Susan Chainey

Portrait of photographer Susan Chainey

Susan Chainey has been working on and off in the darkroom with alternative photographic processes since the 70s. She currently works with Cyanotypes and Vandykes.
From: Berkeley, California, USA.
Shows: Cyanotypes and Vandykes.


Susan Chainey taught English for over thirty years but her other work/love was photography (which she also taught occasionally). In the 1970’s she concentrated on portraits, using traditional film and darkroom processing techniques.

At the same time, Susan Chainey was introduced to alternative photographic processes in classes at Pittsburgh Filmmakers and worked with cyanotype, Van Dyke and Polaroid Transfer. At that time, the development of large negatives to make contact prints was time-consuming, challenging and fun! It required developing negative and litho film sheets in special trays in total darkness.

When Susan Chainey moved to California in the late 70s she had no spare room or studio room for the messy world of cyanotype and no darkroom for processing film. Her alternative photography work was only with Polaroid Transfer, teaching classes in that process occasionally at the Davis Art Center, and the UC Davis Art Center. She also continued traditional darkroom processing for her portraits. But when Polaroid stopped making the film required for the transfer process in the 1990s and digital photography was displacing traditional photography she left the darkroom, tried to master the basic photographic elements of Photoshop and hoped to return to the world of alternative emulsions. This became possible when she found a studio at the Sawtooth Building in Berkeley, California, the city where she resides now.

New developments in digital printing made alternative process contact printing so much easier. Many of Susan Chainey’s cyanotypes and Van Dykes rely on digital transparencies or negatives, using her own photographs or ones from vintage sources. She also occasionally collaborates with embroidery artist, Laura Reyes who hand stitches images on a cyanotype linen print. In addition to contact printing, Susan Chainey creates large mural photograms, some of which combine the two. Her individual work and her collaborative work has been exhibited nationally and locally, most recently at the Image Flow Gallery, Mill Valley and for a third consecutive year — 2022 — in the Sacramento Crocker Museum annual Big Artists, Small Works Auction, and the ACCI Gallery in Berkeley.

“In college I nearly failed chemistry, but had I been introduced to the chemistry involved in the magical world of alternative photographic process it would have been a different story.”

More about Susan Chainey:

  • Contact email: schainey (at) sonic.net
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