#32 – Cyanotype… pre-dating photography

Cyanotype Nat.West Tower, London. [Alamy image ref. AR6P2R]

In this day and age of digital photography when everyone and their sister is able to capture pretty good images, the traditional silver-based and even older alternative photo processes have not so much as taken a back seat but been half-lowered into a grave already filled with discarded enlargers, trays and developing tanks. Printing processes which some of us laboured over for hours – or for days with certain complex techniques involving multiple coatings and repeated exposures of emulsions – basically attract little or no attention from younger image makers who are creating their own “photo art” with iPhones and “Instamatic” or “Hipstamatic” software plug-ins and producing exaggerated colour, distressed, soft, vignetted images in under a minute which are much more appealing to their rebellious nature… and discarded an instant later having been consumed and forgotten (or embedded on Facebook, Flickr and/or Tumblr). I suppose the equivalent in the 60s was when a bunch of us thought we were breaking the mould by exposing Tri-X at 6400, processing it in some off-beat at the time American developer like Acufine, and printing the contrasty negatives on grade 5 paper. OK, I exaggerate, but… I sometimes feel I could easily gotten back into Tri-X and black-and-white printing had I not sold my Durst Multigraph 1200 Labarator a year or so ago to a pro in Paris who was definitely going in the right direction with his photography… backwards!

As to traditional alt.photos – not the Hipstamatic alternatives produced on iPhones – I still have a folio of prints, both made by me and collected from others, ranging from platinums to cyanotypes and three-colour gums to Polaroid Transfers. A couple of years ago I scanned a selection of my own alt.photo works – using an old Canon A4 flat-bed scanner – and submitted them as potential stock to Alamy… the above Cyanotype (or Blueprint) of the National Westminster Tower nearing completion in the City of London taken in 1976 on a Hasselblad SWC selling quite quickly under my “Beaux Arts” pseudo for a world-wide published book as a double-page spread on a 15-year licence.

Although a traditional black-and-white version of the image has sold a few times throughout the intervening years… it was a pleasant surprise to know the latest sale has been for a version printed by a technique established and frequently used well before the birth of photography using a reusable reprintable negative by Fox Talbot in 1839.


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