Photography: old school

In the first week of this year, I spent 7 days at the Wanganui Summer of Arts learning about alternative photographic processes.

It's okay, I didn't know what that was before I did the course either. We learned two processes: Cyanotype, which produces a blue photograph and Gum Bichromate which is very similar, but with the addition of pigment, can produce any colour photograph - I tended towards brown pigments.

These processes are the old techniques used to create a photograph before the fancy cameras and modern methods used by local Camera House stores to develop your photos today.

cake tin pinhole camera image

I learned how to make a pinhole camera from a cake tin and then how to create prints from the photos I took with it. By the end of my week, I had quite a nice collection of work.

pinhole camera photo with cyanotype process

I was hooked almost instantly on developing photographs both in the dark room and with the alternative processes. Making the photos with a pinhole made the whole process unpredictable and exciting - I never knew exactly what image I had captured, or if my exposure was right until I was seeing it appear in the developing tray. The exposure times varied from 10 minutes to 3 hours depending on which pinhole camera I used so when you consider how impatient I am generally, you might understand how hard I had to work to keep my eye on the ball, so to speak.

It turned out I couldn't get enough time in my day to work with these new ideas and skills and time just flew. If Wanganui had turned on more sunshine/UV rays, I would have had a lot more cyanotype and gum bichromate examples but the damp weather made for the lengthy exposure times - in the end that ended up being a good thing because the low UV meant I got some beautiful subtle mid-tones in my negatives and consequently, my prints.

Arriving back in Auckland with this renewed passion for film based photography, I set about enrolling in a (reasonably) local community college course that offered a darkroom component. Now, each Monday night I go along to Selwyn College and am learning to develop black and white film in a more conventional, modern way than the alternative processes I learned in Wanganui. We're in Week 4 of a 7 week course and have developed a roll of black and white film, created a contact sheet and tonight we set about enlarging and developing photos from those negatives. I'm really happy with the results of my first film. I seem to photograph different subjects than my fellow students but then again, I see more concrete and glass than flowers and family so that's to be expected.

developing black and white photos

Unfortunately, the 2 hours in the college darkroom just flies by and before I know it I'm having to pack up and leave it for another week.