I made my first ‘alternative process’ print some time in the 1970s. ‘Alternative’ here means photographic processes that are not in common use today (silver gelatine is ‘alternative’ now that it has been overtaken by digital imaging).
From the start of photography processes have been superseded by those which are more efficient but somehow something of beauty is lost in the process. As the older processes have much to offer in creative freedom, beauty and the understanding of photography, I have made them the foundation of my photography as a photographer, printer, teacher and historian.
I went on to make photographs using hand-coated solutions prepared from precious metal salts, etching inks and even asphaltum.
I have done my best to find ways to make simplify things so that the picture, its beauty and its mystery, is the objective rather than the process.
My photographs have been published in their own right, as illustrations and in advertising. They has been shown in galleries including the Orleans Gallery, the Special Photographers Company and the National Media Museum.
I have curated a number of exhibitions of alternative and historical photography.
Daguerreotype © Mike Robinson
In 1982 I was awarded a fellowship of the Royal Photographic Society for this set of gum bichromate photographic prints.
I now run workshops at art colleges and universities together with individually arranged workshops for individuals and small groups at my studio in Richmond. My students now have students whose students are themselves teaching the application of these processes to image making. My students have included those whose profession was already that of the art and craft of fine print making.
One significant outcome of the workshops has been the programme of research we have called retro-invention where we have taken early processes and worked to see how we would have developed a process with the materials and knowledge available at the time. This has led to new methods of making gum prints, cyanotypes, chrysotypes and asphaltum prints, and increased understanding of these processes, which have led to workshops presentations in the UK, the USA and Japan.
We also repeated Muybridge’s Palo Alto experiments with multiple cameras and a trotting horse at Ham Polo Ground.
In 1997 I founded APIS, the Aternative Processes International Symposium which has met in alternate years in the UK and in the USA.
From 2003 to 2007 I was Chair of the Historical Group of the Royal Photographic Society during which time we organized conferences on nineteenth century women photographers at Birr Castle in Ireland, Julia Margaret Cameron and Lewis Carroll at Dimbola in the Isle of Wight, the part of science in the history of photography at Oxford University and the history of church photography at Durham Cathedral.
I had a career in UK central government before turning to photography over thirty years ago. I concentrated on alternative processes to exploit a niche in the market.
- I was teaching my own courses and workshops before photographic degree courses were established. Before that photographic education mainly consisted of certificated courses concerned with current techniques.
- The structure of my year-long ‘Wedgwood to Bromoil’ course was based upon the history of the development of photography. We took a ‘hands-on’ approach to the progress of photography from Wedgwood’s 1804 paper to the Royal Institution, through Niepce’s heliogravure process, Talbot’s calotype, Herschel’s iron processes, albumen, platinum, carbon, photogravure and the pigment and oil processes of the early Pictorial movement which was, itself, much influenced by Japanese print making. Those attending the ‘Wedgwood to Bromoil’ course have usually included undergraduate, post graduate, masters, doctoral and post doctoral students, the people who went on to design and teach the first and subsequent photographic degree courses. Many fine photographic printers also took these workshops. One year eight of the twelve printers in the Ilford calendar featuring fine photographic printers had attended the Wedgwood to Bromoil course. This resulted in worthwhile synergies.
- One aspect of the courses was to explore how we would have taken the knowledge and materials of a time to ‘invent’ a process ourselves. This led to the ‘retro-invention’ of processes, including the heliogravure, chrysotype rex and the cyanotype rex. This historical and scientific approach has contributed to my practice as teacher, photographer and print maker.
Teaching and workshops, apart from my own, at various art schools and colleges including:
- The National Museum of Photography, now the National Media Museum, Bradford
- Central and St Martin’s School of Art (now part of the London College of Communication)
- Sir John Cass College (now part of the London Metropolitan University)
- The University of Ulster
- The University of the Creative Arts
- The Osaka College of Creative Art
- The Royal Photographic Society
- Institutions and galleries in the US, Italy and Japan.
- Royal Photographic Society and the Association of Photographers.
From 2003 to 2007, I was the Chairman of the Society’s Historical Group where my objective was to revive the Group. I achieved this by making the group less London centric and organizing conferences around the UK and in Ireland. The Group is now thriving.
I have had a Fellowship of the Royal Photographic Society in 1982. I have run workshops at the Society’s Headquarters in Bath and taken part in special exhibitions. I have also been a member of the Association of Photographers.
Currently I am not a member of any formal photographic society or association.
- I ran Format, a West London Group concerned with contemporary photography, for some years. I have recently started another group to be called Il Laboratorio concerned with craft as a foundation for art in photography.
- We have started an on line gallery at www.hands-on-pictures.co.uk
- I have curated or exhibited at a number of exhibitions including:
- Exhibitions in London and Twickenham for the ‘150th anniversary of photography in 1989’. These exhibitions were of historic and contemporary work using ‘alternative’ processes.
- 1980 to 1990 Exhibitions of contemporary photography in various parts of the UK.
- A one-man show and other exhibitions at the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television.
- Birmingham Seen at City of Birmingham Gallery
- I founded the annual Alternative Photography International Symposium (APIS) which has met in the United Kingdom and the United States since 1997 at Bath, Edinburgh, Bradford and, in alternate years, in Santa Fe (New Mexico).in the USA.
- I initiated and organised the 2006 Conference on the History of the Science of Photography at the Museum of the History of Science at Oxford University with the support of the Head of Mathematics and the Slade Professor of Fine Art at the University.
Conference Papers and events include:
- 2007 Paper on photography for the non-specialist market at the conference on the history of church photography at Durham Cathedral and University.
- Paper at the Harry Ransom Center of the University of Texas in 2006 on ‘the first photograph’ made by Niecephor Niepce in 1826. I was one of only two people who had used asphaltum in a manner similar to that of Niepce to make photographs.
- Paper at PhotoHistory XIII at Rochester, New York, on the development of photography and its aesthetic and my ‘retro-inventions’ of the cyanotype rex and the chrysotype rex.
- 2007 Paper on the feasibility of Julia Margaret Cameron’s claim to have learnt wet plate photography and albumen printing in just over a month. This was at a conference at the Cameron Museum in the Isle of Wight organised in co-operation with the Lewis Carroll Society.
- 2006 Lecture on my methods and my developments in the field of ‘alternative’ photography at the Getty Conservation Institute in Santa Barbara California US
- Emulation at Ham Polo Club of Muybridge’s Palo Alto experiments on the movement of horses described by one lecturer present as ‘ the best photographic educational experience he had known’.
- Articles and Pictures have appeared in many magazines including The PhotoHistorian, The British Journal of Photography and View Camera. Articles about me have appeared in various publications. In one I was described as ‘an eccentric genius’.
- My business, known as Hands-On Pictures, is concerned with research, workshops, photography and print-making.
- I am currently concentrating on print-making and poetry.