Making practice your praxis

Peter J. Blackburn argues the case for doing a bit of casual printing in-between more serious alternative process work.

Writer and photography / Peter J. Blackburn

This sunflower has been printed scores of times in gum and casein when nothing else was available at the moment. It was printed just for fun and for discipline.

A few weeks ago I photographed several historical buildings in the Dallas area, processed the film (yes, film), and have now upturned every visible artifact in my apartment searching for those confounded negatives. They are nowhere to be found. Oh, well. They’ll eventually turn up. In the meantime, here’s a bit of writing reflecting upon a few thoughts which raced around my mind during that recent film searching wild goose chase.

You see, I was counting on scanning those negatives and printing a few images this weekend. Printing is vitally important to me— and for a number of reasons. In this case, those lost negatives represent a new series of work exploring yet again another experimental approach of interpretation. The buildings, photographed on TMAX, will be scanned and then assigned a color scheme in PhotoShop suitable for gum printing. Now that those negatives are temporarily AWOL, I’ll instead grab a few leftover negatives from last year and spend the weekend interpreting anew with different pigments. It’s good practice. It might help me to develop related or even new ideas for future work. And, printing will keep my production discipline sharp.

But even if not a single negative could be found or produced, I would simply resort to photograms—walk outside, pluck a few interesting botanical forms, a found feather, perhaps, even a bit of scrap rubbish like a bottle cap, and create a pleasing arrangement. No matter. Just as the musician practices scales, I am compelled to print. Whether executing an involved series of separations, or spreading a single, solitary layer, practice is important. Practice is essential to mastering the craft. And practice, if it would amount to anything, must be performed regularly, persistently, religiously, if you will.

Are you an alternative artist who only prints images which have been meticulously created, resulting from well-labored thought, destined to become priceless masterpieces? That’s all well and good—perhaps. But may I suggest that during the in-between times you simply print anything and everything available on hand. Enjoy and learn from the act of printing. Reinterpret older work. Print for the discipline. Print for the delight!

Remember, the inspiring finger work of a piano concerto most likely began and even improved through any number of determined, dedicated, disciplined renderings of Greensleeves!

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.

2 thoughts on “Making practice your praxis”

  1. Especially with 19th century alternative processes! Practice doesn’t necessarily guarantee that perfection will ever be obtained, but practice will enable you to obtain highly repeatable results.

  2. Makes sense to me. He compares it with music which is a valid comparison. I often go in the darkroom just to experiment, or sometimes, make some prints for someone else.

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