The Vandyke Brown Print

I became aware of the vandyke brown print process while browsing Wynn White’s Photography website in 2004.  The process was developed by Sir John Herschel in 1842 and is an iron-silver photographic process, the argentotype.  Today, vandyke prints are made on iron-silver photographic paper using a film negative.  Besides the rich browns this process produces,  prints can be made on any of number papers available to print-makers and watercolor painters.  The reader may guess, the process is named for the rich browns the Flemish painter Van Dyke used in his work.

What attracted me to White’s photographs was the rich brown tones rendered by the process.  In my naiveness about  the the digital process, I decided I would experiment developing a digital vandyke process.  This proved harder to accomplish than I initial thought.  The browns in my first image had a magenta cast.  By experimenting with tritone coloring,   The brows became darker and the magenta cast was not as pronounced but  I could never achieve the rich browns of the wet-print process and placed the idea aside.

Looking East from Federal Hill, Baltimore, MD - 2005 Camera Sony F828

I left the vandyke process and concentrated on developing better B&W digital images until January 2010.  Little did I know, I would visit vandyke again.

I caught I glimpse of  a railroad urban landscape while driving home after lunch with Mudgey at Hull Street Blues.  The next day, a Saturday, I arose early and decide to brave the bitter cold to walk to the location I saw the previous day.  The tripod malfunctioned on location.  Between dodging the yard engine and resisting the need to put my gloves back on, I squeezed off a few shots then walked home.  Before entering the house, I sealed the camera in a plastic bag to avoid condensation on and in the camera then prepared a splendid hot breakfast while the camera reached ambient conditions.  Processing  in PhotoShop followed my usually work-flow for converting RAW files to B&W.  As I worked with the image, I liked the image developing  on the screen.  Serendipitously, I added a brown color fill layer to the work-flow.  The result surprised me.  The additional layer produced the rich browns I attempted to achieve 5 years early.  The image was taken on Key Highway East near Domino Sugar looking south southwest.

Looking south from Key Highway East, Camera Sony Alfa 700

City Grit

Grit: 1) Minute, rough granules, as of sand. 2) The texture or fineness of sand or stone used in grinding. 3)  A coarse hard sandstone used in grindstones and millstones. 4) informal. Indomitable spirit; spirit; pluck. – American Heritage College Dictionary.  The neighborhoods, colloquially known as “hoods” have an indomitable spirit.  Our  “hood” is over 100 years old and filled with a grid-work  of roads and alleys.  The alleys are the collection points for trash and recyclable materials.  Power, phone and cable Internet and TV run down these alleys.  In a sense, the alleys are the arteries of the city where its life-blood flows.  They fascinate me and I love to photograph them.  They are full of texture, weathered iron, concrete and brick.  I call it “character.”  Some alleys are the backdoor to rowhouses and in others, rowhouses stand-alone. The alley’s are gritty and full of stories, most untold.  Kids play in the alleys, teenagers steal kisses, adults use  them for other purposes, and sometimes alleged drug dealers sell their evil packets of lost hope.  The drug dealers are mostly gone from our “hood” but drugs are just one aspect of all cities.  It does not define a city.  History, architecture, culture, industry and businesses define a city.  More importantly, its people and their collective grit  define a city.  Baltimore is rich in these treasures.
Reflections of an Overcast Alley
I walked passed this alley innumerable times on my way to the grocery store.  The alley is typical of those in our “hood” – power poles, telephone and power wires, coaxial cables carrying the digital world into homes, wire and wood fences and built-out additions.  The alley was wet with snow melt.  The  overcast sky was bright.  I loved the strong whites set against the blacks of the fences, yards, poles and wires. The surrounding luminosity reflected in the wet concrete. The leading lines pulled me into the alley.   I stepped in and became part of it.  This is my “hood,” my city and I wanted to capture what I saw.
This house always amazes me.  It’s perhaps 8 ft wide and three stories high.  I have never bothered to walk down the alley and estimate its length.  I image the living area is less than 1,000 sq. ft.  I refer to it as “The Narrow House.”   Usually, when you look down an alley, you see the back of rowhouses.  Their concrete backyards pushed up against the concrete that defines the alley.  When you look up this alley, the house is the main  focus.  There it stands about 100 ft from the street and up an incline.  “The Narrow House” stands bold and proud as if it were a sentry guarding the entrance.  It’s white windows are in marked contrast to the weathered front.  It’s part of what defines the grit of this city.

Light in a Window

B&W photographs live or die on contract and tonal range.

Tuesday 24 November 09, The strong contrast between the light streaming through the window and dark areas surrounding this corner of the restaurant attracted me.  I like scenes with strong contrast.  The texture and detail in the scene added to the image forming in my head.  I wanted to capture the darkness of the restaurant set against the strong window light.   I raised the camera to my eye, framed the scene and pressed the shutter to capture this moment in time.

Light on Table and Chairs

We must start somewhere in terms of a date.

Tuesday 24 November 09,  I was waiting to join my friend Mudgey for lunch at Hull Street Blues, a local restaurant   The day was wet and overcast and the warmth of the restaurant was welcome.   The restaurant was quiet.   Most of the lighting in the building was from the two large bay windows on either side of the entrance.  The overhead lighting in the restaurant was low-keyed and in sharp contrast to the diffused light outside.    The table and chairs attracted my eye immediately.

I liked the reflected light on the table and chairs and the contrast between the low light setting of the restaurant and the window light.  I thought the texture in the shadows and detail in the chairs and place settings added to the scene.  This was all set against the street detail visible through window.  I took the photograph.

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