The exhibition organized by the National Centre of Photography puts on display photographic works that represent old printing techniques used in fine art photography in XIX century: gum-arabic pigment print, bromoil, kalotype, gum print.

The authors began their research and revival of forgotten photographic printing technologies already in 1990s in the New Academy of Fine Arts, a part of A-Ya Society since 1994. During several years, the research department of the Academy revived many a noble printing method such as creation of combined gum-pigment prints, chirotypes, carbon prints, oil prints, as well as printing at Savrasov’s method or Seri’s method, to name a few. The works of the members of New Academy are well known in Russia and abroad. Many works in the exhibition have been earlier exhibited in the State Russian Museum, Tretyakov Gallery and a number of large European museums.

Noble Printing Techniques

When speaking of old photographs, one remembers only the fine nuances of light and shadow. Somehow, old photography always brings to mind this fine and elegant quality. I recollect the first time I saw photographs created with the use of noble printing techniques. These were the works of Vassiliy Ulitin at Moscow-Paris exhibition at Pushkin Museum in 1981. After the rigid constructivism of Rodchenko I was mesmerized with the indefinable structure of landscape with female figures. I could not understand whether it was a drawing or a photograph. In fact, it was an oleograph. I memorized the term, and later on met it again when I came to study positive printing processes. Something in that photograph reminded me of the impressionists’ discoveries in painting: works of Degas and Claude Monet, the subtlety of the changing states of landscape as if touched with the wind of change. The structure of stroke in oleography was reminiscent of pointillists’ touch, but it was at the same time the kind of stroke that in today’s languages is named ‘pixel’. The pixel that renders digital photography dead and cold in noble printing techniques obeys the will of artists.

I should mention the beauty of paper. Linen or cotton paper – the difference is minor, but these slight nuances become very important. The finest differences in structure and in light reflection, the characteristics of grain in many ways affect the tactics and temperament of photographer. The beauty of paper is very important: its microscopic structures allow the artist to generalize images or make them very detailed, and in this way the noble printing techniques allow for the fullest expression of the creator’s ideas. Very significant is the paint used. No matter whether it is silver molecules in the shadows or pigment particles united to render the image its tone and descending to half-tone. The only thing that is important is the artist’s will.

Most photographers that have ever taken interest in the noble printing processes had received art education. As artists, they were interested in generalization of the image rather than depicting many small, unnecessary, accidental details. They were searching for a way to blur the existing strict borderline between drawing and photograph, between art and science, in order to bring the artistic image to the level of importance no lesser than scientific truth. Whereas initially artists tried to depict reality, later with the development of technology they tried to bring the reality under their own control and fit it to their own artistic mentality. In the time of high technologies, everyone can follow in the line of medieval alchemists and, using a wide repertory of professional secrets, find an own definition of beauty.

Andrey Medvedev