U of S | Mailing List Archive | alt-photo-process-l | Re: ironing gum prints and other musings

Re: ironing gum prints and other musings

On Thu, 1 May 2008, Christina Z. Anderson wrote:

What I noticed (and it'd be interesting to see if other alt teachers agree on this? Sam? Judy? Peg Fredi? Kerik? Clay? Diana? who am I missing?) is that gum printers are "born" somewhat instantly. In the first week or two it is apparent who will gravitate to gum and stay there and who will not. I would love to say it is my scintillating teaching style but, in fact, I think it is the personality of the student. I also have found it is not predictable who will excel at gum and who will not. It always surprises me.
Chris, my experience has varied -- sometimes exactly as you describe, but some surprises. Perhaps the difference was that my class was required (despite my strongest protestations), not an elective. Some students -- most notably among them SooKang -- took immediately to gum, turning out prints at the level of their best right off the bat.

But also those surprises. My most vivid memory of one such was the last day of class one year, when one of the guys (the guys didn't usually take to gum so happily -- they tended to prefer the more strictly "photographic" processes, tho I think, given their druthers they'd have preferred to stay in their darkrooms making C-prints), but as I was saying, this fellow was sitting cross-legged on top of the lab counter, looking with some pleasure at his gum prints which had just been on the wall for a crit... talking as much to himself I think as to the group at large. I can still hear him almost 20 years later, saying in a tone of
wonder: "I didn't want to do it, and I didn't want to do it... but then I did it... and... I really *liked it*."

That may have been at least in part because he was smart and/or lucky enough that his prints were finally pretty good. Still, I think that even the ones who didn't like it at all at all, IF they turned out say just a couple of good -- or decent -- prints, either from talent, teaching, luck or maybe just watching and copying another student, WOULD like it: The feeling of achieving something difficult is VERY satisfying.

Incidentally, Chris, we may both be thinking of the same fellow who
shrank the paper with a hair dryer until it was the right size. I recall an article in one of the photo magazines that described it... just reading about it made me want to do everything left-handed and blind-folded.

Incidentally #2 -- who was it said they pasted the paper to plexi with 10% gelatin... was that you Chris? I did that according to some old literature, which said to put it on sanded shellacked sheets of metal (I had some plexi but it wasn't rigid enough... maybe too thin.) I found that to make the paper stay on and stay flat (if I recall I put this in one of the Post-Factory's) required a LOT of gelatin-- and then a separate operation to get it off the back, which I solved by putting a sheet of buckram ("gum buckramate") between the paper and the metal -- you could just grab an edge and pull. Maybe if I'd stuck with it I'd have prevailed, but by that time my shrinking and registering technique seemed to improve enough to just do it loose (or maybe my eyesight deteriorated enough so it didn't bother me)...

However, in my experience, if you coat your paper with the pigment/gum/dichromate mix when it's too wet, it will sink so far into the paper that it will never never never ever clear... tho maybe that fellow wasn't actually making prints, just shrinking the paper (?).


I also have seen within that period of time students who become equal enough to me in technique. I mean, in less than 5 weeks! Like maybe 3! My guess, again, is it is in the personality of the worker and not some special secrets or teaching ability on my part. My guess is that the type of person who gravitates toward gum is able to creatively troubleshoot instantly, doesn't expect to rush through a gum print, is willing to give it that one extra coat/day of work, and is willing to try new weird things without feeling the gum print is sacrosanct. Etc. etc. Not to mention the enjoyment of the process (BTW when I am doing a gum print I do 2 versions at once--one to get perfect and one to mess with).

So, out of my introspection and into ironing. Necessity is the mother of invention. When faced with doing 40 gum prints in a short amount of time I resorted to ironing, thinking it would shrink the print, melt the gum, ruin my life and my clothes that I never iron anyway, whatnot, and none of these occurred. In fact, I now have my ironing board out permanently. I do use Fabriano Artistico EWHP and it is dimensionally as stable as one could hope. I use it on cotton/synthetic setting.

What I have noticed when ironing is that on the back of the print you can see exactly where the paper has shrunk and where it has not. If you have a gum print, say, of white dots on a black background, the white dots are puffed out on the top of the print and they show perfectly on the back of the print in indentations. Where there is the heaviest gum layering, in the blacks, that part of the print is "sucked up" smaller. Even ironing does not change this. It doesn't flatten out those indents. So the more layers of gum the more there is a chance of this sucking up.

BUT if there is a noticeable difference (even 1/32") between the neg and the print, I just take a wet sponge to the back of the print and let it relax for maybe 5 minutes before exposure and it will fit. This technique I have used always, long before I started ironing and often with my large gums.

Of course this has nothing to do with your original question of curl and cockle, Clair, just a segue.

There was a guy in the 80's who used to, get this, coat his gum prints damp and then shrink the paper continually with a blow dryer until the print reached a certain size. Can you imagine? When doing 6 gums at a time I'd have to have a beauty salon! And money for my electric bill!

Maybe one day I will afford the space and $$ for a dry mount press...but until then the iron is my poor man's press.