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The Serendipitous Discoveries of the More Unruly Processes

Updated: Jan 1

"Capturing images is only half of the art of photography. It is only complete when a second interpretation is made as a print." —DKA

If you want beautiful color and detail, a modern inkjet print is the ultimate tool for rendering a photographic image. If you want a classic timeless look, head to the darkroom and fire up your enlarger for a silver gelatin print. Moving toward the classical art rendering, platinotypes, kallitypes, salt prints all fit the bill with an unusual, archival approach.

What if you're just begging for discovery in your print as you did in capturing the image? What if you want a pinch of serendipity as part of your image? Turn to one of the more difficult and unruly processes from the past such as gum bichromate, gumoil, bromoil or lith!

Bromoil Print, with lithographic ink on silver gelatin paper.

Gum Bichromate (with watercolor pigments) over Cyanotype over Gold Toned Kallitype.


Even with these more difficult to control processes, I spend a lot of time establishing some baseline procedures and parameters for printing. At first, I try to get the most straightforward representation I can out of the process. I do this so I can feel that I have at least some degree of control over the process. Yet, it would still be difficult to make two prints that are close to identical. This is the fun part. I have a term for the combination of these "baseline procedures" with the reality that I lack full control over the process. I call it "Guided Serendipity". I find this exciting as I know the direction I'm taking an image, though I don't really know the final destination.

And one thing I want to emphasize: printing with an inkjet printer IS a creative choice, as is the editing of the image prior to printing. These handcrafted processes add an additional layer of creativity to your photographic process. And a bit more "guided serendipity".

Sometimes the "serendipity" emerges as a small variation, or even a small flaw, or a series of flaws. Grain in a print or on film introduces a texture that takes the image a small step away from absolute realism. A series of "alternative" hand-made prints of the same image will all be slightly different, and those small variations can make a huge difference in the effectivness of its presentation.

Other times, a process can yield substantially different prints even if your intention was the same to start with. Gum bichromate, for me, is such a process, where even the slightest variations (often unintentional) will result in drastically different prints of the same image, even when approached with basically the same techniques.

Two prints using basically the same approach of gum bichromate over cyanotype over platinum — very different results!


Even a process gone awry can yield interesting results. The Gumoil Print below of Ross Castle is nothing like the original, and almost all the detail is lost. Gumoil is a finicky process that uses oil paint on top of etched gum arabic to create the photographic image. This image is just plain "wrong", but I like the silhouette-like result!

Ross Castle, Gumoil Print


The image below of Denisa was a digital camera capture which I decided to print as a Lith Print on silver gelatin paper. During the processing, impurities can get into the developer and cause artifacts on the print (second image). In this case, it left little star cluster shapes in the mid-tones and shadows, giving the print an additional ethereal quality lacking in the original.

Denisa, Digital Image

Denisa, Lith Print


Sometimes we go for the unexpected with gusto. Something like Duo-Color prints is an example of that approach. Making a "color" print without all the colors needed for "full color" give the print a different unexpected look. Working with a color wheel, you may have idea where you're headed, but not completely. Most "full color" prints are made with Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black (sometimes leaving the black out). In theory, a combination of Cyan, Magenta and Yellow should be able to give you all colors when printing. When one of those colors are removed, interesting things happen! Taking it a step further, one of those three primary colors can be replaced with a different color, or printed with a combination of the two other primary colors! For example, the portrait below was printed using only cyan and yellow negatives (removing the magenta negative), but after printing cyan, I printed the yellow negative with orange (blending yellow and magenta watercolors). So, while C, M and Y all are in the print, they are only represented as cyan and orange (and cyan/orange blended in various proportions)!

Original Digital Image

Duotone, cyan and yellow "channels" using cyan and orange pigment.


Well, I probably lost most of you there, but suffice it to say, PRINTING a photograph can be as creative as CAPTURING a photograph. The Sky is the Limit!

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