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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Chuck Kimball

Born: Charles Quinton Kimball 
Dates:  1939, 14 February -
Born:  US, CA, San Diego
Active:  US
American photographer and bromoilist. 
Artist statement: 
"I think it was the great fire, my meeting with Great Nature, that suddenly opened my mind to what I had been doing, where I am now going, and what it is that drives my hand: a strong love of the classics, Flemish painting, uncertainty, faces, figures, shadows, the process of things, and life.
.... losing almost all material things is a great awakening, the Zen enlightenment.... In fact, I spent a lot of time recalling the teachings of mentors: Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, Duane Michals, Sojun Mel Weitzmann, and others .. and savoring the support of my part, Nanessence, and my friends, helping me through the times, reminding me that "everything changes" and of a very favorite phrase "you must be the light you wish to see" (attributed to one of the Buddhas, perhaps Da Mo) ..
Now, three plus years later, I have a freedom to stare at that blank canvas, visualizing soft, muted colors, blurry images of figures and faces, overlapping like in a dream, but with intensity of motion and emotion... I am very pleased by the number of images still there, and how they meld my previous work, and are ready to spring from the paper, or stone, or zinc plate... whatever might happen, will... and, I am certain that photographic processes, especially oil and bromoil, will be key players in this drama ... life…"
chuck kimball, 4 August 2006

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Chuck Kimball

Chuck Kimball was educated as a biochemist but for many forgotten reasons, never worked in the field. He made his first photograph at age 5, and continued the work as a hobby through his early years and into the 60s which included some work in photo-journalism during the period civil unrest. He began full time photography in 1967, and opened the first studio in 1969 with an emphasis on photographs of women and early photographic processes. The 1980's were particularly fruitful with many exhibitions and a partnership with Nanessence which spawned a number of collaborative photographic projects. During this period, the pair worked in the "crossover", dividing time between the purely artistic forms and the application of that art to more lucrative commercial work....
In 1989, Chuck and Nanessence moved from the city to a small mountain village in Southern California. The release gave reason and time to return to photography as an art form and continue serious study of the bromoil process. Autodidactic by nature, he applied his experiences in the commercial art field and chemistry to the bromoil process with the intent of making full color bromoil transfers. The first successful four-color transfer came in the winter of 1991 with a photograph of a bird and bamboo in the snow. Over the next several years, Kimball made more than 80 four-color transfers in addition to many more single color bromoils and transfers. His work was exhibited widely in California through the 1990s and is in the collections of a large number of private collectors. With the death of a favorite gallery owner in 2000, Kimball pulled most of his work back to the studio for a "re-grouping" and consideration of direction. It was not the best idea as it turns out.
The great fires of southern California in 2003 took most of Kimball's (and Nanessence's) archives and portfolios as well as the new studio/living space, putting a hold on the print making and photography. Now, three years later, he and Nanessence are once again back at work, the new studio rebuilt, a new appreciation for "Great Nature", and perhaps most importantly, a clean, blank canvas in front of him.... both daunting and inspiring, we can be sure that whatever comes from the artist will include the bromoil process and wider explorations of the 4 color process.
© Chuck Kimball (2006) - Used with permission
Some words about the 4-color bromoil transfer process: (if anyone is interested)
Four color, or full color bromoil transfer is a logical step from the monochrome bromoil in the same way that full color images came out of the gum and carbon processes. All three involve combining three or four separate primary color images onto one final "receiver", just like process printing in magazines and newspapers. In bromoil, the inked matrix prints are transferred to the receiver paper using a rolling press of some sort. The usual choice is a standard etching press, although there are still a few early presses still around that were made especially for the bromoil process. While decent transfers can be made with rudimentary presses, even by hand using the back of a spoon, for the multiple color process it is better to have a repeatable, easy to register press.
In my work, I have used several methods to separate original photographic color images into their primary colors: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. While separation from a transparency has long been the standard in the printing industry, I preferred the less used method of separating a color negative directly into a positive print since the bromoil process requires a positive print for the matrix. From the negative, the separations are made by printing through red, green, and blue filters onto individual sheets of paper for the cyan, magenta, and yellow printing matrices. A weak but contrasty black printer is made without filters for the fourth color. These prints then become the bromoil matrices for transfer, saving the two difficult and variable steps of making the enlarged separation negative and a final contact print. The only problem was to find a panchromatic paper emulsion that was also compatible with the bromoil process.
Bromoil prefers to be made using fiber based paper, with a thick emulsion layer and no "coating". Unfortunately, all papers of this type in production today, and "back then" were orthochromatic, that is, not sensitive to red light. If the paper isn't sensitive to red light, one cannot make the matrix needed for the cyan printer.. A solution was to use a photographic paper intended to produce black and white images from color negatives. Fine, such paper has been made for years, but, with the advent of resin coated (RC) papers in the 60's, the only panchromatic paper available to me was RC. Bromoils on RC papers are quite difficult, and restrict the artist in both tone and reworking. However, I felt that the advantage of using negatives outweighed the difficulties of inking an RC print. Had it not been for "discovering" the Oriental RC Panchro paper, I might have had to rethink things. With a lot of practice and the use of some new techniques in inking, I found that I could get a pretty consistent result on the RC paper... and consistent is of utmost importance, especially with the yellow layer.
Now, all that I needed were primary inks. I prefer lithographic inks for bromoil, but there were no really permanent, i.e. lightfast, "process" colors available. A friend in the printing industry sent some samples (very small) of some new lightfast inks his company was producing, but once they were gone, well, that was that... I did make a few first prints using those inks, and wish they had been generally available, but they weren't. So, the next choice was to find other inks (block printing, etching) that could fill the color need. I purchased a reflection color meter and a big lot of different colors of different inks and set to testing. My final choices were four inks that came close enough to pure colors to work: a quinacridone red (for the magenta), and Hansa yellow in lithographic inks, and a blue from a collection of oil based block printing inks that was very close to pure cyan... black was no problem.
As any bromoilist experimenting with transfer can attest, a number of factors can interfere with the success. Probably the most difficult step is finding a way to keep the four images "in register".. Since one deals with four separate prints, such things as paper grain direction can ruin your day... I found that boxes of cut paper sheets often contained sheets cut from different directions on the original roll, resulting in a paper that stretched more in one direction that in the other... the most successful solution was to cut my own...
For the visual registration of each matrix, I use small cuts on the edges of the matrices, derived from scratches made on the edge of the original negative. Even with the greatest care in this step however, out of register prints sometimes happen due to the phase of the moon or other out of immediate control things. That's what the trash can is for.
A second difficulty, whose solution only comes with experience, is the "reading" of the individual colors on the matrices prior to transfer. The Cyan matrix is quite easy to judge densities on, especially if one has some cyanotype experience, Magenta can be acquired rather quickly, but Yellow, light yellow on white paper, is almost impossible to see, especially in the highlights. My solution was to develop a style of inking that guarantees a weak image, and then work it up by successive transfers until the print looks right... not scientific, but it works for me. I like to add a very weak black to the final image to adjust both shadow detail and to provide the "missing" ingredient to skin tones... Practice, and the use of several very weak transfers produces the best result. In fact, practice and the trash can may be the most essential ingredients to learning this process. By the way, a final print can require as many as twelve separate, in register, printing passes to achieve the desired image, although 5 or 6 is the norm..
Reading this over gives me a hint why other bromoilists don't flock to try the process. Perhaps, as the already short supply of traditional color printing papers and chemistries shrinks even further, more will be tempted to the older alternative methods. The possibility of using the computer to make the separations, and with that device to be able to make an acceptable negative for contact printing (which would allow the use of traditional bromide papers or the original oil process) might encourage more to try their hand. I feel, regardless of the difficulty, that the process of color bromoil transfer is essential for my next phase of work. The variability inherent to the process injects the element of surprise that I seem to need in my work, and, best of all, the results are really archival, the very cause that drove me to try color bromoil in the first place...
From the rambling notebook of Chuck Kimball
© Chuck Kimball (2006) - Used with permission  
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