Christopher James – Alternative Process – Future of Photography

I’ve been reading ‘The Book of Alternative Photographic Processes’, second edition by Christopher James.

Alternative Photographic Processes by Christopher James

I played with Alternative Processes in college. I wrote a research paper and printed Gum Bicromate images of a Ram’s skull and a beautiful young lady. I couldn’t find the Ram’s skull image, but here’s the young lady. It’s faded a bit in 25 years. Not that it was ever an amazing image to start with, but it got me the grade and I enjoyed the process.

It intrigued and interested me, but I haven’t done anything with it since then. But I never lost my interest, so I bought this book. Its was pricey, but it is rich in material. I intend to get into playing with some of these alternative processes in the next few months.

While researching the author a bit more on his web site, I found an interview by South x Southeast photomagazine – Vol IV, Issue 1, April 2012

I was intrigued by some of the comments he made regarding the future of photography due to the digital democritization of photography – the fact that there is a camera in everybody’s hand and that Photoshop is so prevelant and powerful. What does that mean going forward to photography as an art form? How do we seperate the ‘artistic’ image from the common iphone image? Or is there a seperation? This has been pounding around in my head of late.

The whole point in returning back to Alternative Processes is to re-introduce the personal, artistic touch that seems to be lost in the clean perfect digital image. The happy accident. The inbred flaws that add character. I miss the character film grain added to an image. It just isn’t the same to ‘add’ grain in Lightroom or Photoshop. The generated grain doesn’t have the umph that the actual physical grain does. There is a depth that comes from the physical limitations of the medium.

For your consideration:

We recognized that photography was squarely at a crossroads in the evolution of medium … predicated upon the philosophy that photography is no longer a single entity, but is unique among the visual arts in its ability to successfully merge new technologies, and traditional influences, with personal artistic production. It is, now more than any other form of visual expression, an ideal nexus of art and culture.

We are in an interesting time for our medium. Photography is evolving into something entirely new. From an alternative-process perspective: the opportunity of finding the future in the past, returning to the unpredictable and the hand-­made image. Consider the ramifications of photography in the early 1800s, a truly radical innovation that set painters free. With the current speed of processing and digital invention, I don’t think we have a clue about all of the ways in which digital imaging will influence and alter hand-made photography.

To the upcoming generation of photographic artists, schooled with the pixilated sterility of digital imaging, and a social-networking visual aesthetic, using one’s hands to make an image is a persuasive argument simply because it is imperfect… and as a result a profound and precise reflection of us all.

There is a hunger for the accident; I literally feel it in the energy of my students, …


… we are being inundated with photographic uniformity, simple and nearly-­free archiving, that is technology-­dependent, with imagery that is built upon an aesthetic of social networking and marketing. There is no price to pay for this work and with the exception of showing friends pictures of, and to, other friends, the experience of making images is often a sterile one, without relationships to the hand of the artist … or her senses

Students need to learn to love what they are seeing and creating without having to be told, via the “high priest” edictums, that their work could be important … and maybe “art”

The fact is, there is often precious little difference between the imagery selected by the Grand Poobahs of the museum and gallery world and much of the work I am seeing from my MFA students … it’s just a matter of right-place-right-time, intelligence, luck and being ready when you’re lucky. I really like the art-game but am not a fan of the religion or the politics of its high priests.

Like I tell my students, if you want to be really good at this, you need to learn how to play really hard. Little bears become very successful big bears through play, not because they follow the rules and current bear fashions.

That last quote hit me with the same hammer that has been pounding me in the head – You succeed through hard work. We (I) spend to much time trying to figure out how to be successful in as little time possible.

Just do it, damn it…