Pinhole Photograph – Tin-Can Firmament
Pinhole Photograph – Tin-Can Firmament
Pinhole photograph – Tin-can Firmament.
Pinhole photograph – part of Tin-can Firmament
Made at the site of St. Euny’s Well, West Penwith, Cornwall, UK
More of this decorative design work…
From time to time I am contacted by undergraduate students with questions relating to my practice. I have decided to post these recent questions in interview format, as they have been quite useful in helping to provoke thoughts as to what it is that links my body of work as a whole. Questions are by Holly Gear – 3rd year BA Photography student at Plymouth University.
The sea appears in several bodies of your work, such as Seagulls, Tides and This Is A Low. Can you explain your personal relationship with the sea and how it shapes the work you produce?
A very simple answer to this question would be that of a long term geographical proximity to the sea – I grew-up in Cornwall… which filters through – and (I think) a tendency within the practice as a whole toward a photography of the local/personal even if the work is not explicitly presented in that way. A good deal of the work that forms the Tin-Can Firmament series for instance was produced as a result of a repetitive walk made during a working day’s lunch-hour. It is not often that I will go to somewhere to make a photograph, more that I will photograph according to an immediate situation (as in Seagulls and This is A Low) or a longer term more broad existential state (e.g. boredom, as in the Living Spaces/Personal Timeframe series). It therefore makes sense for the sea to be a recurring motif on those grounds.
The only series of those three in which the sea is an integral conceptual element is ‘Tides’ which is to do with an on-going fascination and exploration of how photography with all its connotations of memory can affect our perception of time – how similarly to Living Spaces/Personal Timeframe – how change over time can be reduced to a constant. “Same as it ever was.” – Like that Talking Heads song ‘Once In A Lifetime’- I was going to put a YouTube link but they’re all rubbish – it is on Spotify though, if you don’t know the track.
Tides are an appealing subject because they are predictable, rolling on the the same cycle over and over – we basically know what the tides will be in a thousand years – the very long exposures sort of give a photographic echo of this near geological timeframe.
For your This Is A Low series, you have explained your method of of using emulsion that ‘has been stand developed in a homemade chemistry comprised of: coffee, washing soda and crushed vitamin C pills’. What inspires you to use each particular substances or combine them, and how do their qualities on paper differ?
I think what I am really interested in here is partly a kind of playful deconstruction of the medium as much as anything else – which maybe to some extent extends beyond referencing the history of the medium to actually just making photography about photography. I am wary however of descending into the realm of simply snarky post-modern comment – I still have some naive love for the (massive cliché alert) craft of pioneer photography, the magic of alchemy… and will use process to set an emotional/aesthetic tone that might not be achievable through ‘straight’ photographic means – film or digital.
It was pointed out to me a couple of years ago that my work shares a number of concerns with that of Hiroshi Sugimoto – I am a lot more slap-dash – experiment first, contextualise later - in approach than he but I love this explanation he gives about what he does – I almost appropriated it for myself!
“I am a very craft-oriented person. But at the same time, I want to make something artistic and conceptual. In general, you know, the postmodern artist never paid attention to craftsmanship. That’s something like a nineteenth-century cliché. But to me, I’m going the other way around. I really respect my craftsmanship and my hands. So, even though I’ve lived in this postmodern time, I probably call myself a postmodern-experienced pre-postmodern modernist!” – Hiroshi Sugimoto “Art in the Twenty-First Century” Season 3 episode, “Memory,” 2005. Segment: Hiroshi Sugimoto. © Art21, Inc. 2005.
It’s interesting to read some of the post-photography ideas espoused by people like William Mitchell in the 90s to do with how digital technologies – and the creative manipulations it made possible were set to free photo-chemical based photography from its scientific/ documentary associations when in fact what seems to have happened is that digital photography has become the mode of choice for scientific record and analogue photography has become largely the stuff of so called ‘fine art photography’. Maybe this is all by the by, as photographers have always manipulated their images from the inception of the medium, and for me… through manipulation, using process and extreme exposure times, I think I am really trying to make work that is more than a sum of its parts that through the indexical nature of photography and its assumed truthfulness says something about the nature of time and memory.
“If we want to call up more hopeful or positive uses of manipulated images, we must choose images in which manipulation is itself apparent, not just as a form of reflexivity but to make a larger point about the truth value of photographs and the illusionistic elements in the surface of (and even definition of) reality.” (Rosler 1991: 58 in Wells, L (ed) ‘Photography In The Age of Electronic Imaging’ , ‘Photography: A Critical Introduction’ (1997) Routledge:London
I am also having a fair amount of fun with the work I produce – I am conscious that this all sounds a little worthy!
To more directly answer your question… I did have a slightly tongue-in-cheek conceptual link between the chemistry and the subject in the Edgeland photographs – all produced during a working lunch hour – in that the coffee used was the coffee available in the staffroom at work… Using a large format camera and fibre based direct positive paper creates – when used with the coffee developer prints that look an awful lot like mid to late 19th century albumen prints.
The majority of your work is devoid of people or traces of them, focusing largely on the natural world. Is this a personal choice?
I guess I do have an interest in the repeating patterns within nature – as evidenced in the Tin-Can Firmament series but I am more interested in how the camera can literally account for time in a way quite different to that of memorised experience.
Responding to creative block with some craft based activity… practising book structures … trying out photogenic drawings using cyanotype chemistry on bookcloth… bit twee but Christmas is coming, is it not?