Exploring Alternative Processes – Pt. 2 Van Dyke & Kallitype Preliminaries

I set the stage in Pt.1 for what prompted me into alternative processes; what my frame of mind was and what my motivations were.  Having thought through how I might approach all of this I’ve now determined that I will approach this in five parts instead of the three I’d originally planned.  The focus of this part will be to provide an overview of some preliminary elements relevant to both Van Dyke and Kallitype processes.  In the next section, Pt. 3 I will cover many of the common core elements which apply to both and provide a solid overview of each.  In the final two parts I will focus in on each process and provide more of a step-by-step overview with full photo-documentation.

As I mentioned in Pt. 1, while Kallitype and Van Dyke might be on the less complex side of things with respect to the broader range of alternative processes, do not for a minute think that they are lesser.  I would argue that they provide incredible potential in terms of expressiveness and artistic creation.  I would also point out that they are complex in their own right with many variables ultimately contributing to an artists ability to realize their vision.  Lastly, well, they’re beautiful and fun processes in which to engage.

If you really want to see someone having fun with a variety of alternative processes, not to mention you’ll learn a ton, check out Borut Peterlin.  He’s a photographer and media artist from Slovenia, Top Shit Photography, who has more passion in his pinky than you’ll find in most “artists” you encounter.  I’d say his primary obsession is with Wet Plate Collodion but he is about way more than that and he produces exceptional videos and content covering many aspects of alternative processes and his approach to photography.  He also runs a very informative blog.  You cannot help but watch one of his videos and get inspired.


Where to start?  Yeah, that’s a trick questions.  Let me first start with what I consider to be paramount with regards to these two processes and every other alternative process.  Safety!  What I’m talking about is SAFETY!  Yes, safety, safety, safety……!


There are many aspects to the safety issue when it comes to alternative processes, and really darkroom processes in general.  However, because you’re working with a variety of base chemical, things are a bit different.  So let’s start with personal safety.

Know What You’re Working With

You need to know what you’re dealing with.  By this, I mean you need to take the time to educate yourself about the chemicals you’ll be working with.  Fortunately everything you need to educate yourself is readily available.  I again make reference to the book I reviewed in an earlier post by Christopher James.  It has a comprehensive section in the back of the book where he covers just about all the chemicals you’re likely to encounter in both historic and modern approaches to these processes.  In addition he’s included safety commentary throughout the book.  I really do need to do a more exhaustive review of this book!  Now, he makes a point in the book to say that he’s providing guidance and by no means should his information be viewed as exhaustive and the last word.  He advises the reader to avail themselves of a number of other resources.

When you purchase chemicals from a company like Bostick & Sullivan they provide a description which can help guide you.  Here’s an example regarding Sodium Thiosulfate:

Description Sodium thiosulfate Item no. THIO Type Pentahydrate Purity USP CAS No. 10102-17-7 Chem Formula Na2S2O3.5H2O FWeight 248.19 Storage Information Hygroscopic Selling_sizes edta

OSHA provides an overview of the Safety Data Sheets (SDS) detailing what they should contain and communicate.  Look here at an example of one for Sodium Thiosulfate.  Any producer will provide one.  There are also many chemical databases available on line such as the one NIH runs and again, for Sodium Thiosulfate I’ve provided an example.

So, here’s the point.  Educate yourself.  Know what you’re working with. Truth be told, this is not different than understanding what you’re putting in your mouth as food or the cleaning products you’re using and storing in your own home!

Self Protection

You owe it to yourself, now having an appreciation for what you’re dealing with, to protect yourself.  Quality eye protection, respiratory protection, gloves and an apron are just the no-brainers.  Do you need all of them all of the time?  No.  But you need to know when you do and lean on the side of caution.


I keep two different types of gloves at the ready.  The Nitrile are my go to gloves most of the time but I will use the cheaper soft scrub gloves for less risky processes involving chemistry that I might otherwise be tempted to just go bare handed.  Eye protection has come a long way and there’s NO REASON not to use it.  I strongly advise getting chemical goggles that form a complete seal. They’re vented!  Respiratory protection can get a bit confusing but 3M produces a base mask that allows you to select and attach filters that meet your needs.  I strongly recommend an emergency eye and face kit.  Have it accessible and understand how you use it.  Lastly, I recommend a good chemical apron as below.



Aprons are not expensive.  I picked this up on amazon for $9.  Not only does it keep you clean, it is integral to my next safety point.  Cross-contamination.  This is a broad area because it covers everything from you carelessly bringing chemistry out of your darkroom/lab into your house/kitchen via doorknobs, clothing, shoes, doorknobs…. to inadvertently mixing chemicals due to not maintaining cleanliness and order in your darkroom/lab or processes.  This is a huge one for me and I have many things in place and as part of my processes to manage this.  The apron though is just common sense.  Get one and wear one.


I’m not going to spend a great amount of time on ventilation.  I have it in both my darkroom/bathroom and lab/work space.  You do not want to allow for the build up of fumes.  This is a health issue for you and indeed in some instances it’s a safety issue due to the potential combustibility of certain chemistry.  Again, this is no different from what you might find in a woodworking shop where wood dust (like grain dust in grain storage facilities) is seriously combustible.  On that note, the type of ventilation you acquire matters.  It needs to be sufficient to move the air.  It needs to have a fresh air inlet into the space.  It needs to be spark-free for obvious reasons.  An open window is a fantastic option as is working with certain aspects of a process outdoors.

Get a chemical fire extinguisher!   Again, common sense.

Organization & Cleanliness

Part-and-parcel of understanding what you’re working with is understanding what cleanliness actually means.  You need to understand the appropriate way in which you should clean your equipment and things like tables.  Will soap and water do the trick?  Alcohol?  Something else?  How do you dispose of the byproduct?  Guidance for cleaning can be found in the same resources I referenced above under Knowing What You’re Working With.  Of course, the internet is replete with additional resources.  Point is, again, do your homework.

Something which matters a ton to me and I feel is essential to both safety and the joy you’ll ultimately experience exploring alternative processes is organization.  Organization, cleanliness, safety, enjoyment and predictable outcomes are all interdependent.  Now we’re all working with what we have.  Given this there’s really no single solution in terms of organization.  For me, I have very specific locations for all of my equipment, label things and organize in a manner that supports my work flow.


I’m really big on labeling things and having items such as mixing bowls and funnels specific to chemicals or processes.  While I’m pretty disciplined in washing and clean up I feel that this just adds a further layer of insurance that I’ll not encounter some negative outcome.  Besides, trays and funnels are pretty darn cheap.


I keep all of my lab gear organized.  I always clean dry and replace as I conclude each round.  Yes, this may all be a little OCD for some, but I know that it’s essential with respect to safety and success.


I purchased this shelving unit at Lowes from their kitchen organization department.  I love the fact that it allows for organized storage, easy visibility and air drying.


This shelving unit is in my darkroom, inside a large recess.  Note, I keep my Wet Plate chemicals neatly stored inside of a tray here.  When I need to I run my UV lamp in my lab/workspace and I’m just not comfortable storing the collodion and collodion base chemicals in the room with that lamp.  Yes, as noted above, I label all my trays and have many which are dedicated to a process.  Note however I have many labeled VD and K.  These are common steps within each process which share the same chemical.

Again, this how I organized things with the space I have; a small bathroom and what was essentially a large pantry connected to it.  One thing I like to do when I’m thinking through a process and beginning to determine how I’m going to execute it and accommodate it within my space is to lay out the sequence, steps and basically a work-flow diagram.


Doing this helps me visualize the work-flow as well as determine where the commonalities are with other things I do and equipment I have as well as understand where the risk areas are such as chemistry I DO NOT want to commingle.  I’m rather visual in this way anyway!  I do not want to have to think that much about the logistics of the process when I’m working within it.



Well, this section has gone on much longer than I’d anticipated.  It’s a very important set of topics though and I hope my approach has been informative.  Do your homework.  Again, as with everything, this is not intended to be exhaustive or the final authoritative word by any means.  Rather, I hope that is’t simply useful and convinces you that things like safety, organization and cleanliness matter and you owe it to yourself and those around you to take heed.




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