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HomeContentsThemes > Mordançage


Information requests
499.01   Improving content on photographic techniques
499.02   Mordançage examples
499.03   Working in the Mordançage process by Elizabeth Opalenik - A personal history
499.04   The Mordançage process
499.05   Jean-Pierre Sudre: Soleil
499.06   Jean-Pierre Sudre: M+V
499.07   Jean-Pierre Sudre: Insectes
499.08   Jean-Pierre Sudre: Paysages matériographiques
499.09   Elizabeth Opalenik: Mordançage
This theme includes example sections and will be revised and added to as we proceed. Suggestions for additions, improvements and the correction of factual errors are always appreciated.
Information requests 
499.01   Experimental and manipulated photography >  Improving content on photographic techniques 
We are seeking to expand the themes covering photographic techniques and processes. These sections will include:
  • Invention of the process
  • Any related patents
  • Trade literature
  • Contemporary advertisements and announcements of the innovation
  • A description of the process and its variants
  • Historical examples and details of where examples can be located in public collections
  • Contemporary examples by photographers using the exact process.
Conservation will not initially be included but may be in the future if required.
499.02   Experimental and manipulated photography >  Mordançage examples 
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Mordançage, practiced by only a few artists, is a process whereby the artist strips away the darkest parts of the emulsion of a silver gelatin print. The stripping away of the emulsion is the most important stage of the process - the image transformation, creating a relief, or a raised area on the print. Water is used to float the delicate silver emulsion on the image so as to rearrange it and dry it back down on to the print. The end result is a one of a kind and unique photographic image. It is in the laying back down of the photograph’s emulsion where Elizabeth Opalenik has made her trademark. She reconfigures the emulsion as a drapery, much in harmony with her own style of photographing dancers, nudes and elegant still life.
"What takes time to create, time respects….some of these images with the draping may take hours to complete and then only after a few weeks of failure to get one that I love. Often I am working with a hypodermic needle to punch little release holes in the big bubbles of water where the silver has lifted in the shadows. Today’s emulsion is so fragile, most of it floats down the drain, and I am unable to save it. Failures are high. Often I arrange the emulsion by using drops of water to put it in place to dry it back down on the paper."
[Courtesy of Verve Gallery of Photography] 
499.03   Experimental and manipulated photography >  Working in the Mordançage process by Elizabeth Opalenik - A personal history 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
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I began my Mordançage journey in Provence when I met Jean-Pierre Sudre. After seeing his work for the first time in 1983, I knew I had come home photographically. Annual visits to Sudre’s atelier to share his work with other students helped to form a life long bond that continued until his death in 1997. I continued the visits with his wife, Claudine Sudre, also a master printer of ancient processes. Every Sudre image had a personal story and together we would hold his memory dear. On my last visit in 2012, Claudine was not well enough to show the work, so the torch has been passed to their daughter, Fanny Sudre-Bernard. All of the Sudre family are involved with photography and there was recently an exhibition and catalogue in Paris “Les Sudre, une famille de photographes”. Madame Sudre died in 2013. After 30 years of visits, I am still in awe.
In 1991, Jean-Pierre offered a workshop in the process to seven Americans and I was lucky enough to learn Mordançage directly from this master. The formulas and practices that I share started with that workshop and the dedication Sudre had to perfecting the mordançage technique. With any creative process, the goal is to make it your own. By print five, I was attempting to save the veils much to Sudre’s surprise. “No, no, no Elisabeth! I thought you would be the easiest student!” By the end of the week, he was asking for my notes.
Sudre began his research into the Mordançage process in 1960. He produced a limited edition book Diamantine of 30 copies with original images that was a crystallization experiment. I believe he continued with Argentine, a small book of 50 copies, but in 1972 he began working out the “paysages materiographiques”. These landscapes of his mind continued through other series into 1992, always with the crystallization of various salts on glass that became his negative. By the final images in the series he was into the galaxy and “his” certain blue. In an interview with J.C. Gautrand he said, “The blues have to be beautiful and the whites white. So after 50 years of research, I am going to succeed.” That is the precision and refinement he worked with and I can only attempt in my personal work. He would say that you must feel the blood pulsing through your veins to let your heart and soul into the process. I often think of this as I work with the delicate spidery veils of emulsion, one drop of water at a time, and know he sits on my shoulder smiling.
My best suggestion is to learn the tools first, keep good notes and develop patience. The process is beautiful and if you follow steps with intent, you will gain the knowledge to expand into experimenting with structure toward an idea rather than accidents. It is important to recognize the accidents. Accidents lead to creativity in the process, and often I am down one of those paths, but it is also important to understand why they happened. Know images in this process are one of a kind. If you want total repeatability then work in a process called Photoshop.
Another lovely Sudre quote, "In mordançage you the possibility…..
499.04   Experimental and manipulated photography >  The Mordançage process 
Elizabeth Opalenik on Mordançage (2013)
  1 liter 2 liter 3 liter
Cold Water 750 ml 1,500 ml 2,000 ml
Copper chloride 10 g 20 g 30 g
Hydrogen Peroxide (110 volume) 35 ml/liter but depends on paper emulsion and age
Acetic Acid (80%) 50 ml 100 ml 150 ml
Cold Water to make 1000 ml 2000 ml 3000 ml

Hydrogen Peroxide is best at 110 volume which is 30% grade. I drive to my chemical lab and normally buy the hydrogen peroxide at 35% and adjust the formula slightly. However, you cannot ship 35% Hydrogen Peroxide without going through HAZMAT precautions. You can buy 30% at beauty supply stores (not the white creamy stuff) or ask to have a lab supply you a product at 17.5% so that it can be shipped if you have no other resource. To make the above formula using 17.5% I would double the Hydrogen Peroxide and use slightly less water.
Always use gloves, work outside when possible or use a dual filter respirator. I suggest you google information on all the chemicals involved so you develop a healthy respect. I have twenty pinholes in my stainless steel sink from a teaspoon full of the chemistry that spilled and was left for a few days.
  1. Start with a well-washed print on any of today’s papers that have good silver content. It is important to make good test strips that have been stopped and fixed in a non-hardening fixer. It may require some testing on your part and finessing of the formula to get consistent results but it is worth the effort if you have a favorite paper. Today, Ilford Multigrade consistently works but I have recently tested Arista, Adox, Fotokemika Varycon and the Foma line. All offer different possibilities, as do other brands. Because I have dedicated myself to working with the veils of emulsion, I want a paper with high silver content and I will alter the formula to lift, not dissolve, the emulsion.
  2. Working from dry or wet print, bleach out the print in the mordançage solution for 2-3 minutes, rocking the tray gently. You will see the emulsion start to soften and bubble. The print will yellow and the image may disappear. Room temperature is fine, you can also mordançage longer, but if not working, make a new test strip with longer times or more contrast, try fresher hydrogen peroxide, or add more acetic acid.
  3. Wash the print 4 x 5 minutes, changing water completely. Again I am rocking the tray and using the movement of the water to help lift the veils. If they are loosening too quickly I go to soak washing, but if you don’t wash well between steps, staining will occur. What takes time to create time respects.
  4. Now comes the exciting part of removing the softened gelatin (depouillement). You can do this now with a strong jet of water or ball of cotton or redevelop the print first in diluted paper or film developers. This can be a messy process and the floating emulsion will ultimately stick to everything. I try to keep this emulsion in a tray of water, which I then filter through a funnel with fine screen or a fine mesh bag. Different effects can be achieved depending on when you remove the emulsion. Play with the possibilities.
    I have found older developers have given me some interesting colors. It is also possible to redevelop in sulfuring toners or partially redevelop in one solution, rinse and continue in another. The print exposure controls whether the gelatin leaves the print of not. That is why making good test strips are critical to controlling this part of the process. If impossible to skin the print, do another test strip with longer times.
    Possible redevelopers can be:
    Dektol 1:5 to 1:10
    Glover 1:3 to 1:5
    Sprint 1:10 to 1:20
    ID 62 1:2 to 1:5
    Old D-76
    You can also sulferize the print in something like Thiourea as a redeveloper and then wash.
    So many choices, so little time but here creativity has no bounds. In the end, it may all become shades of gray, but you might be surprised with the red, bronze and magenta tones created by different developer/paper combinations.
    Before your next washing stage, you also have the possibility of rinsing the print in a solution of acetic acid 10-30 ml/liter for 2 minutes. This will brighten the whites.
  5. Other choices at this stage:
    1. Wash well. If veils aren’t an issue, a print washer is fine for 20 minutes or changing the water bath in a tray 4x5 minutes. If saving veils, gentle rocking and water changes or arrange veils and dry. I often use a hair dryer so I can continue through the process. Wash after the gelatin has dried back to the paper.
    2. Redevelop, wash well, tone with selenium, polytoner, blue toner…your choice. Wash some more.
    3. Do a partial redevelop, rinse and before drying, put into another diluted developer, put the print face down on glass and use a brayer, then put face up on towels to oxidize and finish development. Different developers will result in color variations. Keep good notes. Wash.
    4. Do an incomplete, very diluted redevelopment and then sulferize with something like Thiourea.
    5. You can also fix the print after redeveloping. I rarely have unless I want to use this step to help lighten an overdeveloped image. I prefer stopping the action with the stop bath and copious amounts of washing.

    Prints that you are not going to oxidize should be washed and screened dried. Be sure screens are clean and be sure to clean later. You can also dry face up on clean towels that are washed often. If using paper towels, dry face up understanding if they are white they may have bleach in them. I tend to use clean towels, which seem to help prints dry flatter, especially those with veils. You can flatten prints in a dry mount press, but I prefer to put under glass. My goal is to keep the prints looking three-dimensional.
Please remember to use good ventilation and caution at all times as these chemicals are not compatible with your lungs. 
499.05   Experimental and manipulated photography >  Jean-Pierre Sudre: Soleil 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
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499.06   Experimental and manipulated photography >  Jean-Pierre Sudre: M+V 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
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499.07   Experimental and manipulated photography >  Jean-Pierre Sudre: Insectes 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
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499.08   Experimental and manipulated photography >  Jean-Pierre Sudre: Paysages matériographiques 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
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499.09   Experimental and manipulated photography >  Elizabeth Opalenik: Mordançage 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
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HomeContents > Further research

Readings on, or by, individual photographers 
Elizabeth Opalenik 
Opalenik, Elizabeth, 2007, Poetic Grace: Photographs 1979-2007, (OPA Editions) isbn-10: 1424341884 isbn-13: 978-1424341887 [Δ
Jean-Pierre Sudre 
Sudre, Jean-Pierre, n.d.Argentine [50 copies] [Δ
Sudre, Jean-Pierre, n.d.Diamantine [30 copies] [Δ
Sudre, Jean-Pierre, 1983, Jean-Pierre Sudre, (Arles, Musée Réattu) [Δ
Sudre, Jean-Pierre & Gautrand, Jean-Claude, 2003, Jean-Pierre Sudre, ouvrage collectif, (Éditions Actes Sud) isbn-13: 978-2742743940 [Δ
If you feel this list is missing a significant book or article please let me know - Alan - 

HomeContentsPhotographers > Photographers worth investigating

Elizabeth Opalenik  (1947-) • Jean-Pierre Sudre  (1921-1997)
HomeThemesExperimental and manipulated photography > Mordançage 
A wider gazeRelated topics 
Experimental and manipulated photography 

HomeContentsOnline exhibitions > Mordançage

Please submit suggestions for Online Exhibitions that will enhance this theme.
Alan -

ThumbnailElizabeth Opalenik: Poetic Grace 
Title | Lightbox | Checklist
Released (September 6, 2007) Verve Gallery of Photography in Santa Fe (NM, USA) has an exhibition of this series (Aug 31 - Oct 27, 2007)

HomeVisual indexes > Mordançage

Please submit suggestions for Visual Indexes to enhance this theme.
Alan -

ThumbnailElizabeth Opalenik: Becoming centered in the Universe and variants 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
ThumbnailElizabeth Opalenik: Changer and variants 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
ThumbnailElizabeth Opalenik: Finding Self and variants 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
ThumbnailElizabeth Opalenik: JoJo as Maillot and variants 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
ThumbnailElizabeth Opalenik: Margot 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
ThumbnailElizabeth Opalenik: Mordançages with fennel 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
ThumbnailElizabeth Opalenik: Windswept and variants 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
ThumbnailJean-Pierre Sudre: Insectes 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
ThumbnailJean-Pierre Sudre: M+V 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
ThumbnailJean-Pierre Sudre: Paysages matériographiques 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
ThumbnailJean-Pierre Sudre: Soleil 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
Refreshed: 08 August 2014, 22:52
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