U of S | Mailing List Archive | alt-photo-process-l | Re: what Demachy said....

Re: what Demachy said....

On Oct 26, 2006, at 9:43 PM, Judy Seigel wrote:
Still, I was enchanted to come upon the following, which I'd totally forgotten:

Page 4, titled "Painter-Photographer/Photographer-Painter," starts with an excerpt from Demachy: He'd been at his photo store, he said, complaining to the dealer that he couldn't get a good black with gelatino-bromide paper, when another customer asked, "Why don't you try Poitevin's gum process... you just mix together some gum arabic, some bichromate of potash, and a small quantity of moist water-color pigment. You coat any sort of drawing paper, print, & develop with cold or tepid water." Demachy said he bought the ingredients "there & then," and "after a week or so of experiment got 'a few fair results which were exhibited at the London Photographic Salon.'"

HOWEVER, ten years later he had a different perspective: "If, instead of meeting my concise and unknown friend, I had read one or two papers of the same order as most of the modern treatises on gum, I would have fled, appalled by the tremendous intricacies of the process."

That's great; it's nice to know I'm in such good company. A quote from my own website:

"Gum printing is very simple... stated broadly it goes like this: (1) get some good quality gum arabic, some good quality watercolor paint, some ammonium or potassium dichromate, some paper that will take a good soak without falling apart; (2) mix the gum with the paint and the dichromate, brush it on the paper, expose it to a source of ultra-violet light, put it in water, see what happens. Repeat. If you do this thoughtfully, adjusting pigment concentration or exposure times (never both at the same time) from printing to printing, you will soon come to an intuitive understanding of how gum works, which you can then use employing a wide variety of papers, pigments, and other materials. Learning to print gum is like learning to read or to ride a bicycle: once you've "got" it, you've got it for life."

I often said, during the first few years after I joined this forum, that I was ever so thankful that I had developed my own way of printing gum long before I ever arrived here, or I never would have dared to print gum the way I do; I would probably have believed the gum ideology that reigned on the list at the time, and been cowed by people who told me that everything I was doing, every material I was using, was "wrong."

I've also often said that the thing I love most about gum is that it doesn't lend itself to ideology; any time someone makes a statement of fact about gum, ten people will rise up to say their own observations contradict it. And every time we hear about another new fool-proof way of printing gum ("at last, gum can be standardized!") twenty people will rise up to say it doesn't work for them. This is why I keep saying that the only way to learn to print gum is to print gum. The gum will teach you what it needs to work properly given your particular set of materials and conditions.

The currently ascendant ideology, the curves ideology, may be as wonderful as it's been touted, and I'll be the first to eat crow if someone can prove that to me, or I can prove it to myself, but so far, I'm not impressed. And to those who would scoff that this is no ideology, that there's no special currency enjoyed by the curves ideology at the present time, I'd ask why else would Keith and I, who have been perfectly happy with our gum printing methods and results, feel that we are required to at least try it out? I've been hooted at mercilessly here for not jumping on the bandwagon, and after a while, one does start to feel the pressure.

But like I said, it's been interesting to observe that the cant about standardization is starting to fray around the edges. And in the last three days of generating curves, I've wasted more time and materials than I've wasted in a lifetime of printing gum, and for what? To make worse gum prints than I've ever made in my life. Now it may be that the system I picked for generating curves isn't well geared to gum, or something, and that if I would pay the money and buy the "right" system, I'd get better results. Or that I'm doing something drastically wrong (I'd like to hear from anyone who is getting good gum curves from ChartThrob, and compare notes with them). But so far I'm in agreement with what Keith said the other day: so far the curve that gives me the best print is a straight line (no curve at all).