[alt-photo] Re: an alternative to alternative

Francesco Fragomeni fdfragomeni at gmail.com
Sat Mar 31 17:57:37 GMT 2012

Hi Christina,

As I understand it, the term "Alternative Process" has traditionally been
used to describe any photographic process other then the primary most
actively used mainstream technique. The term was coined to separate
silver-gel from everything else and until fairly recently the distinction
was pretty much assumed to exactly that. As we all know, things have now
changed dramatically. According to recent statistics I've seen (which I
have not vetted but I don't have a hard time believing), globally digital
cameras make as many images every 2 minutes as were made by every
photographer combined in the 1800's. So obviously silver-gel has been
replaced as the primary most actively used mainstream technique and
therefore has become an "alternative process".

Now you could stop there but I tend to want to challenge that and we share
some reasoning i.e. pigeonholing, problems with gallerist small-mindedness,
and overall outdated-ness of the word and the misunderstandings and
connotations that come along with it. Realistically, the term "alternative
process" was coined in order to specifically distinguish silver-gel as the
mainstream medium from other processes. If silver-gel is no longer the
mainstream medium and no longer needs such distinction then perhaps new
terminology is needed. Digital is the mainstream medium of photography
today and quite frankly I've observed a huge number of people struggling to
distinguish it from non-digital techniques/ analog processes. There is
however a caveat; there is great effort being made in the arena of
hybrid-processes which makes making a black and white distinction rather
difficult. Many people I know who have become profoundly upset with
problems that digital has brought about have taken to referring to any
digital photography as "Digital Imaging", a rather obvious attempt to
heavily separate it from photography in general. Some of the common terms
I'm hearing used to describe non-digital photography are "Wet-Processes",
"Traditional Photography", "Chemically-Based Photography", "Analog
Photogrpahy", and "Analog-Based Photography". I hear a lot of alt-process
people use the term "handmade" in various ways but honestly I think that
pigeonholes more then anything as it seems most non-photographers and even
many digital photographers know so little about the alt-processes that they
assume it to be more craft-based then fine art as if the alt-processes are
something that you do with a kit from Hobby Lobby or a similar hobby store.

Setting hybrid processes aside, I think the most important distinctions to
make are that analog processes i.e. silver-gel and all alt-processes, are
chemically and physically based. They occur because of chemical reactions
and changes of metal salts when exposed to light and chemical combinations.
Their components are physically distinguishable and have measurable depth
and three-dimensionality i.e. look at a piece of exposed film or a silver
print or platinum print or cyanotype (etc, etc) under a microscope and you
will be able to see and measure the physical dimensions of each individual
grain of silver or other salt in the fiber of the paper. These negatives
and prints are organically and chemically based and composed of organized
chemically produced solids. In terms of color, similar chemical but
non-granular distinctions can be made in terms of chemically produced color
prints and the dyes of color neg and slide films. Now look at an inkjet
print and you will see none of what makes the chemical processes what they
are. You will see pigment laid down in a non-organic completely mechanical
pattern identifiable as the print head's dither pattern. You will find a
uniform layer of inks laid down across the plane of the paper base and
thats about it. I could go on and on but I think the point has been made
and of course there are arguments to this but nonetheless I think these are
profoundly important distinctions to make because they absolutely effect
the visual outcome and effect of an image. There are still very few things
I have ever heard in my life more obscene then someone making the claim
that a digital capture and subsequent inkjet print can rival an 8x10
contact print or rival a fine silver or platinum print. Maybe that could be
true if you're half blind and looking in the opposite direction. I've still
never stepped foot in a gallery or museum anywhere where I couldn't readily
distinguish all B&W digital prints from silver and alt-process prints.

In the end, I typically just refer to myself as a "Traditional
Photographer" and then take the time to describe the large cameras and film
and chemicals to clarify any confusion that ensues. Regarding my "hybrid"
work, I usually refer to it as "Hybrid Photography" and then describe what
that means. Its never quite as simple as saying that one is an oil painter
or a sculptor. There are always lengthy explanations to be made in
photography I suppose.

Thats my $0.02.

-Francesco Fragomeni

On Sat, Mar 31, 2012 at 10:54 AM, etienne garbaux <
photographeur at nerdshack.com> wrote:

> Chris wrote:
>  The question: is what term are you using, or does "alt" continue to be
>> sufficient? I thought what better group to ask than 500 alt listers.
> Kodak may be dead (just reorganizing, really), but "conventional"
> photography -- that to which we are alt -- is still very much alive.
> Whatever kitschy name of the week anyone adopts, it will always be "alt"
> to me.  (I know you didn't say you were trying for a kitschy name and I
> have no doubt that you were earnest in your inquiry, but the very act of
> trying to find an alternative for a perfectly good, well-understood,
> neutral term is ... well ... kitschy or faddish, in my book.)
> Best regards,
> etienne
> ______________________________**_________________
> Alt-photo-process-list | http://altphotolist.org/**listinfo<http://altphotolist.org/listinfo>

More information about the Alt-photo-process-list mailing list