Category Archives: Studio Projects

“Variation of development time with temperature”–a new construct

Variation of development time with temperature 6

This is the latest ‘construct’ in my ‘Textbook’ series, which I have been developing over the last week or so.  This image is its latest, and probably final form.  The post, with the aid of some illustrations from my notebook, chronicles the process of its development – from a line drawn diagrammatical illustration in “A Textbook of Photographic Chemistry” to this colourful image, of which more later.  My (badly!) handwritten notes, together with the notebook illustrations, set out the way it has emerged and so I am only going to support them with brief words in this log.

Variation of development time with temperature -1

The original diagram illustrating development time variation with temperature is top left above.  Like everything else in the Textbook, I have started out by photographing it; then stripped it down (in Photoshop) to some basic lines and worked it into a simple ‘module’ for my pattern.  The first version, bottom left above, was too complex and so I cleaned it further, to the one bottom right, above.  That simple module is then overlapped on itself and repeated (as in the complicated grid, top right above) and coloured (in Photoshop) to produce the pattern shown top left in the image below.

Variation of development time with temperature -2

As I was producing the pattern, and particularly when I started with the blue coloured shapes, I was reminded of some patterns and colours that I’d seen six years ago, in the Moorish architecture/interiors of Andalucia.  Some of my photographs of tile patterns and stained glass are shown above, bottom left.  I didn’t try and copy the colours but did take a cue from the combination of hues.  As with all these constructs, I printed the basic pattern onto fabric and the image below repeats the one top right above, combining paper print, fabric print and original diagram into a ‘still-life’ that matches the style used for previous constructs.  (I also experimented with a different method for getting an image of the fabric print back into the PC.  Bottom right, above, is a scan of the piece of fabric – though I didn’t end up using that version.)

Variation of development time with temperature

When producing previous fabric prints and constructs, I have wanted to try ‘hanging’ the fabrics and photographing them hanging.  I haven’t worked out an effective way to hang them together (imagine a series of rugs hanging in a market …), though I may get there at some stage.  However, I did come up with a ‘sort of’ version of hanging, which is on the left in the illustration below.

Variation of development time with temperature -3

The fabric isn’t very visible here, but it is hanging in the back of this light tent – and it is being back-lit with a studio light low down behind the table.  The paper print from the ‘still life’ is standing, vertical, on a makeshift cardboard frame inside the light tent, and has had some of its blue and yellow ‘diamonds’ cut out of it with a craft knife, so that the camera (placed in front of the tent, but not shown here) can ‘look’ through onto the fabric hanging behind.  Overall light is supplied from another studio light directed from above onto the top of the tent.  Actually, I experimented with different combinations and positions for the lighting, some of the results being shown on the right, above.

With some basic images to work from, I moved on in the same way as with other constructs, experimenting with layers and combinations in Photoshop, deleting and blending different images and parts of images.  My first version is illustrated on the left, below.  I got carried away and created something so complex that it just looked a mess.  The large printed version looks like something from a Comic Book!

Variation of development time with temperature -4

That led me to go back to my light tent set-up and produce a new, tighter framed version, working with the back-lighting and a shallower depth of field (focus on the fabric at the back) to produce something that would form the basis for my final image.  That photograph has had just two further process performed on it in Photoshop.  Firstly, I have ‘digitally cut’ a sharp-focus version of the ‘central motif’ from another image and placed it ‘in front of’ the out-of-focus centre of the photograph – bringing it right forward in the image and giving the feel of stained glass (or that’s the intention, at least!).  Then I have used a broad but not very dense brush to make a crude brush stroke mark around the outside of the image – producing something vaguely resembling a shadow.  It has (I think!) given a slight impression that the foreground might be a translucent screen.

There is, of course, no meaning, no content; the image is another empty signifier constructed from ‘dead’ symbols whose significance – to me – is lost and of no consequence.  It is (I think) visually interesting and has the potential to intrigue a viewer, maybe even to tempt some reading of its significance.  Visually, it gives (especially in a large printed version, but also in the screen version at the top of this post) a sense of depth, that we are looking through layers at something lit up at the back of the frame.  It is, though, a flat surface and its meaning is just as flat – there is no depth!  It says, only, that I have constructed it and presented it here.  The process of making these images still intrigues me and I like the outcomes – but after that they are outside my control …!

Assignment Three–Submission, Feedback & a Farewell

Tapes Ass 3-6

I submitted Assignment Three just over a week ago and have had my feedback.  The quite lengthy submission notes are here, if anyone is interested in ploughing through.  As is evident from the notes and posts on this blog, the Portraits and the Textbook project have been progressing well; and Clive’s feedback agrees with that.  Both projects are heading in the right direction; I have ideas for their eventual submission; and when I submit the fourth assignment in the Spring, I anticipate that both will either be completed (in terms of image-making) or very close to it.

The Tapes project, on the other hand, has had rather less attention and so, unsurprisingly, has developed less direction.  I proposed the possibility of dropping it and Clive agrees.  So decision made – farewell Tapes, and the stripy character is disappearing over the horizon in the image above – either in a ‘huff’ or to enjoy his freedom!  Actually, I quite like some of the work in that project and could return to it at some stage.  For the Body of Work module, however, there is sufficient meat in the other two.

So, onwards and upwards; we seem to be making progress on all fronts!

Textbook Project–entering a new phase

Pages - the Cut

I have always expected, intended perhaps, that the direction of this project was likely to include a physical destruction of the book.  The most recent images have been complex, layered constructions, which appropriate diagrams – signifiers – from the book and re-present them in new ways that bear no apparent relation to their original meaning.  I blogged about one recent one here and another one here.  The most recent of all came in for some interesting discussion on Flickr here.  I haven’t necessarily exhausted the possibilities with that part of the project – far from it, actually – but it has felt like a good time to move things on to another phase.  (In order to keep options open for further constructions, I have, by the way, created a digital photographic copy of the entire book – 178 images of all double-page spreads, front/back covers, and so on.  It took me about half a day but I can extract and manipulate further elements, should I wish – and it also keeps open options to create a PDF version, slideshow etc, too.)

But, as I say, the physical destruction was always a possibility – likelihood, actually – and it has begun.  I ought to explore the motivation or intent behind this new part of the process.  It has various sources, actually.  One is, I must say, instinctive, emotional, intuitive – a kind of basic, natural desire to do it.  Contextual Studies might inform me that this comes from my unconscious – perhaps it does – my failed Chemistry O-level, still haunting me; some base, unacknowledged desire to see the victory of digital over analogue; or, worst of all, a destructive nature that was suppressed as I entered the Symbolic Order as an infant.  Whatever – I have felt an urge to ‘cut’ the book!  (So, no matter what I might now write about the intellectual context and justification; the influences of other artists; the metaphor for the demise of chemical photography; all will be meaningless because it’s really just a desire to destroy things!)

However, I am going to refer to some artistic influences – and they are genuine, as it happens.  Firstly, getting on for two years ago, I attended an exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery called The First Cut.  Quoting from the page on that link “31 international artists who cut, sculpt and manipulate paper, transform this humble material into fantastical works of art for our stunning new exhibition”.  It’s one of the most inspiring exhibitions that I have ever seen – artists with amazing skill and craft but also with outstanding vision and creativity.  All were excellent and several of them ‘cut books’.  This was one of my favourites – Georgia Russell ‘The Story of Art’ – and hopefully some very loose connection with where my Textbook Project is going is clear.  A second influence is here, in the work of photographer, Abelardo Morell.  I came across his work during my Level Two Studies and, whilst it does not have the destructive characteristics that I’m demonstrating, I do like the aesthetics and the form of his book photography, and have sought to bring something of that to my own project.

And so, the following series of images may be a metaphor for the fate of chemical photography.  It may be my very crude response to the inspirations of Georgia Russell and Abe Morrell.  It may be some sort of apocalyptic exploration of the postmodern hyper-real.  And it may just be me satisfying a destructive nature that has (thank goodness!) remained buried in my unconscious since just before I first saw myself as the ‘other’ in a mirror image, way back in rural Lancashire in the early fifties …

Pages 45 FacingPages 247-248-FacingPages 262-263-1Pages 225-226-1Pages 59-90-Chapter 5Pages 151-160-1Pages 94-95Pages 123-124-FacingPages 190-191Pages 230-231-1

This is the more creative stage of this new phase.  I suspect that things are going to get messier!

Textbook Project–developing another image!

From this …



… to this …

Diffuse and Specular Density Pattern 5

Diffuse and Specular Density Pattern 5 – Construct

To be clear on one thing … I don’t know what ‘Diffuse and Specular Density’ means!  I have looked in the ‘Textbook’ and read a few sentences, but they don’t make much sense to me and I don’t intend to look any further because I have no need of that knowledge and only a very passing interest in it.  As I have said before – this project involves deliberately appropriating ‘signifiers’ from one context and giving them a new ‘life’ elsewhere.  Jean Baudrillard would suggest that ‘capital’ does this all the time, presenting us with images that are significant in their own hyper-real context, but which mask the lack of a ‘real’.  Diffuse and Specular Density Pattern 5 – Construct is certainly not a representation of anything ‘real’ – but it is, perhaps, seductive and interesting; certainly, to most people, more seductive and interesting than the diagram above it.  Yet it has no connection to anything other than its own ability to interest and seduce.  The diagram above it, though, if you understand what it signifies, has some potential to visually communicate a concept that has practical application in the process of traditional, film-based photographic image-making; so, on that basis, a lot more potential to be useful and of value than my construction!

It was a lengthy process, going from one to the other.  These are some of the steps:

Diffuse and Specular Density Diffuse and Specular Density Cropped

Diffuse and Specular Density Pattern 3 Cropped

Diffuse and Specular Density Pattern 3 Fabric Print

… and then printing onto fabric, creating a ‘still-life’ and re-photographing …


… before constructing Diffuse and Specular Density Pattern 5 – Construct , which has five layers – top and bottom being versions of the last pattern, with three ‘angled’ versions of this photograph between them – and various stages of delete/reveal.

All that work to create something that is more seductive and attractive but of less ‘use’ than the original! Makes you think! Why?  But then, that’s the point of the project …

Nice one, Joan!

Surface Charge Theory 4

Surface Charge Theory 4

As the tumbleweed rolls across the screen of this blog and I peer through the cobwebs …!

It is almost two months since I last posted on here.  It has not been an unproductive period; there is progress on some further portraits and more studio-based work has emerged, including the image above.  But it has also been a period of mental struggle; primarily with Contextual Studies and how to articulate some meaningful connection between what I have read/studied and the work I am producing.  It isn’t that I haven’t been able to deal with what I’ve read/studied (though it can certainly be demanding at times); and it isn’t that I can’t feel a connection with my Body of Work (I certainly can feel it, and quite powerfully at times).  It is the structuring and articulation that has been a problem – and remains so, to an extent.  I can identify any number of reasons – the differences between the two broad strands of my BoW, which might fit differently into a theoretical/critical context; an excessive concern with the clarity of articulation when, in a creative context, such issues are inevitably far from clear; a tussle with moving from the general to the specific in a complex situation; plain old muddled thinking, maybe (or maybe not …)!  Whatever the reason (or reasons), it has been heavy going at times, but I am making some progress.

Which brings me to Joan Fontcuberta.  A few weeks ago, I bought the new translation of his book of essays Pandora’s Camera, and I’ve just finished an initial read through.  I had sensed that it might help with my contextual struggles, partly because of Fontcuberta’s oeuvre, which frequently operates within the spaces in and around photography and fiction, but especially because these essays deal with the digital technological shift and, as the title suggests, explore the extent to which it spells calamity for some and liberation for others.  (I have not, as yet, been able to see ‘Stranger Than Fiction’ at the Science Museum, but it is coming up to Bradford eventually.)

This post is prompted, primarily, by the last essay in the book, entitled ‘Why do we call it love when we mean sex?’.  It has nothing to do with either love or sex, of course, but (having got our attention!) it does focus on the challenges/opportunities for photography today – and it seems to link effectively with some of my other reading/studies, so helping to confirm and clarify where I am going.  For, as he puts it, “… artists and other toilers in the vineyard of the image …”, photography, at its birth, could be seen as a pure translation of visual reality onto a surface, in an instant, extraneous to the human will (beyond a ‘superintendent’ role performed by the photographer).  The history since that point has not, Fontcuberta asserts, been well-written – notably in its apparent failure to successfully integrate pictorialism into a coherent narrative.  Photography has retained its documentary association.  The hybridisation of image-making in the postmodern context in the 70’s/80’s provided a new challenge to that old association but it is the introduction of digital technology and image processing software that has “… transformed the original paradigm …”.

The essay compares the pixels to a painter’s brush-strokes and suggests a return to “… the iconic structure of painting and writing …”.  Indeed, he goes a step further and asserts that “… analogue photography is inscribed and digital photography is written …” – inscription and writing being two stages of epistemological competence, from description to story.  Hence, he says, the crisis of the documentary in photography.  The essay has opened with a provocative quote from artist Christian Boltanski, addressing a meeting at an Arles Photo Festival – “Photography is photojournalism; everything else is painting”.  So, at his conclusion, Fontcuberta accepts that we may be ‘post photography’ and that (for once) finding the right nomenclature for what follows could be important.  But, until an angel appears to give us the answer, he wonders why we insist on calling it love when we mean sex!

The notion that digital image manipulation has much in common with painting compares directly with another article – Lucas Blalock, writing in Foam Magazine, in the Spring of this year, where he compares his work to drawing.  It’s why I put Surface Charge Theory 4 at the top of this article.  This image pushes my appropriation and manipulation of material from A Textbook of Photographic Chemistry to another level, so that it begins to look more like a Bridget Riley painting than a photograph.  It may yet go through further stages of development that bring it back into the still-life/photographic/realism space – but these creative processes, like those of Blalock and others, are concerned with the very edges of what is ‘photography’.

It seems possible that, as I had hoped, Joan Fontcuberta has helped bridge the gap.  I have Hal Foster in The Return of the Real explaining the recurring role of the avant-garde in shifting art into new directions;  I have Vilem Flusser in Towards a Philosophy of Photography extolling the role of the ‘experimental photographer’ who is “… playing against the camera …”;  I have Fontcuberta confirming that the original paradigm has been transformed; I have Charlotte Cotton (in that same Spring edition of Foam magazine) writing that the works of Lucas Blalock and others “… are active contemplations of the role of the artist and the meaning of the photographic within the evolution of our visual and cultural climate …” (and also referring to signs of human mark-making and painterly gestures when describing the work).  I am, perhaps, beginning to find relevant contexts through which to articulate what I am doing and where I am going with my Body of Work.

I can still, however, express a word or two of caution – such as whether this is still all too general to work effectively in Contextual Studies (though that should be for consideration elsewhere, of course) and whether my portrait work does really sit comfortably in the context described.  But the very fact that I am articulating something in the ‘public domain’ is progress.

Whoof … there go a few more cobwebs!

Studio Work–Tapes and other work–Update

I wrote about a mini-series of studio images that I called ‘Tapes’ in this blog post – here. Looking back, I feel less enthusiastic about the notion of ‘meaning’ than I did in that post; but I do think that some/all of the images ‘work’ as part of this overall Studio Work Project that I am developing. These three, for example:

image  imageimage.png

They have some positive aesthetic qualities and are likely to pose questions in the viewer’s mind. I could see them as part of a gallery exhibition or within a sequence of these studio images, in book form. I did some more work with my green & yellow ‘earth tape’. He (what was I saying about meaning!) appeared in another studio ‘still-life’, for example:


Here he’s working with some more ‘trash’ – an old piece of wrapping paper and two ‘cut-offs’ from transparent curtain poles. I suppose that I am exploring a still-life aesthetic here that is frequently used in the world of advertising – careful lighting and composition designed to glorify an expensive perfume brand, some jewellery or a leather handbag. Applying that same approach to various pieces of rubbish that are lying around on my shelves is a way of undermining the notion of brand prestige. In a way that is similar to the creation of identity in my self-portraits, I am creating spectacle from nothing – using simple lighting and the magical powers of photographic image-making.

One of the plastic cut-offs and the wrapping paper came together in this heavily Photoshopped spectacle. And another discarded metal curtain pole, with a very humble bit of plastic packaging met under seductive lighting in this image.

image image

Another idea in my mind, in this context, is the importance of ‘spaces’. It occurred to me that in setting up some of these studio projects I am, in effect, creating spaces in which some form of photographic action is deemed to take place. The image below came about as a result of that idea – the old cardboard box is the empty space (stage?) into which I place the ‘players’ with a view to making an interesting (if meaningless?) assemblage.


That has set me thinking about the potential to collect ‘spaces’ from the outside world, into which I can place my scenes. I photographed an innocent-looking space outside York Minster, into which some familiar characters emerged, back ‘in the studio’.


And then, a special opportunity arose to capture a famous ‘space’ at the Tate Modern – the Turbine Hall. It was empty, apart from three ‘expectant’ viewers – so I have given them something to look at.


I feel that there is some potential in this idea of collecting ‘spaces’, particularly this empty exhibition space. Thinking, contextually, about the importance of the curatorial influences in art; about some of the contextual essays that I’ve been looking at in Contextual Studies – Solomon-Godeau, Crimp etc; not sure whether this can go further as part of the Studio Projects or whether it is a separate project of its own, or even whether it is worth pursuing at all.

So, the experimentation continues. I must admit to a degree of uncertainty, though. I enjoy the work – both the making and some of the outcomes – but I have a concern about what, if anything, it means to anybody else. There doesn’t seem to be a great deal of focus to it – spurts of ideas that produce a few interesting images and then on to something else which may or may not extend from what I had been doing before. Part of me feels that, providing I keep going with it, there will be something worthwhile emerging at the end; but another part feels that I might just be ‘playing at it’ and would do well to change tack to something more straightforward. My next step is to put together an assignment submission, which will include my self-portraits and the ‘best’ of what is emerging from these studio projects. That process will, in itself, help with my thinking – and there will be Clive’s feedback, of course.

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.”