21st and 19th century technology and freelance photography

A story by Brendan Bullock from 2017

Bill Vaccaro, Portrait of Brendan Bullock, 2011, tintype

In recent years, working primarily in the digital medium as a professional freelance photographer, I have often had two important ideas persistently return to my thoughts - namely, that working digitally does not satisfy me in a tactile sense the way that working in a darkroom once did, when I first fell in love with photography--and secondly, that I'm more inspired by one-of-a-kind art objects as opposed to the mass-reproducibility of digital prints. With that in mind, I spent some time studying 19th century printing processes with Brenton Hamilton in Rockport, opening up exciting new avenues of craft and inquiry for me.

The two processes shown in these photos are marriages of 21st century and 19th century technology - each image began with two separate digital images, were meshed digitally, printed digitally as physical negatives, and then contact printed using 19th century chemistry. In addition to the myriad variables that can cause each print to differ from the next, each sheet of prepared paper requires a hand painting of the chemistry, which leaves brush strokes unique to each piece. In one piece, they have been left exposed to reveal that process, while the other piece's border has been over-matted for a cleaner look.

The piece "Anecdotal Info" is an abstracted self portrait of a kind. The figure standing in for me is a groom from a wedding I photographed here in Maine, and he is overlaid with historic text found in the collection of the Bowdoinham Historical Society, of which I'm a member. The text represents my interest in history, and local history in particular, which exists as a side interest to my main pursuit of photographic arts. Using the groom is representative of the work I do to make a living, which makes it possible for me to exist in a small, rural town in Maine, and through the anonymity of his silhouette, I see myself. This piece is printed using the ziatype process, which is a modern formulation of 19th century palladium printing chemistry.

The second piece, "The Driven Snow", is a cyanotype print of a female figure from southern Maine, overlaid with an image I made several years ago while living in central Maine. The themes for me here are apropos of my life in Maine - an idea of beautiful isolation, immersion in nature, and a suggestion of living in a place which is intensely seasonal. The work I do to support myself is largely in the summer months - it is during the long winter months where I have the quiet, space and time to focus on my own personal works which creatively sustain me through the year.

Brendan Bullock, 2017.
This photo was created with an 1840's process of cyanotype and represents to me a summation of why I have chosen Maine as a place to live. The old, 1800's New England clapboards suggest the architectural surroundings in our small villages, which have always felt like home to me, but in close proximity to wildness and lush greenery. Quite literally, Maine is a place where you don't have to go far to become hidden in the wilderness, and there is hidden beauty everywhere. The female figure also represents new life emerging, which is apropos to where I currently find myself as a new father.

Brendan Bullock, 2017.
This photo features another groom, this time overlaid with the iron bridge in the center of my town of Bowdoinham, which is kind of the visual icon of the passageway into our town from the south. I see this as another stand-in self portrait, representing myself as an artist concerned with a serious pursuit of photographic complexities while living in a small, somewhat isolated, and rural Maine town. Both this image and the first image are made with the Ziatype process, a modern adaptation of the chemical formulation of the mid-1800's palladium printing process.

Brendan Bullock, "Anecdotal Info", 2017 Unique ziatype photographic print

Brendan Bullock, "The Driven Snow", 2017 Unique cyanotype photographic print