“Don’t Waste Your Time” and Other Pearls of Academic Wisdom

Come and eavesdrop on a short conversation reflecting a sad state of affairs in art academia.

Writer and photography / Peter J. Blackburn

Butterfinger Squared  Tricolor gum bichromate print. This is just one of hundreds of gum prints which apparently can’t be done the way I describe in my articles. So for those who refuse to see and believe, the print above is just a figment of your imagination.

Below is recorded a conversation I had with Alistair, a new acquaintance who crossed my path several months ago during an informal process demonstration. Astonishingly, the conversation is true. Just the names and certain specific details have been changed to protect both the innocent and the nearly innocent. Alistair’s words are in italic.

“So Alistair, tell me, what alternative photography work engages you now?”

“Oh, I’m actually an art student at an institution of higher education. We’ve been learning a variety of techniques and processes in my alternative photography class.”

“Sounds like a lot of fun! Have you made any gum prints yet?”

“Yeah, but they all turned out quite badly, just a muddy mess. They’re not at all like the quality of your prints. Even the professor seems to have trouble making a good print.”

“Hmm. That must be discouraging. Maybe I can give you some help. Can you briefly describe your workflow procedures?”

“Oh, it seems we were always grasping in the dark. We tried a bit of this and that just to see what would happen. A lot of time was spent sizing paper and creating negatives using that Pictorico stuff. You know, Pictorico is good but it gets so expensive after awhile. When I have little to show for all the money and effort, it makes me want to just stick with cyanotype. Forget platinum. And until now, I’ve thought of giving up on gum, too.”

“Since you enjoy my work, by chance, have you gone to the AlternativePhotography website to read my articles and such?”

“Oh yeah. I’ve even shown the professor the gallery images, too. He says that you can’t believe what you read or see on the web. Gum printing can’t be done that way. Don’t waste your time.”

[Crickets chirping]

[More crickets chirping]

And so I close virtually speechless with little else to say. Does ignorance and pedagogical tyranny run rampant in your academic circle of art and photography? Please, say it isn’t so!

Peter J. Blackburn, MA, has been working in gum and casein bichromate printing for over thirty years. He is represented by Afterimage Gallery, Dallas, Texas. You can also see Peter J. Blackburn’s gallery or read more articles he has written.

5 thoughts on ““Don’t Waste Your Time” and Other Pearls of Academic Wisdom”

  1. Glad to say I have never been dissuaded by any teacher or professor! There are many ways to achieve incredible results with alt processes and sometimes the accidents turn out great and sometimes not! That however is where the actual learning begins. As a side note, does anyone know if Peter is still freelancing in Dallas or living here? I’ve been involved Dichromate printing in the past and have decided to pick up the process once again and wondering if Pete is doing any lecturing or available for consult. Any help is appreciated! This is by far the best site for Alt Process info!

  2. Honestly, a professor saying something like that to me is just an open invitation for me to do exactly what they DON’T want me to do in a quest for the knowledge they’ve failed to deliver to me at the excessively high price of tuition.

    Also, my alternative photography professor of years ago NEVER would have said that to me! She always encouraged experimentation and research wherever we could find information.

  3. I actively encourage my students to do research on the internet while reminding them that each person has a unique workflow. My philosophy is that my way is not the only way (but as a student of mine, please try my way enough to demonstrate understanding of it), and you should explore other means to reach the same end. Several lifetimes of possibility exists.

    Pictorico. Argh!!! It’s nice stuff, but at least twice as expensive as it needs to be. Plenty of good transparency out there. I don’t know why the Mitsubishi stuff keeps getting parroted as the “only” stuff to use for digital negatives.

  4. Happy to say that at least where I teach in Leeds, UK, that wouldn’t happen. I regard the alt photog website as a jewel in the internet mud, and recommend it highly to my students. And I try new things myself – most recently anthotypes – on the principle that I can’t teach what I haven’t done. Keep up the good work.

  5. Whoa, this professor is either a know-it-all or extremely insecure to dismiss others’ success so quickly. As a student, it must be quite discouraging to hear from your master that what you aspire to achieve, simply can’t be done. What a dream crusher.

    We are always learning something new in any given field. When you’re green, you grow; when you’re ripe, you rot. I hope this student find courage to continue the pursuit and break that negative spell.

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