Category Archives: Alternative Processes

Cyanotype’s revival

“Cyanotype, Photography’s Blue Period, Is Making a Comeback” appeared in the New York Times recently to support a show on cyanotype’s history and its revival as a viable art medium.

“As of the 1960s, people started to be interested in reviving old photo processes,” said Dusan Stulik, a former senior scientist at the Getty Conservation Institute who has studied cyanotypes for decades. “Cyanotypes handle subtle light well, and they are fairly sturdy.”

On a gut level, cyanotypes produce a result that is universal. “The color blue strikes some chord in us that goes beyond words,” said the San Francisco photography dealer Jeffrey Fraenkel. “It’s that simple.”

Link: Article from the New York Times by Ted Loos:

Link: Exhibition at Worcester Art Museum: ‘Cyanotypes: Photography’s Blue Period

Video link: ‘Open Studio’ (up to 05.10):

Cyanotype classic process:


My first cyanotypes

These are my first cyanotypes, a photographic process invented in 1842.



This second one is extremely flat. I realised that cyanotype is a very contrasty process, so to avoid losing too much of the image, I developed this one in white vinegar. The results are probably a little too dramatic, much more than I was expecting. I want to try toning these to see what they will look like.

Self-portraits and ‘conflict of interest’

The great photography critic John Szarkowski points out that a self-portrait is always unreliable as a document, because the author can’t be trusted:

The obvious disadvantage of the self as subject is the fact that it inevitably raises the issue of conflict of interest. When the artist is also the subject, wearing two hats at once, is he (she) first of all the servant of historic and artistic justice, or the agent of self-advancement?

If we think of the portraits we know of the past half-millennium, we will note that the painters in them – depicted by themselves – are invariably more attractive, sympathetic, intelligent, and sensitive than the non-painters, even though it was the non-painters who were paying for the whole enterprise. This tradition of self-service was clearly established by the time of Albrecht Dürer, who appears in his own pictures as only marginally less spiritually beautiful than Christ Himself, whereas the artist’s brother Hans appears to be just another calculating northerner. Even Vincent Van Gogh, showing himself with his head swathed in the great white bandage, the visible badge of his folly, paints himself as an exemplary – as a radiant-fool, not to be confused with all those other uncounted fools who also sent their severed ears to whores and afterwards painted their self-portraits badly, or not at all.

  • Szarkowski, John (1998) The Friedlander self, in L. Friedlander, Self Portrait, second edition. San Francisco: DAP/Fraenkel Gallery

Artists and Alchemists

I recently discovered this trailer for a film I’d never heard of: ‘Artists and Alchemists’, (2011). It sounds terrific.

Artists & Alchemists is a feature documentary film that explores the resurgence of 19th century chemical photography. By following ten renowned photographers creating daguerreotypes, ferrotypes and wet plate collodion photographs, Artists & Alchemists documents the sacrifice and personal vision needed to revive these once forgotten art forms. Viewers enter the studios of Jayne Hinds Bidaut, Chuck Close, John Coffer, Adam Fuss, Mark Kessell, Sally Mann, Mark Osterman, France Scully Osterman, Irving Pobboravsky and Jerry Spagnoli to get a first hand account of how each photographer incorporates this antiquated process into modern art. Interlaced with expert interviews, Artists & Alchemists investigates photography’s origins, technological evolution, and illustrates the profound impact in today’s world.

Link to the film website with much more information:

Now the only trouble is to find a copy, or where it is available for download…

Alternative processes on Facebook

Horst Schmier_bleached cyanotype

This is a cyanotype by Horst Schmier. He has added an extra step to the cyanotype process, which was bleaching, giving the characteristic yellowish background tone.

This was added to a very good, very serious Facebook group called ‘Alternative Photographic Processes‘, which is full of examples of all kinds of alternative photographic technologies. It’s also a source of information and especially examples of these processes.