Dennis da Silva – alt. proc. business in South Africa

Inspired by The pencil of nature, Dennis da Silva prints lith, salt, cyanotype and vandyke browns commercially.

Interviewer / Malin Fabbri
Photography / Dennis da Silva

Prints being rinsed during a cyanotype workshop with Janus BoshoffHow did you start out with alternative process?

I have been printing black & white hand prints for myself and commercially for 40 years and in 1969 I purchased the reprint of Henry Fox Talbot’s book called The Pencil of Nature which is Fox’s diary and the notes of his discovery of the negative and positive print called the Calotype or as we know it to day The Salt Print. The process intrigued me and sat in the back of my head for many years. I believe in fait and finding the alternative group on the net at the same time as starting my own business exited me again and the rest is history.

I have a passion for the Salt Print not only because of its historic value but also for its simplicity

compared to the technology required to manufacture conventional black & white paper today) and the ability to produce the most wonderful feel and tones.

Image right: Prints being rinsed during a cyanotype workshop with Janus Boshoff

Dennis da Silva coating papersWhat is your background?

I am a self taught photographer and photo laboratory technician who started and managed a professional photo lab for 25 years, introducing black & white processing and printing, C41, E6, C-type printing, cibachrome printing, composite and duplicate transparencies, retouching. I was also privileged to master and be involved with Kodak Rochester in the now defunct and I believe one of the most beautiful and technical processes made by Kodak called Dye Transfer. I have also been involved in the Judicating and judging of many prestigious Professional photographic awards including being a founder member and judge in the recent Sony World awards held in France.

What alternative services do you offer your clients?

I have been lith printing since 1976 (this happened by accident doing proofs for the repro industry). I don’t think there was even a name for it at the time. I still have some of the prints from those days, it was quite funny because I showed them to various art directors that I respected for there visual standards and not many liked them or could not understand why I would want to mess up great negs with odd prints. Only later did lith printing become liked or popular. Lith is a process that I offer using various lith papers and toners. I also offer the Salt, Cyanotype, and the Brown prints.

Image above: Dennis da Silva coating papers and below, washing prints.Dennis da Silva rinsing prints at Silvertone

Have you been able to make a successful business out of the alternative process?

I am not sure if this approach is right or wrong but I will not print for anyone, especially if I think that the work won’t be appreciated or will not suite any of the alternative methods that I do including lith prints. So for this reasons I would say “no”, it has not as yet been financially lucrative. What is more important it has proven to be a very good marketing tool for my company as most of the clients respect my decisions above but

surprisingly clients are forever bringing their clients to see the various alternative printing methods that we use and in turn support the digital side of the business.

Andreas Kahlau and Dennis da Silva outside SilvertoneHow many staff work at Silvertone?

There are six members including myself,

Andreas Kahlau My partner who has 25 years experience in the repro industry is a German trained scanner operator/ retoucher and Photo Shop expert who has been on a number of workshops with Jon Cone of “Cone Editions” one of the forefathers of digital Fine Art pigment printing in the USA and on a number of very advanced Photo Shop workshops with Dan Margulis one of the worlds most knowledgeable Photo shop experts. Andreas is also a certified Apple pro in colour management using Mac 0S X by Apple. Also completing a Predictable Colour Proofing and Printing workshop at ( R I T ) Rochester Institute of Technology. He has a deep passion and love for digital imaging and photography!

Image right: Andreas Kahlau and Dennis da Silva outside Silvertone.

Andile Komanisi Andreas’s assistant who we have trained in all the digital services that we offer, he is also a great
photographer and interested in the alternative process.

Boogie Dooku Has worked with me for almost 20 years is a great black and white hand printer. Boogie
assists me in all the conventional and alternative printing processes.

Thabisu Mashala He is also trained in all the conventional and digital processes that we do and helps both
sides of the company.

Jenny da Silva My wife who has a great eye and passion for photography assisted the world Famous photographer Roger Ballen for almost 15 years, now runs the business side for me.

Inspecting prints during a workshopHow do you see the future of your Alternative printing?

I am unsure about the future of all the conventional printing methods from a commercial point of view, the black & white hand prints have progressively got less in demand and therefore are becoming expensive and this in turn only allows your established art photographer or print seller to afford the prints. The Alternative printing from a commercial point of view is even tougher as I charge more and to really turn it into a commercial venture and print anything, anytime for anybody would be a shame. I have a number of clients who’s work would suite the alternative methods and are hoping to convince them to do a body of work rather than the ones and twos.

Image right: Janus Boshoff inspecting prints during a workshop.

From a non-commercial view I really believe that there are some exciting opportunities.

We have just formed the “Joburg Alternative Group” with six members and the whole idea is to master all the most used methods, then to try and master some of the more difficult or strange ones. We have already had our first group exhibition which was held at a very popular week of art called “Aardklop”. The exhibition was held in an old flower mill where they have Jazz bands plying at night, was very successful from a alternative point of view. What I am hoping is that every few months we will accept another member, teach them the basics and then hope that they will leave and start there own group so that in a few years time there will be groups all over South Africa printing and promoting the alternative methods. We are also involved with workshops in schools, technicons, and universities. Janus Boshoff a lecturer at a Photographic College and a colleague of mine who has a great working relationship with Silvertone has a real love and passion for the alternative processes, has had some very successful alternative workshops at Silvertone and various institutions creating great interest and a high quality of work from the participants.

To see more of Dennis’ work, take a look at Silvertone where Dennis & co. works.

1 thought on “Dennis da Silva – alt. proc. business in South Africa”

  1. Hi Dennis, I remember you from Beith days. Would like to meet up with you.
    I am generally now only interested in Monochrome and would like to discuss ‘Alternative processes’ as well as archival printing.
    Please advise contact details.


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