Lumen prints hold a delicate magic you don’t find with many forms of photography. They’re slow to create using chemistry, require absolutely nothing virtual or digital and can trace their ancestry right back to the earliest days of photography in the 1830s.
We are all familiar with the idea of a quick exposure in a traditional photographic darkroom. A scene involving dim red light, short bursts of white light and then multiple trays with mysterious chemicals which the print is submerged into for very precisely measured lengths of time. At the end of which a black and white image is hung up to dry. Lumen prints are much more gentle to my mind, taking longer to produce and frequently drawing the photographer outside into the sunlight.
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 but only if you get close. The closer you get the more delicate detail becomes visible.
Lumen prints are closely related to Photograms and the names have often been used interchangeably. The current distinction commonly accepted is that a Photogram is produced using a short burst of light or a strobe and often ‘developed’ using chemicals (think of that bright short burst of light in a traditional darkroom) whereas the Lumen print uses a long exposure (hours or days as opposed to seconds) to create the image and then fixes it.
I’ve been asked why with access to amazing modern digital technology I love this old process. Well, it’s precisely because it isn’t digital, it’s slow, visceral and most importantly gives me a feeling of connection to the image I just don’t get with something that comes out of an inkjet printer. In short, they put a smile on my face and make me happy, quite an accomplishment for a small piece of paper.
If you’re like to see the Lumen process in action then check out this video which shows me making a piece from start to finish. Finding Peace in the Darkroom.