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What I Owe to Analog

Writer and photography / Peter J. Blackburn

Peter J. Blackburn reflects on the darkroom work he has done over the years and how a manual opened his world to alt. proc.

A CMYK gum print made entirely through analog means.

As I reflect on all the gum and casein work I’ve produced over the years, of the many contributing factors guiding me down this long and winding road, one stands out quite prominently—my analog training. For starters, it was a darkroom manual which first opened my eyes to the world of alternative and historical processes more than twenty years ago. That manual, by placing alternative work at the end of the book after first laying a thorough foundation of disciplined, fundamental darkroom practice, fostered a mindset within me to approach alternative work, specifically gum and casein printing, with the same rigor, order, and perspective. From exposure to processing and much more, what I learned from traditional silver processes set my footing sure for chrome work with gum and casein. If anything, my analog experience trained me to treat dichromate prints for what they are—literal photographs. As such they are, in my view, subject to much of the same praxis and critical handling as any other photograph requiring considerable manual labor. That orientation, I believe, has served me well over the years.

Too be sure, virtually nothing is quick or relatively convenient in much of analog photo capture and subsequent darkroom processing. Loading film, filling developing tanks, mixing chemistry, and washing prints all require large sums of time and attention. What a coincidence—gum and casein work require those same commodities, too! So do most other alternative processes for that matter. Tasks as those reinforce the three vital virtues of the well adjusted printer: patience, endurance, and persistence.

Analog screams for consistency. Analog evokes tactile precision and on occasion, intuitive judgment—all of which are valuable, essential carryover skills ready for indubitable application in the world of historical photographic processes. One couldn’t ask for a more qualified taskmaster, trainer, or drill sergeant than analog! Furthermore, I still to this day sometimes prefer creating analog negatives for certain images in my personal work. While I loudly applaud much of what digital has brought to my creative table, I will respectfully reserve the standing ovation and medal of honor for my longtime analog mentor, without whom I most certainly would not be here as a printer.

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