so, what is all of this anyway?

It's art, it's cooking, it's science, and, of course, it's a bit of dumb luck. 

 
 
Salted paper, casein size, Hahnemühle Platinum Rag, 2017.

Salted paper, casein size, Hahnemühle Platinum Rag, 2017.

salted paper

Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877) invented the salted paper process in the 1830s. Salted paper is known for its extensive tonality: it can print both the darkest tones and the lightest tones without losing detail. The key players in a salt print are silver nitrate and salt. If you've got salt and some silver nitrate laying around (as one does), you can make a salt print.

A salted paper print starts out with a sizing agent that contains salt. You can soak the paper in a plain salt water solution, or you can add in gelatin, ammonium caseinate, or carrageenan— basically anything gelatinous in texture. This gives the print different tonalities and finishes, from ruddy and matte to purple with a slight sheen. Once the paper is sized, it's coated with diluted silver nitrate. Silver nitrate is conveniently not light sensitive until it hits an organic (i.e. salt and those aforementioned gelatinous materials). So, salt and silver nitrate come into contact and create silver chloride, and you've got yourself a photographic substrate. Once the exposure is complete, the print goes through a series of baths (salt water, plain water, gold toner, alkaline water, and fix are all you'll need).

Salt is wonderful in its simplicity, but the process is only simple on paper. There's a lot of troubleshooting involved in salt in every step. You're Hercules and salted paper is Hydra, except there's no golden sword to put an end to the multiplying heads. It's a lot of trial and error (or, alternatively, dumb luck).

The links at the end of this section contain various forms of salt prints. Lessons in Salt contains practically everything I've done with salt since Christina Z. Anderson taught me in 2016 (by the way, if you haven't noticed yet, Anderson is the root of all of this. I can take credit for my mistakes, but I can't take credit for the foundation. I didn't just wake up one morning knowing how to pronounce mordançage). American Mythos is solely gum bichromate over salt, Riptide Nostalgia is a series of hand-colored prints, and From Where They Came is my first foray into salted paper.

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Gum bichromate, Fabriano Artistico, 2016.

Gum bichromate, Fabriano Artistico, 2016.

gum bichromate

Gum bichromate was developed in the late 19th century. Through the process, you essentially create a watercolor photograph. Gum and salt are at opposite ends of the alt process spectrum— where salt is regimented, gum is carefree; where salt is merciless, gum is forgiving. You can almost always save a gum print.

Gum, like salt, starts out with a size (I personally use PVA). Sizing the paper keeps the dichromate/pigment mix from sinking into, and staining, the paper fibers. Once the paper is sized, it's coated in a 1:1 mix of ammonium dichromate and a gum arabic/watercolor pigment mix. After a short exposure, the print is washed in plain water for anywhere from 30 minutes to one hour. This process is repeated for every layer. You're "painting" on a photograph, layer by layer. Each layer is its own color, the most common being cyans, yellows, and magentas. Different pigments will yield different tones, different tones evoke different sensations. For Land of Origin I used natural powder pigments, which are much more subtle than the vivid pigments I used for The Valley.

Additionally, gum can be printed over a cyanotype or a salt print. Cyanotype brings in cool, shadows, whereas salt brings in warm, historic shadows. American Mythos is entirely done in gum over salt, and select prints from The Valley are done in gum over cyanotype.

Sometimes you'll pull a gum out of the wash on its third layer and it's the most pristine thing you've ever seen, other times you'll be trudging through layer eight or nine with no end in sight. No two gum prints are the same.

First layer, phthalo blue.

First layer, phthalo blue.

Second layer, nickel azo yellow.

Second layer, nickel azo yellow.

Third layer, quinacridone rose.

Third layer, quinacridone rose.

Fourth layer, phthalo blue.

Fourth layer, phthalo blue.

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Chromoskedasic sabattier, 2015.

Chromoskedasic sabattier, 2015.

chromoskedasic sabattier

Ah, the wildcard. Chromoskedasic sabattier (chrō-mō-skĕ-dă-zĭk  să-bă-tē-ā)* is a darkroom process. Chromo prints get their characteristic metallic sheen from the silver particles plating out in silver gelatin paper. The process starts with a developed— but not fixed— silver gelatin print. Once a print is developed, it's placed into an activator and then a stabilizer. The print can be brought out into room light at either of these steps. Subjection to room light will create different colors, but it's essentially random. In person, a chromoskedasic sabattier can be incredibly metallic: golds, coppers, silvers, greens, purples, pinks, and blues can appear in a chromo print (of course when they're scanned, they often appear dull, and not all of the colors will be visible).

*I dutifully tried to give you an accurate pronunciation of chromoskedasic sabattier, I promise.

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