This week I found myself with a short time slot in the darkroom. I’d been held up by my Tax Return, and by the time I arrived at the darkroom there just wasn’t time to get all my leaves and negatives ready for another demanding printing session. We are restricted to solo-use slots in our shared darkroom now, and since Covid there is lots of cleaning and airing to be done between users.
On my walk in, I’d brushed into a little weed growing out of the payment. The ‘daily walks’ have made me hyper-vigilant of Nature, and I know every crack in the pavement and every new weed in my area.
All week I had been thinking about Mirror Universes. I set up some small trays of chemicals and put on a Podcast about Charge Parity Violation. It was all about how, if there was a mirrored universe, there would not be exact symmetry. It was an absolute shocker! And while my brain was wrestling with the details, my hands were freed to dance with this weed and with the light coming from the enlarger, and finally to slosh in and out of the chemical trays.
Often I work the other way around. I have music on and I focus my brain on the maths of exposure times, temperatures and grades etc.
I was thinking about Matter and Anti-Matter, about Positive and Negative. It came out.
From the isolation of the darkroom, just me and that little weed made a post that Ilford shared and around 4K peope ‘liked’. What an uplifting way to reach out from the darkness.
When I get time, I will frame one of these photograms and additional to my newfangled sales section.
After the success of my online workshops last year, I had the idea to create a bigger project and involve local residents. I’m delighted to have received grant-funding for ‘Thamesmead Photo Mission’ which launched today with the registration link and details here.
We are all isolated right now – and more than anything this is going to be a great opportunity to connect with other people who have an interest in photography. And what better time that during the dull winter months. I believe that expensive cameras aren’t important, phone cameras are welcome here – this project will be about seeing as much as taking photos in your homes or on your walks.
Its quite a challenge to devise art that can work during lockdown, but I’m very excited with my plans for this. Each week will be themed, and we’ll be discussing examples of photography and learning tricks and tips. The Brutalist architecture and the Natural wildlife in Thamesmead provides rich pickings for photography. And its always about looking that bit deeper, to see things in the everyday that other people don’t notice.
I had the urge to look closely at light today. Photons (particles of light) are the main ingredient of photography. It is mind-boggling that the quantum particles can exist in 2 places at once. I do a lot of reading on this subject. One possible explanation is that the particle in question is existing in both the past and the future at once. The observer makes a difference to the final result.
Like a crazy scientist, I set up a double-slit experiment of my own and managed to record interference on a light-sensitive sheet of my cyanotype paper. I am not sure where this will lead, but it had to be done. An Artist looks for answers just like a scientist does.
I presented my Leaf Project (in progress) at the Thamesmead Nature Forum . I had some great feedback “spectacular presentation” and “beautiful work”. I even managed to pull off a live cyanotype demo with an Honesty plant that came out rather well.
Meanwhile, the printing on leaves is laborious. From drying, pressing and coating the leaves to printing them in the darkroom. Only a few make the final cut. These are some of the technical difficulties that I have had to resolve through experiments:
In fact this whole process makes me appreciate a pristine uniform pack of photographic paper in a whole new light !
I coat the leaves in liquid silver emulsion and store them in a large light tight metal box that I cart around wrapped in coats under darkness! At one point I lost my car keys and house keys with this cumbersome cargo and had to change all my locks! One plus was the amazing tabacco-like aroma from the soaked lilly pads. I have yet to get a good print on one of these magical lily pads.
My search for appropriate leaves has led to me examining leaves in great detail, the variety is immense. The patterns in Nature, the veins , the leaf shapes, the infinite fractals. For sometime I have been engrossed with the pattern of branching, branching that could be echoed in a branching multiverse.
Equally fascinating are the distorted leaves I find, those which grow differently due to disease, or those from roadside trees that are tarnished with black pollution.
Some of the leaves have been collected from specific sites, such as Tidemill Gardens before the trees were ripped up to make way for new flats. These are large and frail and have a different quality (persona if you like) to the fresher leaves. It becomes an interesting exercise to match the faces with their leaves. I have a bunch of tiny leaves that I use as test strips. The fact that I am going through about 25 leaves to get 1 print I am happy with, makes them even more special and precious to me. “Exquisite” was a word someone used to describe them, and that’s definitelty what I am aiming for.
Exploring the Anthotype process was one of the best things to come out of Lockdown for me. This process was ‘invented’ by John Herschel around 1841 as he was trying to pave the way for colour photography, it even pre-dates Cyanotype. Up until then the only photos were rusty-coloured black & white . Over a century later, I am branching out from my own rusty-looking black & white to try some colour! In summer, when the darkroom was closed, my little city garden became my darkroom.
Herschel used natural dyes from flowers and vegetables. I mainly used extracts from plants I had grown. Some plants work better than others, and many plants I tested do not work well at all. But its a Eureka moment when they do !
I will run a workshop on Anthotype in summer 2021. Its great to bring people closer to plants with a 100% eco process using plants and sunlight alone.
With exhibitions cancelled this year, I am listing some recent works for sale online. There are just two framed pieces up so far, but I will be adding more in the coming days. These would make unique Christmas presents. There seems to be a move towards buying local and from small businesses, which is great to see as many of us haven’t had the government support that large organisations have.
I can deliver next day to SE London postcodes, and many items will fine for posting.
When I sell work at exhibitions and Private Views, I always enjoy talking to people about my processes. So I am including a little behind-the-scenes info about how each piece was created.
I am sometimes commissioned to make artwork that matches interior decor, or to a specific theme. If that is of interest, get in touch for a quote.
I am proud to present this gallery showing some of the fabulous creations made by students at my various summer online workshops.
click to view and see credits:
My online workshops really took off this summer. Every single one sold out. I enjoyed meeting people from all over the UK and Jerusalem, America and France! Its been an isolating time and there is nothing like joining together over a creative activity.
I am teaching sessions from Beginner to Advanced levels, and some people attended several sessions and made excellent progress. The niche stuff (such as toning cyanotype) is where it gets really interesting. It was a learning curve to run entire workshops on Zoom, but I got the hang of it, my past career in TV has helped.
Lots of online workshops I’d seen were impersonal webinars, or pre-recorded videos or demos. I tried to do something different , by mailing out kits that I put together from hand-made ingredients and recycled packaging. I think it is important to make a real and interactive experience.
Sunprinting and lockdown have been great bedfellows. The sunny season is nearly over now so I just have one Cyanotype Card Making workshop remaining on Fri 6th Nov. I’m planning a special winter Photo Walk too. And the very popular 1-to-1 sessions will continue. In the meantime I have made headway with some of my own important projects : The Leaf Project and my Lockdown Cyanotypes (working titles).
I printed a large amount of fabric using the cyanotype technique with sweet peas (that grow wild in my London garden) and ferns. During lockdown, my collaborator Tabby G took the fabric and sewed it into this beautiful kimono.
I make lots of cyanotyped garments – its great to work in 3D opens up new dimensions of photography. I currently have 2 places left on my upcoming Zoom workshop with fabric.
Delighted to announce that I have won an Award for Analogue Photography, from the Coward Foundation. The grant will allow me to fulfil a series of photographs that explores the connection between Man and Nature. Provisional title: “Leaf Project” .
When we weren’t allowed to go out of the house, I borrowed some of my daughter’s paints and did the “Paint-a-Long” sessions with Sky Artist of the Year.
I was interested in the first sitter as he was photographer Rankin, he had some interesting banter. He said “photographers can’t paint” which I suppose is true to an extent, but we do paint with light, and I find than any exercise that makes you examine light (and hence colour) is very worthwhile training. I would argue that every good photographer can paint, perhaps they just haven’t tried it yet.
As a Portrait photographer, you have to be able to notice every shadow and highlight, every nook and cranny, on the face. You have to get to know your model fast, get some of the 2-way chemistry flowing in the room. The same goes for painting a sitter. On-line you don’t have the same rapport, you have to work even harder to find the personality that you want to bring out.
Judge Rinder was the next sitter. He was chatting about how, in a law court, faces can lie. Under the most innocent of faces can be a serial killer. This peaked my interest. As a portrait photographer you have to get beneath the skin of the model, somehow the camera is the instrument that enables that. Its like having X-ray vision.
These were painted on boards that I found on a walk , dumped in my street .
My fledgeling paintings got some good feedback on Instagram so I put myself forward for the #PortraitsForNHSHeroes project.
I had several takers contact me, some with harrowing tales and working all hours. I accepted the first to contact me, Kirsty , a physio from St.Thomas hospital. It was hard to paint her from a dimly-lit selfie in mask and visor, obviously taken on duty. But when I look at the other NHS portraits they are all so similar. There’s a media blackout on cameras in wards, but looking at a feed full of masked nurses and doctors you get an impression of what it must be like. I wonder if I can see fear , fatigue and bravery in their eyes.
I posted Kirsty’s painting and she loves it.
Now as we enter Tier 2 in London, its time to dust off the paintbrushes again. Portrait Artist of the Year paint-along on Insta recommences Sunday 18th Oct – have a try.