The Legend of Casein and the Cruel Dragon: A Hero’s Welcome

Writer and photography / Peter J. Blackburn

Peter writes the conclusion to an autobiographical trilogy telling the tale of how he became acquainted with the casein process.

If you missed part 2, read it here.

Here is a fresh batch of casein suspension ready for use. Casein can be extraordinarily forgiving in both preparation and practice.

Those bewildering bedazzling thoughts pelted the gum printer one after another in rapid fire. One idea grabbed hold of the next until it dawned upon the frazzled gum printer that the dragon’s evil cruelty could soon come to an abrupt end. First, he remembered those early days when he worked his way through Langford’s chapter of five processes including those horrible milk prints. But—those prints, he remembered, were printed on a cloudy day. Although the milk prints lacked life-giving contrast and eye pleasing saturation, at least an image remained on each paper. No question about it. There was an unmistakable, fully formed image, by George, by Gershwin! By comparison, a gum print attempted on a cloudy day would have just melted off the paper and drooled down the drain. How odd that those milk-made pictures clung to its paper support for dear life. If he could only find a way to improve contrast and saturation, the determined gum printer might shatter the hindering spell of the cruel dragon.

Then he remembered the word casein. Casein means cheese. Huh? It means cheese. What? Read my lips. Literally, casein means cheese! Cheese? Did someone say cheese? Of course, photographers are always saying, “cheese,” but this time it’s for real! “So why in blazes was I told to make it from dried milk or powdered concentrate? Hmmm,” he murmured out loud. It all seemed so obtuse. “Cheese? Why not cheese? OK, cheese it is,” he blurted out with an air of surety.

The decision to use cheese led to the next insight when he remembered that most of the casein information he relied upon was based on seminal work and patent information written at the birth of the twentieth century nearly a hundred years ago! In fact, Robert Scherer’s 1906 volume, Casein: Its Preparation and Technical Utilisation, and other sources of the time provided the inquisitive gum printer with much intriguing information which remained tucked away in the back of his mind. Good information, indeed. Good, that is, for the time in which it was written! It occurred to the gum printer that civilization had come a long, long way since 1906. People back then had good reasons for making cheese from powdered milk—reasons which today are optional rather than obligatory in many parts of the world. Consumers now enjoy the benefit of modern technologies and conveniences which make possible the purchase of high quality, fat-free, grade A cheese quickly, easily, and cheaply. Cheese is everywhere—well, almost. And, come to discover, some cheeses are practically pure casein. Pure casein! Imagine—genuine casein as close as the nearest supermarket. Well, bust my buttons! Think of the possibilities!

Bada bang. Bada boom. Bada bing!

It was a mad, unstoppable dash to that beautiful kitchen refrigerator where inside sat a container of fresh, glorious cheese rich in pure white casein. Applying information he had learned from those milk prints and the useful texts he had read, the amazed gum printer soon fashioned a creamy smooth, charmingly luscious casein suspension from virtually no equipment and the simplest supplies. From the very first batch he began to create sensational prints on cloudy, lackluster days. In spite of dire threats, fire-breathing binges, and wrathful rages, the cruel dragon proved no match for crafty, clever casein! Every print was crisp and defined with excellent saturation and contrast. Each casein image appeared snappy, bold, and rich in faithful reflection of the printer’s negative and style. That those prints were exposed under grey, overcast skies meant the end of the dragon’s tyrannical mayhem! Soon, the vanquished dragon slithered back to his creepy corner in yonder hill to reconsider his foul disposition. Work could once again resume under full sun or cloudy heavens. “Hurray! Hurrah! Casein is our hero! Long live casein!” shouted the villagers who no longer had to endure the unceasing lament of the gum printer.

The rejuvenated printer now acquired a new best friend who held valuable assets capable of broadening his creative endeavors. Images could now be made on dimmer days as casein has a bit more speed and sensitivity than gum. Casein images are more robust while soaking in water, allowing for more aggressive manipulations. Casein prints can be blotted dry without fear of damage. Furthermore, when desired, by adjusting the AKD dilution ratio as a supplementary size, casein can behave just like gum in the water development stage. That is, a casein layer immersed in water can become just as soft and pliable as gum depending upon size allowing for creative techniques traditionally reserved gum printing. Oh, the advantages are plentiful, the liabilities so few! Needless to report, everyone lived happily ever after—including the rehabilitated cruel dragon. He now runs an umbrella co-op two kingdoms to the south along with his partner the big, not-so-bad-anymore wolf.

So now, if you will excuse this exhausted storyteller, there is a parade about to march down the street and I wouldn’t dream of missing it. You see today is Casein Day in our realm. All the villagers have assembled along the gum-slick, casein-coated boulevard to get a glimpse of the handsome hero and celebrate victory over the cruel dragon from days gone by. Bring on the music, start the laughter, let there be dancing in the streets! Surely there is much to celebrate. Listen! Do you hear it, too? The joyous printer is sweetly crooning a very merry tune even now. Lend an ear as he sings and dances down the wide and wondrous lane!

Printing in the sunshine and ‘neath the cloudy skies—
Nice work if you can get it, and you can get it if you try!
Just imagine someone printing from a hunk ‘o cheese,
Just imagine printing as fast as a horse’s sneeze!
Oh to work with casein,
sighing sigh after sigh…
Nice prints if you can make ‘em—and if you make ‘em,

The End.

And continue to read the epilogue.

Go to the gallery to see Peter Blackburn’s prints.



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