The Legend of Casein and the Cruel Dragon: In the Grips of the Beast

Writer and photography / Peter J. Blackburn

The plot thickens as Peter continues his dramatic trilogy describing how casein became his superhero to the rescue!

If you missed part 1, read it here.

Dreary, overcast skies—the Cruel Dragon for printers who rely upon the sun for UV exposure.

Life in the gum kingdom was for years a haven of creative bliss for the productive bichromate printer. After much research and experimentation, he had settled upon potassium dichromate, AKD enriched Fabriano papers, and an assortment of pigments capable of creating a wide range of tones and hues. And best of all, he could use the sun— that magnificent, cost-free, spirit-lifting sun! The sun shone almost every day in the happy gum kingdom. When rain finally did arrive, the necessary showers didn’t last very long. During those brief rainy moments the exhausted printer could take a well-earned break to photograph in the studio and prepare negatives in the darkroom or on the computer. Soon the fiery sun would return and all could hear the cheerful printer humming the old standard, “Blue skies smiling at me. Nothing but blue skies do I see…” Make no mistake; the gum production workflow became a well-planned cycle of image capture, preparation, and printing, with the sun playing an irreplaceable roll.

Then suddenly and quite oddly, in the middle of summer no less, the skies quickly grew black with enormous clouds filled with thunder-clapping rain as far as the eye could see. The worried printer could hear the villagers scurry by his studio window screaming hysterically and weeping, “The dragon! It’s the dragon! The cruel dragon is upon us all! Run for your lives!” Immediately, the terrified printer looked up and saw an angry, dragon-shaped sky and heard the deafening deluge of rain pounding on his rooftop. “The dragon? What dragon? Surely this won’t last very long. It never does,” he consoled himself. “The sun’ll come out tomorrow; I’ll bet my bottom dollar that tomorrow there’ll be sun! After all, my kingdom is part of the great and sunny state of Texas!” he confidently assured himself as he soundly drifted off in slumber.

Indeed, the next day came, but with it, so did the pouring rain. And it rained, and it rained, and it rained some more. When it wasn’t raining, the skies were filled with ominous clouds and misty damp permeated the air. Even the quality of light became miserably dreary. “Oh, surely this must be the work of that cruel dragon all right! Never have I seen anything like this—never,” said the discouraged printer on the telephone to a sympathetic friend. Of course, the gum printer tried to keep busy as best he could. There were always negatives to pin register, paper to shrink, and prints to catalog. But oh, how he longed to gum print under delightfully cheerful sunny skies.

But sunny skies were not to return. No, not for quite some time. To everyone’s horror, that cruel dragon was relentless! One cloudy day blurred into the next. One overcast week multiplied into two. Out of frustration, the impatient printer tried in vain to make gun images on cloudy days. But when it came time to soak the prints during processing, each and every underexposed gum layer just slithered off the paper and down the gum slick drain! Oh, how dreadful! How costly, too! Throughout the kingdom all could hear his wailing and pleading, his moaning and lamenting, his absolute delirium! No longer was he content to pass the time making image preparations. He simply had to gum print and the sooner the better!

As the sunless, blue-less skies lingered through the month and into the next, the now cross-eyed and unshaven gum printer began to see fuzzy mirages of those ever so precise, ever so sparkling, ever so shiny commercially made UV lamps. How convenient! How reliable, and always at the ready, too! One by one they danced and twitched before his eyes along the ceiling of his workroom as if part of a never ending circus parade. “No. No, it can’t come to that,” he stammered as sweat poured down his brow. “Where are you sun? I need you now! What has become of you? Will the grip of this loathsome beast forever imprison you?” It was then he began to realize the titanic desperation of his dilemma. Day after day, week after week, he had not a single gum print to show. The mountainous backlog of color-separated negatives waiting to be printed grew larger by the day. How much longer could he endure the deprivation? Gum printing in the kingdom was at a complete standstill with seemingly no remedy and little hope. Never had he experienced such utter despair.

Then one murky afternoon as the bewildered gum printer slouched against the backyard fence contemplating his ignominious fate, a series of thoughts occurred as like a blinding flash from a Vivitar 283 in full power! “Of course, of course!” he shrieked and immediately dashed into the house, down the hallway, straight for kitchen where in the corner stood that big, beautiful General Electric refrigerator! Might it be that something inside possessed the magic key which could unlock the grip of the cruel and wicked dragon? There was not precious minute to lose!


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