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The Keepers of Light : A History and Working Guide to Early Photographic Processes

Author: William Crawford

Description: Dobbs Ferry, New York: Morgan & Morgan, 1979. Softcover. $38.00

Over the last two decades, photographers dissatisfied with the quality of commercially available photographic printing papers have sought to revive historic processes. Artists seeking a medium whereby the image could be manipulated outside of the camera for artistic expression found what they were looking for in a revival of the Bromoil process. As latter-day volunteers flocked to reenactments of civil war battles, modern collodion photographers provided an authentic touch. Photographers with perserverance and dedication once again became practitioners of the Daguerreian art, which they held in the highest esteem. Altogether, the nineteenth-century methods for producing a photographic image employed by modern photographers are known as the alternative photographic processes.

The revival afforded photographers an opportunity to use the old tonalities in new ways. An accomplished photographer, such as Crawford, could skillfully employ the alternative processes achieving in his work a paineterly effect reminiscent of Edward Hopper. Often, styles of art-photography have followed in the footsteps of painters and painters have borrowed effect from the camera.

In the late nineteenth-century photographers sought pictorial effect through the use of surface manipulations and camera technique. Modern photographers such as Weston tore away the veil of pictorialism replacing it with an honest and straightforward approach reminiscent of the mid-nineteenth-century. In time, artists and photographers more concerned with individual expression though manipulating the image began to reexamine and explore the possibilities of pictorial effect. This required relearning the old processes.

In Keepers of Light, the author William Crawford creates a unique and distinctive blend of practical advice and criticism. Indeed his book is a treasure-trove for anyone wanting practical advice on how to work in the alternative photographic processes (as they are now called). But the author did not stop there, combining the study of painting and drawing with the history of photography itself, turning away from traditional ideas about art-photography toward a new conception of history of photography. Through an examination of both the machinery and end products of photography, he confronts the artistic world with the essential materialism of the artistic process, richly resonating with the current thinking of viewing photographs as documents or artifacts.

Crawford organizes the machinery of photography into a framework defining the possibilities of art-photography. Moreover, the main theme running through his work is to investigate how the syntax inherent in the camera defined a set of universal rules underlying the structure of the photographic composition. He shows how it was the very nature of the processes and the flaws of the camera that defined the limits of artistic expression and rules of composition unique to photography. He reveals the interaction of Impressionists and the art-photographers as they influenced each other's ideas in the late nineteenth-century. Naturally, he then goes on to illustrate these processes in great detail for the edification of practitioner, historian and philosopher alike.

The author guides you through the history and process of making photographs by early processes. Step-by-step instructions are given for many processes. It provides the most recent working details for making Salted Paper, Platinum, Palladium, Kallitype, Carbon, Carbro, Gum, Oil, and Bromoil prints. Each printing process is accompanied by its history and artistic function. The Ambrotype process is covered. Photomechanical printing and non-silver processes are given a comprehensive treatment, including Photogravure and Collotype. Lavishly illustrated with photographic illustrations and period photographs and woodcuts, this work concentrates on the materials, chemicals and processes used in making photographs by early processes interweaving history and criticism. It is useful both for the historian seeking a deeper knowledge of how the various types and cartes were made and for the modern practitioner of historic photographic processes.

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