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Photos with a perk.

COFFEE GROWERS DISTRAUGHT over the lowest world prices for coffee beans in 30 years could take a lesson from Saul Bolanos: if you can't sell them, turn them into art. Bolanos, a determined forty-year-old Costa Rican photographer, has perfected the art of cafegrafia--the use of powdered or liquid coffee as a pigment to make up the tones of a photographic image.

"Any coffee will do, though right now I am using Costa Rican coffee," says the soft-spoken artist, who runs a research lab in Ezcasu and claims to be the only photographer in the world using coffee instead of silver as an emulsion. "Being from a coffee-growing country, I wanted to do some native art, using coffee to make photographic images. It had never been done before."

Bolanos says he studied photochemistry in the great laboratories of Switzerland, France and Germany, and over the last two years has developed four different photographic processes involving coffee. "Some processes are faster than others. The on-paper process is the latest," he explains. "In the dry process, I use ground coffee as a pigment. It's such a fine pigment, like talcum. In the liquid process, I use liquid coffee that will react and combine with my secret emulsion. I coat supports--wood, metal or stone--with this emulsion."

Since 1990, the artist's work has been the focus of numerous gallery exhibitions, local newspaper articles and television programs. A pamphlet distributed by Bolanos quotes Guillermo Canet, executive director of Costa Rica's Coffee Institute (ICAFE), as saying "I have witnessed your process with coffee. It is indeed surprising. Congratulations on your work." Echoes the local newspaper La Nacion: "Saul Bolanos has arduously worked to be the best."

On weekends, Bolanos, who has done everything in the photographic world from color processing to photo-journalism, sets up a modest little stand in front of the Gran Hotel Costa Rica. There, he sells his coffee photos to passing tourists for as little as 800 colones (US$6). Customers can choose from 32 different prints, ranging from a tranquil beach scene to a nude portrait to a clown with balloons. The most sought-after image is simply entitled "Coffee Pickers," which depicts two young children filling wicker baskets with coffee beans.

In addition to coffee prints, Bolanos is also experimenting with photos made with glass and even gold powder. But he doesn't want to give away too much just yet. "This is only a small part of my research. What I have in my lab I cannot publish at this time," he says with a smile. "Right now, it's just a curiosity."
COPYRIGHT 1993 Organization of American States
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Americas !Ojo!; coffee as a photographic tool
Author:Luxner, Larry
Publication:Americas (English Edition)
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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