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martes, 26 de septiembre 2023
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Back to the origins of photography at the University

By: Carlos Olimpo Restrepo S.-Journalist

The technical difficulties that arose during a photography course at the UdeA Apartadó campus in the second semester of 2022 became an opportunity to reorient it. The result was a wide graphic catalog, and more and more UdeA students immersed in this creative process both in Urabá and Medellín.

Anthotype by Luisa Fernanda Toro. Photo: Courtesy

 In August last year, when Professor Ángela Zuluaga Valencia was about to start a new photography course for the students of social communication-journalism at Universidad de Antioquia's Apartadó campus, she found that the cameras were not working after months of being out of use due to the lockdown and shift to on-line interaction caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

 It occurred to her to go back to the origins of the craft and look for tools and materials in the environment that would allow the students to work with the images differently. "I told them from the beginning: 'This is experimental; a trial-and-error method. That's why we are going to evaluate the process rather than the result here.' What mattered was their development of problem-solving aptitudes and skills in moments of crisis," recalled the teacher, who holds a master's degree in arts and is a communicator in audiovisual languages.

 Professor Ángela Zuluaga proposed two methods. With anthotypes, emulsions, i.e., mixtures of vegetable juices with alcohol, are made to create a photosensitive liquid. In the courses, plants such as turmeric, bell pepper, spinach or beet, among others, were used to impregnate a piece of paper, in this case for watercolor, on which the image is generated by contact through exposure to sunlight.

Chlorotype by Ana Lucía Charfuelán. Photo: Courtesy

The other proposed technique is the chlorotype process, which involves reproducing images on plant leaves with a high chlorophyll concentration. Chlorophyll is responsible for giving leaves their green hue and plays a crucial role in photosynthesis. Using leaves that are not too thick or hairy is important to ensure the best results. For the courses, we used plantains, heliconias, bijao and other unknown plants brought by students. A printed acetate with a photograph was superimposed on them and exposed to sunlight for several days.

 "The exposure times in both processes and the amounts of components for generating emulsions are not quantifiable in exact formulas. They depend on the humidity, temperature and weather conditions of the place where the materials are stored, as well as the photosensitivity of the plants, which varies from one to another," explained the professor.

 The knowledge and experience of Ángela Zuluaga, who led an experimental photography group at another university in Medellín, helped the students to trust her proposal. Laura Blanco, a student in level 3 of the social communication-journalism undergraduate program in Apartadó, changed her perspective on this discipline.

Anthotype by Guissele Ortega. Photo: Courtesy

 "When I learned that part of the project was to make copies of the images in chlorophyll, I asked myself what this had to do with this class and why we didn't learn how to use the cameras on our phones... Something more modern, something we had to deal with every day, not how to capture an image in the sun on a bush leaf. But as the course progressed, I realized that it did have much to do with the essence of photography," said the student.

 "When I finished the course, I found it wonderful to find new ways to tell stories, in this case, from an artistic perspective, without the need to speak or write. I found that you can critique the world through these images," she said.

 The Apartadó experience led Professor Zuluaga to propose a similar course in the communications undergraduate program at UdeA's Faculty of Communications and Philology in Medellín. The student Ana Lucía Charfuelán also had doubts then. "At the beginning, I was very negative. I was afraid because I didn't know whether the anthotypes and chlorotypes would work, but I had positive results in the end."

Chlorotype by Manuela Sierra. Photo: Courtesy

"The students didn't think it was a process that involved so much artistic work. But when I argued that these processes gave them a greater understanding of the primitive development of photography before the camera was invented or processes based on inorganic chemistry, such as the production of silver derivatives, they understood its importance and were very impressed," added Professor Zuluaga.

 Although they are ephemeral works because of the biodegradable condition of almost all the materials used, the students and professor preserve the memory of their artistic achievements in digital media and dream of seeing it someday in an exhibition for the enjoyment of the entire university community.


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