Terry King at Photofusion

Some thirty years ago I was sitting in a darkened hall in Richmond where an elderly man, a long-retired advertising photographer, was talking about the small, high contrast black and white prints which he had entered over the years for the Royal Photographic Society annual exhibition. What was unusual about these photographs by Steinbock was that they contained not a milligram of silver, but had been made on ordinary drawing paper using some black pigment, gum arabic and potassium dichromate.

It’s a story I’ve told before at rather greater length, on the occasion of Terry King’s 70th Birthday celebration, also attended by the man sitting on my left in that hall, Randall Webb, who was later co-authored  ‘Spirits of Salts:  A Working Guide to Old Photographic Processes’ with Martin Reed of Silverprint.

Although I’d heard of the gum bichromate process before – it was highly favoured around the start of the twentieth century among those involved in the ‘Photo-Secession’ and the pictorialist movement of the time, including Edward Steichen and Robert Demachy – and had seen prints made using it, this was the first time I’d heard and seen anyone actually telling how he made these prints.

Later, probably in the pub next door, the three of us decided we were all going to have a go at the process. Gum arabic wasn’t a problem as cooks used it and tubes of watercolour are readily available, but potassium dichromate was more of a problem. But not for me, as I was then teaching chemistry and knew that we had vast quantities of it in our chemical store, over-ordered by previous staff in the days when it was used in large quantities for cleaning glassware, and promised Terry a bottle.

For Terry it was the start of a new career in alternative processes – and you can see some of the results on his Hands on Pictures web site. Together we went on to explore more or less the whole range of alternative processes: salted paper, kallitype, Van Dyke, platinum, cyanotype, carbon and more.  For me it offered an interesting insight into the history of photography, but Terry found these processes the perfect expression for his own photographic work, and went on to research and produce his own variations – the “Rex” processes.

You can also see his work in a new book, ‘Beware the Oxymoron‘ which combines his photography with his poetry – and the preview gives you a good idea of both. I’ve enjoyed his poetry too over the years – particularly some of the limericks that he used to write every day on his short train journey in the days when he worked in a London office – and much more recently I spent an enjoyable evening at a Richmond pub where he and other poets performed their work.

Terry has also taught many others these processes, at colleges around the country (and abroad) and in courses at his Richmond studios. It was hardly a surprise to hear that his  Gum Bichromate Workshop on Jan 9, sponsored by Ilford Photo to coincide with Photofusion exhibition about the art of darkroom printing featuring Bill Rowlinson and Richard Nicholson booked up rapidly (though when I looked the web site reported there was one place left.) Of course if you can’t get on this, Terry does offer longer courses on his Hands on Pictures site.

As well as this course Ilford Photo have also sponsored an experimental print workshop with Branka Jukic on 23 Jan – places still left – as well as a fully booked course in December on black and white photographic printing with Nick Jones.

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