Teaching Winter Session, Week 4

Writer and photography / Nancy Breslin

Nancy Breslin is teaching alternative photographic processes at the Uni. Here we can follow her five week course. Week four and the finishing line is approaching.

My class is getting close to the finish line. The challenge has been to squeeze a semester’s worth of alternative photo into an intensive five week period. Week four saw the completion of several processes, leaving ahead a week for open themed projects.

gum print
Gum bichromate over cyanotype, by UD student Brandan Henry.
For our critique on Tuesday we looked at gum bichromate and pinhole camera prints. As gum and pinhole are two processes that I’ve been using a lot in my own work, I was looking forward to the results. I have always tried to avoid being a teacher who creates clones: I’d rather see students take techniques that I’ve introduced and use them in their own compelling way. Two good examples of this were a gum print of a bowl of chili and another of a student’s foot in a red sneaker, surrounded by undergraduate chaos (CDs, highlighters, an alarm clock…). Despite my obsessive photographing of meals with a pinhole camera, and the fact that my desk is always in chaos, I don’t think either of these ideas would have occurred to me as subjects of gum prints, yet both worked really well.

Gum printing had been a struggle for much of the class, even though I use a streamlined method (we use Fabriano Artistico 300 lb paper and do not size with gelatin/formaldehyde, which saves on time and toxicity), but most students got good results for a first attempt.

One source of frustration this week (with gum printing as well as the other processes that need large negatives) was that some of the transparencies were getting stuck in the Epson 4900 printer. We’ve been using Arista brand, and I couldn’t find a solution to this online. I tried several things, such as a custom profile for thinner “paper” and longer drying time, yet each day one or two would catch in the lower corner and crinkle up. Nathan Sherman, who handles equipment and technical issues for our department, suggested cutting the leading edge into a gentle curve (similar to the top notch the manufacturer uses to indicate the printable surface), and since then we haven’t had problems.

Thursday meant another critique, this time of silver gelatin prints. The students were asked to use regular black and white photo paper to create either lumen prints, or solarized photographs in a “surrealist” vein (I had given a short presentation on the work of the Surrealists last week). Subject matter was again pleasantly varied: clocks, hands, and grimacing faces among the solarizations, and feathers, plants, and lace among the lumen prints. The other thing due was a draft of an artist’s statement for the final project. I know that many insist that the work should “speak for itself,” but as an artist I regularly have to submit statements, so students should learn how to write them. I’ve also found that, at times, writing about my work helps to shape what I am doing. And maybe it’s my background as a psychiatrist that convinces me that bringing unconscious motivation to light is usually a good thing.

January is almost over, and this class will soon end. But the best (the final project critique) is yet to come.

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