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 Fri, 2 May 2008, Christina Z. Anderson wrote:

Judy, don't you feel special that you were Sookang's teacher?? Sarah Vowell graduated from here and I noticed faculty pretty proud who taught her.
Hi Chris, I may be obnoxious in that respect, or even in other respects, but I don't, feel special for Sookang, that is. I don't even know that anything I taught did that much for her, tho I daresay the atmosphere in the class and the work by former students I showed on the first day were helpful... But her very first print was nearly as good as her last.

I gather that the prints you saw at SPE were from color seps; her prints in my class were "faux color" from a single b&w neg, which is actually much harder to print. So unless she'd learned gum printing in a previous life (which I wouldn't rule out) she simply knew instinctively how to do it and what to do -- the process spoke to her, and vice versa.

If anything about teaching made me feel special (aside from the fun of it-- and the tremendous amount I learned from my students -- the MOST from the dumb ones, by the way, who didn't know, or didn't believe, such and such didn't "work" so they did it and... whaddaya know, it worked!) it was the ones like the fellow who said on the last day of class that he really really really didn't want to do it but he had to do it and then he liked it... Still, I don't know that that had anything to do with me -- or anything beyond my expertise, which is probably not as special today as it was in 1983.

I did take pride in the expertise, tho it got me some obloquy -- even, if you could believe, on this list ! I owe it perhaps to panic -- I was so panicked when hired at the last minute to teach "alt photo" that I went home and tested round the clock for the remaining two weeks. (I'd made, before then, one [bad] gum print in my life.) I'd also had the luck to bump into Greg Schmitz in the hall in front of the film & video office and got (somehow -- my lucky day) into an hour-long conversation with him, at the end of which he introduced me to the 21-step: the Rosetta Stone of EVERY process, especially gum. (And, if you ever want to debunk some claptrap, that's often all you need.)

Meanwhile I STILL hear tales of "teachers" of alt processes who don't know a single thing about the processes (except to protect themselves by saying "it won't work right away") not even what's in "the books," which they haven't bothered to read. They have the job because administration thinks all "photography" is equal (and "mechanical"), and its practitioners interchangeable, so when they need to fill -- or decide to create -- an "alternative photography" class they take whoever on their faculty has an open hour, who maybe made a cyanotype sometime in summer school and give them the class. The students don't know the difference or why their prints don't "come out" -- which in the long run may be beside the point... A student who sees a gum print for instance and loves it... but can't do it right away and therefore gives up, isn't worthy of the honor, or tough enough to deal with the real puzzles that will inevitably turn up .... Right?

PS. The "literature" gives a fair sampling of the level of mainstream publishers' books on "alt", as reviewed in various Post-Factory's -- for instance Robert Hirsch's chapter on alternative processes has some world-class idiocies, not from actual testing or printing, but from mental telepathy while chewing on a color chart. Ditto for John Schaefer's "Ansel Adams Guide II" -- IMAGINE: in the name of Ansel Adams (tho maybe it serves him right?) as reviewed in an early P-F by John Rudiak & myself.... And those are just the two that leap to mind. (Something tells me I may have mentioned the "gum-pigment ratio test" -- religiously cut and pasted right down the line -- already.)

PS. Chris, who is Sarah Vowell?