Studio Work–‘Textbook Project’–An Update

I have already written about the beginnings of this project here; and about some contextual considerations for it here. However, it has moved forward, with images that have become increasingly layered and complex as I’ve tried to push the ideas further. What I am doing here is to use the book, a 1963 publication entitled “A Textbook of Photographic Chemistry”, which I acquired in a local second had book shop, as a trigger from which to experiment with digital photography and transformation. I have written before that the book reads like a foreign (and perhaps ‘dead’) language to me; so bringing the material into a contemporary digital image-making context is like lifting its signs and signification from its original purpose – appropriating it – to create new significance. Some recent work starts with this diagrammatical representation of the process of solarization in film photography.


It is a term that crops up in digital contexts, of course – but as a standard Photoshop filter that seeks to imitate the analogue effect. It is also associated with Surrealist experimentation with photographic processes, notably by Man Ray. However, nothing of that is of any consequence to the way that I have sought to use it. I decided to explore the potential in the shapes in the graph itself; resulting in the following transformations:

image    image

The colourisation has been done in Photoshop, with the colour choices being entirely ‘instinctive’! I found the resulting form interesting and could see potential to go a step further by creating a repeating pattern. The process took me back to junior school days and printing patterns with cut-out potatoes. Wonder whether people still do it! After a few iterations, this was the outcome. I have to admit that I was delighted with it – reminded me of some sort of fabric print for cushions and curtains in the 1950s/1960s.


I printed it out at about 28cm x 28cm and used it as the basis for another piece of experimentation. I’ve been thinking about the flat surface of photographic prints and whether I could use some of the ‘cutting’ that I’ve applied elsewhere to create a third dimension. So I went to work on the blue shape, transforming its size and dimensions then printing and cutting multiple copies that I could layer onto the surface. The result, applied to one part of the pattern, is visible in this image:


I’ve also re-introduced the original solarization theme by adding a copy of another appropriated image from the book, to which I have applied the standard Photoshop solarization filter. It’s crude and unsophisticated, deliberately printed onto ordinary paper and curled, to retain this contrast between old and new – and, if I admit the truth, to confuse and subvert the whole process of image-making! I find this process of applying layers of manipulation and development interesting and I enjoy the complex and sometimes challenging nature of the outcomes.

Picking up, then, on the idea that this pattern reminded me of a mid-twentieth century interior design fabric, I went on to print the pattern onto a piece of fabric (using some fabric that is specially designed for use with inkjet printers – a process used by quilters to incorporate photographs into quilts). The fabric was a pretty basic piece of cotton and it soon began to fray at the edges, which added a new and unexpected element! The following image combines this fabric version with the original paper print – and the very diagram from which this process started.


The composition is laid on a piece of black velvet so that it seems to float in a kind of surreal manner, but with simple ‘still-life’-like side lighting. But I’ve then taken the fabric print on to another stage of transformation – re-photographing it, extracting it from its background and making it the top layer of a new image in Photoshop, beneath which I’ve layered copies of the original digital pattern and copies of the original graphical shape, which are then ‘revealed’ with some crude use of the Photoshop eraser.


This is certainly a strange image, designed to confuse the eye and confound analysis. The strange process of experimentation that has led to this point is, I feel, in a long line of such experimentation – by Surrealist photographic artists in the first half of the 20th C and by the contemporary photographic artists such as those I have quoted before (and who have been recently featured in the latest edition of Foam magazine – see here).

I find the process fascinating, and I want to continue to push these ideas. I am somewhat unsure as to the reaction from other people. Can viewers see any value or interest? Is anyone, other than me, remotely interested in this form of exploration? I have no idea! I wouldn’t say ‘… and I don’t care …’ because I do, actually, but taking some risks and experimenting with what feels interesting is a crucial part of the creative process, I think. No idea where this is all going, but I just read a reassuring quote in Hotshoe magazine – Roe Etheridge is quoting something that one of his influences, Jim Jarmusch said to him … “It’s hard to get lost when you don’t know where you’re going.”


3 thoughts on “Studio Work–‘Textbook Project’–An Update

  1. jsumb

    I think I’ve said before about how I like the work you’re doing with the ‘old and ancient’ 😉 process vernacular, and I’m interested to see where you take it. I quite like the fabric idea, though I have no idea where that might be going, and perhaps that’s my only comment really, a lot of ideas running with a lot of potential routes to travel. I’m sort of in the same boat really, though significantly behind you, I’ve decided to hold the start of the course for a few weeks – get the bulk of summer out of the way and see what transpires. Interestingly I’ve decided to expose a lot of film and have started, so perhaps we can compare notes in a few weeks 🙂
    Back to your project and the question you pose at the end, yes, I can see value and interest, just don’t ask me just yet what it is………….

  2. Pingback: Textbook Project–entering a new phase | Stan's Creative Space – 'Body of Work'

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