Why Would I Want to Print White in My Photography?
I have been exploring the freedom that I get from a photographic printing that uses pigments, because I can use white pigment and start with a paper that is mid-toned - I write about it on my page 'What I'm Working on Now' - and you can find some of my galleries show the effects I can achieve, especially my Kühn-style Prints.
However, I'm finding that using the gum bichromate process, which I love for so much of my work, can be a little variable - and, more importantly, does not carry as much pigment as I would like.
Gum bichromate is not the only pigment-based photographic printing process - there are several. However, the process with the greatest range and depth of pigment is the so-called 'Carbon Transfer Process'. It is a bit of a misnomer because the carbon mentions refers just to the pigment that has been added - originally Lamp Black, which is just pure carbon. But it is not limited to any one pigment.
In fact there are some truly extraordinary three or four-colour carbon printers - in particular the fabulous John Bladen Bentley with his inspiring YouTube video. While these do not use white, they do show just the range of colours and the depth of pigmentation that is possible - as you can see from the four-colour print from James Zick shown here
What is the Carbon Transfer Process?
Sandy King gives an excellent description of of the process on his website, even Wikipedia has a good article on the subject. I would also recommend the lengthy description on the Carbon Print by Christopher James 'The Book of Alternative Photographic Processes'.
Fundamentally it uses dichromate salts, potassium or ammonium, to sensitise pigmented gelatin. Not dissimilar to the gum process - however, the gelatin is exposed away from the paper upon which it will finally rest via a transfer process.
My attention was first grabbed by this fact, because I am convinced that the surface chemistry of the paper is an important part of the variability of the gum process in my hands.
It also has the huge advantage of using chemicals I already have - I use high-quality gelatin to size my paper when it is needed.
The final proof of the use of white in carbon transfer printing comes from a really impressive, if slightly mad, series of prints that are 'White on White' from Witho Worms.
I would so love to see this in real life - I cannot believe the limitations of my screen can do these justice - they are spooky but, like so many great photographs, stay with you.
So, can you do white with carbon printing?
Clearly, yes. I can't wait to start.