‘Carbon printing’ is a term some of you may be familiar with. Some automatically think of the ‘carbon only inks’ that can be used in inkjet printers, such as Piezography inks, by John Cone. Others, may recall the original B&W carbon (chemical) printing process, which utilises contact printing to produce beautiful and extremely permanent prints. Pure carbon is black and so we naturally think of carbon prints (inkjet or chemical) as being B&W in nature (they are in fact a brownish hue). However, how many of you are aware of the colour carbon print?
Well, it it is a very old process (150+ years old) that results in the most lightfast, enduring colour prints of any known process. Although the process is very different, they are the platinum prints of the colour world. Unfortunately, it is an extremely demanding and time consuming process that consists of exposing multiple gelatine layers. Any flaw or error at any of the steps will result in ruined efforts, so it isn’t for the faint-hearted! If I were to tell you that it can take five days to make one single print, how many of you would ditch your inkjet prints or C-types? I thought so!
Anyway, waffle aside, here is an interview with John Bladen Bentley, the last colour carbon printer in Canada.
He is one of only approximately four colour carbon print makers still working on planet Earth. It’s a fascinating process, the results are stunning, they last many lifetimes and, well, there is a real beauty in such dedication. The rewards are unique, but only available to those with the immense skill required to make their own prints, or the money to pay for five days of an expert’s time!
Here is another video running through a little more of the workflow.
One thing Bentley admits is that there is very little interest for (presumably very expensive) colour carbon prints these days. In light of the very affordable inkjet and chemical processes available nowadays, this is understandable and probably irreversible, but do you think it is a loss to ‘photographydom’? Do you think it is a shame that this process will very possibly die out with its last remaining expert technicians? With the best inkjet pigment inks having longevity considerably exceeding chemical prints and with colour gamuts growing with every generation of inks, how much is gained in five days of print making? Does texture mean anything when below glass? Personally I believe that knowledge has a beauty all of its own and should be preserved, however, it is not always possible to do so when market forces undermine support for the sustainment of that knowledge. This is a battle that we will probably lose, but in the meantime, existing colour print making will continue to improve.
Unfortunately in the time it took me to write this post, I have already identified the image I would like printed as a colour carbon print and its at the too of this page. I only wish I could afford it!