Past presentations.

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.

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.

Linocut printing – the bodgy way.

This isn’t a post about how to print linocut, it’s how I do it.

I’ll post some stuff about cutting linocuts in the next while, therefore it’ll be further up the page, makes sense no?

I design my stuff by hand generally, not cos it’s better or worse, but cos it makes me happy to make stuff with my hands, this following pic is one of the techniques that I haven’t seen anybody else using for some reason, it’s quite viable though, it’s using a dry erase marker and Q-Tips (they call them cotton buds here), on acetate (oht sheets).

I use white board markers a lot personally, i think they’re neat, and they’re easier and cheaper to use and clean up than permanent markers (handy for making notes on windows too).here the frame is drawn in on the other side of the sheet with a vivid (permanent marker) and then I’ve just drawn and re-drawn till I have something I like – white board marker draws black, Q-Tip draws white.

I do sorta plan stuff sometimes, here’s the page from a sketchbook where i was thinking about the images.

It doesn’t look much like the above does it, not that that matters, cos I transferred the design by hand anyhow, so it changed again when I cut it. That was really an aside, but i had the photos handy, I’ll go over design again when i ramble about cutting lino, to come.

Now assuming we have a cut lino block, I’ve been using stuff that’s not mounted on a block, I’ll be switching to type high some time soon for reasons of convenience when registering (got to make the dies and tools first).

Now, inking – again, I’ll actually make a whole post on this topic, so I won’t go into it here, that might sound odd, but the inking is probably the single most important part of getting a good print, which I don’t have here as I was being all slapdash about it.

This is kinda funny cos it’s so bad, I was proofing at the time, the ink isn’t rolled out properly, and the print is weak, but this is enough for me to see what to do as I’m cutting a block – the cutting tool is the red thing to the upper left, I use a draw blade in it, either that or a No15 surgical scalpel, at this point I’m using oil based ink for proofing (I used water based for the final prints), the oil stays liquid longer, thus meaning that I don’t have to clean the block and wait to keep cutting – this is a very messy process for me, but then, I was raised by wolves, so what can you expect.

The roller is a cheap hard one, which is ideal for this medium, the ink only stays on the raised parts, a soft roller it goes over the edges. At this point I’m actually printing into a sketchbook bar a few tests (as above). You can see something of the iteration of a design here;

oily ink smudges, worn out black nail polish, and terrible handwriting, raised by wolves, remember? This design didn’t really work so well, and I’m stll only semi-happy with it. So anyhow – getting a print onto paper – what this post is supposedly about, cos it’s not about anything to date;

The board thingee that I’ve taped my bit of paper for layout to is actually a bookbinding tool, it’s just a really convenient size and shape for this task. It’s a bookbinding press for binding perfect (glue) bound books – the bottom bar lines stuff up, and the side bar clamps the book to be bound in place, anyhow I digress.

On the paper I’ve drawn the outline of the sheet of paper and then taped a piece of lino in so that it’s edge lines up with the fold in the paper (convenient measurement, no?) –  The lino provides the height to line stuff up accurately, when it’s lined up I press the paper down onto the inked lino block you can see there, and pop a wooden block lined with felt on top;

Like so – the bottom side is lined with the felt – then;

I stomp on it, bounce up and down, move my foot about, and generally carry on like a muppet till I’m quite assured that it’s the ink has stuck nicely to the paper – if proofing this tends to be enough, otherwise I use a burnisher.

Ok, so it’s a plastic imitation bone paper folding tool, but it’s the intent than counts, plus this is actually easier to use than any other burnisher I can afford (I found it in the street).

After that I remove the paper from the block and i have a print – sadly all I have to show for my troubles here is one of the test prints;

this is one place that being somewhat dyslexic is actually a boon, I can read and write at backwards (mirrored) a considerable fraction of the speed that I can write and read normally, thus writing stuff mirrored is no big deal to me.

Rolling out the ink, inking the block, pressing it to the paper (burnishing), and the removal of the paper from the block are the central skills here, burnishing probably being the easiest and least important (it’s terribly important, but if you don’t get how to remove the paper you’ll never get a good print – there are machines for pressing, not for rolling out ink or removing the finished print).

Slightly better print, but still pretty crap really – I decided on my last project to let the quality go and let the faults in iteration be part of the work, doesn’t look so good when i’m trying to explain why, oh well.