Thursday, February 9, 2012

Nolan Preece talks about his work - part III

(Part I appeared in December 2011, Part II appeared this January, and here is the latest sequel.  Will there be more?  We'll ask him when he comes out of the darkroom.)

Preece, The Popular War, chemigram hybrid, 2003

The first time I heard the word hybrid in relation to my work was about 3 years ago.  A colleague who liked my work told me that the way I was experimenting, some of my work were hybrids.  I'm a photographer and a printmaker so combining these two pretty much is automatic.  I suppose my definition of a hybrid would go something like this: the combining of two or more media including digital imaging and transformation, to create a final work of art.  To be sure, there are gray areas, for example I'm not so sure that combining a printed negative and some chemical coloration on the same sheet of paper qualifies as a hybrid but rather just as a chemigram.  However, if it is then reproduced digitally, I would be inclined to call it a hybrid.

Preece, A Clean Slate, chemigram hybrid, 2011
If I am working with a printed image from a negative and I want to color parts of the photograph chemically, I first of all make the print on photographic paper using an enlarger.  I place the negative in a carrier and focus under roomlight conditions.  I then go dark, working under safelight conditions.  I run control strips, first adjusting for density (the lightness and darkness of the image).  I then run control strips to adjust the contrast (the difference between light and dark) using variable contrast filters.  I process the control strips all the way through developer, stop bath and fixer under safelight conditions.  The lights come on once the control strips are processed in order to evaluate and make adjustments.  Once I am locked in on what I want, I print and process the image under safelight in the developer tray, then I place it in the stop bath to halt all development.  I then take a brush and paint the areas I want to preserve with fixer from the fixer tray to remove the unused silver halide, creating a kind of chemical mask.  I flush the print with water and, still under safelight, I sprinkle thiourea and then lye into the unfixed areas I want to chemically color.  I flush it off with water when the desired effect has been reached, again still under safelight.  I then place the image in the fixer tray and after about a minute, on come the lights.  I can then evaluate the results, wash it, or discard it (however I now save everything for possible scanning).  If the print is going to be gold toned, it must be well washed for about 20 minutes.  For gold toning I use a GP1 solution I mix myself from scratch.  Gold toners should be used with caution, they are a heavy metal and will penetrate the skin.  Always use rubber gloves and tongs when working with any wet chemistry.  The print can be soaked in the gold solution overnight to obtain a range of colors.  Gold toning takes place under roomlight.  Pull the print when the desired toning effect is reached, wash and hang to dry.  Prints may then be flattened in a dry mount press.

Preece, In The Woods, chemigram hybrid, 2003

I like combining digital photo imagery with scanned chemigrams or mixing it with printmaking such as etching or engraving.  I've found the Epson Radiant White Watercolor Paper to be an excellent printmaking paper for etchings and engravings.  Imagery made with the Epson Ultrachrome K3 inkset does not bleed when soaked in water, enabling the artist to make digital prints and then overlay the image with etching ink.  This is one form of hybrid.  For years I would go through the trashcan in my darkroom and pull out the 'chemigrams by accident'.  I use this serendipity as an environment from which to start a hybrid, scanning it in and then adding digital photo imagery using Photoshop.  Just a word of advice though, if you decide to work this way - don't settle on the first combination that comes to mind.  Try thinking in terms of fifty different combinatios and then picking the one that works best.


  1. Again beautiful and intriguing images Nolan. I agree that the end result is a hybrid of photograph printed on photo paper, with the Chemigram technique then applied. Your description of use of fixer to fix certain areas of the photograph so you can work the Chemigram magic on other areas is very interesting. Process is a way to creation and whether it is pure Chemigram or hybrid photograph which is then "Chemigramized" (apologies to Pierre who does not, I believe, love having the term "Chemigram" so transformed) the images are what count and are either art or not. And yours are art, Nolan.

  2. Thank you Norman!
    I sometimes strive for a balance between content and process as with these images. Process easily becomes the subject with the straight chemigram. By adding a pinch of reality with a sprinkle of mystery, through the addition of another medium, I think you can dilute process down to create a stronger image. I believe this balance is intuitive and can be learned.