I’ll start this post with a really embarrassing revelation; I used to have a massive crush on Nick Rhodes from Duran Duran. This is relevant otherwise I would never, ever mention it. Ever.
One day, I got to meet my pre-teen crush as he released a book of Polaroid photography called Interference (1). And so I can testify to the idea that you should never meet your heroes, especially when they’ve applied their own make up very poorly and it’s 1984.
Anyway, when I finally got my own instant camera, a Lomo Instant Wide, this book that I had cherished but no longer own that was filled with odd, but as I recall quite interesting images, came to mind and I started to research ways to manipulate instant film. I’d also looked at the work of a fellow student Kate Aston (2). I connected with her via Instagram on July 29th when I posted an image of a phone-box and she left me a link to her EYV blog.
I found a video on YouTube (3) about manipulating Polaroid film by soaking it in hot water to remove the emulsion, and so I decided to try it with a failed image I’d taken on Fuji Instant Wide.
I managed to get layers of plastic off the back of the instant film, but no matter how much hot water I soaked the print in, the emulsion wouldn’t lift. So I decided to to leave it to soak in cold water for a few days.
This is the result;
It’s still soaking in cold water, but I expect that when I rinse it again all that will happen is the remaining colours on the back will lift. Because I like the look of the back I’m a bit reluctant to do it, but if anything else happens I’ll record it. However, perhaps being able to lift of the emulsion is a result that comes only from Polaroid film? I have purchased some Impossible (4) Black and White film that I am hoping will work in my camera and I will try with that too.
I’d also like to find out how the Polaroid, Impossible and Fuji Instant are different, so that’s something else for me to research.
N.B. I started this experiment around 18th August, the results shown above are from 22nd August 2017.
Rhodes, N. (1984). Interference. London: M. Joseph
I’ve had some Sunprint (2) paper hanging around for a few years now. I originally purchased it in 2014 for my children to experiment with while I was home educating them, but we never got around to using it so I thought I’d give it a try. Being well trained in the scientific method, I should have approached this experiment in a thorough, scientific way. Being me, I decided it would be best to wing it so I’d actually get it done.
I didn’t want to use solid objects for this. I’d had the (probably very unoriginal) idea of using an image printed onto inkjet transparency to produce the image. I’ve taken lots of images of the fennel in front of my house and so I picked one of those. It seems quite a classic subject for the medium, and I really like the shape of fennel.
First I increased the contrast of the image in Lightroom, and then I printed the image onto inkjet transparency (3).
Using sunprint paper is really simple. There are 15 sheets in the kit I have, and the basic idea is you use something solid (2D or 3D) to block the light and use sunlight to expose the paper. The blocked areas will appear white in the final image, and the areas exposed to light turn blue.
It was a reasonable August day (1), so I started in a shady area in my garden as I didn’t know how quickly it would work. However, after a few minutes I couldn’t honestly tell if anything was happening so I moved into a more brightly lit area, held the transparency on top of the paper with a sheet of clear acrylic, and waited until it looked like the paper was changing. I think I left it about 5 minutes, which is the upper time suggested in the instructions. I will admit, I wasn’t using a watch so it could have been longer. I didn’t really know what I was looking for, but when it looked like something had happened – that the paper looked a paler blue colour, I rinsed it in several changes of clean, cold water. I did try rinsing a corner under running water as suggested, but the paper just didn’t seem able to withstand it; I thought it might start disintegrating.
At first it didn’t look like I had been very successful; the paper was pale blue and I could only just make out the shape of the fennel. But after it had dried for a few hours I got a much better result.
So, for a first quick experiment it’s okay. I need to dry it flat next time, and perhaps reading the instructions might actually work too.
For next time, I’ll also go back to my vague memories of using new paper in the darkroom and expose a strip of the paper for different amounts of time, with this paper probably for about a minute at first and then a minute for each subsequent exposure up to around 5-10 minutes. The problem, of course, is that the weather is unreliable, so I’m not totally sure exactly how useful this will be, but perhaps I can try it at different times of year. All I can expect is a better estimate of exposure time and the blues produced, but I’d like to experiment with cyanotype as I really enjoy the simplicity of it, and I love the colour. I also need to print a graduated strip onto inkjet transparency that runs from black, through grey and onto transparent (to stand in for white) to work out exactly how well that works. I’m not sure how sensitive the process is – could I get graduated areas of white, or is it just white/blue?
The question occurs as I’d like to try and make a print of clouds, but that will need variations as if they’re totally white then it won’t work. I’m waiting for some nice clear fluffy clouds and when I have a digital image I’m happy with then I’ll invert the image, make the sky transparent, and give it a go. I would also like to try mixing the chemicals myself so I can produce some images on canvas as I’d like some texture.
I produced these images on 25/8/17.
Sunprint paper; I have the Super Sunprint Kit, ISBN 0-924886-76-5 that has 15 sheets of paper and a 20x30cm transparent acrylic sheet and costs approximately £20 on amazon.co.uk
Inkjet transparency; I got Q-Connect Universal Inkjet Transparency Film £13.45 for 50 A4 sheets from amazon.co.uk
In which I finally work out what the hell I’m doing.
I’ve taken over 400 images that I could use for assignment 1. Not all of them were with that in mind, but I was taking more photographs because I was trying to force myself to make images in my local environment, be that my house, the town I live in, or the places I frequently visit in my day-to-day life. A few days ago I decided I’d have to pull something together from what I had and just make the best of it. So, that’s when I decided to spend some time looking at the list of suggested links given in the course materials. I didn’t want to look at them before as I had really wanted to make sure my ideas for this assignment were mine as much as I could make them mine. I know that no ideas are completely original, that there ‘is nothing new under the sun’, but I wanted to go through my own process before I spent time examining anyone else’s.
One of the first photographers I looked at was Gawain Barnard. It was ‘Journey’s By Train’ (1) that stood out to me because although I’m finding it hard to explain, looking at that set of images clarified my own.
I’d realised that I’d been finding it very difficult to take images locally and was really struggling. However, I’d been taking a lot of images through windows of my house and car, of reflections, and of various portals and thresholds. Because of the poor technical quality I’d dismissed the idea of using them, but when I saw Gawain Barnard’s work I realised that my images had been expressing my feelings about being in Blandford. To me, his images tied in with my ideas of not really belonging here. It’s not as simple as just travelling through, it’s something else. I needed to take some more images in a local meadow, and so I went exploring next to the River Stour where there is an old railway bridge that is unconnected and stands alone. For the first time I felt like I knew what I was doing, what I was aiming for.
Now I’ve decided on my final images I’ve only used two of those that I had originally felt would be really important. I found some graffiti under the old railway bridge that had an impact on me and is a mixture of evidence to myself and others that my feelings of discomfort are not misplaced.
I’m not making too much out of something that could be kids that don’t understand the meanings behind these symbols messing around. This comes on top of various other experiences that my children and I have had in Dorset. I wish I’d been surprised, but I wasn’t.
Once I’d decided that it would be okay to use the images that felt authentic to me and not to worry too much about technical quality, things came together. I picked out about fifteen images to print up just to see them more clearly as a set. I used seven images, and I was really pleased when I laid them out as (to me, at least), they made a narrative in time as well as representing a set of ideas I was finding it hard to verbalise.
I can see that I could add more images, and the technical quality could definitely be improved. I’d like to be able to revisit the composition on two of them and one that was taken on my iPhone has a very annoying cloud I’d like to remove digitally. But looking at the contact sheets for what I’ve done, it’s possible that I could produce two or three sets of images that express various ideas as I was working on several approaches at once. I also have several pages of sketches of staged and planned images that I could work on eventually. However, I don’t envisage a time where I’d feel as comfortable with taking images here as I do in London because I feel a lot less authentically myself here, and there is a feeling of constraint and discomfort for me.
In which I start to feel a bit of panic as I try and clarify my problems with assignment 1.
It’s been a busy few weeks. It’s a few days before my first assignment is due in and my ideas still haven’t coalesced yet. I’m not panicking, but I know if I don’t get the work done very soon now then I will.
I have a problem: I realise that what I usually do with photography is see an image and capture it. I know that I see images that other people don’t notice; I’ve had many people comment on my composition skills and the fact that I see things they don’t. My problem is that for this assignment, I can’t do that. I can’t just go and look for pretty pictures. If I had to do that locally, I’d have no problem. But I have to find or create images that communicate a complex idea and set of feelings, and I’ve never done that before. I have considered staged images and have sketched out rough ideas of the images I could create that I hope would communicate some of my ideas, but it would take too long for this first quick assignment, and also I think I’d have to be in some of them. I could set up my camera on a tripod, use one of my children to stand in for me so I can sort out the technical aspects of the shot, and then I could use the remote control on my phone to take the images with me in them. But I can’t do it in this time period, so although it’s something I could work on long term, it’s not a viable option at the moment. I’m not sure if staged images ‘count’ either. And although I have quite a clear idea of what the images would look like, I would have to expose more of myself physically and emotionally than I feel comfortable with at the moment.
I have always felt very uncomfortable in front of a camera. I don’t like people taking photos of me, and not many exist. In fact, it’s only really been in the past year that I’ve pointed a camera at myself and I still find it incredibly unsettling. The idea of being in front of a camera is very difficult. Looking at myself is very hard, although I’m trying to push myself a little by putting ‘selfies’ on Instagram, even if they are usually pictures where I am effectively hidden behind my camera, or reflected in a window or mirror.
When I look at some of the ideas I’ve sketched out, I think I am picking up ideas from an exhibition in the Tate Modern I saw before I started the course. I don’t remember the name of the artist. When I first saw her work I didn’t like it and I thought it was irrelevant, but for some reason some of her ideas come to mind when I think about my feelings of disconnect and how I could represent them. I have tried to find out who she is, but I think I will have to find out when I next visit.
On 26th July 2017 I took my children to The Tate Modern and I saw some images by Daido Moriyama. By the time I’d reached them one of my children was sick to death of it all so I didn’t get time to really pause and look, but I plan to go back and spend time looking at his work very soon as it really stood out to me.
I have always wanted a polaroid or instant camera, and I could never really justify buying one, but when thinking about this assignment it suddenly felt very important so I have gone ahead and bought a Lomo’ Instant Wide camera. I took some images – just four at the moment, but for some reason knowing there were only 10 shots on the film gave me an immediate feeling for 10 shots I’d take locally. It was a really exciting feeling, even though I thought the first one had gone wrong as the image took much longer than I thought it would to appear. There is something about the immediate physicality of it, holding the print, waiting for it to develop that makes each image seem really special even if it’s not perfectly focused, exposed or generally as planned (and for me right now, it’s not).
The idea of the images being unpredictable and imperfect is important to me, and I think it’s because part of my issues of disconnect locally are around the idea of life being entirely predictable, the people, animals and crops around me are a monoculture. I feel frustrated that nature is being wrapped up and commodified by The National Trust so it is safe and saleable. I feel more alive in cities, where things are less predictable and safe. My digital camera and iPhone seem to be too predictable.
I haven’t been well since the end of July and I haven’t been taking photographs that I need to take. I won’t make not feeling well an excuse; my friend Steven Ford was very sick and in a wheelchair yet he managed to take his camera everywhere. I really can’t say a bad cold dragging out for 3 weeks stopped me; I will think of him and know it’s an excuse.
At the beginning of August I realised that I was having a serious issue as I seemed incapable of taking a single image of my local area except through a window – of my house, my car or one of the local cafes. So I got my digital camera and went out into my back garden and decided I would take at least 100 photographs. I took about 160 in the garden and in the house. I just took photographs without any thought given to anything other than representing what was there in stark terms. In fact, I think I was almost pleased when I found ugliness and decay as that seemed a sign of my disconnected feelings. It shows I have ceased to care for my immediate environment. Perhaps in some images I think I can see an underlying beauty coming through from a time when I felt connected and planned a future here, but I look at the chaos and colour in my immediate environment and wonder if I am subconsciously creating my own sense of unpredictability and fun to make up for the hurt I feel about being different, and being different not being okay here? However, on reflection it was no different to sitting in my car or looking out of my window and taking photographs. In fact, it was worse because it was literally ‘in my own backyard’.
The main thing that makes me different here is the mezuzah that belongs on my front door post. It’s no longer on the door post, but the holes from where it went are still there. I belonged here until I put that up, and when I put it up people worked out that I didn’t belong here at all. So maybe that needs to be part of my assignment. Maybe it needs to be what Blandford thinks about me as much as what I think about Blandford. The final nail in the coffin for me was Brexit and the local response to it. That’s the day that my belief that people were actually not as racist and isolationist as they seemed evaporated into a firm knowledge that I’m living in a place where many residents really don’t want anyone different here.
In which a photography degree feels more like a psychology degree.
On 20th July I had my first tutorial via Skype. It’s odd, this course feels more like psychology than photography in some ways. A few things stand out: I admit to my tutor that I don’t take pictures of people as I find it difficult and intrusive, but all the photographs that mean anything to me are of people. I tell him that I feel totally disconnected from the place I find myself in; from the people and the place. So I’ve gone through the idea of going back to Northwood and through the idea of taking images in my current home.
I often feel trapped here. For the past two weeks I’ve been taking the same image every day of the view from my living room window. There’s a big fennel plant outside and I seem to be taking an image of the sky with the fennel in front of it. Sometimes I am trying to avoid a view of the buildings opposite and sometimes I am including them.
So I go right back to the idea of trying to show in images why I feel so disconnected from Dorset. Trying to show what Dorset feels like to me.
We discuss the question of what changes the way you relate to a space? e.g. My tutor talks about his garden and how his relationship to it has changed since it has changed to contain more plants. It’s the same space, but the relationship is different. He clearly feels different about it, and I can imagine exactly how he feels. I suspect he feels a greater connection to it. Now the space contains plants; plants need to be cared for. When you care for a space then it helps you connect with it. I suppose the same is true for a person. It is the act of caring for it that produces the feeling, the act comes first, the feeling of connection comes later? Is it beauty? A beautiful space is easier to connect to. Dorset is beautiful, so why can I not connect to it?
What does Dorset feel like to me? What is the disconnect between me and the place I am in? (It is worse since I’ve come back from living in New York, I know that much). If you go to a place that’s really posh or really poor, there are clues around you that can make you feel uncomfortable, like you don’t belong there. Is it something like that?
After the call, I wonder: is it that I hate Dorset, or that I am in love with London now? With cities and the myriad of life and people and experience that they offer.
I think that I also have this issue with people. I am feeling disconnected from everyone. Is it just a longing for novelty? No. When I walk through London, I feel the same as the people there. The same as the rich people, the poor people, the black people, the white people, the asians, the gay people, the odd people, the ordinary people. I feel like I know them, I know what they’re about and where they’re at. I feel a communion with them that I don’t feel with the people here. I have to work out how to show this in images.
In which I chat to other people, sketch out ideas and change my mind.
(Be warned; this post is a jumble of notes!)
I looked at an ariticle on the OCA blog; an OCA student, Li Ma had gone back to visit her school in China (1). I think this has influenced me because I think about images from my junior school. I had discussions about the ideas with C. What does she think about it? She thinks that perhaps the reason they mention the place you know as a child is because children see in more detail. They notice more (is this because they have time to notice more? Would my children notice more? – she thinks they would; that they know Blandford better than I do).
I Google ‘Professor Mike Pearson + Y Filltir Sgwar’ and look briefly at the work of previous students (2); there’s a lot about the effects of people on a place and how a place has changed. I find this difficult; why are we so surprised by change and progress, by people having an effect on place? All organisms effect place – and are in turn affected by them. This isnt’ what this means to me.
I watch Abstract, Netflix on Ez Develin (3). This is mainly because I think it will be interesting for my son, but I notice that spaces and how people relate to them are what she works with.
I sketch out some shots I’d like to take in Northwood. Really I’d like to take them with a similar camera to one I used to use when I was a child. I’m not sure what I had, but I know it had a sort of film cartridge that doesn’t exist now. I want to be able to show exactly what I saw.
Some of these I could take if I could get back to school and get permission. Some can’t ever happen. The summer holidays are about to start, so the chances of getting into Holy Trinity are slim. I email and ask, but I think about the space I occupy now, because going back might not happen.
If I just show this place, how does that say anything about me when I feel I have no connection to it? Is this assignment really about place, or is it about person? I think if it’s being used as an introduction to me, then it’s fundamentally about person and this place says nothing about me in the way Northwood would. I think of people in town and places in town and make a list to come back to later, because perhaps I should give it another go being here as I know I am stuck here while the children finish school. So my list of people has a few people I know, and some people I know of. I want to make images of them in their environment in Blandford. Then I have people and I have space. That might say something about them, but I realise that it doesn’t say anything about me.
I think of my house, of my vision as a series of snapshots. What images do I see over and over again every day? Opening my eyes in the morning and seeing the roof window above me. The view across the breakfast table. The view from my living room window in the evening after dinner when I lie on the sofa and wish I didn’t see buildings outside, or that I saw more buildings outside. What I see feels like the worst of, rather than the best of, both worlds. Really this house is my square mile; it’s the only place here I can claim to know well, and that doesn’t include the garden – I never venture out there as it’s overlooked and I get hayfever: twin evils. I make a mental list of these images. Then I think about places I do know in Blandford, and I pick up How to be an explorer of the world by Keri Smith (4) because I’ve looked at it before and I hope it will encourage me to see detail in my local environment and might get me psyched about it again. Page 5 has a list: How to be an explorer of the world. It makes me think about the Trailway as I use it a lot outside of hay fever season. I think about stories of the people I meet on the Trailway that I can tell. But the thing that really comes to mind about the trailway is scent. I wonder how I can represent scent in an image without some cliche? What about the other senses – I know there are more than 5. 5 is just a made up number. We have balance, we have temperature, pain, vibration, kinaesthetic. I look up senses on Wikipedia just to check (5). This number of senses matches up with the number of images I am supposed to produce. I know when I cycled in January I came home and I wrote a list of all the sights I’d seen, sounds’ I’d heard, things I’d smelt. If I went through that list now, what images would marry up with them? Perhaps not images from the trailway, but images from elsewhere in Blandford that gave a clue to those sensory inputs.
In which I feel a slight sense of panic and have some realisations about where I live.
I have a confession to make: my first encounter with the ideas presented in Assignment 1 ‘Square Mile’ were when I was reading course materials for the foundation course in photography offered by the Open College of the Arts. I was checking out materials, trying to decide if I should go ahead and sign up, and if so what course I should join.
The brief is to “make a series of 6 to 12 photographs in response to the concept of ‘The Square Mile’.”(1) Very simply, I’d understood this to be the patch you know well when you’re a child – although obviously it’s not quite that simple. So after reading a bit more carefully, I sat in the local tea rooms and noted, with some amusement, my initial response: Panic. Perhaps mixed with a slight sense of excitement along with the knowledge of a decision made in terms of if I should take the course.
The thing that came to me first was where do I do it? Where is home? I’ve never made Blandford my home and I don’t know it despite having lived here for 16 years. What’s more, it made it clear to me that I have no desire to know it. I’m not feeling good about exploring the square mile I currently live in. Should I take images in Ruislip? Northwood? I suppose that in terms of my childhood Northwood makes most sense. The cul-de-sac I lived in was well known to me. But none of it really feels right, not like home. I realised I don’t know what home feels like. There isn’t anywhere for me, hence my wanderlust; it explains a lot. There are a lot of links in the course material with suggestions to explore them, but I feel I require time to process my own ideas before I take a look at how other people have approached these themes.