The alternative niche

Writer / Nancy Breslin

Why alternative photographic processes is still niche market.

Hershey Park gum printRecently the New York Times ran an article titled “For Photographers, the Image of a Shrinking Path”  ( In a nutshell, the writer said that the combination of smarter, less expensive digital cameras, photosharing sites such as flickr, and fewer magazine pages have resulted in a very tough market for commercial photographers.

Magazines which traditionally hired photographers for custom work are increasingly turning to stock agencies (once seen as “the armpit of the photo industry” according to the head of Getty Images), and more of these stock shots are supplied by amateur photographers, who (as hobbyists) are happy to accept a relatively low fee.

It is true that cameras are getting more foolproof, with smart metering, auto white balance, smile detection. While a fancy camera doesn’t guarantee great images, it does allow talented people without any technical background to succeed more often. And even the untalented, by order of sheer volume (I just looked at the flickr homepage: 6,414 uploads in the last minute!), can be expected to create some winners.

Which leads me to think about handmade prints.

While the market for gum prints (and platinum and cyanotype…) isn’t huge, at least it doesn’t seem to be shrinking. Printing with vintage processes IS getting easier (I’m thinking of my own transition from lith negatives to digital negatives within the past several years), yet it remains a time consuming labor of love. While the alternative photo community is growing, we won’t be competing with millions of people any time soon.

1 thought on “The alternative niche”

  1. I have to sorrily admit that i have never seen a gum print. i grew up in wet darkrooms before the advent of RC paper, and was pretty tired of photography until digital broke onto the scene in the late ’90’s. Instead of old processes re-energizing me, the possibilities of digital darkrooms overwhelmed me. I love it! so much can be done that just couldnt be done by standing in the lab waiting for the film to come out.
    good luck with alternative processes. i’d love to see the results sometime.

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