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Photographer uses bromoils process to achieve painting effects

Wednesday, November 14, 2012 | 3:35 p.m. CST; updated 6:49 a.m. CST, Thursday, November 15, 2012
Kevin Dingman photographs the bass player of Speakeasy during the group's performance at The Bridge. Dingman's photographs of musical acts hang on the walls of the front room of The Bridge.

COLUMBIA — While teaching at Quincy University in Illinois in the 1990s, Kevin Dingman helped a friend operate a black-and-white photo lab.

That's when he came across the summer workshops at the Mount Carroll Center for Applied Photographic Arts in Mount Carroll, Ill.

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Dingman decided he wanted to learn the process of bromoils inking, which produces a textured, painting-like image when ink is applied to a photograph.

"I got a taste of bromoils and just fell in love with it," he said.

He has been using the process for more than 20 years, mostly on photographs of musicians, nature, farms and old barns in the Midwest.

Dingman's work is currently on display at The Bridge, 1020 E. Walnut St. The show concentrates on his work photographing musicians who have performed there, said Kara Miller, media relations director and general manager of the venue.

In May, a series of prints he made using his iPhone became the first photography show at the Morris Gallery of Contemporary Art in Marshall.

This fall, his bromoils also were shown in the “Show-Me: Imaging Missouri” exhibit at the Davis Art Gallery at Stephens College. The all-photography show was compiled entirely from images taken in Missouri.

The bromoils process

Bromoils is a labor-intensive photographic process developed in 1904. Dingman described it as "a combination of photography and painting used to try and prove photography was an art, not a science."

“Bromoils brings the ultimate hands-on experience," he said. "Each image is unique because of the inking in the process.”

The technique involves a number of steps, starting with a traditional black-and-white print on fiber-based paper.

Dingman first bleaches and tans the print in a solution of potassium chloride and other chemicals. This causes the blacks in the photograph to tan and harden, while the white areas remain as the original gelatin surface.

The print is bleached until there is no image visible on the fiber paper. Then it is put aside to dry. Dingman then soaks it in water, which causes the white gelatin areas to swell. At that point, he starts to apply the bromoil ink.

Using a stiff ink brush, he drags it lightly across the surface of the image. The ink takes only in the black areas, and a ghost image begins to appear on the paper.

He soaks the print again to bring the swelling back in the gelatin areas. Then he uses a "hopping" technique to bounce a dry brush over the image. Hopping clears the white areas and leaves the ink on the black areas, which gives the image its distinctive look.

Finally, Dingman takes a brush and stipples the surface to build up the image to the point where he wants it visually.

"That's where the control comes in, as far as giving it a painterly look or more of a photographic look," he said. "The other variation is the type of brush you use."

Developing as a photographer

Inspiration for much of the subject matter in his work can be traced to a farm in southeastern Iowa where Dingman grew up.

He took pictures in high school and college and also worked at a local weekly newspaper and later as a sports photographer for the Quincy Herald Whig. He attributes his love of capturing action to his work as a sports photographer.

After college, Dingman moved to St. Louis where he became involved in production photography before computers dominated the industry. During this time he was also working in photo labs, which got him interested in the development process.

“I always had fun with having my hands in the chemistry, so to speak,” he said.

He taught at Quincy University from 1995-99, then moved to Columbia.

Dingman taught art history and photo courses at Westminster College from the fall of 2001 to the summer of 2012. Recently he began teaching the history of photography at The Art Institute of St. Louis in St. Charles.

Dan Scott, curator of Davis Art Gallery at Stephens, became aware of Dingman’s work at MU, where both were studying fine arts in graduate school.

Scott had a hand in Dingman's recent exhibit at the gallery.

“Kevin has an ability to cover both a breadth and depth of subjects well,” he said.


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