Shoot 2 – 4/2/19

Moving on from my first experimental paper negative shoot, I made some crucial changes for my second shoot on Monday the 4/2/19. I pre-flashed all 10 sheets of paper for 2 seconds at F.8 in the darkroom prior to loading the dark slides. As I was not this time shooting two images of each scene, I was able to use all 10 exposures for different images. This meant that I was able to achieve more in the limited time I had available.

I also rated the paper at ISO 2 instead of ISO 6 as this was mentioned on one of the numerous websites I have been reading. As the paper is not intended for initial exposure, Ilford do not specify what the correct ISO should be. It is guess work at best. This particular box of Multigrade paper is at least 10 years old, so some loss of speed could also be factored in due to age.

The day itself was unseasonably bright and sunny with limited cloud cover and blue skies. I was already aware that the blue sky may cause issues but I was not able to wait for cloudier weather so I continued regardless. Although I had rated the paper at a slower ISO, the brighter lighting conditions counter balanced my exposures somewhat which resulted in shutter speeds of 1 second up to 1/15 of a second.


Gallery of Negative Scans

The negatives produced for my second shoot are much more successful. Although most of the sky detail is lost due to the blue colour, there is some detail in there. The scans themselves were made on a not-so-great flatbed scanner at 1200dpi, which results in a healthy 19×24 inch print size when resized for output.


Edited Images

Click to open full sized images.

In conclusion, I am especially happy with the results I have achieved with this shoot. The aesthetic quality of the images is well beyond my expectations and the images are certainly more successful than my initial work. I like the gritty, dirty imperfections as this seems to resonate with the ancient landscape and I consider the development marks to be an accidental factor that also reflects the man-adjusted nature of the location. The additional finger prints and scratches are probably my own fault at the loading and developing stage but again I do not feel this detracts from the subject matter at all.

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Shoot 1 – 26/1/19

After reading a lot about the use of paper negatives in a large format camera I completed my first shoot. I have used large format view cameras before so to say this is a totally new experience would be untruthful. What can be said is that shooting this way is far removed from anything I have experienced before. My use of large format view cameras is limited to studio use with a digital back, very different from location shooting with paper negatives!

After researching the use of paper as negatives, it was clear that there are a number of factors to understand before starting. The first is that the paper has a limited dynamic range and produces images with extreme contrast. To experiment with this I captured each image twice. The first image was loaded with Ilford Multigrade paper as it is out of the box. The second image used the same paper and the pre-flash technique. I pre-flashed the paper in the darkroom at F.16 with grade 2 filtration in 1 second segments. These images appear as striped test strips. There is one test strip image that is noticeably darker, this was exposed at F.8 in error but that seems to have had the best result.

Another factor to be aware of is that the printing paper is especially sensitive to blue light. Therefore, blue skies often render as over exposed. Luckily it was particularly overcast on this shoot.

The paper was rated at ISO 6, with a variety of apertures and shutter speeds ranging from 2 seconds to half a second.

The images were developed under safe light conditions and then scanned and inverted. Two images (see below) were edited and test C-type prints were made.


Initial Scans

Gallery of test scans after being inverted in Photoshop.

In conclusion, it is obvious that the extreme contrast is an issue. The pre-flashed images at F.16 show almost no difference, while the image accidentally pre-flashed at F.8 is clearly more successful.


Edited Images

I selected two of the images to edit properly and make test prints. Both images show very little detail in the sky but I am relatively pleased with this shoot as an initial experiment. I like the aesthetic effects of the fingerprints and scratches visible on the images, and the processing marks contribute to the overall outcome. Moving forward I will pre-flash the paper at F.8 for 2 seconds prior to exposure as this seems to have the best results.

Also visible is my experimentation of perspective control on the camera which has resulted in the depth of field and plane of focus being imperfect. I like these added imperfections as I feel this is contributing to the overall aesthetic I am achieving.

One thing I can categorically say is that this shoot was physically hard work and very time consuming. I was able to park about half a mile away and carried the 5×4 camera, tripod and dark slides up a steep hill to reach the fort. It took me about 3 hours to expose 10 images in total.

AD7803 Photography 2: Interrogating Practice – Proposal

Proposal

Within the AD7803 Module, I am wanting to pursue and advance my interest in Landscape photography, with a particular emphasis on human scarred or man adjusted spaces. Additionally, there are two themes areas I am also wanting to investigate.

Firstly, I feel the need to slow down my methods and to take a more considered approach to image making. That is not to say I felt that the way I was creating photography previously was rushed or chaotic, just simply that I wanted to slow down my thought processes while also ensuring that shooting images more slowly does not impact on the quality of the photography being produced.

I have also become increasingly excited by a rapidly developing interest in the aesthetics of alternative processes and the renaissance of analogue photography. I started my own photographic career just as analogue photography became replaced by digital photography. I am lucky to have experienced both, but digital has certainly been the prominent technology used day to day. Whilst I have always used analogue photography in some capacity or another, a return to film-based technology feels like a daunting prospect. As a teacher I see young photography students who have known nothing but smart phones and digital cameras. These students getting excited by darkrooms and film have spurred a resurgence and return to analogue imagery.

For the AD7803 module I am aiming to create a landscape documentary of Stokeleigh Camp, an ancient Iron Age settlement near Bristol. I will be shooting with a large format camera to satisfy the aim to slow down my workflow and focus on high quality imagery. In addition, I will be shooting paper negatives with the camera instead of photographic film. The idea behind this is that the paper has a very slow useable ISO which will result in long shutter speeds. I am hoping the images produced will display a visual divide on the landscape, separating the ancient hill fort from the more recent additions on the landscape such as trees and foliage. The idea is that the trees and foliage will display signs of movement while the earth works fort will remain still and sharp. The concept here is that the movement of the trees and foliage will represent the transience of nature, while the stationary elements of the landscape will show the man-made impact on the spaces concerned.

I feel the final outcome will be a series of large scale exhibition prints of the images shot at Stokeleigh Camp.


The brief history of Stokeleigh Camp

Stokeleigh Camp is an Iron Age promontory fort on the edge of Leigh Woods on the outskirts of Bristol. It is designated as a scheduled ancient monument and dates back to the late pre-Roman Iron Age. The fort was inhabited from the late 3rd century BC and there is evidence of human habitation for approximately 400 years. It is thought that the camp was built and inhabited by the Dobunni tribe of Ancient Britain, and that the camp could have been re-inhabited later on until the mid to late second century.

The camp is approximately 7.5 acres in size and it is situated in a raised natural position that is easily defended. It is plain to see why this space was selected to build a safe haven. To the north and east, the sharp ravine of the Avon Gorge provides a sheer cliff edge, while to the south features the further steep incline of the Nightingale Vale provides an easily defended location. Only the western edge of the area is open to attack, and this is the area that has seen ancient humans manipulate the landscape to fortify it.

The location of Stokeleigh Camp. Note the visible ramparts in the aerial photograph. 

The western edge of Stokeleigh Camp features a series of earth works ramparts and ditches which have been excavated out of the ground. There is a series of three ramparts built, all increasing in size as they get closer to the central plateau of the camp. The largest, inner rampart is over 30 feet high and there is evidence of dry stone walling on top of this mount which would also likely have featured a further wooden palisade.  The ramparts remain in surprisingly intact condition and the area is accessible to the public being part of National Trust Land.

Gallery of digital images shot at Stokeleigh Camp


 

Natural Perceptions – Final Evaluation

Reflecting on this project I can be confident in that I have worked very hard towards my final outcome. I have enjoyed project and feel like I have amounted a lot of successful work.

I believe the body of images produced for the project are successful and fit the original theme of the project well. Initial feedback from my peers the images generate questioning, both to me and internally with the viewer, and this is what the original intention was meant to be. I feel have shot enough images for the project to be complete, although I think there is capacity to extend it further at some point. The decision to stop creating images was made as the winter became spring, and the look of the woods changed with the season. The reasoning I used here was that the majority of the work had been completed in the winter months and as the spring arrived, the feel of the woods began to change quickly. If I had continued to add further additional images, I felt that I would not have enough time to generate a quantity of work in the rapidly changing summer months to balance the winter work, so it was best left to simply just the winter work. The final outcome is a series of 21 images which I feel is sufficient for the scope of this project, especially taking into account the other things I aimed to achieve as part of it.

The book that I have produced to accompany the work is a real success. I think the print quality is excellent and that the uncoated paper choice adds a tactile element to the images. The linen cover allows the book to remain understated, and this is something that I was initially concerned about. I wanted to ensure the cover of the book was as neutral as possible to limit the viewer making too deeper perceptions prior to examining the images. For this reason I discarded the original dust jacket as too reflective and pristine, and instead added my own slip that was printed on the same paper as the exhibition images. The intention here is that viewers of the book have the option to remove it easily and also experience the tactile feel of the lined cover.

In addition to the book, I produced a new website as part of this project. This website is intended to be developed further as my studies continue and so the scope of the website is far reaching and not limited to this project. It replaced two older websites that I had spent a considerable amount of time developing to serve my commercial photography activities, which as discussed on my blog is now a closed chapter, so they really needed to be replaced. I am very pleased with the outcome and the way it displays my images. I feel it is a professional web presence that will continue to grow and serve me well beyond the scope of the MA course. Aesthetically it displays my work professionally without using any overpowering graphics. This allows the images and text to take centre stage and remain the most important elements of the website. I am very pleased with this particular outcome and I feel it represents me and what I am hoping to achieve very well.

The exhibition element of the project has been planned as far as possible taking into account that I am still awaiting exact dates for the show to be confirmed. I have negotiated and collaborated with the Tobacco factory venue to host the exhibition and planned exactly how the images will look inside the cafe bar area by producing indicative framed prints. The paper and framing choices are decided upon and again I feel that they display the work very well. During the process of experimenting with different paper types and display options, I managed to sell one of the test print images already and so this hopefully indicates that the full exhibition will be a success also on a financial level.

I have involved my own students at several points of the project and tested my approach to using the work as an educational tool. It is clear from these brief exploratory exercises that the work is of interest to younger learners but that some of them struggle to comprehend parts of the vocabulary used. Taking this into account, I have redeveloped the resources and approach I intend to use to tone down some of the language to enable them to engage on a wider level. Having discussed and displayed some of the work with my current students, it was clear that they were enthusiastic to have the entire planned workshop delivered, but unfortunately time does not allow for this during the current academic year. I will be revisiting the project during the next academic year to fully utilise the project for this, which was one of my original intentions. I am confident it will be a successful session that will add and enhance the Btec unit the new first year students will be studying.

The collaborative discussion with Dr Huw Peterson took the project to a new depth that has added professionalism and critical opinion. I was initially a little apprehensive regarding this idea as I tend to feel stronger working alone and so I am very glad I proceeded with it. The conversation and interview we had has added real weight to the discussion of perceptions, truth and fact, and has been a success. I have come away with a clearer understanding of the psychology of truth and have reinforced my own opinion in the process. Adding professional opinion to the work has given it an additional voice of authority which alone I could not have achieved. On reflection, it would have been better if I could have got Dr Peterson to possibly write an introduction on the topic for the book and exhibition, but I have to accept the time constraints that he has and his concerns regarding his work being in the public domain. With hindsight, this is an area that could be developed to enhance the project further and this is an idea I may decide to pursue in the future.

To conclude my evaluation of the Natural Perceptions project, I am able to say that I am very happy with the outcome I have achieved and that I am very much looking forward to the final practical stages of the project being completed. This project has seen me developing new work in a totally new direction which is what I wanted to achieve. The work has a clear intention and meaning, and this is something that often lacked from my commercial photography background. The exhibition will go ahead and the work will be fully used as part of my teaching practice in 2019, and at that point I will reflect on the successes of the project once again.

Intended Audience Engagement

The Natural Perceptions project will engage with a range of people on different levels. In a way reflecting my own career so far, the Natural Perceptions project is intended to be multifaceted. The two key areas for its audience engagement are the public exhibition and embedding of the project into my own work in arts education as part of a Btec Photography Unit.

Public Exhibition

The Natural Perceptions project is due to be exhibited publicly at the Tobacco Factory arts venue in South Bristol in early 2019. The space the exhibition will be held in is accessible to the public free of charge, therefore creating no additional barriers. The cafe bar area of the Tobacco Factory is home to a wide range of community groups who I hope will take time to view the images and reflect upon them. The cafe bar is also the main entrance to venue as so there will be also a lot of passing individuals who might take the time to look at the work also. This area of the Tobacco Factory attracts a range of customers including people who are there simply to eat and drink. The Tobacco Factory is well known for hosting visual arts exhibitions in its cafe bar, so there will also be members of the public visiting purely to see the work.

Taking into account the size of the space available at the Tobacco Factory, the images are most likely to be displayed in 20×20″ black frames with a single white mount and a 12×12″ image. The images will be professionally printed on High White Cotton 315 GSM paper. The flow of the exhibition is likely to follow that of the book, but until I am able to start placing the images within the venue this can not be guaranteed.

Alongside the exhibition images will be information cards displaying the introductory text from the book so it will be clear what the intended outcome for the viewer of the images is. The work will be marketed as widely as possible. The Tobacco Factory emailed news letter and website will promote the exhibition, and I am hopeful there will be some social media marketing also. I fully intend to create a press release once the exhibition dates are confirmed and to invite as many people as possible to the opening night who might help promote the show and enhance its success.

Natural Perceptions as an educational asset

The second intended outcome for the work is to support the Btec Level 3 Photography course I run at the City of Bristol College. I have prepared lesson plans for a day of teaching and a location photography workshop where my students will be able to challenge what perception means to them and create some of their own photographic images. A brief summary of the activities I have planned include an introduction to the work as a Powerpoint presentation and group discussions to establish how we all make our own conclusions from perceptions. I will use images from the exhibition and and book I have created to help engage this audience. The day then continues with Photoshop demonstrations and the opportunity for learners to experiment with resource images supplied. Into the afternoon the workshop takes the group out to the woods to shoot their own images before returning to the college for a group critique to end the day. I have delivered workshops such as this many times before and I know the learners would enjoy this as a planned day of learning. If they enjoy something a lot, they will engage very well with the activities.

Lesson plan – Natural Perceptions

Powerpoint – Natural Perceptions

The final outcome for both audiences remains the same. The Natural Perceptions project is designed to encourage the viewer or participant to leave the exhibition with the mind set of challenging what it presented to them, and to question its accuracy of fact, before concluding it is fact.

Natural Perceptions – The book

To accompany my planned exhibition and teaching activities, I have produced a book of the Natural Perceptions images. The foreword is the same introductory text that I have written in collaboration with Dr Huw Peterson.

The book is 30 x 30 cm and 44 pages in total. It features all 21 images of the series with a single image placed on the right page of each double page spread. It has been printed on textured uncoated Proline paper which has rendered the monochrome images very nicely. The hardback cover is a charcoal linen.

I had some serious debates with myself regarding the cover. Initially it was ordered with a full image wrap around dust jacket but this just did not work for me. As the whole project is challenging the viewers initial perceptions, I felt the glossy cover was not right. I want viewers to remain open minded as they look though the book and so the glossy cover would have started the decision making process before the book was even opened.

For this reason I have discarded the original dust jacket cover. I prefer the charcoal coloured linen cover as this feels more tactile and represents a blank canvas with regards to initial impressions. I considered having the linen cover blind embossed with the name of the project, but moved away from this idea as this would be a permanent feature. Instead, I have printed a new semi dust jacket cover that can be removed if required. This allows the viewer to make a decision themselves but also displays the linen and its textured finish.

The semi dust jacket is printed on hight white cotton paper that the exhibition prints will be displayed on. I produced a dummy dust jacket to consider scale and fold positions which worked out very well. Folding the dust jacket was a nerve wracking experience as getting it wrong would mean a reprint. The dust jacket worked very well and hopefully over the next week or so it will flatten out more to improve the way it sits on the cover.

I am very pleased with the book and the way it looks. I think the printing is very good and the paper and linen choices seem to work really well.

 

Dazed Digital – Weronika Gesicka questions the the truth of Photography

An interesting article regarding Weronika Gesicka’s series Traces appeared on the Dazed Digital blog today. Gesicka has created a series of digital photographic composite based on original 1950’s America surburbia stock imagery. The work addresses the role that visual arts play in rendering truth and how we respond to this.

“Traces makes a bold statement about the role photography plays in the manipulation of perception, and thus how we see and remember the world.”

The series Traces adopts a surrealist approach to negotiating some of the same belief systems I am looking at within my own work. Gericka has taken more satirical stance to highlighting the concerns of knowledge we develop from visual images but has still completed this process using similar digital techniques. It is an interesting read, although perhaps composed from a more light hearted perspective.

Read the full article here.

Confirmed exhibition of the Natural Perceptions series at The Tobacco Factory

I have been invited to exhibit the Natural Perceptions series at the Tobacco Factory arts venue in south Bristol. The waiting list is long, and at this point I only know that the photographs will be on display for a month in early 2019 but I am still waiting for final dates to be established.

The Tobacco factory is owned and run by Bristols first elected mayor George Fergusson. The building was originally established as part of the Wills tobacco empire that was based in Bristol in the early nineteenth century and was saved from demolition in 1993 by architect George Fergusson. As the tobacco industry declined in the 1970’s, Imperial Tobacco moved to more modern facilities on the edge of Bristol, leaving the iconic red brick buildings of Southville to become derelict.

The 40,000 square foot building today exists as a creative hub within south Bristol. The ground floor is predominantly open to the public in the form of a large cafe bar, while the second floor contains a theatre. The third floor is home to a wide range of local creative local businesses offing office and studio space, while the top floor is residential accommodation.

I have been involved with the Tobacco Factory over the last few years in several ways as a freelance photographer. My own studio was previously based around the corner and so I have worked for both the Tobacco Factory itself, and many of the other creative businesses based there. For many years I was commissioned to photograph the legendary New Years parties held at the venue with a full portrait studio based on the ground floor and a team of other photographers to work around the venue who I also employed. Always a hectic and busy event, I would work through the night to have images available by New Years Day. It was also an opportunity to meet a lot of the creative businesses based there which led to many more still life and advertising photography commissions. Over the years I have been commissioned to photograph portraits, still life advertising images for Axa insurance, a huge amount of editorial floristry images and much more, all through the connections I have made at the Tobacco Factory.

The cafe bar area displays a range of artwork exhibitions on rotation and it is free for the public to come in and view the work. Depending on the scale of the projects being displayed, it is possible to utilise the entire space or subdivide it for smaller collections of work. The Natural Perceptions series will be displayed on the entire ground floor of the venue in the main cafe bar area. The ground floor of the venue retains its historical relevance with a post industrial feel to the space. The floor is polished concrete and the walls are exposed red bricks. There is a significant amount of ceiling height and the original windows flood the space with natural light, which makes it ideal for displaying artwork.

As I wait for the final dates of the exhibition to be confirmed, I am filled with a mixture of excitement and fear as I put my work in front of an audience in a way I have not really done before.

New Website

I have run a variety of professional websites for many years to promote my activities as a self employed photographer. As the chapter of my life concerning social photography is well and truly behind me now, it was time to remove my previous web presences from the internet and to relaunch my domains hosting more current work from my MA. I have to say I was a little sad to take down my previous WordPress websites that had served me well for the last 10 or so years. They took a huge amount of time and effort to get them functioning in the way they did and to get them ranking highly for my previously prized keywords. It really is the end of that era.

The new website is now live and hosts work created entirely for the MA course. I will be updating it periodically with new work as my future projects develop. I am hopeful that the new website will act as a vehicle to promote my photography to a wider audience in just the same way my previous sites did.

Click here to access my new website.