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Techniques for hand painting black and white photographs

Self portrait 2004

My photography techniques date back to Victorian times and the beginning of photography. My tools and techniques have been updated to take advantage of the advances in optics and chemistry in the last 100 years.

I begin by making a print from my original large format negatives (generally 4x5 inches and individually hand processed in Pyro developer). I print on heavy fiber-based paper which has been coated with a silver chloride solution, making it sensitive to light. After the photograph is hand processed and thoroughly washed, I then bleach and redevelop the image to change the color of the silver.

This toning allows me to control the color of the resulting image with warm highlights and cool shadows, for instance. This process might be repeated as many as three or four times, using different solutions and washing for long periods in-between steps. When I am satisfied with the color of the silver in the image, I put the photograph through the final wash.

After it is air dried I begin the painting process, using a palette and applying several coats of transparent oil paint, allowing each to dry before applying the next. The result is an extremely permanent art piece, not subject to fading and a potential heirloom to be handed down from generation to generation.

John R. Maher



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