Cameraless photographs – Calotypes

Primal_Images_82   Primal_Images_3  

Photographs copyright of Jerry Burchfield

I have found myself very interested in a very old photographic technique that is as old as photography itself. Because making contact prints of objects on photo-sensitive paper was the very first photographic process invented by William Henry Fox Talbot in 1841, which I wrote about here.

Revisiting Talbot’s calotype photographs was a revelation, they are stunningly beautiful. Then serendipity strikes again, as I have the opportunity to review two of Jerry Burchfield’s books, Primal Images (publ 2004) and his recent Understory(2009), based on this same photographic process (Burchfield calls his Lumen prints). Both of the images posted above are from his first book, Primal Images. Granted Burchfield did not publish every Lumen print that he has made, but the ones he selected for his book are wonderful.

For those who are not familiar with the process, it seems very beguilingly simple. You chose a specimen, such as plant, flower, foliage, or whatever, then put it on top of a sheet of light sensitive paper (that odd paper that people use in the wet darkroom with an enlarger and chemicals), then set this combination outside in the direct sunlight. Perhaps for most of the day. I guess you can peek at it, but you might run the risk of not putting everything back in the proper place, but then again, that might also be part of the creative process, eh? BTW, Burchfield’s rather colorful prints were created on Black & White enlarging paper, an odd result, but again, unpredictably delightful.

I understand that Burchfield fixes his images, but I have now heard of folks who don’t.  Regardless, the results appear fascinating.  This is part photography, part chance, part print making and you could end up with some very unique images.

The funny thing about this is that I had just decided that I was not going back into the wet darkroom and I had just given away three big boxes of multi-contrast enlarging paper, a box of 8 x 10, box of 11 x 14 and a relatively expensive box of 16 x 20. And I mean, only a day or so before I acquired Burchfield’s books. Was the timing an omen; Doug – don’t go there?

I do try to live a life of no regrets, but I sure wish that I had a couple sheets of that paper now to play with. I have a couple of flowers, trees and other plants that I would like to try this process with. So if there are some good souls out there with some old enlarging paper sitting on the sidelines while their inkjet printer is humming away, and are not interested in trying this out, I would be willing to accept you enlarging paper discard donations for some experimentation.

Best regards, Doug

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