Inspiration: Zohar Studios

I’m tempted to write, as many would, about Zohar Studios without irony or wink — but I can’t. What at first seems like a strange-but-true glimpse of a forgotten 19th-century photography studio is, in fact, the work of one clever contemporary man: Stephen Berkman. Berkman photographs his elaborate sets, props, and backdrops, using early photo processes — mainly wet-plate glass negatives and Albumen prints (a process very much like the Salt Prints we’ve been making.) His attention to period detail is so good that the fiction is almost unshakeable. It should be no surprise that Berkman is the guy people call when they need authentic tintype portraits made for period films, like Cold Mountain and The Assassination of Jesses James by the Coward Robert Ford. Take a look:

I often say that using these old processes puts one in some dialog with the past, no matter what. Stephen Berkman takes it to a perfectly absurd extreme… His show Predicting the Past: Zohar Studios, The Lost Years is up at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco until February, 2021.


I’ve noted before that there just aren’t that many contemporary artists using the Salt Print process out there, so it’s been tough finding things to show as inspiration. The slides I showed the class on our initial Demo day included historical work, plus varnished Salt Prints from France Scully Osterman, and a project by Matthew Brandt. The latter work included photographs of bodies of water, printed using salt water from the same source. More intriguingly, Brandt also made portraits of people using body fluids related to that person, mixed into the Salt of the print…

Matthew Brandt, Takiya, 2007
Salted Paper Print with Takiya’s blood
5 1/8 x 5 7/8 inches

For the most part, however, a survey of Salt Prints made in the last 20 years don’t look that much different from those made in the first 20 years of Photography (although the negatives are sharper now!) What I mean is, one will see a lot of landscapes and still lifes of flowers… Nevertheless, they will certainly be beautiful and luminous, to show off the long tonal scale of this particular process.

Salt Print by Ramiro Elena.

Christina Z. Anderson has a fantastic book on Salt Printing, easily the best and most practical if you want to get into this process. For Ellie Young’s deep technical dive, find her book here. In full disclosure, I do Salt Prints too

Big Blues

I have no idea what led me to think about giant photographs today (generally, I’m more a fan of small works), but the Guinness Book of World Records pegs this cyanotype by Stefanos Tsakiris the World’s Largest, at almost 3,000 square feet!

Doing these body-print Cyanotypes on big sheets has always been a fun way to begin a summer Non-Silver workshop (you know, back when people could lie on a sheet in the sun together…) So here are a few more to fire up the imagination:

Rosie Emerson held a previous world record in 2014 with this one in London

Constanza Isaza Martínez with her 2015 record-breaking attempt…

A French attempt by Vincent Martin and Michel Miguet

And here’s the largest contact print ever made, by an “Italian experimental photography group” called Branco Ottico.

Inspirations: Meghann Riepenhoff

Meghann Riepenhoff has taken the joys of handmade photography and made them even more direct (and even more joyful! Check out the process shots and see how fun this looks…) Her Cyanotype prints (here from her series “Littoral Drift”) are essentially photograms of the sea’s waves. Done in multiple panels, they become huge, wall-filling pieces that capture the might of the ocean.