The revival and the modernisation of woodburytype process – I DID IT!!!
About a year ago I went to George Eastman House for a workshop of Carbon print process. To be honest before my arrival to Rochester, USA, I didn’t know what carbon print process is but if it was described as the king of all printing processes ever invented and I thought I might try it out. My main goal was to do the pilgrimage to George Eastman House and take a workshop under tutorship of Mark Osterman.
As I’ve expected the visit to GEH did blown my mind, I’ve seen original authentic prints of Julia Margaret Cameron, Eadweard Muybridge and many others. Mark Osterman shown us many gems of technical and aesthetic heritage from the history of photography. One of the things that stuck with me for the whole year was woodburytype process. Please take a look of the video at the bottom of this post, I’ve seen it so many times, I could repeat the words by heart!
Anyhow, down to the point, for the whole year I was thinking how to revive the woodburytype process. I have this vision to make my book in woodburytype process. The question why (almost) nobody (?) have done it in the last 120 years is obvious, it’s the most complicated process ever! For an 8×10″ print (20x25cm) you would need a press that would produce a pressure of about 500 tons per 8×10″ format! In 19th Century there were only two woodburytype presses in the world that were capable of making woodburytype prints size 8×10″. I will not go into technical details, it’s beautifully explained in the video below.
When I told to Mark Osterman what is my vision, he advise me to stay away from authentic woodburytype process, but rather go for Stanotype process. What is Stanotype process I wondered? It’s another invention by Walter Bentley Woodbury (British, 1834–1885) with the same result, just it does not require those huge press to make a mold, that I’ve mentioned before. I’ve read everything I could about it, even Mark Osterman and Nick Brandreth were so kind to send me a digital copy of Stanotype manual written by Woodbury himself!
Last half a year I was working a lot. I knew that authentic Stanotype is not the answer, I knew I could modernize the process. And I did! On the images above are four (modernized) woodburytype prints and a carbon print on glass. The carbon print on glass has very little pigment and it’s made in a way to maximize the relief from which I’ve made a mold and from that mold I’ve made those prints.
Before you will make a judgement about my prints, let me explain that you need a press to achieve a good print from a woodburytype mold. The press that Mark Osterman is using in the video below. I don’t have one. At the moment I was just testing different materials and different processes. I’ve made one mold and today I was playing around with it. I didn’t had the press, so I’ve used these clamps, what’stheycalled. As you can tell I was speculating, changing parameters and the forth print is perfect! Well, it’s perfect, much better than I could ever thought in given circumstances! Because I was not using a press, but clamps, the pressure was not even, so the resulting print has patches of highlights and patches of black. But that doesn’t matter! What it matters is that I’ve made a modern woodburytype print from scratch and the result has blacks, it has highlights, it has contrast and it does have sharpness!!! I’ve learned all the crucial steps how to manipulate the process and created a modern woodburytype print!
I totally understand that perhaps you do not see anything special in these experiments of mine, but I’m just as excited as I was when I was 11 years old, learning photography with my dad’s russian Kiev camera, which light-meter was showing very wrong meterings, so every photograph that I took and I could recognize a motif being photographed, I considered a triumph!!! And that’s the case here! Perhaps you just see a bad print, but I see woodbury process revived and modernized, I see a printing house that will be the best printing house in the world and the first book printed in that printing house it will be my The Great Depression project. I even see an option how to do woodburytype prints from a digital file and furthermore in color and that is why in a month or so I’m flying back to Rochester to bring my modern woodburytype molds and compare them with authentic woodburytype molds from 19th Century.
Oh, I’m so happy, my buttocks are applauding!
PS: It’s too early for explaining how I’ve made the mold. I have to nail down the process entirely and finish with testing. I have three more concepts to test how to make a mold and then pick the best one. This was my first attempt.
PPS: I’m sure there are few individuals who are still doing woodburytype nowadays, but beside Oliver Barret, whose book was a help and inspiration in my research, I haven’t found anybody who would nowadays produce woodburytype kind of quality images. If you could help me finding other contemporary woodburytypes, I would be greatful.