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Alternative photography



Alternative Photography

The term is used to refer to old printing processes - some of which I use and are described briefly here. Some references and links to other photographers sites are given below.

Gum Prints

Gum printing is a different process from silver gelatin (standard black and white printing) - it is a non-silver process relying on the hardening of a "glue" by ultraviolet light. The most expensive photographic print sold in auction was a gum print in combination with other alternative processes.

Gum printing is based on a process invented in 1839 by Scotsman Mungo Ponton and improved by Frenchman Victor Artigue among others. It was popular among the "Linked Ring" (a UK based group including Alfred Maskell and Robert Demachy) and the "photo-secessionists" (a US based group including Edward Steichen and Alfred Stieglitz) from about 1890 to 1920. It is a very flexible procedure and can produce prints which are between watercolour paintings, woodblock prints and photographs.

How are they made? Briefly a mixture of pigment, gum arabic or another "glue" and a dichromate salt is painted on watercolour paper and left to dry, then exposed under a black and white negative by contact printing in sunlight. Prints are necessarily the same size as the negative. The print is then washed in water to reveal an image. Usually several coats of pigment are required - entailing repeated painting, exposure and drying typically taking between a week and two weeks.

The image below shows the corner of a gum print. The brush marks from the application of several coats of different layers of pigment can be seen. Prints can be mounted to hide or to reveal the brushed edges.



Temperaprint is a dichromate process like gum bit differs significantly in other materials and method of production. It was developed by Peter Fredrick working with Alex Chater in the 1970's and is a many-layer process suited to colour printing and creative manipulation of the image.

           Image to follow

Salt(ed Paper) Prints

This is the process invented by Fox-Talbot in 1839. It uses a silver salt, can produce exceedingly high quality prints and fathered the dominant black and white printing methods of the following 160 years.

Paper is coated in a salt solution, dried and then a solution of silver nitrate painted on top. Once dry the paper is exposed to sunlight under a negative. The paper is then washed and fixed (similar to silver gelatin paper).



Cyanotype is an iron based process invented by Sir William Herschel in 1842. A solution of an iron based chemical is painted onto paper, allowed to dry, then exposed to sunlight under a negative. The paper is then washed in water.


Pinhole photography

Not a printing process but a method of taking photographs. The camera has no lens - simply a tiny hole to admit light to the film or sensor.



alternative photography An extensive source of information on the above and many other processes

Hamish Stewart experienced gum printer

Julian Smart professional gum printer

Pinhole Photography Arts Society of Japan: PPAS and Yasu Suzuka

Pinhole Resource An excellent source on information on pinhole photography and materials

Text and images Copyright Geoff Chaplin 2002 -