Wednesday, August 22, 2012

New books on methods

This has been a solid year for books and manuals aimed at the analog, experimental darkroom crowd (we'll call it that) and even though it's only August now might be a good time to sort through some of them - who knows, by year end we may see others.  Let's work through the pile.

For an English-speaking audience the most important and useful is Christina Z. Anderson's The Experimental Photography Workbook, 6th ed., 2012.  This is a complete revamping and expansion of her earlier editions, with an especially happy mix of contemporary topics: photograms, lumens, glassprints, pinhole, chemigrams, mordançage.  Sure, you have modern tintypes, bromoil, lith printing and so on, but the slant definitely favors what gets students and practitioners most excited these days, and Chris manages to convey that excitement with a step-by-step text and inspired examples by artists in the field, many of them former students. She gives lots of tips, hands-on insights on variants, a bit of history, and all the formulas you could want.  With Chris, you feel she not only has done all these techniques herself but that she actually loves each of them.  She has sacrificed for this book: her beloved gum bichromates are nowhere to be seen, but have been relegated to another book altogether due out next spring.  This is just as well.  In classrooms we used to use Christopher James' massive (1.8 kilos, 660 pp) Alternative Photographic Processes, 2nd ed., 2008, but no more.  The Experimental Photographic Workbook is snazzier, more to the point - and I think more to be trusted.  If you're crawling under the hood of modern analog methods this is the book to take with you.  Available from

In a different vein, we have Jalo Porkkala's sumptuously produced Köyhä Dagerrotyyppi, 2012, subtitled 'Alternative Photographic Processes' and available only in Finnish at the moment although a translation is planned.  Jalo says the best rendering of the title is 'A Poor Man's Daguerrotype' which refers to a silver plating or silvering-out process, but the book's contents are much more comprehensive than this would make you believe, with chapters on lith prints, lumens, toning, and a host of historic techniques like bromoils, anthotypes, ziatypes, cyanotypes, Vandyke browns, gumoils and gum bichromates as well as informative pages on chemicals, darkroom equipment, and safety precautions.  Anyone acquainted with Jalo's wonderful alt-photo blog Vedos knows how scrupulous he is about method, carefully recording results under different conditions before reaching conclusions and making recommendations; the same care is found here, and should set the bar for writing on photographic method.  If you can't wait for the English version, the book can be bought in Finnish at

Finally, Tom Persinger at f295 has come out with a slim volume called The f295 Historic Process Workbook, an easy-to-follow journey (if harder to do) through building a camera, preparing lenses, and everything you need to know about four historic processes: cyanotypes, salted paper, gum bichromates, and Vandyke browns.  Useful too are the sections on preparing a portfolio and writing a statement.  You can get it at


  1. I am looking forward to Christina's book and have to say, I am very much acquainted with Jalo Porkkala's is indeed beautifully put together and with a superb layout..easy to read ( and, no I do not read in Finnish)...excellent images that demonstrate various processes..this is a culmination of Jalo's work with the Vedos Projekti in that he has worked with these processes and continues to push the boundaries.I hope that he can get the book translated into other languages as it will be of great value to us who still love make photography from the 19th century using modern ideas.

  2. Books are teachers; great books are great teachers. Sometimes we forget how important they are in nurturing our interests and propelling us forward, but both Chris' book and Jalo's are of this kind and we are lucky to have them. Thanks, Shuber, for your thoughtful comments.

  3. I would like to highly recommend Christina Anderson's book, I left my darkroom un-used for four years, and I am now happily back in it, bouncing from one technique to the next, thank you Christina for putting life back into my art & photography & life...
    Sincerely, Your Namesake in Connecticut