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Patient Professor's Non-Silver Contacts Developed From 1800s

September 16, 1989|ROBERT LACHMAN | Times Staff Writer

Al De Vito isn't interested in instant photography, computerized cameras or one-hour photo anythings. A professor at Fullerton College, he specializes in a photographic process that dates back to the 1800s.

It's known as non-silver photography and it involves actually making a contact print on a paper that you hand-coat with emulsion. The laborious process develops patience, he says, in addition to richer images.

"I like to experiment, by mixing Cyanotype, Van Dyke and gum bichromate," which are three types of processes. "It is a very creative expression," said De Vito, 59, who concentrates mostly on shooting isolated images of figure studies, buildings and nature.

"The tough part is making a large negative to make your contact print. That's the drawback, because you need an enlarger to make large inter-negatives" (a negative made from the original).

De Vito, who was raised in Newtown Square, Pa., got his first camera, an Argus C-3, when he was 12. He later studied art and photography at the Philadelphia Museum College of Art.

After graduating, he taught drawing and painting at a high school in Pennsylvania and later worked for Goodway Printing, a company that produced business proposals and slide presentations.

Because of the boom in the aerospace business in California, Goodway opened shop in Fullerton in 1965 and De Vito moved with it.

It was about a year later that he accepted a part-time teaching post at Fullerton College, and he has been there since. As the aerospace industry declined, De Vito soon switched to full-time teaching at Fullerton, where he is now the head of the photography department and teaches both beginning and advanced classes.

If you're willing to take a long trip, some of De Vito's own non-silver works are on display through the month at the Camden County College Art Gallery in Blackwood, N.J. He is, however, hoping to have an Orange County show soon.

Most of his non-silver images are a result of an 8-by-10-inch traditional silver-image negative, which is then used to make a contact on light-sensitive paper. The paper is made by brushing the light-sensitive material (the emulsion) on and letting it air dry in the dark.

De Vito can put the image on almost any kind of paper, although he normally uses a high-quality paper designed for watercolors that is 100% rag content and is archival. He can also put his images on different surfaces such as brown wrapping paper, rice paper and cloth.

The emulsion rests on the surface of the paper and certain absorbent papers must be sized with gelatin to keep the emulsion from penetrating too deeply into the paper. Different colors and effects are achieved with the different materials.

Each is "one of a kind," De Vito said. "Sometimes I put three or four different coats on the paper and you get these different effects similar to solarization.

"It (can be) discouraging, but yet it's very satisfying because of the variables. The sun might be too bright and cook the emulsion. It also may be too humid, and time of day is another factor."

De Vito explained the various non-silver process he uses to produce his images.

Gum Bichromate--This is a gum base into which the light-sensitive materials (bichromates) are mixed. It does not produce as sharp an image and is short in the exposure range. He prefers to use this process in conjunction with others. The areas exposed to light harden and affix to the paper, making darker areas. The denser areas of the negative are less exposed on the paper and will wash out when the paper is processed.

It is a nice process because the only thing you have to do is wash it. It is developed and fixed all in one step. You just use water.

Van Dyke--This process uses a little silver nitrate and is the most sensitive. This step processes different shades of brown (similar to the brownish Van Dyke paintings) depending on how you mix it. It is fixed and developed in one step by using fixer, then it is washed.

Cyanotype--It is similar to the material used in blueprint production, with a blue image. It is developed and fixed using only water.

Platinum--This is the richest and most expensive process of them all. A platinum print may cost about 10 times as much as the others--about $10 per print because of the cost of the chemicals involved. There is a gray tone-scale of 20 steps compared to the conventional silver paper that produces about 10 steps. The result is a beautiful continuous-tone print.

The Photography Column, which runs Saturdays in Orange County Life, is intended to help the serious amateur and weekend shooter. Questions and ideas are encouraged. Write to: Robert Lachman, Photography Department, The Times, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, Calif. 92626.

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