Saturday, January 14, 2012

Nolan Preece talks about his work - part II

(We published the first installment in December 2011.  His website is

Preece, Chemical Nuptials (on Velox), 1987

After my MFA was finished, I started working for an environmental consulting company doing photography for the White River Oil Shale Corp in eastern Utah in 1981.  I had lots of time to play with chemistry between field excursions.  I wanted something that I could selectively control to alter the image, create color, and which was archival.  I found an old DuPont toning formula that called for thiourea and a strong base such as sodium carbonate and on b&w photo paper it could be toned in gold toner to achieve a range of colors.  My only problem was the application of the chemicals.  I experimented and finally came up with salt and pepper shakers as the tool to sprinkle thiourea and Red Devil lye into unfixed areas of the print. 

Preece, Contact Zone (on Velox), 1987

My next problem was the expense of the amount of gold that is in one of the old gold toning formulas.  I decided to try GP1 which is a gold protective solution without much gold in it.  At first it didn't look like it would change the ugly olive drab and brown color of the thiourea stain but then as I left it in longer, even overnight, bright colors began to appear.  I could also doctor it a bit with an eye dropper loaded with liquid gold chloride.  This process produced a two-fold effect: 1) I was getting a nice cool/warm contrast between any printed image or one created by using a weak solution of Dektol and the warm colors of the thiourea stain.  2) The image, as far as I can tell, is very archival, having been soaked in gold chloride.  By the way, the print should be fixed and washed to archival standards before gold treatment and well washed afterward.  Outdated b&w photo paper makes great chemigrams this way when working without a printed image under room light.  However, if an image is printed with an enlarger it should be painted with fixer before returning to room light.

Preece, Chemical Incubator - Homage to Pierre Cordier, 2011
More recently I've been experimenting with a version of the chemigram developed by Pierre Cordier.  We have been using acrylic substances for grounding copper plates for some time.  Future Floor Polish is one of them.  I decided to try this substance on outdated b&w photo paper.  The results were astounding!  Acrylics break down when placed in alkaline solutions, so as the Dektol or D72 (I mix my own from scratch) breaks down the Future on the surface of the print, it penetrates, creeps and dissolves the Future, leaving a variety of effects.  I have yet to fully explore this phenomenon.  I suspect there are many different types of acrylic applications that my work.

Preece, Chemical Dollops, 2011  


  1. Chemical Dollops is absolutely stunning. The saturation and bleeding around the edges suggests thick cotton rag paper used for printmaking, but with a water color effect. Depth created by contrast with softer edges and background also reminds me of the work of painter Kenny Scharf. What is the exact size of this piece?

    1. Thank you artswma! I have printed this on fine art rag paper but I like the image best on Epson Exhibition Fiber Paper - glossy. The original is 7"x 9"and I scanned it in to work with it digitally. I know to some people this sounds like a cop out. Electronic tools are only as creative as the person using them. I try to copy the original as closely as I can. This piece is tack sharp at 16" x 20" but has the potential to go as large as 4'x 6'.

  2. Brilliant images, Nolan - I especially love Nuptials - everything about it - it looks monumental and I would love to know its size also. Thanks to you and Doug and Rich for posting.

  3. Thank you Norman!
    I still have most all of my original chemigrams because they wouldn't sell and the market rejected them. So when the digital era came along something happened - it liberated my experimental one-of-a-kind photography making it more accessible and reproducible. The original "Chemical Nuptials" is 8"x 10" and once again, by scanning it in I have taken it to 16"x 20" with the potential to go much larger. The Epson 3800 printer I have does a very nice job of making image size 16"x 20" to go larger I would need to take it to a commercial printer but I would rather do all my own printing. I like the subtle qualities of the chemigram and I try to copy as closely to the original as I can. I have a great deal of color printing experience from my years at Morton Thiokol so I do my best to make exact enlarged copies.