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The Book of Alternative Photographic Processes Paperback – 1 Jan 1980
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Including his own work among that of featured photographic artists, James (Art Institute of Boston) explores contemporary and traditional innovative alternative and non-silver processes in a conversational, opinionated manner. He overviews historical development and options for the pinhole camera, the negative, digital art forms, plastic cameras, a
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Technically, the book is clear and informative (winner of the Golden Light Technical Book of the Year in 2001) and goes to great lengths to be sure the reader will have little difficulty comprehending and working with the myriad processes covered.
Besides James's very accessible writing style, which reads like conversation between friends, the collection of illustrated work is truly outstanding. It is significant that of the over 300 illustrations, a good percentage were made by James's students and those of other artists, and teachers, represented in the book. It is important to note that the production values in this full color book are outstanding.
James has collected a rich contemporary survey of alternative process work, likely the most comprehensive in print, and this alone makes his book a terrific resource for students of any age. For teachers, it clearly "sets-the-bar" with a buffet of visual possibilities. I viewed an exhibition of the work in the book last fall, at The Art Institute of Boston, and can assure you that the quality of reproduction is first rate.
All in all, this is a wonderful book to read, work with in the studio, and to enjoy purely for the images. If you've ever had an interest in alternative process photography, this is The Book to have.
However, it is a book which suffers from a lack of effective editing. The overall structure is unclear: why include a chapter on plastic cameras in a book on processes? why cover paper-sizing in the middle not the start? why deal with the processes in the particular order chosen? Furthermore, the structure of each chapter is quite inconsistent. These defects make the processes difficult to follow.
I came to this expecting clearly staged explanations of how to use negatives and how to assemble a basic set of equipment. Instead, negatives are poorly described, and the use of a contact frame is not really fully explained anywhere. It's possible to work out what's required by cross-referencing, but given that acquiring, making, and using this equipment is essential to most of the processes, more clarity would have been helpful in this area.
The author's style is chatty and expansive. I can see how this might appeal to some readers. Personally, I feel this adds to the overall lack of focus of the book. Similarly, many of the illustrations are strictly unnecessary, and line-drawings illustrating the processes themselves would have been more useful.
A minor point is that this very long book is printed on relatively low quality paper.
To conclude, the author clearly knows his area, and there's much here that is good. It's not the sort of book someone would buy unless they have some idea of what they're letting themselves in for. Nevertheless, had more overall structure been applied and the chatty tone curtailed, a more systematic book would have been the result. Given that this is a specialist antiquarian area of photography to which newcomers like me will be increasingly scarce, it's a shame that such a volume does not welcome us in with a more user-friendly style.
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Theres enough here to interest both the amateur photographer as well as the seasoned professional who is interested in these techniques.
Check it out, I don't think you'll regret it.