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Cibachrome Prints: Elusive and Beautiful

Cibachrome is the Moby Dick of rare photographic printing processes. Many a Captain Ahab has gone trolling through deep waters in search of the scarce paper and chemicals that are needed to produce these sought after prints. After the chemistry needed to create Cibachrome was discontinued a few years ago, some photographers squirreled away enough supplies to last a few years in large freezers. When this hoard runs out, no new Cibachromes can be printed.READ ENTIRE ARTICLE

Noatak Rainbow, 1997

Noatak Rainbow, 1997

Cibachrome, which later came to be known as Ilfochrome, after the Ilford Company bought the process, is a dye destruction positive-to-positive photographic process used to reproduce film transparencies (slide film) on photographic paper. What makes Cibachrome unique is that instead of having a traditional paper base, Cibachrome prints are made on a stable polyester base. It also uses 13 layers of Azo dyes sealed in the polyester base. Most papers have a surface that is coated with an emulsion. Cibachrome’s design lessens the chances that prints will fade, discolor or deteriorate for an extended time, according to archival experts.
Sumac Along the Chattahoochee, 1987

Sumac Along the Chattahoochee, 1987

Robert Glenn Ketchum, whose work can be seen in this post and additional images on his artist page, is one of several well known landscape photographers who value Cibachrome’s ability to faithfully reproduce the images captured on slide film in the pre-digital era. Natal Rainbow, 1997, Blossoms in the Twilight, 1986, Sumac Along the Chattahoochee, 1987 and The Te-conic Parkway, North to Albany #27, 1983 are but a few examples.
As an environmental activist, Ketchum feels that his photographs must reflect the grandeur of nature with few embellishments. Since Ketchum regularly takes on projects that defy the interests of big business and industry, his work must be a realistic document of the land he is trying to preserve. At a recent symposium at the Booth History Museum in Georgia, Ketchum said his photographs can not be open to charges of manipulation.
Blossoms in the Twilight, 1986

Blossoms in the Twilight, 1986

Though Cibachrome’s complicated history of ownership and production, is too lengthy to elaborate on completely, here are some of the basics. Hungarian scientist Dr. Bela Gaspar created Gasparcolor, the dye bleach process upon which the Cibachrome process was originally based, in 1933. Gasparcolor was used primarily in animation and for United States military reconnaissance photography during World War II.
Though Gaspar turned down many offers to sell the rights to his process, after his death, his associate, Paul Dreyfus, later developed the process for a Swiss company called Ciba AG, according to the book, Frozen Moments by Richard C. Miller. Ciba acquired Ilford in 1969,
and sold it to International Paper in 1989.
In 1992 the product was renamed “Ilfochrome”.
Eventually, like many other analog processes, Cibachrome and most of the slide films it was printed from, have given way to digital capture and ink jet printing. Unlike other art forms such as painting or sculpture, the availability of photographic materials has often been driven by the consumer market. Cibachrome was always more in the provenance of professional and fine art photographers because it is difficult and time consuming to use.
In our current digital era, slide films and Cibachrome printing have been come almost as rare as sightings of the great white whale.

Posted in: a Deeper Look

One thought on “Cibachrome Prints: Elusive and Beautiful

  1. Chuck Mintz says:

    Cibachrome was a miserably difficult process to print but the results could be remarkable. I have a handful of prints I made years ago and treasure them. There were also a lot of bad Cibachromes made and shown because, unlike dye transfer, it was not hard to make a Cibachrome. But not so easy to make good one.

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