Chrysotype: A Contemporary Guide to Photographic Printing in Gold by Leanne McPhee

Leanne McPhee is the author of Chrysotype: A Contemporary Guide to Photographic Printing in Gold find out how Leanne McPhee came to write the book on chrysotype. This volume is the seventh in the Routledge Alternative Process series, edited by Christina Z. Anderson and published by Routledge.

Photography / Leanne McPhee, Mark Goddard

Interview with Leanne McPhee

Leanne McPhee portrait by Mark Goddard 2018.
Leanne McPhee, Mark Goddard 2018.

What is your favorite process and why?

Leanne McPhee: Having always had an affinity with gold and silver it’s probably not surprising that salted paper and chrysotype have become my go-to photographic printing processes.

I usually choose between these two processes and select the one that best expresses my photographic intent. Salt printing first gained my attention because of its long, graduated tonal range and black-brown hues that can take on a purplish-brown colour when toned with gold chloride. Chrysotype, with its subtle monochromatic colours and contrast controls, can support diverse subject matter and convey a range of moods.

As with salt printing, chrysotype has made it possible for me to combine my two loves – photography and research. There are many different methods for salt printing that explain how to achieve a successful print, which spurred my own research and testing. With chrysotype, the different ways to control colour and contrast sparked an interest to experiment with these aspects of the process.

Intermediary, chrysotype by Leanne McPhee, 2014.
Intermediary, Leanne McPhee, 2014. 10” x 8” chrysotype print on Berger COT 320 gsm paper, from 10” x 8” film negative, ligand:gold:iron = 4:4:1, 43% RH, developing agent: malonic acid.

Why did you become interested in chrysotype?

Leanne McPhee: About 15 years ago, an image with a dark pink monochromatic hue caught my attention. This image became a clipping, pasted into the obligatory photographic journal with curious questions about the ‘who, what and how’. Several years later, I made my way to Gold Street Studios to attended a platinotype workshop held by Dr. Mike Ware. When there, I heard about his chrysotype workshop. Intrigued, I decided to participate in that workshop too. The questions surrounding the clipping were finally answered; however, many more surfaced that created a chain of events leading to the book.

Along with learning that chrysotype was a forgotten possibility for photographic printing in gold, its reinvention by Dr. Ware supported the creation of split tone and monochromatic hues ranging from pink, violet, magenta to purple, brown, blue, green and black. I was fascinated to know that the colour of chrysotype comes from microscopic colloids of gold suspended in water – nanoparticle gold, which forms one of the three chrysotype solutions. Colour is determined by the shape and size of the nanoparticle gold and this is influenced by several factors, including the humidity and sizing in paper, the sensitiser and developing agent used in the first processing bath. The interplay between these factors and their individual nuances is what also makes experimentation with chrysotype possible.

I realised that the chrysotype process would more effectively express some aspects of my Drape photographic series. It also triggered a deep curiosity about the factors that influenced colour and how these could be nudged to potentially produce different results.

Proud Pot, Chrysotype by Leanne McPhee, 2014.
Proud Pot, Leanne McPhee, 2014. 10” x 8” chrysotype print on Bergger COT 320 gsm paper, from 10” x 8” film negative, ligand:gold:iron = 4:4:1, 42% RH, developing agent: citric acid to facilitate split tone.

Why did you select the chrysotype process for your new book?

Leanne McPhee: It was an email with the provocation, ‘Are you game to write a book on chrysotype?’ that started the ball rolling. There were still aspects of the process I wanted to explore and I needed to consider how a book might add to existing manuals on the process and the research of Dr. Mike Ware. A couple of years later the stars aligned via the Routledge Contemporary Practices in Alternative Process Photography Series.

It seemed appropriate that a book incorporating the learnings of a growing number of artists using chrysotype follow on from earlier texts to inform, encourage and challenge a new generation of practitioners from the newly curious to the experienced professional.

I decided to produce a how-to guide on chrysotype, inclusive of its history, and written for the practitioner. Dr. Mike Ware’s new chrysotype formulas are used in the book because of the rigorous chemical testing that underpins them. I also wanted to provide a comprehensive illustrative representation of chrysotype by showcasing the work of artists new to and well versed in chrysotype. And finally, writing the book provided an opportunity to share some of my research to assist those wanting to experiment with the process.

Voluptuary, Chrysotype by Leanne McPhee, 2016.

Where do you see the chrysotype process going in the future?

Leanne McPhee: Chrysotype will continue to engage people who want to explore how this printing process can amplify their visual storytelling, and intrigue those who like to experiment. The artists contributing to the book are part of a groundswell demonstrating the possibilities of chrysotype. They have used the subtle colour palette and contrast controls to express their photographic intent across a range of subjects.

Wendy Currie and Bianca Conwell have perfectly matched the pink, violet and split-tone hues of chrysotype to convey the femininity and nostalgia of family heirlooms and to also produce evocative portrayals of the Australian landscape. Miguel Duarte has mixed the chrysotype solutions to regulated the contrast of his black-grey images depicting people and their clothing in various street scenes in Portugal. Marek Matusz is exploring the combination of chrysotype with other processes such as gum bichromate, while Esme Ann Everingham has quietly gone about testing a range of novel developing agents to gain subtle colour shifts and multiple split tone hues in her prints. Collaboration and sharing are common amongst the artists featured in the book, which are attributes that will contribute to the future growth of the chrysotype process.

Tight-knit, Chrysotype by Leanne McPhee, 2017.
Tight-knit, Leanne McPhee, 2017. 7” x 7” chrysotype print on Buxton Platinotype 240 gsm paper, from 10” x 8” film negative, ligand:gold:iron = 4:4:1, 65% RH, developing agent: citric acid.

The history of chrysotype and the endeavours of Elizabeth Fulhame, Sir John Herschel, Michael Faraday, Gustav Mie and Dr. Mike Ware will continue to inspire artists and scientists to investigate other potential uses for nanoparticle gold.

And finally, the changing qualities of paper and their potential incompatibility with chrysotype could present challenges in the future. This will require us to work closely with specific paper makers to ensure there continues to be papers that don’t contain alkaline buffers, bleaching agents and retention aids. These additives negatively react with iron-based sensitisers such as argyrotype, chrysotype and platinotype.

“Chrysotype is about photographic printing in gold on paper. This 19th century printing process, modified for contemporary use, provides artists with an affordable way to produce permanent prints in gold.”

Buy Chrysotype: A Contemporary Guide to Photographic Printing in Gold:
Chrysotype: A Contemporary Guide to Photographic Printing in Gold by Leanne McPhee

Chrysotype: A Contemporary Guide to Photographic Printing in Gold

by Leanne McPhee

An affordable way to produce permanent prints in gold. By using film or digital negatives, striking hand-coated prints can be created.


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