JOHN BLADEN BENTLEY – Carbon Transfer

03.05.2011 in14:03 in Miscellaneous -->


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Toronto, Ontario, Canada     1948

 

“I’m not interested in making monumental images. It seems my task is to elevate the ordinary, the mundane, to the extraordinary – and make it monumental.” ~~ John Bladen Bentley

For over a decade, John Bladen Bentley has worked in exhaustive research and development to resurrect a printmaking process that had virtually lain on the dust heap of photographic history for over a century – the color carbon transfer print.

Artist’s Journey
In a world dominated by digital manipulation, I am challenged by the pure act of seeing. I want to make accessible images manipulated not through tricks, but with facts – no preconceived notions of what I might find in my wanderings. The poetry of chance. Random brushings with a world where all things are equal.

I feel like a receiver. As though the images come through me. I find myself drawn to places and often spend hours waiting to discover what it was that initially drew me there – waiting for the little secrets to reveal themselves. What interests me is born of my peripheral vision. Something I glimpse from the corner of my eye but much different when I look at it straight on. Sometimes no matter how long I wait what caught my eye won’t reveal itself again, or sometimes the light just isn’t right. Whole days can pass without taking a single exposure.

In 1993, disillusioned by the competitive world of commercial photography, and a desire to get back to my photographic roots, I closed up my studio in Toronto and armed with an 8 x 10 Deardorff, headed off to the highlands of central Mexico.

I felt mule-like packing forty-five pounds of gear on my back. But because I was so obvious, working with the Deardorff – its size, its antiquated design – and hidden beneath the black focusing cloth, I was allowed freedom to do pretty much as I pleased. If I were wandering around with a Nikon I would have had a much different experience. People knew I wasn’t sneaking around making images of their personal lives.

I processed my 8×10 transparencies in bathrooms or on the side of the road inside my renovated twenty-one passenger school bus, giving me a direct dialogue with the work. I’d know immediately if the image worked, and if not, I’d go back again. And wait.
Each day held a new adventure; each image was a new lesson in the many lessons that were to come. Life and my methods seemed completely natural and harmonious. There, outside the confines and the security of the studio, I could take as many risks as the universe provided me.

When I returned to Canada, I realized that no conventional colour print process would capture the depth, the colour, the richness nor the intensity of my new photographs. Years before my commercial career, I’d made dye-transfer prints, a difficult and challenging process, but Eastman Kodak had discontinued the materials I’d need to make them. Researching an alternative, I discovered the rarest of all photo processes in the history of photography – the color carbon transfer print – the ancestor of dye transfer prints. Color carbon transfer prints were theoretically even more beautiful than dye-transfer and even more difficult to make. They were the very first permanent prints fixed to paper but unfortunately because of its complexity and astronomical cost the process had long ago been abandoned. A few photographers were experimenting with black and white, carbon transfer prints to greater or lesser success, but except for less than a handful of printmakers scattered throughout Europe and the U.S., no one had made a color carbon transfer print since the late-19th century.