deeper into the “mechanics” of film photography. Though some of these assume a certain level of familiarity with the black-and-white or certain colour processes, all are helpful texts, with detailed explanations.

  • Anchell, Stephen, 2008. The Darkroom Cookbook, Third Edition. USA: Focal Press. ISBN: 978-0-240-81055-3
  • Anchell, Stephen & Troop, Bill, 1998. The Film Developing Cookbook. USA: Focal Press. ISBN: 978-0-240-80277-0
  • Johnson, Charles S., Jr., 2010. Science for the Curious Photographer: An Introduction to the Science of Photography. USA: A K Peters. ISBN: 978-1-56881-581-7
  • Lambrecht, Ralph W. & Woodhouse, Chris, 2010. Way Beyond Monochrome, Second Edition. USA: Focal Press. ISBN: 978-0-240-81625-8
  • Peres, Michael (ed.), 2007. The Focal Encyclopedia of Photography. USA: Focal Press. ISBN: 978-0-240-80740-9
  • White, Laurie, 1995. Infrared Photography Handbook. USA: Amherst Media. ISBN: 978-0-936-26238-3

I plan to expand this list, adding more useful books as I find them.

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