Do you have a favored way to learn making new things? Like trial and error? If you overcome the fear of wasting a lot of materials as you learn, that’s one of the best ways. If. Yet, if you decide to use cheap materials, just to obviate that fear, you may not get good results and so be discouraged and abandon the whole project. But still. As I always like to say, I learned photography because of digital formats so I didn’t have to worry about wasted pixels.
Here is something new that I taught myself over a period of three years maybe. I had been interested in alternative photographic processes since the very beginning (yes, the expensive ones!) and this is photo transfer, which is considered one of them, with images that look more like watercolor than digital photography. In its concept, it’s simple: a printed image, a substrate surface, solvent applied and the printed image is then transferred mechanically – by rubbing or pressing – on the new surface. But as simple as it sounds, it takes a lot of refining for the process to actually work.
Initially inspired by the plant specimens on wood by German photographer Dirk Lohmann, I bought a few wooden blocks to work on. The first solvent didn’t work. But the cheapo I am, I couldn’t throw them out either and just forget about it. So sanding, to get rid of the mistakes. Then gesso. New laser prints and only one worked. Then different solvent, more gesso on top of the old images, again and again. And finally, the happy spot in which the temperature, type/amount of solvent, type of print and timing between application and transfer worked to produce something like this (above).
I was able to be that persistent by taking a lot of months-long breaks between unsuccessful trials to forget the disappointment and gather steam to try again. Also, because I am a reuse nerd and couldn’t bring myself to throw out the wood blocks and so had to still do something with them. Also, I wasn’t really wasting them because the gesso can cover the error tries and start anew on the same old block. This is why it worked for me. I am sure I’ve abandoned other projects in which the stars didn’t align that well 🙂
Anyway, I love this process because from a crystal clear digital images it produces “imperfect”, dreamy prints that besides looking like watercolors also show the brushstrokes of the gesso underneath, and so, the hand of the artist – something rarely happening in photography. I’ve used landscapes captured circa 5 years ago for making these, of places that are slowly fading away in my memory. Maybe I won’t do much more photo transfers in the future, but I am glad I mastered the process – and the precious wood blocks realized their sense of existence.