APIS, Santa Fe, 2005.
In the three-colour gum dichromate process, a sheet of watercolour paper is repeatedly coated with a sensitiser (gum arabic, a potassium dichromate solution to make it light sensitive and a watercolour pigment), exposed through the relevant negative (separation) and processed in water. The image is built up in three successive printings, one for each of the process colours of yellow, magenta and cyan, although this order can vary between printers.The three parts of the sensitiser are mixed together and painted onto the paper by brush. A thicker mixture containing a higher proportion of pigment and having a short exposure time will place the colour primarily in the shadow areas, whereas a thinner mixture with less pigment and a longer exposure will give colour mainly to the highlights and lighter tones, so some contrast control is possible in the printing. Immediately the coated paper has dried, it's exposed in contact with the corresponding separation to ultraviolet light. A pin registration system is crucial to ensure that the negatives are positioned correctly and in registration for each printing. Once exposed, the separation is removed and the print floated face down in plain water. The areas of sensitised gum that were exposed to the uv light harden and become insoluble forming the shadows. Those that were blocked by the dense areas of the negative remain soluble and float away in the water. These areas finally become the highlights. After 30 minutes the print is removed from the water and dried thoroughly. This process is repeated twice, once again for the magenta layer and finally a third time for the cyan. At the end of the process, and usually after a day's work, the print is finished.
The images are in color, 16 x 20” and larger. They look almost like paintings—because they almost are. Each one is unique, a monoprint produced by DeCosse and his studio artisan and master printer, Keith Taylor, in the handcrafted gum-dichromate process—a delicate, painterly medium unlike any other. Pigments used in oil painting are made photosensitive, exposed with the image over and over again, and built up, layer after layer, one color at a time. Although gum-dichromate printing is most identified with photography’s “old masters,” including Edward Steichen and the Photo-Secession circle, DeCosse has reinvented and refined the medium in ways that make it uniquely his own.The title of his new collection is “The Four Seasons.” It bears witness to the long life that DeCosse has shared with Florence, Italy, where year after year he has searched out visions to be captured under natural light by his camera. In a traditional Tuscan home there is often a table arrangement or centerpiece made of the harvest and bounty of simple, earthy fruits and vegetables, and lovely flowers. These are his subjects, one more loving than the next. Born in North Dakota in 1929 and raised in Minnesota, DeCosse attended art school soon after his college graduation. In 1954 he won a Fulbright scholarship to study graphic arts in Italy. It was while studying with Renzo Maggini at the Instituto d’Arte, Firenze, that DeCosse received his only formal photographic training. Maggini took the young artist under his wing, and shared his knowledge about lighting, how to produce such effects as back and side light, shooting in full daylight and by moonlight. From his study of painting, too, DeCosse perfected one of his signature elements: the use of hand-painted backgrounds in his photographic compositions, to introduce a sense of depth and special mystery. Returning to Minnesota, DeCosse embarked on a long and successful career as a photographer, a specialist in close-ups; and then, almost forty years later, he transitioned into fine art photography fully. We discovered him soon after. And for the past ten years we have witnessed the evolution of a talent unrivaled in our experience. Those who have seen our previous exhibitions of the works of Cy DeCosse will know about the almost otherworldly beauty of his flowers, and the still life compositions that evoke Flemish masters. It is truly remarkable to see an artist who can (at the age of 75) stand on the shoulders of his past achievements. This exhibition presents the finest work of his career.” John Stevenson. © John Stevenson Gallery, 2004.