That Salt Life

The sunflowers were the sides of dinner plates!

This week you learned about salt prints and I remembered why I dislike dealing with this process. It’s so sensitive and unpredictable it works my nerves. The third day I was ready to skip this process and move on to Van Dyke but I wouldn’t to that to you and I had already invested too much time not to finish most of the chemicals. I mean it’s not like I can take it back with me (definitely not airport friendly).

By the second day of printing, I realise that I do like the way the prints are turning out. Another thing I remember is that salt prints tend to change over time so the colour will be different from the first hour, day and again a week later. They are not as archival as cyanotypes, but if its done correctly the print will be a beautiful piece of art. I always suggest students choose two to have framed so they can observer the changes of the print over time and to remember how much of a pain this process is.

Today we went to the lavender field and got a pile of lavender ands sunflowers. The whole farm smells like the cleanest place on earth. I was surprised to see how large the lavender grows. Each plant was about a meter across and tall and swarming with bees. Last time I was here, I got stung straight away. Today there are so many people so I think the bees must have been at brunch. This week we’re going to Wales to one of the most famous castles in Europe. Since it sits on the water, I am hoping for amazing shots.

Since we have so much paper already coated, when we come back from Wales we will make more negatives and print some photos from that trip. I want everyone to remember when they go on holiday, to enjoy the place where you are. Don’t look through the lens 24/7! In fact, I challenge you to not even take a photo on your phone for a whole day. Just take in the simple things like the rolling hills or odd license plates. I will be drinking Pims – we will go over that recipe before the end of summer.

Why So Many?

These test prints are Michael, my amazing, most wonderful son-in-law, who lovingly refers to me as “The Mongoose.”

Uggghhhhh….. Waiting for paper to dry has got to be the most boring part of salt prints. I will be so happy to be able to print tomorrow and see if all this was worth it. In the meantime, I’m sure you have noticed all the cyanotypes we’ve been doing and have been wondering why in there world we are still looking at such brilliant, cerulean blue prints. Well, it’s for a couple reasons. First, when you are travelling you will not be in your own laboratory with all your cool stuff. You have to learn to wing it. For example, during some of the videos this week I have used random objects in place of my usual equipment: eye drop bottle in place of eye dropper, cheap plastic food trays instead of photography lab trays. So due to all the innovations you’ve made, it would be wise to do your first prints in cyanotype so you don’t waste chemicals of a new process and can adjust your process, equipment or impromptu laboratory choices.

Second, it’s cheap. Period. I can easily coat a pile of paper and have it ready to go wherever I might want to venture. So I can easily test the density of the negatives to the strength and duration of the sunlight.

Another tip: You really don’t need a print frame while abroad. If you can find a cheap clipboard, you have your lithographer’s tape and have multiples of your negatives (trust me, Mother Nature WILL destroy them), you can do without the extra weight.

Time for me to prep more paper for the salt prints.

Three Colours of Cyanotypes

When and if you really feel you need to destroy a gorgeous Prussian blue print by bleaching it then submerging it into a solution which will change the colour, then please by all means make yourself happy.

Hold on…Bear is demanding my attention. Apparently the Amazon delivery man is dropping another of Ronin’s torture devices. Ok, maybe not torture isn’t the true sense of the word but torture in that this crazy is filling up the closet. I still wonder how he has time to order all this crazy while on mission but I digress.

Toning a cyanotype is a inexpensive way to change the colour and experiment with your pictures. The setup is simple. The only thing it requires is time. Let’s review what you need to do.

First gather the containers in which you want to bleach and tone your prints. As always, I prefer to use distilled water for all potions just to insure no metals are in the mix. These can and most certainly will ruin a print and your mixture. Once a potion is contaminated you must dispose of it immediately. It will be the bain of your laboratory if you decide to be cheap and keep it. Mix 1-2 teaspoons of sodium carbonate (found in the laundry room in a box labelled BORAX), not to be confused with sodium bicarbonate (found in the kitchen in a box labelled BAKING SODA), in 1 litre of distilled water.

Next submerge or wet you prints under running water. They should be wet. Depending on what I’m doing and how much I love a print will depend on whether I submerge in distilled water or just wet under running water. Since I don’t care for toned cyanotypes, I generally use running water. The prints need to be wet to absorb the other mixtures evenly.

Sorry, apparently Bear is having a breakdown because its hot as balls outside and he does not care one bit about the new pool I bought him nor the bucket of ice water I gave very him before starting my own work. I’ll be right back…

Ok, choose coffee (for a definite brown colour), black tea (for a brownish black colour), or green tea (for a purplish brown colour) for the toner. Yes, you can use other tannins to tone the prints, but I don’t know how to do that and have never done any others so Google it if that’s what you want. Make some strong coffee by brewing or using instant coffee. Do the same with the teas. And make sure they are all piping hot. I find that the process goes faster if the potion is hot rather than room temperature or cooler. I usually make any of these potions in 1 litre amounts as that seems to be enough to submerge and float more than one print at a time if I choose.

Now you are ready to start! I would be but someone is causing Bear to flip out and I can’t concentrate so let me give him a beer and a weed brownie after I beat the crap out of whomever is messing with my damn dog.

No kidding, some random Jehovah Witnesses are at the door and trying to talk their way into the garage to watch and learn while they try to convert me into one of the non chosen 144k. This is what happens when you get banned to the garage because the new house doesn’t have a hidden room for me to use as a laboratory! I can not reveal the exact method that I used to get them to leave, but trust those two will not be inviting me to any bbq’s this summer.

Ok, submerge the print face up in the bleach potion for 30-60 seconds. It doesn’t need at lot of time as actually you are not washing all the print off just breaking the chemical bonds so the iron will react with the tannins in the coffee or tea. You should see some blue run off in the water.

Next, lift the print from the bleach and submerge it into a bath of clear water for about 5-10 mins. Or run water over it for the same amount of time. This removes the sodium carbonate solution and will not contaminate the other potions.

Now place the print into which ever toner you have prepared face down and leave it for an hour. Face down is to insure that there are zero bubbles on the face of the print in case you don’t submerge properly. You are welcome to do it face up if you want to sit and agitate it constantly for the next few hours. When you check on it you will see a change, if no change has occurred after 4 hours you need to rinse and start from the beginning of the process.

Enjoy your new coloured prints! I do not know how the archival quality will be, since the original process has been tampered with, so get back to me in 20 years with your findings.

Any questions? No? When you do, you know where to send them.

My final resting place

Why is the toilet in the middle of the living room as if I am not going to notice? April tells me it is an open concept.

For the past several weeks I’ve wanted to punch that lady on the tv and I have a serious love hate relationship with Jeff Goldblum as well. I don’t think you understand, the house I’m living in is quite alright but I would like a permanent place. While searching through the listings, there are more lies than coming out of any political party right now.

Don’t tell me its a 6 bedroom 5 bath when in actuality it’s two trailers on a lot. I always assume the water heater will stay with the residence. Don’t list it as a perk. One listing read, “Huge family room with a stone wall fireplace where you, your family and A guest can enjoy making happy memories.” Don’t assume I only have one friend. I call up April and I tell her to get on Facebook immediately so we can discuss the lies.

“Woman, pull up the message I just sent you.”

“Rachel, can I get a glass of wine?”

I send April a link to a house with all kinds of ugly, cheap, doo-doo brown panelling and lime green, Grandma valances.

I ask April what in the hell is up with all the panelling.

She replies with, “It’s probably covering up all the mold and the fact that they didn’t want to paint again. Like ever.”

She shoots me a house and proceeds to say, “There’s no central air or a garage. How do you like that? Redeeming quality is the hot tub is on the side of the house where the neighbor kids can see you.”

“Ronin would like that it’s near the gun range.” My husband hates golf clubs but loves a gun range. “Nope, it was flooded. Did I tell you about the open house I went to today?”

“No! Rachel! You know I love coming and making the realtor cry! Ugggh next time let me know.”

“Woman, let me tell you how it looked so nice. Master down, decent sized kitchen. The realtor calls it an open concept. Why would she say that when it has four walls and each wall has a port hole window to other rooms in the house? Then we go upstairs. The realtor shows me bedrooms one and two then calls the third the cat room. When I turn to look there are about nine cat litter boxes in one room. She laughed and I was horrified. I told her I was sorry but I have to leave immediately as I am allergic to cats. This hooker had the nerve to tell me the these cats did not have dander that would set off an allergic reaction. WHO THE FUCK SAYS THAT? That needs to be a disclaimer in the listing!”

April is laughing hysterically not because she knows my allergy to cats is severe, but because she knows that I would push that bitch down the stairs to get the hell out of there to get to my epi-pen. Bitch, I have 3 minutes then I need someone to call an ambulance!

The search continues…

Planning a trip

I, like many of you, will be going on holiday this summer. Of course, mine will also be a working holiday! I will be taking the class to the UK with me, we will print some images from there and will start a new type of alternative process: salt printing!

Of course you are all thinking, “Rachel! How am I ever going to take all this stuff with me? That would be too much trouble!” Hold on folks!!! I got you! During July you will watch me prepare and use different hacks and tricks anyone can while away from their laboratory.

I will first prepare some paper coated for cyanotypes for travel. When you want to take pre-coated paper with you, just know that as long as it is kept in a light tight, moisture proof case which can be kept at stable temperatures between 60 and 75 degrees, you should be good. I just put each piece inside a document sleeve then inside a envelope light proof envelope. Once it get to where I’m going, I leave it in a closet or drawer that I am sure won’t be open. To process the cyanotypes, I will use some cheap plastic containers to hold the water baths and fixer. These can be found at almost any Dollar General or Walmart. Also, I know I can get hydrogen peroxide at the same place I purchase the plastic containers.

I will be able to make negatives at my friend’s or family’s house or a print and ship place like UPS or Fed-Ex. They are always willing to help and if you bring your own paper or film, they will usually print for you for little or no cost!

If this still seems like too much work, keep watching! I’m sure you will be excited to take some papers with you!

Another rainy day

Freyja enjoying her new kennel.

So, this week was a big bust as far as trying to print. It rained and stormed all week. This was terrible not only because I could not print and do the proposed live showing of the class but because the weather inflamed my allergies. My skin was itching as if i had been bitten by 1000 fire ants.

During a phone call to my doctor on Wednesday, April calls. “Hey, you have any of the Niagara left in your fridge?”

Ok, now my eyes roll in my head and I wonder why this woman needs a bottle of the good stuff at 0830 in the morning.

“Yeah, there’s about three left. You need me to bring one today?”

April sighs loudly and replies, “Yes. The FedEx man just stopped by.”

Now I am used to April’s exaggerated pauses but because I am really ready to skin myself since the Benadryl hasn’t kicked in yet I decide to hurry the conversation along.

“Was something broken in the box? What’s happening, woman?”

April again sighs then continues the morning’s news. “Rachel, this is important. I go out to collect whatever he dropped and he’s backing away from the porch shaking his head and looking at me like I don’t have the right to live in this neighbourhood. I thank him as I always do then pick up the package.”

Still wondering why this is requiring a bottle of wine, I press her to get to it. “April! What the hell? Use your words, woman!”

April sighs and asks me if I had had a cup of coffee and suggests I get one before she continues.

“There is a puppy on my porch.”

My eyes immediately roll into the back of my head. “April, take it to the pound.”

“Rachel, ” another sigh, “I will, but she is so pretty! She’s a pure breed German Shepard about 4 months old. She is so pretty. She must belong to someone!”

Uh- oh. German Shepard? I already know where this is going. “Woman, I don’t want another animal.”

“But Rogan has always wanted a German Shepard puppy! And its a female! You know he would love her! Just ask him!”

At this point, this’s Benadryl is kicking in and the bath I am running is almost ready for the oatmeal and me to slip in. I tell her I will take the puppy if she can prove that the animal doesn’t have an owner.

Well, its Saturday and guess who has a new puppy?

So after I write this I will be vacuuming and moping up even more hair so I can prep the paper and chemicals in a hair free environment for next week.

Welcome to Potions and Poisons

This is a picture of Bear I took with a Miranda 35mm film camera using Ilford film and printed on silver paper.

Hello all! I am happy to announce that the alt photography classes have begun! Note all the classes are free and are posted to sites that are free. This makes it simple to follow at your own pace. First we start with one of my favourites: cyanotypes.

Cyanotypes are an old type of photographic print characterised by the blue colour of the prints. As described in the videos and posts on Facebook, you will need quite a bit of random stuff. Don’t let this frustrate or scare you. After a while you will realise that you don’t need all the stuff all the time. You may even find that you discovered something really cool that makes the process simpler. I encourage you to share as I and everyone else will appreciate any shortcuts or substitutions. For example, if you don’t want to buy photography pans I don’t blame you. They get expensive and honestly I wouldn’t even have them if I hadn’t been doing photography for so long. I get the cheap disposable ziplock plastic pans when I am not at my home processing prints. They work just as well. Also, the glass rod I use for coating papers, yeah I have used the cheap black sponge paintbrushes with amazing results.

This blog will serve not only as a guide for you during the printing process but as comic relief when you just need a break. As you know from my previous posts, I am not one to get all preachy or condescending.

I will not be going over the same thing on the blog that’s on the videos. I know all too well how incredibly boring and useless that would make this blog. I want these classes to be an interactive experience for both of us so please Tweet, post or pm me at will!

P.S. Here is a link to the first video.

P.P.S. No worries, April will be around to supervise and open wine so the classes don’t get too boring.

Summer School

Just because one is on summer break does not mean one can not continue educational growth.

During the summer we prepare for fall and Christmas gifts by going to pick fruit to make jam and preserves. We have created some awesome recipes over the years and all call for local fresh fruit. We started out the season by going to pick blueberries at the local farm up the street from April’s house. This time Jasmine comes with us. There are rules to the picking of berries: 1) You must wear boots 2) Never pick from a bush another person is currently picking 3) Bring cash.

We go to the far end of the field where the underbrush is thick with blue because people with small children would stay close to the parking area not wanting to drag them that far.  We heard various remnants of voices so we knew we were far enough away from society and set to work. Halfway through filling our buckets, Jasmine wanted to move to another row.

April tells her there are plenty of berries from this bush that we can collect.

“Well I’m am going to leave some for someone else to pick and move on to another bush.” To which April replied, “Well that’s socialism and I’m a pure capitalist and I’m going to pick all the berries on this one then burn it to the ground so no one else can have any.”

Jasmine was aghast and moved anyway. April and I stayed and stripped the bushes clean in our area.

On our way out to pay, we saw more berries so we stopped to eat a few. There are 40 varieties on this one farm so we really should try them all.

Jasmine laughs and says, “How do you like those socialist berries now?” to which April retorts, “I tell you what, you might need another lesson in government. I’m still a capitalist and I’m going to eat them. If I want to I can go over there and steal that man’s bucket and show you what a dictatorship is.”

Jasmine’s eyes are wide with laughter. “You wouldn’t.”

“Watch me.” April walks over to this random man and takes his bucket. He is so engrossed in his job he doesn’t even realise he is now dropping them to the ground.

Jasmine asks me what I think about that as I am shoving another handful of berries into my mouth.

“They didn’t weigh me on the way in. $2.50 per pound.”

We did go! Click to watch!

The Finish Line

My skin feels like the dying petals of a flower, soft yet turning brown and falling off.

It’s almost that time again. Finals. Everyone loves and stresses this week. Luckily for me finals week does not conjure up feelings of anxiety as it does so many other people especially veterans. I am one of the rare people that thrives on the stress. I have studied all semester and I feel I should do well.

However, the universe had decided to attack me yet once again. I went to see my doctor a lovely woman who works at the VA clinic near me. I have private insurance but this woman and her staff are wonderful. I have not had a great doctor since I left the Army and before that not since my daughter was born. Doc gave me some steroids to “reset” my body into understanding I no longer have poison ivy. She and her staff had inquired why i had waited so long to come in and let them help me. True to form, I told her I just felt some Benadryl and patience would help. Anyway, 30 minutes and a shot later and I left to go fill a prescription. Now the side effect: the medicine the doctor gave me, is shutting down functions in my body. Great joy. Just once can the universe try to kill me at a convienent time?

I am sitting in an urgent care centre in a very nice neighbourhood because I am not dumb. I live in a rather congested area of the city and I know if I travel ten minutes down the road, I can be seen at a clinic on the outskirts of the suburbs by a fresh non overworked doctor and staff. The staff is so very pleasant. I love feeling appreciated and the concern from the nurse and doctor makes me feel guilty as though I should have taken better care of myself.

The doctor explains that the adverse reaction from the steroid can not be undone but can be alleviated somewhat. How? Drink water. Lots of water.



Here we go again…

Who picks the people? Where is Kellyanne Conway when you need her?

So I have talked April into going to main campus with me on a day she doesn’t have to go just so I can see the new candidate for a faculty position. If hired he will be teaching undergrads public relations.

We get to the campus early enough for April to get us lost which means I am getting thirsty. Luckily there are a number of organisations with booths set up on the quad giving away water, snacks and trinkets. Most are Greeks. They have crappy snacks. I find one that has cold water and take a bottle. The girls in pink, the table was pink, even the umbrella was pink. One of the girls looked as if she wanted to say something about my taking a bottle but did not. Another girl just said a forced polite, “You’re welcome” to my thank you as I nodded, grabbed and kept it moving. Really little girl. Did you think I wanted to be a part of your all white cast? Did you think I would waste time doing your homework in hopes to one day call you sister? She might need glasses. I am sure my horns were long enough for her to see quite clearly.

We arrived at the student union just before the guest of honour and the class. April was surprised. Of course it takes very little to surprise her as she rarely leaves her hole in the English department.

The instructor introduces the guest lecturer. I know its going to be bad as I tend to judge a book by its cover by the rules of the period in which it was written. Mr. Holt is a frumpy, old man. He seems more like a grandfather one would take fishing or a baseball game, not one who could spin tales.

Mr. Holt is very soft spoken. One strike for him. I have been blown up too many times so I need everyone to use their big boy voice. This seems to be an off request these days. I attempted to explain that to a professor last semester and he thought my moving closer would help me understand the mumbling coming from him, never mind the fact that he preferred to hide his lacemaking it more difficult to read lips. I made him angry by staying in the back of the class, a way to see the entire room and keep track of whom may be speaking. He was furious. He actually encouraged the other students to shame me into moving. I pretended not to comprehend to feces flowing from their overly used orifices. I have no need or want of their approval. Besides, what was he going to do? Fail me? I’m doing the best in his class. I read and complete all his assignments. Ok, I’ll see you next semester and I will have perfected how to make you uncomfortable.

April leans into me. “Did this fool just say MySpace?”

“Woman, I am glad he stopped talking about paper resumes and LinkedIn.”

The freshman have already figured out that they can goad him into listening to their stories about nothing and he will try to relate it to the subject at hand.

“He is so easily manipulated.” I look at April. She is no more paying attention too me than she is to him looking as though she has eaten a full turkey dinner and requires a nap. “April. April!” I lightly tap her with my foot.

“Why did you bring me here again?”

“Because I never come to main campus. You live here. You know where everything is.”

“Rachel, you owe me lunch.”

“I know.”

Mr. Holt finishes speaking and releases the class. I am ready to run before we get stuck behind the looking glass.

“Woman, why don’t they ever offer us a job?”

“Rachel, you’re black.”