Saturday, 31 December 2016

Photographic Objects

"A forward-thinking young man"
For my last post of the year, I wanted to reflect on some work that I exhibited during 2016; I have only very rarely exhibited photography (other than online) but this year I made a number of 'photographic objects' for exhibitions to which I was invited to contribute. As these were all created with chemical photography, the work falls under the remit of this blog.

Invited to contribute to the exhibition Art:Science:Life by Dr Lucy Lyons at the Ipswich Art School Gallery, the brief was to respond to an object in the adjacent Ipswich Museum's collection, and make a piece of work which could take the original object's place in the museum, while the object itself would be displayed in the art gallery next door, along with the information about the artwork, under the banner of 'Curated Responses', alongside a number of other invited artists.

Curated Responses
I chose the two aircraft recognition sheets from the Ipswich at War gallery in the museum. These were printed on some form of translucent material, which provided the initial inspiration to form my response. A number of years ago, I had read H.G. Wells' novel The War In The Air and was struck by its prescient qualities. My first thoughts were to use this, the book itself, as an object to make a painting, but on reflection, a much more apposite approach was to echo the material qualities of the objects I had chosen. To this end, I used Kodak High-Resolution Aerial Duplicating film to make contact prints of the cover and colophon of my paperback of the novel: not only did the film have a similar look to the aircraft recognition sheets, it was also manufactured to duplicate aerial reconnaissance photographs. Asked to write a statement for the 'Curated Responses' room, I provided the following:
H.G. Wells' novel The War In The Air was first serialised in 1908. Written before Louis Bleriot's successful cross-channel flight, it imagines a war in the near future in which flying machines are decisive; the use of aircraft in the two World Wars, renders aspects of Wells' speculative future prophetic. Taking the cover and the title page (with the reverse showing the original publication date) from a paperback edition of Wells’ book, I made contact prints on Kodak High Resolution Aerial Duplicating film. This high contrast film is designed to make positive and negative duplicates from high resolution aerial photographic negatives; its transparent qualities mimic the aircraft recognition sheets from the Second World War that Wells would live to see.

"A forward-thinking young man"
I called the piece "A forward-thinking young man" from a quote in the book about the protagonist that could equally be applied to Wells himself.

At the Doomed Gallery in Dalston, for the London Pinhole Festival in April to coincide with Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day 2016, I showed a small set of pinhole images, shot two years earlier, presented as positives on glass, appropriate as the original negatives were made with glass plates.

“Talking about pinhole photography with security guards in the park”

I titled the piece, “Talking about pinhole photography with security guards in the park” to relate it directly to my experiences of taking the photographs, rather than what they might show. The work was accompanied by a statement which read:

Related to an ongoing series of photographs using previously unexposed vintage photographic glass plates, for 'Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day' in 2014, I shot a number of photographs using homemade pinhole cameras around the London 2012 Olympic Park. The photographic plates used in the pinhole cameras were Ilford Special Lantern plates, designed to make glass slides for projection, coated in 1965. These were developed as negatives and then contact printed on Ilford N.50 Thin Film Half Tone plates (from 1957) to create positive transparencies on glass for display. The title is a reference to the photographer’s aberrant behaviour and its being outside the sphere of reference of those in authority.

For the positives, created simply by contact printing the original pinhole glass negatives, I used orthochromatic plates so I could work under red lights and develop by inspection. As the physical qualities of the plates themselves seemed important, especially their fragility, I wanted to display these in such a way as to allow the viewer to inspect the plates closely. I could have shown the positives on a light box, but I felt like this would have diminished some of those qualities that I wished to emphasise, so I constructed a shelf which would hold the glass plates upright, projected a short distance from the gallery wall. The lighting was not entirely sympathetic, but this did have the effect of making the viewer look at the plates all the more attentively in order to comprehend the images.
Prototype for a Photographic Object
I returned to using the Kodak High Resolution Aerial Duplicating film for an exhibition called Machine Flight at the Pictorem Gallery in November. Close to the gallery in Walthamstow, there was the ideal source material in locations on Walthamstow Marshes. I took an initial set of photographs on 'Expired Film Day' of the railway arches where A. V. Roe built and then flew the first British aeroplane on the marshes in 1909; I shot the photographs on 4x5 film with a lens that could have been used at the time, a Rapid Rectilinear. I returned to take a second set of photographs of an adjacent feature on the marshes, known as 'bomb crater pond', less than a couple of hundred metres from the railway arches. This pond was created by the impact of a V2 towards the end of the Second World War. It seemed too appropriate a coincidence that within a generation from the first heavier-than-air powered flight, the space age was born, and that this would come together on an otherwise unremarkable patch of north London.

I shot the photographs on FP4 and Plus-X from the 1970s, and contact printed these negatives on a continuous strip of the High Resolution Aerial film, eighteen images, the whole length of positive film being around 2.5 metres long in total. Given how this aerial film would have been originally used, I made a device a little reminiscent of a microfilm reader, allowing the viewer to scroll through the images sequentially, forwards and backwards; I titled this a prototype, as its Heath Robinson construction would ideally have been improved.

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