The Preface of Sarah Van Keuren’s book “A Non-Silver Manual: Cyanotype, Vandyke Brown, Palladium & Gum Bichromate with instructions for making light-resists including pinhole photography”.
This manual is intended to reinforce and supplement classroom instruction but may also assist artists outside the classroom who are already committed to working in non-silver processes. It originates from a collection of handouts that I wrote for non-silver students at The University of the Arts (formerly the Philadelphia College of Art) in the 1980s and early 90s. My explicit descriptions of processes are not put forth as the way but rather as a way that has worked for students and myself. It is one of the pleasures and rewards of teaching to see students finding their own ways — and to learn from them!
A Body of Knowledge
You might expect that non-silver processes from the 19th century would comprise a static body of knowledge but I have not found that to be the case. In 1977 when Breaking the Rules: A Photo Media Cookbook by Bea Nettles was published, her slender volume was the definitive printed word on the topic of non-silver. When The Keepers of Light by William Crawford was published two years later it seemed positively encyclopedic. Little did I imagine that cyanotype, which occupied a bit more than one page in Nettles’ book and 6 pages in Crawford’s book, would by 1999 be the subject of a fascinating 178 page book titled Cyanotype: The History, Science and Art of Photographic Printing in Prussian Blue by Dr. Mike Ware. Recently we had the luxury of a periodical devoted to all aspects of non-silver, namely Post-Factory Photography published by Judy Seigel.
My introduction to pinhole photography was Jim Schull’s little book of humorous drawings, The Hole Thing, published in 1974. Pinhole Journal, edited and published by Eric Renner and Nancy Spencer delighted and educated for over two decades, and Eric’s in-depth Pinhole Photography: Rediscovering a Historic Technique is a major reference. Within the past few years, two new comprehensive, handsomely illustrated volumes, The Book of Alternative Photographic Processes by Christopher James and Photography’s Antiquarian Avant-Garde: The New Wave in Old Processes by Lyle Rexer have contributed to our understanding and appreciation of non-silver.
And what, you may ask, would be the place of my small, un-illustrated, self-published manual within this wealth of new literature on non-silver? I don’t know the history of non-silver processes as well as Christopher James does nor do I know about as many processes as he does. And I don’t have the perspective on the contemporary art scene that Lyle Rexer demonstrates. Certainly I don’t know chemistry or the history of science the way Mike Ware does. Judy Seigel’s deep knowledge of the field of alternative processes cannot be matched.
What this manual does offer is a body of practical knowledge gained from my experience as artist and teacher as well as the practical knowledge of those who generously contributed to this new edition. I have covered what I have been able to do within the constraints of a modest lifestyle with modest facilities. And I have been able to teach the contents of this manual to others within the limits of weekly 6-hour studio classes over the course of two semesters. The un-ambitious scope of this manual may be its strength.
What’s New in the Third Edition?
The text of this manual has undergone many revisions during the 30 years that I have been teaching non-silver processes in the Printmaking studios at UArts. For this Third Edition I went over the entire text, modifying and expanding it in accordance with what I learned in the past several years. As continuous-tone sheet films are phased out and we move into the digital age in earnest, I have tried to find ortholith film and digital ways to produce the tonal range those films provided. In this 10th Revision I updated all of the chapters that I wrote. There are many changes.
A chapter by Rosae Reeder on casein printing, and a page by Melissa Good on her way of printing in gum bichromate from digital negatives are new in this 3rd edition but have not been changed in this revision. Sandra Davis’s contribution and the chapter on copy cameras that are new in this edition have been updated in this revision.
For their help with this manual in its earlier stages I want to thank Dana Leight, who, as a graduate student and teaching assistant, encouraged me to self-publish. Her page on surfaces to print on besides paper has stood up over time. Thanks also to the late book artist Enid Mark who critiqued my initial text and part of this one. Going back in time, thanks to Lois Johnson, Patricia Dreher and the late Jerome Kaplan, for introducing me to non-silver processes in the mid-1970s and to Phil Simkin for getting me started with pinhole photography and later my first computer. Thanks to the University of the Arts for awarding me four Venture Fund grants that helped support research in preparation for the writing of this manual and for providing workshops and classes to bring the faculty up to speed with computers. Most sincere thanks to Harris Fogel, in Media Arts/Photography at UArts for his generous support in my quest to make digital negatives to print in non-silver and for his help in the production of this edition. Thanks to Sandra Davis, Stuart Goldstein, Melissa Good, and Rosae Reeder for their contributions to this third edition. I am especially indebted to Stuart Goldstein for his help in editing the new and expanded text of this edition. And thanks to my partner Harry Kalish for his continuous support.
Finally, thanks to the non-silver students, undergraduate and graduate, matriculated and non-matriculated, who have used these antique 19th century processes to convey their late 20th/early 21st century visions. They have given me an expanded understanding of the range of expression inherent in the processes described in this manual.
There is an environmental price to pay for the alchemy that takes place in the production of non-silver images. Less toxic means of expression should be exhausted first (especially by people whose homes have septic tanks).
Some of the metallic compounds and certain other chemicals used in these processes are potentially hazardous to the printer. As a general rule, children should not be taught non-silver processes because of the risk of skin contact and inadvertent ingestion of the chemicals. Even adult classes should be small and closely supervised to ensure safe practices. A student should not be required to take a non-silver class if he or she has no interest in the processes. Students in my classes sign a contract in which they agree to adhere to explicit safety guidelines.
Corrections or suggestions for improving the text are welcomed and may be incorporated into future revisions with appropriate acknowledgement. Such material (including questions about or orders for the manual) can be sent directly by U.S. mail to:
Sarah Van Keuren, 6 Herford Place, Lansdowne, PA 19050-2408
or by email to: svankeuren (at) comcast.net.