Hot Steel Design

Suzanne Steel: Creatrix of Visual Magic

About Alternative Process Photographic Prints

“The term Alternative Process refers to any non-traditional, or non-commercial photographic printing process. Currently the standard analog photographic printing process is the gelatin-silver process, and standard digital processes include the pigment print, and digital laser exposures on conventional color photographic paper.

Alternative Processes are often called historical, or non-silver processes. Most of these processes were “invented” in the 1820’s and were the very techniques by which photographic prints were produced. “Many contemporary photographers are revisiting alternative processes and applying new technologies (the digital negative) and practices to these techniques.”

These Alternative Processes include (but are not limited to) Albumen, Cyanotype, Van Dyke Brown, Platinum/Palladium, Gum Bichromate, Bromoil, Salt Print, Ambrotype, Tintype, Image Transfer and Ziatype. Alternative photographic printing processes result in the creation of one-of-a-kind handmade images, with the imprint of each photographer’s special individuality and artistry. 

I use Cyanotype (blue emulsion) and Van Dyke (brown emulsion) processes for their overall simplicity compared to some of the other processes. However all Alternative Process Printing requires the use of a contact negative (same size as final print) or photogram material (any object placed on the sensitized surface, such as a leaf or flower) to create an exposed image. In the 1980’s when I first started making these prints, I would enlarge a negative in the darkroom onto a sheet of Lith film to get a full sized positive, which I then, in turn, directly exposed onto another sheet of Lith film to get the full sized negative for exposure. Today, we produce digital negatives in Photoshop, which are then printed out onto transparency film on desktop inkjet printers. Working in Photoshop provides much greater flexibility allowing such possibilities as the creation of layered images from several sources, as well as exciting effects such as gradient fades, etc. From this point on, the technique is done exactly as it was in the first days of photography in the early 19th Century.

The process for Cyanotype is as follows:
1 making emulsion

Mixing chemicals:
The cyanotype is made up of two simple solutions.
• Potassium ferricyanide and Ferric ammonium citrate (green) are mixed with water separately.
• The two solutions are then blended together in equal parts.

Preparing the canvas:
• Paper, card, textiles or any other naturally absorbent material is coated with the solution and dried in the dark.
• I use 100% Cotton Rag Printmaking Paper or Rice paper.

4 exposing in the sun5 exposing in UV light

Printing the cyanotype:
• Objects or negatives are placed on top of the substrate to make a print. The cyanotype is printed using UV light, such as the sun, a light box or a UV lamp.

7 evaluating tests

Processing and drying:
• After exposure the material is processed by simply rinsing it in water. A white print emerges on a blue background. I use a short dunk in a weak dilute bath of bleach or Hydrogen peroxide to clear the highlights and intensify the color between initial and final washes.
• The final print is dried and evaluated.

9 overpainting

• I usually overpaint the print with delicate strokes of watercolor and metallic pigment. Some prints get a collage treatment with archival papers.

2 neg to print

Here is an interesting comparison. On top is the negative image onscreen in Photoshop, reversed to print properly on the emulsion side of the film. Below to the left is the film negative with emulsion side down and the resulting print to the right. This particular print was a test print for proper exposure time (note the four bands of increasing darkness of tone from bottom to top).