Sometime in late 2016 or early 2017 I discovered a group of photographic processes that revolve around the idea that gelatine can be made light sensitive and then hardened selectively based on its exposure to UV light. Whereas silver-based processes rely on exposed silver becoming darker when developed, those belonging to the carbon print family work according to the relationship between gelatine (or another colloid) that has been exposed and hardened, and gelatine that remains soft and water-soluble. Among this group are:
Direct Ferric Carbon Printing
The Fresson Process (Le Procédé Fresson)
My introduction to these processes was through the Woodburytype; a photomechanical technique that creates images in relief consisting of varying thicknesses of pigmented gelatine. That a photographic image could be produced in such a way was so mind-blowing to me that I immediately wanted to try it myself. The only problem was that I would need a hydraulic press capable of producing between 4 and 5 tons of pressure per square inch in order to create the lead moulds that would be used for printing.
Not one to be discouraged I started at the beginning: with the carbon print, because without being able to make a carbon print in the first place, I wouldn’t be able to make mould, even if I did have access to such a powerful press.
So after much research and hypothesising, in February 2019 I had finally finished kitting out my darkroom with all the equipment necessary to now start learning the carbon transfer process, solely driven by the desire to re-create a modern, non-toxic and user-friendly version of the Woodburytype process.
I spent the next 6 months learning the carbon transfer process and attempting to overcome the multitude of problems encountered when applying that knowledge to the task of reformulating a practical version of the Woodburytype. The problems were two-fold, because anyone who has any experience in mechanical printing techniques such as lithography or copperplate gravure can attest to, the process of creating fine prints that faithfully represent the originals is a skill in itself. So the Woodburytype problem represented a series of challenges where issues in printing had to be teased apart from the long list of troubles and variables involved in creating the original matrix and then the printing mould.
As with my previous work with the Sabattier effect, spending such a long time pursuing a purely technical avenue led to the need to focus once again on the more creative aspects of photography, and of the carbon transfer process in particular. Ideas I had had early on when first learning about carbon printing became the starting point for my creative exploration, and form the basis of my current work.
The following texts are the earliest written notes I have, which describe some of the thought process and ideas behind the work before it even began, which as always is just a small glimpse of what goes on under the hood. Although these are notes addressed to myself, this should be considered as an introduction to what I call painting-realistic photography, which is not to be confused with photography that simply has a painterly aesthetic.
“In addition to silver-gelatine photo paintings made by coating the paper with carbon glop, exposing, developing etc, a more detailed and involved technique would be to paint glop onto transparencies and then use these positives/negatives to expose carbon tissue to make relief prints that bear the original brushstrokes in 3 dimensions. By making tri-colour negatives, a unique style of painting/printmaking is possible in which the artist will only see the final image once all 3 (or 4) layers are developed and assembled.
The print could be separated into stages so that the next negative is only created once the previous layer has been transferred. In this way, it will be easier to construct images with realistic/precise colour, as once layer can be adjusted in response to the other.
Furthermore, instead of painting black strokes onto transparency, a pre-coated transparency of a specific density in order to match the sensitiser level could be brushed with hot water in order to remove the glop as necessary. Reducing gelatine and increasing sugar content should make this easier to do.
The advantage of using carbon printing besides being able to create coloured relief, is that the originals (negatives) can be painted under any lighting conditions.
With carbon photopaintings transferred to watercolour paper, the result will seem indistinguishable from a painting, yet remain a photograph; an unusual amalgam of two distinct processes that were never meant to share the same world, in many ways at odds to each other.”
Carbon Photo-Painting Collages
“This morning I decided to finally get around to painting my own negatives again. A week or so ago I discovered that trying to remove glop from an entirely black painted negative is nearly impossible, and could not be done with the finesse that I am looking for in these images, therefore I chose to create the originals as positives by painting black marks on OHP film which can then be contact-printed onto x-ray film or even enlarged in order to create my negatives.
For these first images my idea is to make a single brush stroke that when printed will be mistaken for a simple, minimalist painting. The search for an interesting brushstroke, a single movement uninterrupted, complete and perfect within itself, is however a work all in itself.
As an immediate and lightspeed evolution of this idea I realised that with a single brushstroke, repeated by photographic mechanisms, could become a complete image via collage. Furthermore, a catalogue of different sizes, shapes and styles of strokes could be compiled, printed and selected as needed.
The resulting composition is a paradoxical image comprised of abstracts that is purely photographic, in the sense of being made on light-sensitive material, while visually appearing to be nothing but a painting, helped in part by the relief characteristics of the carbon transfer process. In addition, this differs from the idea of making a print of a photograph of a painting, as in the case of a reproduction of a work on canvas for example, as the final form of the image has already been determined at the moment of photographic intervention.
This new process retains the gamut of possibility that is present in and characteristic of the painting medium, rather than borrowing from or inheriting the constraints of the traditional photographic process.”