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Teaching Winter Session, Week 2

Writer and photography / Nancy Breslin

Nancy Breslin is teaching alternative photographic processes at the Uni. Here we can follow her five week course. Week two is a bit smoother than week one.

Week two of my five week crash course in alternative processes felt (to me at least) a bit smoother than week one. While the first few days were mostly introduction and demos, now we really needed to get down to business. Few students had been able to print digital negatives last week (we share the digital space with another class on some days, which limits opportunity) but, by extending class by an hour, everyone had three negatives printed by the end of Tuesday. The remainder of the week was a free-for-all: Holga negative scanning, coating paper, UV exposures, washing cyanotypes and VDB prints. I did a few more demonstrations, with mixed results. After explaining that lumen prints skip the developer and stop baths, I absent-mindedly plunked mine right into the developer. But my layers of magenta and then yellow gum over cyanotype had perfect exposures.

Gum print by photographer Nancy Breslin
My demo gum-over-cyanotype print was successful (whew!); a student's VDB print is washing behind it.

Because of the compacted nature of the class, some projects are mandatory, and others are optional. For instance, the students have a choice between creating a three color gum print or building and working with a pinhole camera (since both take time over multiple class periods). I needed to know where to allocate class time but the students kept dithering on which of these to do. Finally I asked the gum people to stand over HERE and the pinhole people to stand over THERE. It surprised me that only one student is opting for pinhole, but the open final project will give everyone a chance to try it if they like, and I hope some will.

This is the first time I’ve introduced lumen printing into this class. One of the student choices is between creating a diptych of lumen prints or one (in a surrealist vein) using solarization. Incorporating silver gelatin processes at all into an alternative class might have struck me as odd a few years ago, but for some of my students this will be their only darkroom experience (although I hope to tempt them all back for more).  I figure that their time in the darkroom – working under safe lights, learning a bit about enlargers and paper chemistry – may at least give them all tales to tell their grandchildren (as I’ll be able to tell mine about using punch cards in my intro to computing class at Rutgers in the late 1970’s).

2 thoughts on “Teaching Winter Session, Week 2

  1. Samantha – Van Dyke brown printing and cyanotype should both be fine for HS students. I’ve done cyanotypes with elementary and middle school aged children (with younger ones I precoated the paper to keep them away from the chemistry). For HS students you could have them print out digital transparencies (to use as negatives), or make contact prints of flat objects. I wouldn’t suggest gum bichromate with high school students, since it is trickier and more toxic.

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