The Society of Secretive Squirrels

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Archive for the ‘Psychologic North’ Category

still alive, still making stuff.

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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.

Written by secretivesquirrel

October 24, 2016 at 9:13 am

Physautotype – redux

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I finally got the process as far as this, it’s about as far as I’m going to take it for now.


This is a contact print from a lith negative. I coated both sides of a glass plate (gives a nice three dimensional effect) in a solution of violin rosin in ethyl alcohol (0.5g in 100ml) and then contact printed it for about three days exposure to blue sky on a window sill (this is not instant photography – If exposed to direct sunlight it’d be far faster), then developed it by exposing it to the fumes of mineral turps from about 1cm away on a flat plate. A separate development for each side.

This is the process that Niepce referred to briefly in one of his letters to Dageurre in the 1820’s – he said that printed on glass it makes a pleasing image when viewed in front of a dark surface. This (mine) is sandwiched in a black perspex case with a glass cover to protect it. I offered this to Geoffery Batchen, but he never responded, so it’s going in a box I guess.

I’m not taking this experiment any further for the forseable future, I’m thinking of a project involving travel, that and paying down a 78 thousand dollar student loan 😛

Written by secretivesquirrel

June 10, 2012 at 2:40 am

Finished work, and an unfinished camera.

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Well, the crit seemed to go ok, the feedback that I got was all along the lines of the stuff that I’d been thinking about when I was preparing and selecting.

Having given it a days thought, I shortened that in the critique to a verbal “I’m interested in how photography can make icons of ordinary things.”

My little wee 5×7″ print all on it’s lonesome, well, it does have a couple of vents to keep it company I guess – incidentally that’s the name of the gallery – “Vent” – not sure which one is ‘the’ vent – probably the one above my pic.

It’s quite a hard thing to view, cos it’s really as much a mirror as a print in an odd way – it’s black on black, but how you look at it determines the tones you see,

Also a wee bit of a trick to photo, I love that to represent it here I first had to decide what I wanted it to look like 😀

And, I’m reaching a point where I’m starting to see what a camera I’m building will look like – it’s a half plate camera for dryplate (the hole at the back is 7×7″ – it’s a big camera by my standards).

The front will be friction focus and will have front tilt, no other movements are planned in this iteration – I’ve been working on it for about a month on and off, I guess there’s another week or so of work to go.

And the obligatory studio shot;

Yup, mildly ordered chaos – yes, I have three power drills, handy things. – And what’s happening on the bench (typically three things at once).

The aluminium curve is my cyc, the animals on it are just there cos they are, the makings of two camera’s in the foreground, and all the little black dot things are wee screws out of a plate back.

That’s all.

Written by secretivesquirrel

April 25, 2011 at 6:56 am

Photography and the icon (masters proposal Re.~1).

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Photography and the icon.

April 2011.


A photograph is a strange bird in that it documents a situation – yet this situation which is documented or re-presented ceases to exist, or perhaps simply diverges in existence from the time the photograph is created. As the photograph is made, an archive is created, yet as the original event or situation which is documented ceases to exist in the manner re/presented, the relationship becomes gradually less clear and the photographic document develops an aura of singularity. Thus the photograph becomes both re-presentation and original simultaneously.

A non-photographic document of an situation has a flavour of attribution which denotes and focuses it’s role as the child of the original it documents, and yet in the photographic re-production the aura of singularity problematises this relationship between referent and descendent – they might share a history, but they do not share a present, nor a future. This absence of a fixed referent is something which makes the photograph different from other re-productive strategies in that the photograph can re-order a formerly linear archive in a manner which questions the role of re-presentation.

In traditional forms of art the closest simile to this paradoxical relationship which I can find, is that of the christian icon. A painting which is intended as a reflective depiction of the ineffable seems somehow semantically close to a photograph being an image with a functionally obscured referent. It is also somewhat axiomatic in as much as people speaking of photography often refer to images as ‘icons’, or as ‘iconic’, yet these words are seldom used in more traditional plastic arts (with the noted exception of christian iconography).

I am interested, in my art practice, in investigating the concept of the photograph as a means of creating icons of things which would, or could not otherwise achieve this status.

My research question is essentially as follows;

Is there something inherent in the medium of photography which is particularly given to the making of icons from things which would not otherwise achieve this status, and does this work differently to other mediums on this level”

Proposed methodology.

As far as method and methodology goes, I have several modes of investigation which I will utilise in this study, the first of which are research strategies;

The first research strategy will be to research examples where a photo has achieved a status which could be considered iconic, Some examples of this could be Alberto Gutiérrez’s ‘Guerrillero Heroico’, better known these days simply as “Che”, Edward Westons photographs of peppers, or any of a range of other great works from photographic artists.

A second investigation will be into Photographs where the referent is consiously obscured, yet the resultant photographs don’t reach iconic status, examples being Cindy Sherman’s “Untitled film stills”, and Thomas Demand’s work with photographed constructions.

Parallel to this will be a research into traditional icons in the religious sense along with any particular secular works which also seem appropriate in order to compare them to the aforementioned photographic works, and to study the parallels and differences between them – this research will be done in a fairly organic .

In concert with these historical and academic researches I will also work with physical media in a manner to investigate and make sense of what I discover, this will be in line with my usual kinaesthetic methodology which I use to investigate concepts in my practice, this is very much an experimentation and play based strategy which I use to translate academic concepts into physical strategies.

So in essence, my research will lead, but will be translated into physical work so that this can be returned to the theoretical in such a manner that each may feed or edit the other reflexively – thus making the aspects of my practice work in concert and hopefully in a self sustaining manner.

Proposed output.

At this point I cannot be sure as I intend to be working in a range of technologies during the process of producing the works, thus intending one output over another at this point would unnecessarily limit my reflexivity whilst working through the proposed processes.


For the first three months approximately of the school year I will gather information fairly rapidly and to do a fair amount of experimentation

in order to build up a largish body of work and an archive which I could analyse.

At that point I would intend to spend time analysing what I have, and working out the boundaries of my proposed research for the remaining time. This would be a point of consolidation and reflexive analysis which I would use to define my path of study, and to possibly redefine my research question.

I cannot be a great deal more expansive than that with regards to a proposed timeline as the research that I am proposing to undertake would be variably referential rather than based on a rigid proposal and thus timeline.

I do also have several outside exhibitions which I can use to test work in the public arena over this time as well, this is an integral part of my working practice.

Contribution to the field.

I intend to elucidate on the relationship between the photograph and the icon.

Ethical standards.

At this point I do not see any major ethical or legal hurdles which will cause undue problems, there are some potential (mainly moral) issues around using images of people, but I am not intending to do this, so essentially I’ll negotiate any decisions as they arise.

Preliminary References.

I’m referencing people rather than books as most of these people have written multiple essays in their respective fields, this is a start point.

J. Derrida I am Interested in his concepts around the referent, his thoughts on photography, but also iterability as well as his thoughts around resistance and hauntology – Particularly relevant is the text “Copy, Archive, Signature”.

R. Barthes I am particularly in his text “Camera Lucida” and his writing on existential phenomenology with regards to photography.

H. G. Gadamer I am interested especially in this thoughts around hermenuetics and the assignation of meaning to objects. His writings around the concept of ‘historically effected consciousness’ in particular are of interest to me, as well as ‘Wirkungsgeschichte‘ or ‘history of effects’.

M. Heidegger I am interested in Heidegger’s writings about the relationship between metaphysics and aesthetics, as well as concealment and the referent. His text “The Origin of the Artwork” is of especial interest to me.

J. Kristeva I am interested in what she has written especially about intertextuality, as well as semiotic systems and assignation of value to signs.

M. Foucault I’m interested in his discussions around ‘truth’ and ‘meaning’, rather than the historical digging that Gadamer does, he seems more interested in the logic that lies behind ‘claims’ to truth then in the actual truthfulness of the claim itself, this structure of the claim is interesting to me. His writings on societal norms and paradigms is also peripherally interesting.

W. Benjamin Although I don’t agree with some of what Benjamin says with regards to the separation of art and literature – his analysis of technological

reproduction and his thoughts around translation and the philosophy of history overlap in ways that are interesting and helpful to me.

U. Eco Eco has written quite a lot about the problems inherent in translation between systems of signs, his focus is essentially intralinguistic for the most part, but it is useful when it comes to the framing of questions around intersemiotic translation.

As for works of art: They would be works such as Alberto Gutiérrez’s ‘Guerrillero Heroico’ , much of the most famous work of the photo succession and the f64 group. There is a very broad scope for seeking out materials which are appropriate to the task at hand, this as well as traditional eastern orthodox icons as well.



I think this needs a bit more clarification, but this is how it’s being handed in for a first draft – I’ll rework it further, especially with regards to the idea that an icon can be personal, and does not have to be cultural or ‘group based’ – an example of a personal icon could be mortuary photography in the 19th century – which could well be only for one or a couple of people – also that an icon can be secular and still invoke a personal response. This is fruitful ground, and many people have written their tracks across this territory as they’ve attempted to chart it’s geography, but there’s an interesting lack of agreement even in basic terms… Fun no?

Written by secretivesquirrel

April 6, 2011 at 8:24 am

Anticipated artsy thingees.

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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.

Written by secretivesquirrel

April 2, 2011 at 9:22 am

Artists Refs.

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Trying something new – I’m putting my artist refs in here – I tend to digitally edit the pics anyhow, and this will probably make retrieval easier. These are from;

The Map as Art: Contemporary Artists Explore Cartography ~ Katharine Harmon (Author)
Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press; 26,5 cm x 23,5 cm edition (September 23, 2009)
ISBN-13: 978-1568987620

Leila Daw

Lake trail (top L) Jetty (top R)

Highway Topography (bottom L) Lycian City (bottom R)

The compass roses in these paintings are left intentionally blank, not just for aesthetic purposes, but to remind the viewer that maps are always subjective representations of the world. Daw asks “How can we know where we are in the world when what we’re looking for determines what we see?”

I am fascinated by one particular contextual element, which is the compass roses, Until the invention (of the function of) magnetic compasses Most maps in the European world were based on the presupposition that the top of the map (the modern day north of the compass rose) was in fact oriented to the East – the direction that the sun (and of course stars) rose in. In Northern china most maps were oriented south – the direction that summer came from – south being warm, vibrant, and life giving (red) – as opposed to north which was considered to be cold, sterile and life taking (white) – these beliefs are still codified to this day in the practice of Feng Shui.

I spent a while earlier this year trying to work out how to situate a map that I was constructing, and as a response to this I came up with the idea of ‘psychologic north’ being an orientation that is arbitrary and varies from person to person – the view down a valley, the lie of the land, the direction that a loved one lives in – surely these are just as valid to a person who lives on the ground and only navigates by foot as an invisible force that pulls a magnet.

Yumi Janairo Roth

I’m intrigued by the fact that the artist asks people to mark her body with these maps the territory is placed onto her – but she then removes or displaces (by means of a camera) it, archives it, reproduces from that archive and then uses it to ask people to help her to place her body within the map – it’s an interesting re/de territorialisation of both the body and the archive – a bodily detournement after a fashion.


Site 22: Mao Zedong Temple

Site 18: Hongyuan Grasslands

In 2002, participants in the ‘Long March Project’ began a “Walking Visual Display” along the route of China’s historic, six-thousand-mile Long March (1934-36). As the team undertook the arduous journey, Beijing-based artist Qin kept in close contact with them and tracked the groups route with needle and ink, on a tattooed map on his back. Three years later, Qin continued the trek where the original marchers had left off. He was accompanied by three cameramen Who recorded their movements over unremittingly demanding terrain-from snow-covered Himalayan peaks to swampy grasslands-and a tattoo artist, who continually updated the groups progress on Qin’s back. The tattooed map is the physical embodiment of this personal journey, and the individual and collective experiences of thousands who previously endured the march or died in the process. In cartography, extreme human hardship can be reduced to a simple line. Qin’s map is more complicated; it was laboriously and painfully made, and challenges any reductive legacy of the original Long, March.

I like this use of the artists body as a canvas for the transcription of a journey into a map, given that his body has been to these places which are “reduced to a simple line” gives that supposedly simple line a far greater degree of semiotic complexity than a mere line on paper would. The map, in this case, has made the journey, rather than just describing it.

Mariele Neudecker

The Air We Breathe is invisible, 1992-96
Photo album, glue, carved map of the English Channel and glass 4.75 x1 4 x 16.5 in.

I like this work, the idea of mapping that which is invisible, or ineffable appeals to me – it’s also a nice use of materials.

Written by secretivesquirrel

May 11, 2010 at 3:51 am