Exhibition: Studies in Iron & Coffee by Stephen Hall

Exhibition: Studies in Iron & Coffee by Stephen Hall

‘The Cyanotype process was one of the first photographic printing processes, developed in 1841. Cyanotypes were popular in Victorian England until other process took precedence. It was also used for many years to reproduce plans and architectural drawings (blueprints). The Cyanotype process has been revived recently as a photographic medium by artists exploring alternative processes in photographic printing.

The process uses light-sensitive Iron salts, mixed from raw materials and hand-painted onto watercolour paper.  The resulting image is bright blue that while pretty, doesn’t create the mood I’ve been chasing. So, to convert the blue colour to brown, the prints are toned in tannins. Prints can be toned in any tannin-rich substance, such as coffee, tea, or red wine, where it will turn various shades of brown, red, or purple. After much testing, I determined the best for me is to soak the print for a few hours in a bath of warm instant coffee. 

It is a relatively simple process to try, but a difficult one to master. The wide range of physical and chemical factors involved mean that treatment and coating of watercolour papers and the subsequent toning process are subject to great variation and the results can differ greatly from each other. It can take many attempts before a single satisfactory print is produced and no two prints will be exactly the same. This is all a part of the unique and fascinating nature of the Cyanotype process.

The period of isolation during the Covid lockdown in 2020 allowed me time to explore the forests around the Dandenong Ranges in Victoria and experiment with this fascinating printing process. I photograph using large format 4 x 5 and 8 x 10 film cameras that require a slow, contemplative approach to landscape photography, and combined with the Coffee-toned cyanotype process, enhance the moody feeling of photographs taken in fog amongst the forest.’ Stephen Hall.

Turret Café, 802 Sturt St, Ballarat  until 9 January 2022. Part of Ballarat International Foto Biennale.

More of Stephen Hall’s work can be seen on his website.

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This article was written by

David Tatnall is a Melbourne based fine art photographer.

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