The Society of Secretive Squirrels

Secretive and Squirrely.

Archive for March 2011

Urban duck trials.

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Further to the painted duck…

As I may (or may not have) mentioned I finished painting the duck, and took it out for water trials today – for the event I uplifted a D200 and a 12-24 from school, mainly shooting it at 12mm.

Obligatory self portrait by dint of shadow.

The duck was trialled in a variety of bodies of water…
And proved largely seaworthy.

Though considerably more prone to attention seeking than it’s colouration would suggest.

Well, I learned some stuff today, one was that while I like the Nikon I was playing with, it’s not the ideal tool for the task, for one it looks bloody expensive and I had to put it down and walk away a few feet a couple of times, it’s also not even slightly waterproof, which leads me to think that my old fujica with some colour film and a 24mm lens is a more appropriate tool for the job – especially when I need to go wading.

Which brings me to the second thing i discovered – the water is icky, wet, smelly (chlorine) and it’s freakin cold – something I need to anticipate next time – that and the fact that the duck runs away, necessitating wading after the bugger.

Thirdly I discovered something rather obvious that should have occurred to me before I got to actually taking photographs. This is that urban camouflage actually works remarkably well as camouflage (who woulda thunk it?) – it really does break up the ducks form surprisingly well, thus the shots need to be pretty considered in terms of silhouette and background – they also need to be colour for pretty obvious reasons.

Camouflaged  duck is camouflaged.

Oh, and this was fun – accidental shutter release whilst stepping down off a low wall.

I have a strange hankering for an orange blaze deer decoy…

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March 28, 2011 at 9:36 am

Past presentations.

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Some of the meta themes I’ve worked with in the past.
Perhaps I didn’t state it clearly enough in the first essay, but What I find compelling about photography as an artistic medium is it’s facility as a storytelling medium. To me sketching is analogous to this sensibility, as such much of what I have looked at through the lens, as it were, of photography is the snippets of information, the traces which imply the presence of a greater narrative.

These traces are the basis of a fair chunk of my work to date, I seek out the traces that people leave behind in their daily lives and frame them in a manner which allows extrapolation from any viewer. Obviously I use a photographic vernacular in framing these images, composition, printing techniques, and presentation strategies which are of, or have been co-opted by photographic sensibilities.

When I first began to play with photography as a medium I began with pinhole imagery, speed of vision is something we are very much stuck with, to slow down or to speed up vision is very much the domain of photography, perhaps more-so than just seeking particular lighting.

I’m more interested in exploring things that re-present to me a reality which our senses cannot percieve. The hyper fast, the super slow, the spectrally invisible, these are all of a realm, which is to us, extrasensory, this fascinates me in that I am learning whilst making such images, to perceive the world at large in a different manner to that which my naked senses suggest.

In making use of these photographic and non-human visualities I have, of necessity, experimented extensively with the medium of photography at large, these experiments ranging from learning new printing methods, or the capabilities of different technical modalities (camera’s, lenses, etc), through to physically rebuilding (cheap) digital camera’s in such ways that their descriptive abilities no longer match a nominally human view point.

As I have gathered images, negatives, prints and digital files I have started to see themes which emerge, and which bend under the weight of their neighbors. The intertextual and the semiotic have developed interesting complexities within my archives, and this has fed back into long standing (considerably pre-dating my engagement with the photographic idiom) fascinations with linguistics, language, translation, language, and the persistence of archetypical presentations.

One thing which I have not worked with to any great degree yet (and do not intend to start with now) is photographing people, this is due to the fact that I am intensely aware that to frame something in a photograph is to speak for it, to re-present the thing in a nuanced manner. When I am doing this with a trace that a person has left I am comfortable, because I am not challenging a pre-existing narrative, I am not speaking over something attempting to speak for itself.

However I am aware that when I frame a person photographically, then I speak for them in a manner which is authoritative. This, in and of itself, is not problematic, it is, after all the point of having a photographer at a wedding – however I do not personally seek to make stories of people, nor to have people act out stories for the camera. This aspect of re-presentation is something which I am intensely aware of and is something which I am looking to work more deliberately with at this point.

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March 27, 2011 at 2:51 am

The mechanism and the meme.

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I’m currently being asked to define somewhat precisely just what it is that I’m wanting to study and why, and the short answer involves a lot of Ummm’s and ah’s…

So instead I’m going to break it down, starting with why I’m utilizing the medium of photography – and going for the long answer, even though this is messier and perhaps less elegant than the words I’d spin to hide my un-sureity about the conceptual terrain I am moving to occupy.

The mechanism and the meme.

(or why I do photography)

There seems to be an assumption, especially from photographers (though not exclusively) that people use photography as a medium because, one, they inherently are photographers, and two, because they wish to work with light – these a maybe partially true in my case (particularly the latter), but they are also somewhat misleading.

My earliest art practice, when I was a child was the written word, story telling, and poetry especially, to shape words in order to describe moments and events, this tendency to describe is still a very central pre-ocupation for me. Being reasonably articulate in forming the written word allows me to use the medium in a manner very much akin to how an artist uses charcoal to sketch in the details of a composition and to concretize a thought or situation in a manner which they can de/reconstruct, and which other people can access.

This can be a loose little snippet which implies a greater whole;

“As I crept along the musty hallway the cat food like smell gradually resolved into a far stronger cat food like smell…”

Or it can be a more insular and encapsulated (polished?) description;

“The man sits alone on the footpath,

disheveled, hunched, mumbling to himself.

People make him invisible as they pass swiftly by,

a child’s hand is firmly grasped…

I don’t look to see where the other cops are”


This tendency to draw, or to sketch thoughts using words has seen me expand the visual art media which I can use in a similar manner, pencils, charcoal, paint, and other similar media which have a similar fluidity when used in a looser, more reflective manner. By this I am not meaning an unfinished quality, but rather I am implying materials which can illustrate ephemeral concepts and momentary situations – at times the path to these places can be involved, time consuming, and deeply procedural, but they can inscribe the fleeting, the momentary, the insubstantial in all of it’s gossamer finery – obviously this can be done in nearly any media, but I am describing a personal sensibility which is served in my case by particular media far more than others.

I have also, over time, picked up a lot of process skills which can be brought to bear on a concept working with materials such as metal, fabric, print, and even supposedly non-art materials such as programatic coding. It wasn’t till I was 30 that I paid any particular attention to photographic media, though like everybody for a few generations I suppose, I had used camera’s for different purposes according to my needs or desires, albeit not in a manner that was deeply considered. I didn’t intend to pick up photography, or darkroom practice at all – instead I was kicked out of the print workshop at a former school when a new tutor decided to reconfigure the facilities and decided to occupy some time by having a nosey. Fate being what it is I quickly discovered that photography, as a medium, is one which is deeply capable of facilitating the sensibilities which I had developed already, though this necessitated a several year long investigation into process.

In photography, I have found a medium which to my mind produces a reflection – the camera itself is merely a lens which can focus and fix that reflection, I do not feel the popular analogy of a magic mirror to be relevant to me in the slightest, I don’t feel that there is anything magical about camera’s, or even process at all, though these can certainly shade to arcane in places – even when serendipity creeps into the equation (as it so frequently does), it is typically repeatable and a reflection of my working practice rather than an intervention by the ‘photo gods’.

The reflection that the medium can produce is really what draws me to the medium, this reflection as a sketching medium is about the closest thing to story telling that I have discovered in the visual arts, both in it’s speed of application, and indeed in how incredibly nuanced the reflected image can be. That which is reflected can be controlled, not just visually, but also in terms of what is implied, which is really the most important thing to me about photography as a medium. In the case of the urban landscape/vernacular photography that I have spent considerable time on, the control is a matter of peripatetic gathering, of movement, time, and selections which I largely make instinctively – in short, being there at the right time, and making choices both at the time, but also later in editing, printing and presentation (these are at least as important to me as the act of photographing).

Right now though, I’m more concerned with constructing and manipulating narratives, and in analyzing just how it is that a particular image/photograph/text can be taken to stand for a particular theme or meme, which doesn’t preclude working in the above manner in the slightest, but it does open up a lot of possibilities in terms of a more purely studio type method of constructing this reflection.

This in essence is why I choose to work with photographic possibilities as much as I do in my practice, it is because the medium allows me to sketch concepts and thoughts in a manner which is sympathetic to my intentions, and which I intuitively link to the manner and the methods in which I have previously worked. The narrative aspect and the questioning of assigned/valued meaning is the meme which I am working with – the medium is simply a mechanism.

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March 24, 2011 at 5:00 am

Wee animals.

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Digital inversions of paper negs;

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March 12, 2011 at 1:16 am

More stuff.

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Stuff? Well,now have a shiny new exposure unit (The Squirrel Mk.2?) – it’s made of custom wood, glue, sticky tape and paint;

Actually looks kinda fancy, it’s 10×12 format, for a bit of space with 8×10’s – it seems to cover it’s area pretty well – at least with cyanotype and gum bichromate, seems to work as well as expensive stuff, albeit somewhat more slowly.

I also now have cyanotype chemistry to play with, I’ll need to calibrate stuff, but i did a print of a branch just for kicks – this is what it looked like before washing out (after exposure);

And this is after washing (inverted);

It goes darker over a few days – this if straight out of the wash (hence the shiny water, yup 😛 )

I’ve also re-started another project, which is about images rather than techie printing stuff, photographing wee animal facsimiles (only been on that topic since 2009 😀 ). This is one from the very end of last year;

I’m using a 1/4 plate camera for this, I’ve modified it to take 3×4 graflex holders, I spent the afternoon at home attempting to get a result with camera flashes and a bedside lamp, the results were predictably enough rather shite;

That’s a (somewhat shoddy) digital inversion, so I should be able to scrape an image out of that neg with a bit of pencil work (You can draw on the backs of paper negs to get highlight detail, pencil is a good tool for this). I then sucked it up and went into school and set up some proper lights, and a proper tripod, which looked like so;

You can see the basic set up here – light tent, about 1000w of painfully frigging bright lighting, and my camera – yup, the view glass is hand made, seems to work ok *shrug*

Gratuitous shot of the focussing glass – the red is a sweater I was using to cut down reflections.;

Yes, upside down, which actually makes it easier to compose in some strange way – not sure what the reflection is of, might be my hair. The marker lines make it easier for me to line stuff up for different formats.

That’s what the camera looks like now, you can see that I’m using it at near full extension, the back was designed originally for septums, which after 100 odd years don’t really exist any more, so I removed the back and rebuilt it to take graflex 3×4 double dark slides – they’re just held in place by friction with velvet, so I’ll never have sub millimeter precision, but it does 1:1 macro happily enough below f22. The bit in the back is the removable focus screen, the inside is hardwood that I’ve sanded to the right thickness, a piece of sanded glass, and some cheap customwood for the actual back – I might get around to painting that one day. it’s not original, but it works rather well.


Finally, I found a cheap knockoff etch a sketch sort of toy with candy in it today (the sort with a magnetic stylus) for 39 cents, so I snaffled it up happily enough (they’re kinda fun, and candy is nice), but waiting for me inside was this dire warning;

Holy fucking hell! As a warning that’s even more frightening than the picture of some poor sap getting body slammed by a coke machine after they tried to rock n’ rob the sucker.

Unhappy face indeed.

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March 10, 2011 at 9:10 am