Lumen Prints – Their Art and Delicate Beauty
Lumen prints hold a delicate magic you won’t find in many forms of photography or art. They’re slow to create using chemistry and require absolutely nothing virtual or digital. Their ancestry can be traced right back to the earliest days of photography in the 1830s and are often considered ‘Alternative Photography‘.
How are they made?
We are all familiar with the idea of a short exposure in a traditional photographic darkroom. Think of a darkened room with dim red lights, brightened for a moment by a burst of light. The print is then submerged into trays of mysterious chemicals for precise amounts of time. An old analogue clock ticks away in a corner to help with timings whilst adding a tic-tok soundtrack. Slowly a black-and-white image emerges on the paper before being hung up to dry. Lumen prints are an alternative use for those chemicals that is much more gentle to my mind. They take much longer to produce and frequently draw the photographer outside into the sunlight. They involve using the same chemistry but instead of those flashes of light, they are exposed for long periods, hours or even days.
I love making them with flora from the garden or collected on walks locally. I find the delicate impressions and muted tones stunningly beautiful and fascinating. They seem to capture the essence of whatever leaves its impression on the paper in a way nothing else does. Where other art might talk to you from across the room, a lumen will whisper to you to come closer, the closer you get the more delicate detail becomes visible.
Lumen Prints and Photograms
Lumen prints and Photograms are closely related with their names have often being used interchangeably. The commonly accepted distinction is that a Photogram is produced using a short burst of light or a strobe whereas a Lumen print is made via a long exposure. The chemicals used are often the same but the difference in exposure times gives very different results.
Why create Lumen Prints?
I’ve been asked why with access to amazing modern digital technology I love this old hands-on process. Well, it’s precisely because it isn’t digital. It’s slow and visceral which consequently gives me a feeling of connection to the image. I just don’t get that in the same way with something that comes out of an inkjet printer. Essentially, they put a smile on my face and make me happy, quite an accomplishment for a piece of paper.