The Plastic Autochrome

dscf8968aSome days it all comes together. Some days it all falls apart. Today was one of the first kind, and I am so pleased.

For years I have played about recreating the look of historical photographs. The first efforts I made in the 1960’s were very crude in a reverse sense – they were always far too modern looking. I should be ashamed to admit this as I was using cameras and materials that were closer in time to the eras I was emulating, but still flopped.

The advent of digital and particularly digital manipulation has buoyed my spirits. Even the simplest of editing programs can do something and the addition of a plug-in can get you nearly all the way there. But you still have to consider what the final presentation will be.

This is the basis for my latest experiment – the plastic Autochrome. I do not need the glass plate camera, the developers, the complex procedure – an Alien Skin Exposure 4 plug-in goes a great deal of the way to producing a convincing reproduction of an Autochrome image to begin with. Then I add more reticulation, desaturate further, and put in the flaws that were characteristic of the system. And I am also trialling the ways of damaging and distressing the image as well – fungus and fading and chemical contamination – many of the surviving Autochromes are subject to this. The heading image is one of today’s experiments. I love pink fungus.

The real task was to reproduce the physical object – just putting out a computer image or a paper print is too modern. I needed to make a glass plate Autochrome.

Nothing doing with my fingers and thin glass, thank you very much…so I resorted to spare plastic sheet that had once been the cover for an IKEA picture frame. Thin, unbreakable, and packaged with a protective sheet front and back that could be left on until the very last moment. I marked out 4.5″ x 3″ rectangles and cut them out on the Dremel jig saw.

The backing is simple matt board – I chose a light cream to tone down the images.

The binding tape round the sides is 10mm Tamiya model masking tape. Comes in a very efficient dispenser.

And the images printed on the Epson inkjet? They’re on Mitsubishi brand translucent media called Pictorico. They print just like paper but end up as transparencies. I’ve used the material for model building and now it looks as if it will be perfect for Autochromes and ambrotypes. Perhaps if it is backed up with a silver material it will also serve for daguerreotypes as well.

dscf3601The procedure is slow, but the finished object is a unique work of art. If I were to charge for them they would be as expensive as an 11 x 14. I can’t wait until tomorrow to mount up the damaged ones to see what they look like.


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