Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Art or Photography?

This semester I have been working with a photographic process popular in the late 1800s known as Van Dyke Brown printing. It is a light sensitive process using silver nitrate as the sensitizer. I make the negatives with Photoshop in large sizes, and contact print them on Fabriano water color paper.

I have been combining this process as an underlay with gum bichromate printing, which is another 1800s process dealing with colored layers of gum and potassium dichromate. I cannot find any other photographer who has combined these two processes and I have discovered the obvious reasons.

The combination has presented its own set of problems, the foremost of which is staining. Water colors combined with potassium dichromate actually stain any surface that has been touched with silver nitrate: there is a shadow of color remaining any where the gum solution has touched.

This has ruined many a print. In previous successful images using cyanotype as the base with numerous coats of gum bichromate, there has been no residue or stain. How to either eliminate the staining with the Van Dyke, or how to use the staining to my advantage, has been the question I have set out to resolve.

After much experimentation, and much frustration, I have solved the issue. I am selectively applying the staining colored gum bichromate to create new designs and textures. I am very pleased with the results (see Sunflower image above). This is part of a 21 section mural (7 x 4 feet) which is now on display at the Mulvane Art Museum through December 10th. The basis for the mural is a digital image, and it again brings up the relationship between photography and painting, since the 21 images are stretched over canvas stretchers like paintings. There are 8 layers of color applied to each image.

Where do I go from here? What is a stain and how can I incorporate it in my next work? A stain is defined as: "a discoloration that distinguishes itself from the material on which it is found. It can be unintentional, in the case of domestic stains on fabric, cloth, or other material, or it can be intentional; a discolored or soiled spot or smudge; a blemish on one's moral character or reputation. SYNONYMS stain, blot, brand, stigma, taint. These nouns denote a mark of discredit or disgrace, as on one's good name: a stain on his honor; the blot of treason; the brand of cowardice; the stigma of ignominious defeat; the taint of vice (Wikipedia)."

I will work through these ideas on 12 cotton handkerchiefs using the above staining processes. I am beginning with Van Dyke randomly applied on the fabric and exposed under layers of leaves in sunlight. The gum is also applied randomly by wiping the brushes as a painter might. I am allowing the process to lead me to the result!


Blogger mary said...

I am intrigued by the process that you are describing. I think you have taken the issue of staining and used it to its full advantage- rather than trying to get rid of it, see what you can accomplish with it. On your question of art or photography, I think photography is just as much an art as a painting- especially since you are re-interpreting an image. I love the mural- I am a big sunflower fan myself.

1:19 PM  

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