Category Archives: Textbook

Textbook–final images, now what?

Textbook First Edit

I have ‘finished’ making images for the Textbook Project!  A bold statement – and not necessarily an accurate one; there could be more if the project seems to demand it, and I have plenty of material from which I could go further.  That’s a strange aspect of this project; it need never end unless I choose to end it.  But then, knowing when it’s time to stop is an important part of the process – and it’s time to stop!

Some recent additions include:


And I finally set it on fire:


… so time to stop!

I did work on one more pattern/construct, a kind of final spectacular finale …

Spectral Sensitivity Colour Complex

… and I did let the sun go to work on its origin! (Fabulous title for the diagram!)


Which leads to the question – what now?  The image at the top of this post shows a pile of around 80-90 prints, each circa 10cmx10cm.  I produced them for the purpose of editing and sequencing and the pile includes most, though not quite all, of the images that have emerged from the project.  Almost from the start, I have believed that a book should be the final outcome for this project – book deconstructed, reconstructed, reimagined, and re-formed as a new book.  Editing a set of images down to those that really work, that really matter for the project – everyone knows that’s a difficult and challenging task.  Letting go of some that are ‘dear’ to the maker is not easy.  I have about 87 images in the set – and their importance does vary, some being part of the build up to something else, for example.  But a thought has come to me about this project, and I don’t think it’s me getting ‘cold feet’ about the editing process – There might be an argument for keeping all or most of them in the book!

I did a little bit of random research amongst some photobooks on my shelves, and the typical number of ‘leaves’ (individual pages) in a decent sized book is around 80.  I have begun to think of the possibility of a lengthy and potentially ‘lively’ book in which all these images appear – sometimes 2/3/4 to a page, sometimes a double-page ‘colour splash’ with full bleed that assaults the senses.  I have a feeling that there is enough visual strength and enough variety in the set to make that work.  Using the small prints, I have had a shot at ordering them in a way that they might be presented in such a book.  This is a link to a PDF slideshow of the sequence, which I hope will ‘play’.  Important to say that they appear as individual slides, all more or less the same size, whereas in book form, there would be much more variety and rhythm to the presentation; also worth saying that there are one or two towards the end that might not ‘survive’ a further edit – one at least is probably obvious.  This is the link: Textbook Slideshow.

I am going to need to submit Assignment Four soon, as already reflected in relation to the Portraits.  This ‘long’ edit might form part of the submission – need to reflect.

Textbook–the endgame continues

Solarization 05

Solarization 05

I’ve found that there is potential to be creative as well as destructive with the burning power of the sun.  I experimented with some printed pages from another old book and found that, page in one hand & magnifying glass in the other, I could ‘draw’.  That had potential to be re-photographed and combined with other images to produced another type of interesting image – on the way to the books eventual Armageddon!  These are two examples of the work, so far.  The one below is very ‘controlled’, worked at bit by bit to create the effect, whereas the sun got (appropriately, given the title) quite powerful in the one above and the whole was about to ‘go up’ in my hand – as can be seen on the right of the image.  But that element of risk in the process is quite attractive to me.  And I take ‘control’ again, by photographing and layering with a previous ‘Solarization’ image.  People seem to see an insect in the one below; certainly wasn’t intentional.


Typical Characteristic Curve 02

Typical Characteristic Curve 02

It was a real benefit to share some of these Textbook images, including these two new ones, with some fellow students in an informal ‘hangout’ session earlier in the week.  The feedback was pretty positive, which is pleasing.  Everyone seems to have found the images visually interesting and attractive, which is one of my first objectives – to seduce the eye and attract the viewer to look further.  There was a sense of puzzlement about what was going on in the complex constructs, which again is something I want the viewer to experience.  But there was also a sense that the group wanted some guidance on context.  I had kept that deliberately brief – chiefly because I was interested in their immediate responses at this stage, but also because the background is very complex and explaining in full is both time-consuming (for the viewer to read) and directive (in the sense that I prefer the images to ask puzzling questions and be open to all sorts of potential interpretations – something that did also emerge in the discussion).  What this does tell me is that writing an effective ‘Artist’s Statement’ for this project is not going to be easy – especially one that can work in a variety of contexts.  That’s likely to mean more than one, perhaps.  It was really good to have the chance to discuss my work, though – very grateful to those who were present and gave me such helpful feedback.

Textbook–working on the ‘endgame’

Fire Ex01-1Fire Ex01-2Fire Ex01-3Fire Ex01-4Fire Ex01-5Fire Ex01-6

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 (; 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!!

Textbook–new chapter; addendum; scrap for the bin?

I thought I was working my way towards the end of this project.  I’ve been doing some research on ‘fire’ – in art, in photography – because I feel that will be the ‘end game’; burning the book!  But, inspired by the exhibitions in London – David Batchelor’s October and the Adventures of the Black Square (see here) – and by reading about Mel Bochner’s Misunderstandings (A Theory of Photography) 1967-70 (see here), I’ve produced two new images in the last few days.  They could take the project off on another detour, which might be a waste of time, but I’m quite pleased with them.  I can’t tell whether they ‘work’, in the sense of having the potential to be ‘read’ by a viewer in a manner that the viewer finds to be of any significance, but they do seem to be coming out of somewhere that matters to me – so I’m sharing them here and ‘reflecting’.  I’m not going to give them titles – not yet.

Untitled 1

Untitled 1

Untitled 2

Untitled 2

The aesthetic owes something to David Batchelor – shades of the colouring book and the doodle – with a hint of student’s studies (wonder why?!) and a touch of the ransom note thrown in for good measure! I’m reminded of the surrealist’s automatic writing – though it isn’t purely automatic of course.  There’s a linguistic ambiguity that seems to work alongside the visual ambiguity of the ‘constructs’ that I’ve made – hints of ‘meaning’ that never quite deliver, a search for certainty that was never there.

So I have a feeling that these have potential to add value to the project (and further delay the end game!); but they are new and raw, so not entirely sure, yet!

Following the ‘Black Square’ and finding a colourful resonance


David Batchelor 2012-13 ‘October Colouring-In Book’ – book cover

Last Friday, my wife and I spent a most enjoyable five or so hours at the Whitechapel Gallery, viewing a series of exhibitions that principally link into Adventures of the Black Square: Abstract Art and Society 1915-2015.  I’ll probably do a separate post on that main theme at some stage, and on Stamp Out Photographie, but the main purpose of this blog is to reflect on and refer to a body of work that was part of the main exhibition but which stands on its own and had particular resonance for me – ‘October Colouring-In Book’ 2012-13, by David Batchelor.  (I can’t link to his website page for this work because the page isn’t currently working; but that’s the cover of the book above; and there is a selection of images from the series, plus a short interview with the artist, here.)

In a wonderful piece of subversion, which appeals to me very directly, Batchelor has taken an actual copy of the first ever issue of October magazine, from 1976, and – to put it very simply – coloured it in!  Well, some of it is blacked out, to be precise, like a massive piece of censorial redaction, but it is the ‘felt-tip’ style circles, squares, triangles, lines – like some splendid doodling exercise – that really strike home.  That’s particularly true because, in its near-40 year history, October has never featured a single colour image!  There are a few words left readable here and there – including some key names such as Editor, Michel Foucault, and writer, Rosalind Krauss – but no page goes unscathed, and they are separated and framed individually for display in the exhibition.

The work appeals to my subversive and destructive nature – see this – and seems to resonate well with the Textbook Project in general.  Batchelor is appropriating something that relates to a different time, not so outmoded and distant as the photographic chemistry textbook, perhaps, but certainly ‘removed’ from now – or so it seems.  He is transforming it into a new signification that both mocks and yet pays a kind of tribute.  He wouldn’t have done it had October not been such a respected art journal; but it takes on a much lighter and jollier face in this new role as a piece of abstract art.  He is making a point about the journal’s emphasis on text over image, of course, and I like his comment in the interview that those original writers and editors would have been delighted that someone had spent three months pouring over every square inch of the publication!  As well as being enjoyable in its own right, the work provides a very useful contextual reference for my project – the appropriation, the destruction, the introduction of colour where there was none before, the subversion, it’s all there.

“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!