still alive, still making stuff.

I’ve begun working as a technician for an art school here in New Zealand – I’m a photo technician, though ironically what I do in that role is basically all digital, video, database, and even computer programming. Pretty funny given that my specialty dates back to about the time that people were astonished by electricity.

This is from a quickie show that I was a part of;

The big print in strips is a shot I took with a rebuilt digital camera a few years (2008) back, and printed out with a receipt docket printer – suffice to say that the printer makers never planned for this – all told it’s about 150+ meters of printing.

The small prints are half plate physautotypes from the same series of images.

I can finally say that I have something of a handle on the physautotype process, it’s only taken five years for me to basically understand what’s at play there. I am not sure that I’ll ever reach the point of completely controlling it, let alone mastering it. That said, I’m starting to work on larger prints. There is no other process which looks like it – it has a translucent irridescence which I suppose looks like the bastard child of a dageurrotype and an ambrotype.

In other news, I now have a studio set up, and am looking forward to summer when I’ll be getting a lot more of my own work done.

Bookages

A book I made as a test;

The cover looks a wee bit greener in real life.

Some of my photographic subjects (vandyke pics) piled to the side
Some cyanotypes – which are a headache to mount

Another. – Yup, the blue ones are taxidermied.

Vandykes of wee plastic animals.

Tempera print of a fishing lure.

And a gum print of a model tiger.

I made that as a test to see how people reacted to a particular set of ideas – and discovered that I’m on the right track, but with a few caveats – for one, people devalue regular binding, even hand made – probably because they can pick up something that looks (superficially – but who can see past that these days?) similar for a few dollars from a discount store.

Also how much hand can be visible, and what the aesthetics should look like – As a result I’ll go more towards something like this;

The spine looks like;

This was also a test, just using some ply I pulled out of a skip bin (dumpster) and some heavy glossy card stock I hadn’t found a use for yet – bound with linen thread.

The covers are ok, need a bit of sanding and some sort of treatment Shellac or wax/oil – the thread needs to be much thicker – perhaps embroidery thread, and I’ll probably move to using Hahnemuhle bamboo for the paper stock as it’s cheap, decent quality, and is conceptually in line with the recycled covers – final piece prolly won’t have ply covers, but we shall see..

I might be making some sketch books like this – prolly with laser etched covers. I feel a squirrel rampant coming on.

Progress

Some things I’ve tried – first up an orotone – which is a fancy term for painting the back of a positive gold (you’re supposed to use a ‘particular’ paint, but whatev’s, I just used oil paint)

A black print (yup, I made that name up) – sorta like an ambrotype, but not like an ambrotype at all (silver gelatine liquid emulsion based) – I’m handing in one of these this week – it’s washing as I type.

And Physautotypes – I’ve had three crack at it so far, the first was a total failure;

Yup, a blank piece of glass (reflecting my camera strap and my black top).

The second I got a line;

Which at least proved that it’s light sensitive.

The third I got a rhinoceroses bottom;

I messed up the development a bit, but it’s proof of concept – violin rosin and meths with mineral turps as a developer – a la Niepce. I’ve figured out a couple of things to improve the print – but learning to coat the stuff onto glass is top of the list – not easy compared to gelatin, or even collodion.

I have a masters crit Thursday, so after that I’m looking forward to doing some more of them, fun!

Anticipated artsy thingees.

I guess this is where I do the ghost of Christmas future, having done present and past. Though to be honest I watched the Dr Who version of that story recently and am currently thinking of the flying shark, so, be warned, I may not be channelling Dickens in an academically appropriate manner.

In my art practice, what are my ongoing concerns;

Firstly the very idea of representation, and re-presentation are important – the former is a means of denoting something that stands for a meme or an idea it is conceptual – much in the manner that a (ostensibly female) model could stand for femininity (or a range of feminine ideals), the god awful “The two ways of life” (which admittedly someone had to do so I shouldn’t be too derisive of poor Oscar, dear chap) stands as an allegory for the choices that upright Christians must necessarily make between the left and right paths and suchlike – it is allegory, and metaphor, and as somebody who loves writing (note I didn’t say ‘good writing’) this interests me deeply.

Re-presentation on the other hand – and this is a purely personal distinction in terms – is when something is taken from it’s natural state (indeed, it’s original presentation) and re~presented by an outside agency as an original artefact, realistic and whole – think of how different contentious (or merely targeted) demographics have been promoted by their detractors – this also intrigues me, though I feel that somehow it is necessary to differentiate these terms, they are problematic in that each shades to the other, but identifying the extremes is nevertheless a worthwhile use of intellectual energy, even if it does lead to tone arguments and arbitrary distinctions.

The Photographic – the writing with light, or even Skiagraphic – writing with shadow (I have no idea how to format that sentence formally), is a fascination of mine also – this entails a whole spectra of options, from human vision to human failure of vision – to set arbitrary boundaries which are pseudobinaristic, but more properly merely a spectrum – I am fascinated by Light, Vision, Articulation, and the boundaries of my own senses. The Claude glass, and the infra spectral.

Sensory phenomena – not merely visual – I have hearing loss in a major way, though compensated otherwise, and work daily with a range of perception issues – some give me a sensory deficit, and some give me extra ordinary senses (as in more than usual, but they’re ordinary to me – colours glow complimentary in darkness (dimness?) for instance and I can track chocolate like a champion). Much of the video/audio work that I have done is along these lines. I still have no idea how to present smell adequately as a painting medium, despite having attempted and failed at this since circa 2000 – (the chocolate secret is all mine (my prechusss).

Yes, I am fascinated with the semantic, and the semiotic. these distinctions, when used thoughtfully can lead to a crystalline elegance in description – I appreciate the difficulty of stepping into this wavelength, but the elegance of distinction is more than worth it when I get it right – I know that a few people can follow what I say, even if many cannot, or perhaps simply cannot be bothered.

And media (see what I did there,? no?), I am simply in thrall of media, I love… not the stuff – as someone recently stated, but, what can be done with the stuff (‘stuffness’ is not a real word btw). Camera’s are neat, but so are paint brushes, and they’re a damn sight easier to learn how to make. I have a lot of media which I will draw from. I like physicality, both in art media, but also in myself and the world at large – from the martial arts I have done, I would say that the most important thing I’ve learned is where my body ends and the world begins – the extent of my influence as it were. My body, my art, what i make, and what i leave behind – these are important in terms of the trace i leave. Media is broad.

Though I am not entirely sure that identity politics (arguing them at least) is important, I am interested in how identity sits within the world. Personal, national, sexual, whichever. As a means of distinction this ties straight back into representation – and there we have a loop, already, after a mere seven hundred fifty odd words.

And I hope you know that my answer would be different tomorrow, cos my interests aren’t narrow at all – even if I am capable of focussing them rather sharply as need be.

The mechanism and the meme.

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.

More stuff.

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.

Progress 2

More painting, just noodling about really at the moment and seeing what happens, no real plan yet. It’s starting to develop some form.

I kinda like painting like this – unplanned, and just seeing where it takes me – it’s a bit like going for a bit of a wander when you have the whole afternoon to spare.