Anthotypes

As a photographer, I love the dark room. It’s a sacred place where I am free to experiment and create. However, as someone who cares about my health, I do not love the chemicals used in what is often a confined space. About ten years ago I went in search of an alternative way to process photographs without using chemicals. Through blog searches and books I found anthotypes.

The Anthotype is a process from the 1840s that substitutes chemicals for plants, fruits, or vegetables (think blueberries, walnuts, or poppy petals). The organic material is crushed using a mortar and pestle or mixed in a blender with a bit of water or alcohol to create a liquid dye or emulsion. This colored emulsion is then brushed onto watercolor paper, dried then sandwiched with a photograph printed on transparency paper in a contact printing frame. Ideally, the printing frame is left out in direct sunlight for a week or more depending on the sun strength and material used.

Its process art. It’s hands-on work. And I love it. Sometimes I spend two weeks exposing an image, and it doesn’t work. Other times I peel back the transparency, and it reveals an astonishingly beautiful image of detail and nuance.

I love the connection to the material. From the walnuts on the side of the road leading to my house to blackberries from a patch on the path that I walk with my dogs, the act of discovering the materials is so rewarding for me. Probably the most satisfying search for material was going to the farmers market and talking to the pomegranate farmer, learning to find and cut the perfect pomegranate and using it as my emulsion and photographic muse.

Having recently moved to Cleveland, Ohio, I am discovering that the winter is not the best time to start a new anthotype as the sun is scarce and when it does peak out the angle is shallow and hard to capture. I hope to get better results this spring and summer with my walnut prints so stay tuned.