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Denise Ross
handmade silver gelatin emulsion contact print from a dry plate negative
image 7 x 9

It is often said that the image is everything, the implication being that the tools and materials we use to make our images are of trivial importance.  I would never argue that making a compelling image is unimportant, but for me the materials are an integral part of an image.  My ultimate goal is always the print: a unique, handmade object and hopefully a beautiful one.

The frame from which I hang my goal is handmade silver gelatin emulsions – dry plate, film, and paper.  For me, working with these materials has been a decade-long journey.  When I began, there was almost no readily available information.  For 130 years, silver gelatin was the very definition of photography, but from the beginning, commercial manufacturers locked up the how-to essentials behind a wall of patents, copyrights, and industrial secrets.  And although today silver gelatin is widely viewed as an alternative process, the same as platinum or carbon or albumen, silver gelatin materials are still being made in factories.  The difference from the older processes is that silver gelatin was never widely made by hand. In 1900 it was the common belief that emulsions were necessarily made in a factory. In 2000, the belief remained.  I am trying to change that.  Something irreplaceable will be lost if we allow the tactile knowledge of any historical photographic process to slip away.  It would be like losing a language. 

Today, I am Chief Cook & Bottle Washer at The Light Farm, a web resource since 2008, dedicated to the renaissance of handmade silver gelatin emulsions, and author of The Light Farm, Handmade Silver Gelatin Emulsions, Dry Plate, Paper, and Film, Volume 1: The Basics. 

I try to match image with material. Accommodation is a handmade silver gelatin paper contact print from a Whole Plate format (6.5 x 8.5 inch) dry plate, exposed with a hundred year old camera. The glass was too warm when I made the plate and as a consequence the emulsion pulled back from the edges.  Rather than throw away the plate, I saved it for the right image: mussels attaching themselves to drifting moorage.

Denise Ross