Book Review: Alternative Photographic Processes by Christopher James

At first glance one could be excused for thinking that Christopher James’ book on “Alternative Photographic Processes” is just a reference book.

It is true that this is exactly the kind of book that the postman hates. Its spine is almost 4cm thick. It runs through pinhole photography, anthrotypes (photographs made with flowers), cyanotype, direct positive processes, Van Dyke brown, Platinum/Palladium printing, ziatype, albumen printing, wet plate collodion… You get the idea. This book is about everything that isn’t digital or mainstream darkroom.

Each chapter starts with a historical background. James then walks us through each process. He manages to pitch the text in a way that satisfies beginners, while at the same time holding the interest of experienced practitioners, many of whom use this as a reference guide.

Each chapter finishes with examples of work using the process. Some examples are of work made by James himself, others by his students and fellow artists.

Chapters on techniques such as hand coating and making digital negatives are included. The appendix has a very useful section on measuring chemistry.

This book is considered to be a bible on alternative processes by many, and as former head of photography at Harvard, James is certainly qualified. Yet, the most remarkable thing about this book is that it can be read from cover to cover. James’ remarkable ability as a storyteller certainly comes through in his writing as well as his image making.

This is the perfect book for anyone who would like to kick back and lose themselves in a book for a few weeks. And if you are looking to break out of a photographic rut and push yourself in a different direction, then this is a great place to start!

Christopher Osborne


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