Pencil of Nature: Historic Photographic Processes

Christine Elfman
6 Sessions » Saturdays, June 28–August 2, and Sunday, July 6 
(No class Saturday, July 5)
10 am–4 pm | Studio 21 and Darkroom | $500

Open to all levels

This course is an exploration of the origins of photography. Students will make camera obscuras, pinhole cameras, photogenic drawings, cyanotypes, and salt prints. As each process is introduced, we will look at 19th century photographic examples and read period texts on the technique and implications of the invention. Critical writings on photography by Roland Barthes, Geoffrey Batchen, and Rebecca Solnit will be discussed as we consider what it means to use early photographic processes today. After an introduction to these processes, students will complete a self-defined final project using the process that best suits their concept. 

Possible Class Assignment:

  • Photogenic Drawings: When Henry Fox Talbot invented photogenic drawing, he described it as the pencil of nature, as it enabled nature to impress its own image onto paper. For this project we will explore the various ways of fixing shadows of objects on paper using Talbots’s early recipes. Bring a selection of objects such as leaves, lace, or other thin translucent materials to place in contact with sensitized paper. We will experiment with three different ways of fixing the images, which result in different colored photographs. 

View additional Photography, Printmaking, and Film courses

San Francisco artist Christine Elfman explores the constancy of change through photography, painting, and film. From the Philadelphia area, Elfman received her BFA in painting from Cornell University and MFA in photography from California College of the Arts (CCA). She has worked extensively with 19th-century photographic processes, as an intern for photographer France Scully Osterman, and then in her own wet-plate collodion studio in Rochester, New York. Elfman’s work has been exhibited nationally. She has received The San Francisco Foundation Murphy and Cadogan Fellowship, Graduate Merit Scholarship at CCA, the Center for Emerging Visual Artists Career Development Fellowship, a residency at the Constance Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts in Ithaca, New York, and the Faculty Medal of Art from the Cornell Art Department. Most recently, she was selected for the San Francisco Artist Award. She has taught photography at CCA, Foothill College, and University of California, Berkeley Extension. 


Christine Elfman
Untitled 1 (from Anthotype Dress Project), 2011
C-print of dress with anthotype inner lining
20 x 20 inches
Courtesy of the artist