Reflections on photographic printmaking

Working with 19th century photographic processes offers a level of control and involvement in photo-printmaking that no ‘factory’ method can provide. Without the constraints and limitations of commercial materials I can define my own printmaking parameters – free of the imperatives of the mass market.


As both a print-maker and a photographer my perspective on photographic history has shifted — my interest lies in both the image and the manner in which it was made. Investigating 19th century photography brings an appreciation of the rich variety of printmaking methods that have been utilised during photography's short history. Continuing to practice these early processes ensures that this diversity of photo-printmaking options is not lost in an era where photographic technology is increasingly dominated by the dictates of market forces.


Working with the gum bichromate process allows me to extend my printmaking language beyond the purely photographic image. With full control of colour, texture and tonality a variety of printmaking approaches are possible. However, this flexibility also creates a challenge – to retain the integrity of the photograph, without being seduced into half-baked painting.


Gum prints can be rich in detail and subtle in colour, or graphic and gaudy — these decisions lie with the print-maker as to how they choose to use the process, perhaps one of the most misunderstood within the loosely termed field of 'alternative photographic processes'.


Working with early processes offers a great challenge — to extend the process and evolve it, without sinking into sentimentality, or trying to reproduce the work of an earlier age. I seek to evolve the gum process, and to discover all the nuances the process is capable of. This investigation continues.

Read 'In Defence of Alternative Processes' by Mike Ware

hamish in lewis

Hamish Stewart has been making photographs since the early 1980s. He began researching 19th century photographic processes during graduate studies in the mid 1980s.


Although he experimented with a variety of historical photo-processes he chose to concentrate on gum bichromate. It offered a means to explore colour, but also provided a printmaking aesthetic most removed from the dictates of ‘straight’ photography with which he was then familiar. It was like a transition from simple short sentences to complex, multi-layered phrases.


He is dedicated to promoting the continued practise of 19th century techniques in an era dominated by commercial, mass-market technology. Since the mid 1990s he has worked exclusively with gum bichromate, exhibiting gum prints in Sydney, Paris and London.


He currently lives and works in London UK

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