Paris November: Galerie Berrger

Galerie Berrger: Callitypie: Julia Zeitoun and David Rase

Berrger are of course manufacturers of photographic films and papers, and now also make inkjet papers and COT-320, a 100% cotton paper designed for hand coated alternative process work. The two photographers on show had used this to make kallitypes, which use the light sensitive property of iron salts to produce silver images. It’s a process sometimes thought of as a poor man’s platinum print, and visually the two can be indistinguishable, although kallitypes have a poor reputation for stability – and certainly some but not all of those I made round 20 years ago have faded.

David Rase took Rodchenko as his inspiration for a series of modernist square format architectural studies. Although I liked a number of the images, I couldn’t help feeling that they might better have been printed using normal silver gelatin paper or probably even better as inkjet prints., and the highlights  did not quite seem as clear as I would have liked.  I think the images made good use of the square format.

Rodchenko’s pictures of similar architectural material – such as his Mosselprom Building, 1926 in the linked feature – show his use of unusual angles and a very strong sense of design, but have a clarity that was missing from these prints.  Modernism in photography after all swept away a pictorialism that had given great attention to the actual print and aimed for a machine quality that was exemplified by the glossy bromide print.  That doesn’t of course rule out using kallitype for work such as this, but somehow these prints didn’t quite seem to me to come up to the kind of quality needed – and which one could find for example in the platinum prints of Frederick Evans.

Julie Zeitoun‘s subject matter – details of cemetery monuments – perhaps suited the material better, but I felt her rather grainy treatment was unsympathetic.  The kallitype is a contact printing process, and it looked as if these prints had been made from enlarged negatives taken on fast 35mm film, perhaps even pushed or developed to increase grain. It is perhaps such a well-worn subject that it is hard to produce anything new.

When I worked with the alternative processes, we all either worked on large format (at least one of the people I knew had a 12×16″ camera, and on occasion I worked with a friend using 8×10″, though more often I used 4×5″ and made prints at that size – particularly when using platinum, palladium and gold) or made enlarged negatives on film.  Using large sheet film was expensive and especially with panchromatic materials needed for colour separations for tri-colour printing was a little tricky, particularly in my small and primitive darkroom, and at times we chose to work with negatives made on photographic paper, although the paper base did increase exposure times and add a little texture.

When desk top computers became able to cope with high resolution images, alt photographers turned to them with relief, printing out enlarged negatives with ease onto acetate sheets. When such negatives had been made with high-quality imagesetters in print bureaus, the quality could be superb, but some of those produced on cheap inkjet printers could only produce alt-process prints that had some of the same quality limitations to the inkjet prints from those same printers.

With increasing quality of ink sets and desktop printers – such as the Epson Ultrachrome K3 inks for colour and Jone Cone’s Piezotones for black and white printing, the quality of output from inkjet printers has reached new levels.  I soon began to find I could get prints very similar in quality to those from platinum or kallitype  direct from the printer, and although the historical processes continue to be of interest in themselves, I could see little justification for continuing to use most of them as a contemporary printmaker.  But that’s a heretical position among alt photographers!

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