Contemporary Practices in Alternative Process Photography – book series

Christina Z. Anderson is the editor of Routledge‘s book series Contemporary Practices in Alternative Process Photography with so far no less than 9 titles on alternative photographic processes, and more coming. Malin Fabbri interviews Christina Z. Anderson.

Photography / Christina Z. Anderson, Kelly Gorham


Christina Z. Anderson in her studio
Montana State University photography professor Christina Anderson is pictured in the alternative process lab in the School of Film and Photography Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020 in Bozeman. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.

Between writing books, doing workshops, teaching and printing your own images, how do you find the time to edit 9 books?

Christina Z. Anderson: Sometimes I wonder the answer to that question, too. But I’m pretty clear about my priorities.

Teaching comes first. Not just because it’s my day job, but it is the most important thing I do, giving students the tools to increase their creative options. I find teaching meaningful. And I LOVE my students.

Honestly, though I consider myself a peer mentor, it’s sort of like parenting without the emotional baggage. I know that is politically incorrect to refer to my erudite job in the context of parenting, but thus it is.

Workshops are a different form of teaching. They are intense. The people who attend pay good money to be there so commitment to learning is high. The participants are non-homegeneous, all different age brackets and backgrounds. Workshops are in a way more challenging than teaching because of the intensity and the expectations participants bring to the table. Since my day job is full time, I don’t get to do as many workshops as I am asked to do, one a year perhaps along with an invite here and there for mini-workshops at different universities each year. So though I love workshop teaching, they really do not play a big role in my year to year activities.

After teaching, writing books is next. It is my brain on paper, packaged into a neat 8x10x1″ space. All of my research is in my books. When I die and my brain goes to dust, books remain. The other day I was musing about the fact that the books I have written outweigh my physical brain (which weighs on average of 3 pounds). That was actually kind of funny. I really don’t take myself that seriously.

Editing books is next. When I act as editor, I am mentoring. I’m a background partner with the goal to make an author be as successful as possible. My editorship starts at book proposal and continues until the moment the book goes to press. I am there to make an author’s dream come true. Book writing is not lucrative. It is a labor of love. It is soul satisfying. And editing is soul-satisfying.

Making my own work has been backburnered as of late, it seems – well, not making work but pursuing exhibition opportunities, getting my work “out there.” You just can’t do it all at once. When I write, I intensely research the process at hand and make hundreds of prints for the book. While writing Cyanotype I tested 136 papers and multiple formulae, for instance! So writing goes in tandem with making work, just not exhibition if that makes sense.

What are your learnings from being an editor?

Christina Z. Anderson: That is a tough question to answer but I’ll give it a go. 

There are few people really willing to commit to writing a book. If you think, for example, writing a term paper is hard, think about writing twenty of them one right after the other! A book is 75,000–110,000 words! 

It takes a certain type of personality, one who is able to commit to intensity, delve deep (no dilettantes), and do it all for reasons other than money. If we were C. J. Box writing western fiction (and he is damn good at it) we stand to make a living. Our niche market does not guarantee huge sales and royalties so the commitment is more altruistic if that makes sense.

I don’t have a creative/fiction writing bone in my body. Nor poetry. But I do know how to organize information in tight edits and step by steps. I write for an 18-22 year old audience in a succinct style. I write for the layperson alt enthusiast. Alt practitioners want to read as little as possible and spend time in the darkroom making work. I respect that! I try not to waste their time. That is my style and method of writing. I do not impose my will or my style on my authors. I allow them to have their voice, their presence in their books. 

Over the course of editing now six author books and counting, I have compiled a list of common errors made, so each time I take on a new author that list can save a lot of time. A lot of the bullet points are grammar and punctuation, mistakes I, too, have made. 

The more I think I know, the more I realize I don’t, and humility and a sense of humor are of paramount importance. 

One thing I have discovered I bring to the table is what I thought was intermediate InDesign knowledge is not just intermediate. That was a big surprise.

“Each book outlines a step-by-step approach to a particular medium, and features contemporary artists who use that particular process regularly in their practice.”

Routledge

Where do you see alternative photographic processes going in the future?

Christina Z. Anderson:

Well, first I have to give a shout out to you, Malin. Back in the early 2000s I had written a rudimentary text-only manual of experimental black and white printing that I called the Experimental Photography Workbook. I did the first one in 2001. Somewhere shortly thereafter, when you started the AlternativePhotography.com website you started selling it on the website*. That book has gone through now six editions and has sold in 40 countries, because of alternativephotography.com. Little did I know in 2001 that would be the case!

Note from Malin: AlternativePhotography.com started on 5 April 2000 then on Cyanotypes.com but soon changed the name to AlternativePhotography.com to include ALL alternative photographic processes.

 

None of us go it alone. We all rest on the backs of giants.

When I discovered alt pro in 1998, through a class taught by Rudi Dietrich at Montana State University (Rudi hailed from Austria) I knew for me there was no turning back. It was my area of research and practice. At that time there were no digital negatives. I enlarged onto Kodak Direct Duplicating Film and did “pseudo-color” gums with one negative. It was a lot of work!

My first exposure to the widening field of alt was the alt process listserv which I joined October of 1999. Alt was still marginalized then. I still remember the painful experience of a reviewer holding up my prints with a yawn, acting both bored and contaminated, asking me what context I thought these fit in. I still remember the six graduate schools that rejected me in 2003 (I won’t list them here but I do still have the reject letters). What a blessing they did! I ended up at Clemson studying under Sam Wang whose interest in alt has not diminished in over sixty years! I made it my goal to give alt more of a presence in contemporary photography. I was a voracious learner and researcher, and despite all the arguing on that list serv, the list serv was another back of a giant for me.

In 2003 I remember the day I made my first digital negative printed on typing paper and then in gum. Ha, I was an adjunct instructor at the time teaching black and white and experimental black and white but not alt per se. I gave a presentation in the alt class at Montana State University where the professor (not Rudi) said digital negatives didn’t work. My eyebrows shot up. I pulled out my lowly typing paper negative and gum print and said, quietly, “Well, yes they do.” There was a lot of sputtering and dismissal and class ended.

We now know “the rest is history.”

Digital negatives are now expert. Alt is no longer marginal though it is still a niche within the photographic field as a whole. Process which was poo-pooed a decade ago as lacking concept is now THE concept. That switcheroo was a real surprise. Go figure.

My bottom line is that we all want tactile engagement with our work. We want to experience “the flow” where we are creating and time is lost. Alt does that for many of us. Making physical prints with chemistry will not go away. I am not saying it is better or more valuable than a digital print. I am saying that the engagement with making the work is.

One thing I see increasing is pushing the boundaries of process and materials. So what if you make a perfect gum print that looks like a chromogenic print? Virtuosity is absolutely commendable, but the “what ifs” in alt are where I think we are moving.

Who would have thought, decades ago, we’d open a pack of silver gelatin paper in room light (and this will open the floodgates but yes, silver gelatin is now alt)? Or leave chromogenic prints to degrade in water and such for weeks? Or coat huge cyanotype prints and leave them to be washed over with waves from the sea?

I strongly believe there is also desire for the experience of beauty. People want to look at a work and catch their breath. You can be conceptual and beautiful. They are not mutually exclusive. You can be harsh and beautiful. You can confront people with harsh truths and do it beautifully. You can be banale and beautiful. So perhaps those two things – pushing the boundaries of these processes and acknowledging the importance of meaningful beauty are what I see happening today.

“I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have.”

Thomas Jefferson
Platinotype: Making Photographs in Platinum and Palladium with the Contemporary Printing-out Process

Platinotype: Making Photographs in Platinum and Palladium with the Contemporary Printing-out Process

by Pradip Malde and Mike Ware

Describes the mechanisms and chemistry of platinum/palladium printing in safe and practical ways.

 

Digital Negatives with QuadToneRIP: Demystifying QTR for Photographers and Printmakers

Digital Negatives with QuadToneRIP: Demystifying QTR for Photographers and Printmakers

by Ron Reeder and Christina Z. Anderson

Fully explores how the QuadToneRIP printer driver can be used to make expert digital negatives.

 

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.

 

Carbon Transfer Printing: A Step-by-Step Manual, Featuring Contemporary Carbon Printers and Their Creative Practice

Carbon Transfer Printing: A Step-by-Step Manual, Featuring Contemporary Carbon Printers and Their Creative Practice

by Sandy King, Don Nelson and John Lockhart

Reviews the extensive history of carbon transfer and related pigment processes.

 

Cyanotype: The Blueprint in Contemporary Practice

Cyanotype: The Blueprint in Contemporary Practice

by Christina Z Anderson

Contemporary Practices in Alternative Process Photography

 

Polymer Photogravure: A Step-by-Step Manual, Highlighting Artists and Their Creative Practice by Clay Harmon

Polymer Photogravure: A Step-by-Step Manual, Highlighting Artists and Their Creative Practice

by Clay Harmon

Clear and easy to understand instructions.

 

The Handmade Silver Gelatin Emulsion Print: Creating Your Own Liquid Emulsions for Black & White Paper

The Handmade Silver Gelatin Emulsion Print: Creating Your Own Liquid Emulsions for Black & White Paper

by Denise Ross

A cookbook of simple, basic recipes for making black and white printing paper and paper negatives.

 

Salted Paper Printing: A Step-by-Step Manual Highlighting Contemporary Artists

Salted Paper Printing: A Step-by-Step Manual Highlighting Contemporary Artists

by Christina Z. Anderson

The history and the process: from beginner to intermediate level, with step-by-step instructions and troubleshooting.

 

Gum Printing: A Step-by-Step Manual, Highlighting Artists and Their Creative Practice

Gum Printing: A Step-by-Step Manual, Highlighting Artists and Their Creative Practice

by Christina Z Anderson

A step-by-step description of the gum printing process and showcases of artists’ works ranging from monochrome to colorful and from subtle to bold.

 

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