The simplest “photographic” techniques are those that involve contact printing, where the external light is used in place of the enlarger: at a time when enlargement devices did not exist yet this was the usual way and even before it was born the idea of negative thanks to Henry Fox Talbot with its calotype process, were in vogue the prints made from shadows of simple objects placed on reactive paper.
Even today we can indulge with this technique, which requires no special knowledge and, from the point of view of materials, has really minimum requirements taking advantage of sunny days that by now they should abound and having, perhaps, some old expired paper of which no one knows what to do, you can have fun just creating some “solar” prints. Materials required here are quite a few:
The most important part is, of course, composition: as said any object placed on paper will produce a shadow that will remain after exposure to light and the best results are achieved with translucent materials that allow a glimpse of textures; the most common objects are definitely leaves and flowers and so we try to go to the nearest green space and collect those that seem the most interesting forms and then put them on paper according to our imagination. The paper will first be fastened with adhesive tape at the base of the frame:
After having placed the materials on paper and chose your own composition, you reposition the glass on the frame, blocking on its way to avoid unexpected movements; the frame so prepared is then placed in direct sunlight.
Here come into play a series of erratic factors, due to lighting conditions and the characteristics of the objects that we used. Sunlight has an effect proportional to the exposure time and this effect is in turn influenced by seasonality and geographical location: we can say that at the moment (June), for a proper exposure at midmorning in Northern Italy were needed 1.5 hours to get the final prints shown here. In the middle of the day the time will shrink accordingly, as well as with the advance of summer; second item to consider is that the presence of clouds and mist, which affects the result in terms of contrast: by analogy with the traditional darkroom, the bright Sun will have the same behavior as a condensors enlarger with sharper contrasts, while the presence of clouds will make him more like an enlarger with diffused light, ensuring a better distribution of tones.
In addition, it plays an important role even the thickness of the leaves and their seasoning: fresh and thick leaves reduce the passage of light and require top exposure times at the same external conditions, compared to thin and dry leaves. Do not underestimate the condensation caused by the evaporation of the water contained in the leaves and flowers, which will cause a mixing effect in the print which hardly controllable.
To add more variability, even the paper type will have its influence, in this case to the general tone of the print: to realize which shades will the print assume simply expose to sun for a few minutes a sheet of paper and check which staining tone it is reaching. In conclusion, several experiments are needed to figure out how to get the desired result but here surely stays the beauty of this technique, which can also give prints of great quality and impact; a check of the blackening may be executed by slightly moving the objects but taking care to reposition them exactly (or not …)
In any case, at the end of the show you must remove objects from above and perform fix and consequent washing according to the usual patterns of darkroom for paper type, then the final lumen print is ready.
Despite its simplicity, this technique can become a real art form: see, for example, the images of artists who devote themselves such as Barbara Dombach and Ky Lewis, who in addition is using negative film as a medium.
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