On occasion, I make Van Dyke Brown historic process prints using a technique that dates back to the mid 1800’s. What is an alt process, or historic process print? The short answer is a print made by putting a negative directly in contact with art paper that has been sensitized to record an image. A “standard” silver gelatin black and white print is made with photographic paper available from a commercial manufacturer. To make an alt process print, the photographer brushes the light sensitive chemicals onto the paper that has been selected for the print. After the paper is dry, the negative is pressed against the paper using a contact printing frame. Then, the paper and negative are exposed to UV light, either using the sun or a light box outfitted with bulbs that will expose print-out papers.
There are many different alternative processes and excellent books on the subject. My expertise is the Van Dyke Brown and I use 4×5 or 8×10 film or digital negatives. This portrait was made using 8×10 black and white film. You can see the brush strokes where the sensitizer was brushed onto the paper and the full border of the negative. Some people display their prints with the full border visible. Others cover the film border with a mat, showing only the image area. Although I like the brush strokes, I’d like to find some old-fashioned, cabinet card style oval mats to augment the turn-of-the-last-century style.