I felt in a slight limbo after the “Time” Exhibition was taken down in February so I was delighted when, Dawn Langley, my student colleague (and co-curator for the Exhibition) emailed me to ask if I’d be interested in working with her on a mini-project.Dawn is studying Digital Image & Culture and her latest work concerns digital afterlife for which she created an intricate décollage project from her own photographs and the physical collages were then photographed, distorted and glitched digitally.
Dawn wrote that she had had further thoughts on this project after feedback discussion with her tutor, where they had both agreed it could be pushed further. I think bringing them back to digital has lost some of their depth. I had a thought this morning that maybe I’m not the person to do it, particularly as in my digital afterlife I won’t have any control over what others do with my images. Dawn asked if I would be interested in doing some work on them – whatever came to mind – and I could do anything I wished with six of the digital prints. I said “Yes” straight away and we agreed the deadline would be the end of March which was great for me – enough time to create some work and not so much that I would get carried along too many avenues and lose myself in the process.
Digital images are quite flat and, bearing in mind Dawn’s comment about depth, my first action was to print them, thinking it would be interesting to experiment with different types of paper to create tactile/textured prints. The one on Innova Canvas paper worked the best, bringing out the deep colours. Still with the urge for something tactile I wanted a three-dimensional object and so created a folded box, which I then repeated with thicker paper (‘Traces we leave (door)’ and ‘Traces we leave (glitch)’).
What next? Still pursuing materiality I had the idea of printed fabric, so I bought two sets of swatches from Contrado https://www.contrado.co.uk and ordered a small sample print on silk, thinking this would best bring out the vibrant colours of the image I chose (Traces we leave (Ripple) – originally ‘Rose and Fern’), having created two copies, and ‘twinned’ them.
Roses and ferns began to preoccupy me. I set a rose to dry out for a few days
and, whilst waiting, plus with some sunshine, I decided to create miniature lumen prints with nine of a pack of 5×7 cm expired Ilford soft, glossy photographic paper I had bought from eBay. For this I used some small dried fern leaves and flower heads, arranging them in the contact frame so that, hopefully, they could act as jigsaw blocks. As it turned out, three of them exposed much darker than the others – the pack must have included a mix of paper I think.
I still liked the idea of being able to rearrange them though, leaving them ‘unfixed’ so that these ‘unique’ prints would need to be kept in the dark. Otherwise they would fade – unlike digital prints.
At this point in the collaboration Dawn and I shared individual progress on the project at an OCA Thames Valley Meeting in March. To be honest I felt slightly anxious regarding how Dawn would react to my responses but she was very pleased. In some respects, we had been travelling along similar lines too, as Dawn had also been experimenting with introducing more materiality, including printing on a different type of fabric from silk. During feedback someone commented on what the feeling might be like in handing over one’s work to someone else. This hadn’t concerned Dawn because the premise of her project had been concerned with Digital Afterlife. The idea of ashes in a box also struck her,
I created further work during the next couple of weeks; still absorbed with roses and ferns.
Two polaroids of a maidenhair fern from two different renovated camera.
An 8” x 10” lumen print of dried rose flowers and fern leaves (exposed on Ilford Multigrade Warmtone Photographic paper) – again unfixed.
Cyanotype print of fern leaves – actually double-sided, the other side being almost a trace of roses.
With time running short, I wanted to offer a painted rock. My rose didn’t turn out quite how I wished as I just hadn’t realised how intricate roses are! I turned it into a rose tree instead.
Dawn and I met together on the 3rdMay and I handed the completed work to her. In our discussion on the process we touched on appropriation and trust plus the ongoing effect on my own thoughts/feeling on photography.
I had realised at an early point that I was actually involved in a process of ‘appropriation’, but it didn’t feel quite like that because Dawn had invited me to collaborate with her and offered the images to me. Also, I think I would have responded differently if Dawn had offered me actual photographs. I know I just wouldn’t have been able to cut them up to make collages for example. I already have sets of photographs purchased from eBay which I haven’t done any work with so far but don’t feel able to either throw away or destroy.
I also think that trust is needed on both sides where handing over personal work is concerned and also in collaborative work. I had already collaborated with Dawn, enjoyed doing so and felt confident to work with her. We’re both members of the same regional group and used to giving each other feedback in meetings. I know I would need to engage in some preparatory work before collaborating with someone new.
During the project I didn’t feel any pull towards creating further composites/layering – indeed I was aware I was looking underneath the layers to reconstruct hidden elements. Much of my working life was concerned with working through large amounts of sometimes conflicting information to uncover patterns and histories and I think this is reflected now in some of my creative work. This realisation was further strengthened when I attended the “Interpreting Landscape” Workshop with artist Clare Wilson in April.
The collaboration with Dawn on her project also strengthened my growing desire to be involved in more than just digital photography. I’ve been dabbling around the edges for quite a while now by using polaroid cameras and creating lumen and cyanotype prints, with the intention of seeing how I can use them in coursework Assignments. During March though I also began teaching myself to draw using the book You Can Draw in 30 Days, by Mark Kistler (2011). It even has a chapter on drawing roses! During April I signed on for a free online Sketchbook Revival Workshop – hosted by Karen Abend and with sessions from several different artists using all types of media. I really enjoyed this but have had to take a break from it because I was neglecting coursework.
So, I’m now more firmly focused on following signposts to different creative paths and just need to find the right balance for myself. I know I’m already thinking photography in a different way too. Many thanks to Dawn for inviting me to collaborate with her and, so, facilitating a firm though gentle push towards multi-disciplinary work. PS – Dawn’s own write-up on the process can be read here