Book Review by by Diana H. Bloomfield
At first glance, one might wonder how Christina Z. Anderson’s latest book, Gum Printing: A Step-by-Step Manual, Highlighting Artists and their Creative Practice (Focal Press 2017), might differ from her previous all-inclusive 2013 book, Gum Printing and Other Amazing Contact Printing Processes. Or, for that matter, how it might differ from the myriad other books published on alternative photographic printing processes. Just as people frequently ask of contemporary gum printers, the same one-word question seems worth asking here: Why?
Having already authored several books, and at the encouragement of a few fellow artists, Anderson realized that a “different kind of gum book was needed . . . a single-process book, about gum printing only.” She envisioned a book that was simpler, less academic, more straightforward, and with a section devoted solely to contemporary artists who print primarily in gum.
Anderson initially takes us on an illuminating “crash course” trip through gum’s history, beginning with gum’s origin in 1798, complete with a chronological timeline, quotes from some of the major players, and accompanying imagery. She leads us to 1914 when straight photography reigned and pictorialism fell out of favor. She picks up again in the 1960’s, at a time when a desire for just about anything alternative was growing—including for those photographers and print-makers who wanted something more—and continues to the present. At every turn, Anderson highlights these key players throughout gum’s history—those who not only achieved highly unique personal visions in their own work via the gum process—but who also researched, discovered, practiced and transformed the medium, helping light the way for those photographers and printers who followed.
Following this brief history, the book is essentially divided into two sections. The first section, Gum-Printing Step-by-Step, offers an all-inclusive look at the process itself. So thorough is this section, that one might wonder if Anderson has somehow, all along, been privy to our innermost thoughts about gum printing. Intuitively, she seems to understand what questions we want answered, our frequent stumbling blocks, and what confuses us about this often baffling and sometimes frustrating process.
Anderson not only tells us how to set up our own “dim-room,” providing sage words on safety and how to respect the chemicals we use, but she also provides a list of equipment and optional supplies we’ll need, including UV light box plans and assembly instructions, complete with easy-to-read diagrams. She offers a lengthy listing of which papers might offer the best results; a list of suppliers for anything we might possibly need; helpful websites; and right down to solid and liquid measurement tables, including a unit conversion link for any non-American readers.
Ever confused about digital negatives for gum printing? Curves anyone? And what about all those pigment choices? So many ways to size paper, and is sizing even necessary?? Mixing your own gum, and what about dichromate preparation? You actually want more grain in your images? Ever wondered about cross-printing gum with another process, like platinum or cyanotype? And why are those highlights stained? Wait. Are you saying gum layers can flake off? Accurate registration of negatives—is that even possible? Want to print gum on black paper?
Not to worry. Anderson has you covered on all that, and more. She even includes a section on developing your own creative practice, including a list of universal fears that might prevent us from doing so, and all the non-glamorous aspects of actually having one.
While the book includes work from 82 artists from 15 countries, and including Anderson’s own inspiring images, the entire second section is devoted solely to nearly 50 contemporary gum artists and their creative practice. As Anderson states, she wanted a “snapshot of how gum looks today,” and so her only requirement was that the work be created since 2005.
In addition to including their images, biographies and artist statements, Anderson had also sent out a thoughtful questionnaire asking for information about process. There seem to be as many ways to print gum as there are gum artists, and this is evidenced by the myriad multiple ways each of these artists works. And, as the proof is always in the pudding, they all work remarkably well. This section, in particular, is fascinating, illuminating, and awe-inspiring.
Finally, that one-word question still remains: Why? Why indeed. Why has it taken this long for a book just like this one? A book which not only provides step-by-step how-to, where-to, trouble-shooting detailed information, complete with illustrations, images, and recipes—written for both the novice and long-time practitioner alike—but one which also devotes fully one half of its contents to contemporary artists who choose to interpret their own work in this fickle, flexible, frustrating, infinitely creative, intriguing, and beautiful process. Anderson generously gives each of these artists a voice—voices that are as individual and unique as are their visions and practices. And, throughout, she generously shares her own vast knowledge. Truly inspiring at every turn, this is a book that was a long-time coming. Let it not be the last. ◈
Diana Bloomfield has been an exhibiting photographer for over thirty years. She has received numerous awards for her images, including a 1985 New Jersey State Visual Arts Fellowship, and five Regional Artist Grants from the United Arts Council of Raleigh , NC, most recently for 2015– 16. A contributing writer for Don‘ t Take Pictures, Diana was a Critical Mass Finalist in 2014. Specializing in 19th century printing techniques, her images have been included in Pinhole Photography: Rediscovering a Historic Technique (3rd Edition), by Eric Renner; Robert Hirsch‘s Exploring Color Photography Fifth Edition: From Film to Pixels (2011); Christina Z. Ande rson‘s Gun, Printing and Other Amazing Contact Printing Processes (2013); in Jill Enfield’s Guide to Photographic Alternative Processes: Popular Historical and Contemporary Techniques (2013); and, most recently, 111 Christopher James’ The Book of Alternative Photographic Processes (3rd Edition, 2015). A native North Carolinian, Bloomfield lives and works in Raleigh, NC, where she received her MA in English Lite rature and Creative Writing from North Carolina State University. Her work is represented by Tilt Gallery, located in Scottsdale, Arizona, and in Raleigh, by Adam Cave Fine Art. To see more of Bloomfield‘s work, visit dhbloomfield.com.