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The Gum Bichromate Book: Non-Silver Methods for Photographic Printmaking Paperback – 10 Jan 1991
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This book takes the reader step-by-step through the techniques necessary to use the gum bichromate printing process. The use of gum bichromate, an historical printing process that gives delicate colour to prints, peaked at the turn of the century. In recent years, however, its popularity has grown as photographers have rediscovered not only how flexible the process is, but how its potentials in colour and image manipulation inspire their own creativity. Based on the historic method, this book is written in contemporary terms using currently available materials. The reader will achieve success without further reading or support.
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Normal photographic printing is done on silver bromide paper; the photosensitive silver crystals make the black of the print. In gum bichromate printing, chromate is used in a gum emulsion mixed with colored pigments to harden under light exposure. (I'm trying to stay away from the chemistry here.) After making a negative to use for contact printing, the negative and coated paper are exposed to light. Where light penetrates your negative, the gum-chromate-pigment mixture hardens and stays on the paper. Where not exposed to light, the solution washes away.
This isn't an easy technique, but is a very lovely one, and even more interesting when mixed with other techniques like cyanotype. It's also possible now to use laser printer to produce some of the contact negatives you need.
The only caveat I must add is that chromium compounds are TOXIC. So if you are not experienced at handling chemicals, this technique is NOT for you and your home darkroom. However, if you have experience in good lab technique and know your way around a darkroom, this is a very alluring technique to make some wonderfully, almost hand-colored looking prints. This fits in especially well with the current interest people have in handmade books and journals.
It is a gorgeous printing process. You won't get the tonal scale of a platinum print, but you can choose any pigment color you want, which is great. You can also do multiple prints of the same neg using different colors for a polychromatic print. It's a fun and rewarding process for anyone rediscovering the Pictoralist look.