Main photograph above: Bianca Conwell. Gills. 2022. 20 x 25cm…
Australia: a pom’s eye view
I’m a ‘retired’ University Professor living in Yorkshire, UK. However, as a result of long periods of research at ANU and CSIRO, I’ve had an opportunity to visit, and photograph in, every state in Australia. Although my scientific and laboratory background might be expected to lead me to digital image-making, I use only traditional hands-on routes of making photographs and prints. (I don’t own a digital camera!) All my photographs are made on film, and always have been. I use primarily large format (4×5, 5×7, 8×10) view cameras, but also a Hasselblad and occasionally Leica M cameras. All the images shown here (except The Wonder of Chemistry; Linhof) were made with my first view camera, a cherry-wood Wista 45DX.
Based on my experiences in galleries, magazines and books, and my professional interest in chemistry, I have increasingly embraced the iron-based alternative processes for print-making. I’m deeply indebted to fellow academic Dr Mike Ware for teaching me the rudiments of platinum and palladium printing, initially at Paul Hill’s Photographers’ Place in Derbyshire (UK) in 1990. Mike and Pradip Malde continue to provide encouragement, advice and instruction. My previous experience in making Ilfochrome prints and masking using a pin-registered enlarger has again proved invaluable in making, from negatives or positives, the enlarged negatives required for contact printing.
Printing in platinum and palladium is perhaps the summit of ‘alternative processes’. Revered for permanence and subtle beauty and composed of platinum metal embedded in the uppermost fibres of the paper, platinum photographs have luminous surfaces, longevity and an extraordinary tonal range. My prints are made using the Malde-Ware processes that provide a ‘print-out’ image. The rigorous physicochemical basis and ability to gauge the progress of the printing during UV exposure ensure economy of materials and optimal print control without the use of suspect additives. My favourite papers are Arches Platine and Aquarelle, Ruscombe Mill’s Herschel, Buxton and Talbot and occasionally Japanese papers.
The gold printing process was long discounted as a viable method and forgotten for eighty years until Mike Ware, armed with his professional background in chemistry, revisited the process and introduced a wonderful printing-out process in pure gold. He named it the ‘New Chrysotype’ in honour of Herschel’s invention of 1842. I seem to one of the very few to have embraced it (the only user in the UK?), valuing its remarkable ability to endow the print with subtle split tones and hues.
I’ve attended workshops with several monochrome masters including John Blakemore, Fay Godwin, Alan Ross and John Sexton and shown at exhibitions of alternative prints in Australia and the USA. I won the Mike Ware Award at The Print Exposed 2020 exhibition at Gold Street Studios for a New Chrysotype. I particularly admire Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Imogen Cunningham, Frederick H Evans, Laura Gilpin, Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand, George Tice and an increasingly large number of devotees of these wonderful ‘handmade’ processes.
More of Robert’s photographs can be seen on his website.