Mordançage Background and Process Notes
originally posted to the Alt-Photo-Process listserv group April
the Mordançage Gallery
late 1996, new to the internet and to this list, I posted a request
for information about the mordançage process and received a smattering
of useful, if somewhat random, information. In addition to the list-posted
information I also heard from Jean-Daniel Lemoine in Paris who kindly
put me in touch with an expert in mordançage who lives in the Loire
Valley, Pierre-Louis Martin. I was in Paris in the spring of '97
and met with several very fine photographers - many of them members
of this list as well as arranging a brief meeting with Pierre-Louis
while he was in Paris on gallery business. Nothing could have more
emphatically demonstrated to me the potential and power of the internet
than my request made to this list about mordançage!
The work that
Pierre-Louis shared with me - something approaching 100 mordançage
images, arranged in portfolios - was astounding! While I'd seen
a small number of Jean-Pierre Sudre's mordançage prints -
a few may still be seen at this web site address: http://www.photoconnexion.com/index/e_index1.htm
- as well as a small selection of Elizabeth Opalenik's unique works
in the process (www.opalenik.com),
I'd never seen anything like Pierre-Louis' work: mordançage
images which had been exotically toned (and split-toned?) in addition
to the etching and emulsion-lifting from the mordançage.
A selection of his work (along with four-color gravures from Jean-Daniel
Lemoine, among others) were exhibited the summer of 1998 in Boston
at the alt-process show arranged at The White Elephant Gallery.
I will send and ask Pierre-Louis (through a friend of his, he has
no computer) if there are images of his on the web other than the
three (regrettably poor) reproductions posted at <http://www.multimania.com/gapcho/>
- (click on "Les Fables de la Fontaine par Pierre-Louis Martin"
at the home page).
had worked extensively with Sudre for many years before Sudre's
death in 1998. Pierre-Louis is teaching workshops in France, but
I am unsure if these classes focus on his work in gum (and other
alt-processes) or if they also include mordançage.
As I live in
the shadow of The Maine Photo Workshops (15 miles away), former
students of Craig Stevens are thick on the ground. It was through
one of these acquaintances that I first heard of mordançage and
saw some prints. Craig continues to teach this process at his (and
Chris James') week-long class each summer in Rockport (probably
the single most popular class at The Workshops every year), and
he apparently includes it in his classes at Savannah School of Art
Craig also knew
Sudre *very* well (telling me last summer during our brief meeting,
"He was like a father to me....") - spending time in France
with him each year during his Provence workshop. Craig has been
working with this process for years (if not decades) and is clearly
an expert on the process. Curiously, neither Craig nor Pierre-Louis
were aware of each other. I have a small selection of Pierre-Louis'
prints, as well as a few color reproductions which he was willing
to share with me for my classes, and I showed Craig this work last
summer while he was in town.
(a member of this group) suggested that mordançage is another
name for the historic "etch/bleach" mentioned in vintage
references, and this may well be valid. Further, these old references
may be an excellent source for tweaking one's practice of the mordançage
process once successful results are obtained. However, I am very
much under the impression that *mordançage*, whatever the
similarities it may have to historic etch/bleach processes, is creditable
to Jean-Pierre Sudre. Craig refers to it as "Mordançage
- As perfected by Jean-Pierre Sudre." At the very least, I
think it's safe to say that Sudre considered his use of the process
"proprietary" (perhaps setting the tone for other practitioners
of the process).
My Formula and
I am quite sure
that the following has at its core the handout Craig Stevens gives
to his classes. Don Upp posted to this list a couple years ago (after
one of Craig's classes?) a prose version similar to the following
That being said
(and to be perhaps tediously scrupulous in giving proper credit),
it is the work that Chris Pinchbeck did with his work/study classes
at The Rockport College (yes, it's now accredited) that clarified
things for me last year and allowed for such successful results
in my workshops. He very generously shared with me the particulars
of his use of the process and I thank him!
750 ml water
(cool or cold) 10 grams - copper chloride 25 to 35 ml - 40 (or 30)
volume hydrogen peroxide 50 ml - glacial acetic acid water to make
* Bleach a well
washed print in the mordançage solution for 3 minutes (wear gloves
and work with good ventilation!), followed by a 15 minute wash.
the print in any of the following (but not limited to the following!):
Dektol at 1:5
Weak or nearly exhausted Dektol Sulfide toner (Part B) - weak, used
of full strength Polytoner, Brown toner, or thiourea redeveloper
(Whatever else seems worth trying)
* Rinse the
print under running water. You might allow the print to sit out
in the air 5-10 minutes (or longer) to oxidize, perhaps adding to
the coloration of the final print.... or NOT! maybe you can't wait
to see this thing, so you plunge ahead to the next step immediately.
* Back into
the mordançage solution - "timed" by inspection. At this
point you might take a cotton ball and rub the emulsion off of the
print - partially or completely - as the image and whim dictates.
may also observe at this point that entire sections of emulsion
- the darkest areas of the print - are floating in suspension, but
still (barely) attached to the print. You may wish to rearrange
and/or reapply this emulsion area to the print - in the manner of
a Polaroid lift. Elizabeth Opalenik has turned this into her signature
maneuver with this process.
or tone the print once again. Use stop bath to halt this action
when judged complete. Wash the print for 30 minutes. (This wash
may not be a real option if you have done emulsion manipulations,
as it will be too fragile. Some sort of washing is obviously suggested
- but then again, *not* thoroughly washing can lead to further color
shifts over time, shifts which may, for the open-minded, be interesting
- although not strictly archival as a technique!)
* Screen dry
The choice of
the image seems more important than the choice of paper with this
process - warm and cold toned papers seem equally suited (Brovira
was Sudre's favorite), as does the use of RC paper. Print color
is certainly affected by the choice of paper, as well as the redevelopers
put to use. Photograms seem very popular with this process (an inclination
underwritten by Sudre's work?), although I have not gone that route
with my own experiments - and the student work in my workshops have
thus far all been images from negatives.
I have not attempted
any of the split-toning processes I employ on my own work subsequent
to the mordançage of the print. It is an area I wish to explore.
I believe Pierre-Louis is toning his images (subsequent to the mordançage?
- I am guessing) in things like copper and blue toners (?), and
is achieving beautiful effects. Most of Pierre-Louis' work incorporates
at least some photograms in the image....
am unaware of any published
information on this process.
If someone knows of information
in print, or of information
in the old references which
seems pertinent, I'd love to
hear about it! Further, I'd
love to hear (more) from those
people who are working/have
worked with the process previously
and whose practice of it differs
from the info I've posted here.
(I was interested to hear of
successful results with the
weaker hydrogen peroxide, for
Excerpt from Christina Anderson's
"The Experimental Photography
© Christina Z. Anderson,
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