Andrea Barbier
Andrea Barbier

Andrea Barbier is a fine art photographer and educator who specializes in historical and alternative photographic processes. She finds inspiration in travel, farm, and family life, which are frequently represented in her artwork.

A Renewed Emphasis on Handmade in the Modern Photo Environment

July 17, 2017

The digital revolution has come, planted seeds, and established its lasting presence in every facet of our daily lives, including photography and art making.  Out of this digital culture, the desire for the handmade has emerged in the most serious of ways. Once the norm, the handmade is now a luxury; from high-end retail stores to seasonal crafts markets, handcrafted objects are being prized more than ever for the skill, as well as the imperfections that are all part of the human touch. The historical and alternative photography community is experiencing a rebirth through a new generation of artists that separate themselves through intensive hands-on art making, indulging in the tangible joys of creating that are all but extinct within the increasingly digital world.

Anthotype using spinach juice.  Foliage can be scanned to create a negative for printing greater detail, or pressed to the paper and exposed as-is to create a photogram.

Historical processes like wet-plate collodion, platinum and palladium, albumen printing, and carbon printing are being practiced and exhibited by sophisticated artists worldwide, the draw reaching new and established artists alike. The appeal is this: each image is unique in itself and in a time of quick reproduction and instant gratification, that makes these little gems quite special. While this type of artwork does feed nostalgia, I firmly believe that the real driving force is the satisfaction in seeing a piece that is entirely your own.

Palladium print, Dilapidated House, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, hand-applied emulsion with digital negative.

There are some wonderful ways to delve into this way of working, and ways that allow you to continue shooting digitally, or work from pre-existing digital images. Many alternative photographic processes are created through contact printing from a digital negative and exposure to a UV light source, such as cyanotypes, anthotypes, Van Dyke prints, gum prints, platinum/palladium prints, and salt prints. Each of these processes begins with a hand-applied emulsion, and details like brushstrokes and inconsistencies only feed the authenticity of the created work. Characteristics such as these serve to elicit the realness of a person putting hand to page and spending time and effort on its creation.

Where to get started? There are some great alternative photographic resources and tutorials on the web, and companies like Freestyle, Photographers Formulary, and Bostick and Sullivan have made them accessible to the truest beginners by offering premixed chemistry and full-process kits. Consider the outcome you are interested in, as well as your time and resources. Since many of the processes require a UV light source, the sun is a completely viable option if you live in an area with clear, bright days.  Processes like cyanotypes and Van Dykes have relatively quick exposure times and can be completed in an afternoon.  Anthotypes can be made from plants and fruits or vegetables that you already have around your home.  And platinum/palladium prints have greater image permanence and a broader tonal range than both silver and pigment prints.

Using a hake brush, gesso brush, or similar can give your print more of a handcrafted look by allowing your brush strokes to show. Palladium print, Ella, hand-applied emulsion with digital negative. 

Integrating this unconventional approach into our digital workflow can lead to new innovations as printmakers, artists, and photographers, with incredibly gratifying results.  Many of these methods are simpler than you imagine and don’t require much in terms of time and resources.  They lend their own distinctive styles to your work, as well as linking contemporary art-making to our handmade roots.

Cyanotype, Three Little Pigs, France, hand-applied emulsion with digital negative.

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