Ever since I started on the process of ‘deconstructing’ the Textbook, I’ve had the idea that I might, in the end, destroy it by burning. The project is well-advanced now, and I have been considering if and how I might bring the ‘story’ towards a conclusion. I did some background research a couple of weeks ago on the use of fire in art – partly to see what contextual work there might be, partly looking for inspiration, and partly to see whether there might be any technical and practical help for the creation of images of burning paper/books. I asked fellow students in the Flickr group, too – as discussed here: Flickr ‘Fire’ Thread. My overall conclusion is that there isn’t a lot out there.
Some references from the various sources include – Andy Goldsworthy’s use of fire in Land Art; Richard Gingras’ burning obelisks (http://richardgingras.com/fire/); David Nash’s charred sculptures; Juan Miro burning some of his canvasses and then exhibiting the result; various performance artists either ‘eating’ fire or setting themselves alight; and then perhaps the closest of all, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, especially the stills from the film (I wasn’t familiar with the works, so ‘thanks’ to fellow student, Richard, for pointing me in that direction). See below:
The burning of books is a central theme, of course, and the title refers to the temperature at which book print will turn into flames. This image, and others like it, comes close to the vision I had for the project.
I have been mulling over how I might achieve it, technically and safely. Indoors is preferable in order to control light, but clearly has some serious dangers attached; so I’ve been wary of that. Outdoors is safer but harder to set up from an aesthetic point of view. Another factor that I’ve been reflecting on is what exactly is going to trigger this fire. Obviously, it could just be a match or gas-lighter, but it would be preferable for there to be some relation to the whole process. (I had, for example, wondered whether dissolving in photographic chemicals might be an alternative outcome – except that, for reasons that should have been obvious but wasn’t – photographic chemicals are not strong enough to impact on paper!)
A casual conversation with a friend, over the weekend, may just have set me off on the right course. He wondered whether I could use the sun! So I’ve been experimenting with a magnifying glass and some pages from an old paperback book from the sixties and the images at the top of this post are the result. The sun isn’t really powerful enough yet, I fear; or present for long enough at a time! Whilst I could easily get the paper to smoulder and smoke, getting it to set on fire (at 451 degrees Fahrenheit!) was difficult. I’ve succeeded twice today, one of which I photographed above. These image aren’t going to win any prizes, I realise, but I’ve demonstrated the principle, I think. It will need a lot more work before A Textbook of Photographic Chemistry goes up in flames, ignited by the power of the sun’s light, but there seems every reason to think that it could be done. Of course, I also need to make sure the camera is present, too! It could ultimately be best to shoot an HD video and extract stills; hopefully more will become clear over the next few weeks – so long as the sun shines!!