Opium fields


The dual nature of the opiates is expressed by their ability to relieve pain and suffering on the one side and the fact that they are capable of plunging long-term users into the hopelessness of addiction without return. Opium is at once a remedy and a poison.
Opium fields exist in open culture in India and Turkey and in hidden plantations of the Asian Golden Crescent of Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan and the Golden Triangle formed by Burma, Laos and Thailand.

The cycle of the life-saving and life-destroying papaver somniferum, between the romantic flowering and the brutal human interventions by incision of the bulb to liberate the precious substance shows a very limited time span where the opium field seems suspended in an unreal atmosphere of calm and tranquility.

It is this rare moment, coupled to the existing dualities concerning opium plants, the paradoxal qualities of the photographic medium itself and the typical golden hues of the orotype that we have chosen to create a new surrealistic world of veiled mystery, surrounding the existence of opium fields.

The orotype, an alternative process derived from the historic "orotone" has been experimented by Roger Kockaerts since 1968. Today this process integrates perfectly into the movement of alternative photography, started by the digital revolution. In its quest of high image quality coupled with the unequaled stability of most historic processes, alternative photography has an immense impact on the photographic art world. In this optic Roger Kockaerts has unearthed his experiments of the sixties and applies the orotype process to series of images where the gold tone creates a surrealistic mood.

At the beginning of the 20th century an orotone photograph consisted of a positive silver-gelatine image on glass, backed by a gold medium and sealed in a wooden frame. Under specific lighting conditions the orotone glitters like a solid golden object. The orotone process (goldtone, Curt-tone, dorotone), has not been fully documented in the past. It is well known that different American photographers (Edward Curtis, Norman Edson, Arthur Pillsbury) used the orotone process between 1900 and 1920.

Edward S. Curtis [1] (1868-1952) used the orotone principally for a series of portraits of North American indians. He describes [2] his orotones more under an aesthetic than a technical angle.
The general bibliography mentions that the gold tone was obtained by putting gold leaves on the back of the silver-gelatin glass plate, by backing with gold paint or with a medium of gold dust and banana oil. A commercial brochure from 1903 [3] describes that the backing consisted of a combination of banana oil and bronze powders.
The 1903 catalog was created by Curtis to promote his "Curt-Tones". The catalog illustrated 32 different images which were offered for sale in a beautiful frame especially conceived for the orotones which could be obtained in different sizes and prices: dimension 8x10 inch, framed $10 to dimension 18x22, framed $50.

In a recent study (2005) at the Art Department of the University of Delaware [4], Richard Stenman researched a series of orotone photographs by different photographers of the beginning of the 20th century. The technical analysis was made by using ultraviolet fluorescence, x-ray fluorescence (XRF), Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR), et scanning electron microscopy coupled with energy dispersive x-ray spectroscopy (SEM-EDS).
The emulsion layer consisted of gelatin and/or collodion. In each of the examined gold tone layers, bronze powder containing copper and zinc was used. This corroborates the decription of the Curtis Studio brochure.

[1] www.soulcatcherstudio.com/.../curtis_cron.html
Edward S. Curtis and The North American Indian
A detailed chronological biography
[2] http://www.edwardcurtis.com/
Curtis wrote: "The ordinary photographic print, however good, lacks depth and translucency. We all know how beautiful are the stones and pebbles in the limpid brook of the forest, yet when we take the same iridescent pebbles from the water and dry them they are dull and lifeless; so it is with the orthodox photographic print, but in the Goldtones all the translucency is retained and they are as full of life and sparkle as an opal."
[3] Advertising brochure for the Curtis Studio, 1903.
Edward S. Curtis perfected the medium regarded as Goldtone or Orotone to the extent he eventually named these images after himself calling them "Curt-Tones". Most photographic prints are a positive image on paper. The Curt-Tone process Curtis used was created by taking a clear plate of optical glass and spread a liquid emulsion onto the surface of the plate. Curtis then projected his negative onto the glass to create a positive image. The highlights and shadows could not be seen unless there was some type of backing on the image. He mixed a combination of banana oils and bronzing powders to create a sepia or a goldtone effect, and then spread this mixture onto the dried emulsion.
[4] Icom cc.icom.museum/ Documents/ Working Group/ Photographic/ Newsletter - 01-2006.pdf

The more recent orotype uses a chemically inert polyester film with a silver-gelatin emulsion instead of the traditional photographic glass plate. The positive image is treated with the standard archival techniques.
The gold tone is realized with the aid of a gilding medium containing bronze powder.The orotype can be executed in dimensions ranging from 4x5 inch to 105x120cm. Small dimensions are generally mounted and sealed on a 100% cotton rag paper of 320g. Superior dimensions are mounted on a rigid secondary support behind a polyester sheet. The positive image is treated with the standard archival techniques. The golden tone is realized with the aid of a gilding medium containing bronze powder. The orotype is permanently mounted on a 100% celulose paper. The orotypes of different dimensions are mounted on 100% cellulose paper of 250 g/m2 of 32x41,5cm.