Tag Archives: Alternative

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

“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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Zone-plate Objectives

A wee while ago (it must be about two years, now), I became interested in diffraction optics, particularly zone plates (aka: Fresnel plates, after Augustin-Jean Fresnel). After pursuing the technology and its properties for awhile, I filed my notes it away in my “curious_projects.txt” file, in order to concentrate on Serious Business.

Zone plates utilize the optical properties of diffraction and interference to converge (focus) incident light, and can be used to create photographic images. They consist of concentric, alternating opaque and transparent rings (“Fresnel zones”) of equal area. The more rings, the sharper and brighter the image. “Binary” zone plates have an interesting property, in that they create images with soft focus and interesting, luminescent halos (reminiscent the halation of old, thick, glass plates examples). Introducing a smooth, sinusoidal transition from transparent to opaque zones (as opposed to a hard edge) eliminates soft focus, creating a sharper image. A zone-plate objective for your SLR can be as easy to make as a good, sharp pinhole (instructions), if you can acquire a spare body cap and some contrasty film with a nice, clear base.

It occurred to me at the time that one of the big drawbacks of zone plate optics was that chromatic aberration could be pronounced and impossible to correct. I suspected that the solution could lie with multiple, RGB-filtered zone plates focussing different wavelengths. Now coming back to the problem (I have plenty of spare time, just now), it occurs to me that coaxial C-M-Y zone plates could present a more elegant solution. The question now is how to prototype a sandwich of coloured zone plates, precisely focussed for three primary wavelengths. I’m not sure I can even get good slide film, these days.

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Filed under Experimentation, Optics