Interview with Gordon J. Holtslander

Interview with Gordon J. Holtslander, the man behind the “The-alt-photo-process mailing list”, also known as just “The List”.

Photography / Gordon J. Holtslander

Introduction: Like many others when I first became curious about alternative photographic processes I searched the web for information. The List is where I first found like-minded people to helped me getting started and shared their valuable experiences with me. The List and the people on it is part of the reason got started – it is an excellent place for sharing information.

– Malin Fabbri, Editor,

Pinhole gum print by Gordon J. Holtslander
Trees Canmore, gum print made from a 8×10 pinhole camera negative

How and when did The List start?

Gordon J. Holtslander: I got The List started sometime in 1994. The first “incarnation” of The List was managed by Steve Avery – who was a graduate student in Australia at the time. Steve Avery offered to run The List when I asked if anyone could run one. Steve ran The List for around three years, but eventually graduated and was unable to manage The List. At that point I asked the University of Saskatchewan Information Technology people if I could host The List here.

University of SaskatchewanThe University of Saskatchewan were willing to do it, as a service to the academic community.

I first had to prove that an alt-process mailing list was worthwhile to the academic community. I talked with the head of the photography in our Art & Art History department – who I knew from the work I had done locally in alternative process printing. She agreed to vouch for the legitimacy of an alt-process mailing list. Once that was done the University agreed to host The List – its been running at the University of Saskatchewan since 1997.

What was your role in the birth of The List?

Gordon J. Holtslander: There was a set of “usenet” groups (does anyone remember usenet? – sort of an on line bulletin board that is set up with broad topic areas that anyone on the internet can participate in). There were a handful of photography related usenet groups that I read.

Occasionally someone would post something about alternative processes. I posted a few messages to these groups asking if anyone was interested in setting up an alternative process mailing list. Around seven people replied saying they were interested. I then asked if anyone had the capabilities to run a list – Steve Avery replied that he knew someone who managed the computers it his university in Australia, and would see if they could manage The List. They were willing, The List was born a few days later.:)

What is your current role in running The List?

Gordon J. Holtslander: I continue to manage The List. Its not a great deal of work.

How do you keep The List spam free?

Gordon J. Holtslander: I keep The List spam free by making it necessary to subscribe to The List before sending messages to it. The list won’t accept a posting unless the address is already subscribed. It’s simple but it seems to work.

What is your personal interest in alternative processes?

Gordon J. Holtslander: I was introduced to alternative process through the work of a number of visiting artists who had shows, and held workshops at the Photographers Gallery in Saskatoon. I believe the Photographers Gallery was the oldest artist run Gallery in Canada – it folded a few years ago.

The workshops were sponsored by the Canadian Council – a national arts funding group in Canada. The workshops fee were minimal – they covered the cost of materials. I was able to learn carbon printing from Luis Nadeau, platinum printing from George Steeves, and photo-etching from April Hickox.

I now work with pinhole cameras a great deal. Pinhole cameras provide such a very wide range of possibilities – each camera I have “see” the world differently. I wanted to be able to easily print the images created with a pinhole camera and print them with alternative processes. I developed a technique of using inexpensive very large format orthographic arts film to make very large format continuous tone in-camera negatives. I had to formulate my own developers to make the high contrast film act like a continuous tone film. It took me a few years to work out, I continue to fine-tune these.

The combination of the imagery that can be produced with pinhole cameras, and the range of printing styles techniques that alternative printing processes offer provides such a wide wide range of possibilities. I just need more time:)

Pinhole cyanotype by Gordon J. Holtslander
Kathe’s Deck, cyanotype made from a 8×10 pinhole camera negative by Gordon J. Holtslander.

Any funny anecdotes?

Gordon J. Holtslander: I was travelling this summer – passed through a really small town in an out of the way place. There was a tiny little gallery that we went to. It was run by a woman who did Polaroid transfer – really gorgeous work. I started talking with her, and eventually asked if she had been on “The List”. She had – and she then proceeded to give me all sorts of tips on doing Polaroid transfers:)

The people on this list are amazing! I can ask the most obscure esoteric question, and the next day someone from across the world will answer me. It never ceases to amaze me.


November 2009 – The List is homeless
On the 10th of November 2009 Gordon left The University of Saskatchewan, and as a result, The List is currently homeless. Fiery debates are going on and discussions flying back and forth in an attempt to save The List. It looks hopeful so far, and a solution will be found. Rest assured.

December 2009 – The List finds a new home
“The list” is from December 2009 now called the mailing list or, in less technical terms the Alternative Photographic Process mailing list.

Update – the list moves again and is now called The Alt Photo List
To join to The List, take a look here for instructions on how to subscribe.

Leave a Comment